On Saturday night, I could not sleep. My bib number was pinned to my Team GLASA racing shirt, my socks laid out, my shoes were set, my timing chip was in my bag, and my guiding tether was packed for Sunday morning. My wake up call was at 5:00a.m. I kept debating whether to wear one of my running shorts, which have given me some trouble in two of my last three double digit mile races, or my triathlon shorts, in which I am comfortable racing and most likely would not give me any issues during the 26.2 mile event. I went back and forth before finally deciding to wear my triathlon shorts. I would be at ease and an added bonus would be the tight form fitting shorts would show off my sexy well carved legs. Another issue was the weather. When I agreed to run in this event, I was worried about it being to cold, but in the weeks leading up to the event, I began to hear it would be warm. I became concerned when I heard it would be in the middle eighties. In 2007, the temperature was eighty-eight when the Chicago Marathon was halted due to extreme heat. That year, the decision and announcement were made three and a half hours into the race. What if it was too hot on Sunday? Will the race be called? I hoped not. Although I was told by various individuals that since it is my first ever marathon, my only goal should be to finish, I began to visualize what I hoped to be my finishing time. I made mental notes of the strategy I would use from the start of the race, at various mile markers, and ultimately, at the end of the race when I would close the show with a spectacular sprint across the finish line. With all these thoughts and concerns racing through my mind, I could not sleep. It was almost 1a.m. and I was still tossing and turning. Finally, I fell asleep and woke up right at 5a.m.
I had my usual pre race breakfast of peanut butter sandwich with a bottle of gatorade. I gathered my race clothes, made sure I had pinned the card on the back of my race shirt which announced that I was running the marathon for sixteen year old twins, Liz and Emily, then grabbed my race bag and went out the door to the waiting car as my sister and her fiance drove me to a train station in downtown Chicago where I would meet Rich Karnia, the young man who would be my sighted guide for the first half of the marathon. Rich would run the first thirteen miles than hand me off to Peter Mullen who would take me the rest of the way. With 45,000 runners and thousands of volunteers, gear check and area near the start line was chaotic. We made our way through the mass of humanity and finally to the start line. The elite professional runners went off at 7:30a.m. followed by those who qualified for a specific start coral, then the open coral which was everyone else. We were in the open one. The race began and we inched our way towards the start line. At one point Rich said we were about five city blocks from the actual start as we slowly followed the pack of runners. A few more minutes went by and Rich said we were about two city blocks away. More minutes elapsed then he informed me that we could start to jog across the official starting line. By the time we officially began the race, twenty-six minutes had elapsed since the elite runners had begun.
The plan was to take it slow and find a comfort zone. We figured that we might be jogging for some time at the start because of so many runners. This would be okay with me since I did not want to go out too fast in the early miles only to find myself walking without any energy left by the final few miles. I wanted to start slow, build up to a steady pace, and close the show on a tremendous high note by shifting into another gear of speed. The crowds were so supportive from the opening few steps. Screams and cheers came from all around. After we had run about 200 meters, we heard someone scream, "Come on, you're almost there!" This received a chuckle from various people including Rich and me. We made it through the first mile. Then the second. Rich is the head coach for both the varsity and junior varsity girls cross country teams for Marist High School so he was wearing one of his team shirts. Every few meters, people would yell out, "Go Marist!" Or, "Way to go Marist. It's all you!" As we made our way through mile three, I began to plan out when I would start picking up the pace to my desired race pace when I had to move to my left to avoid running into someone as did Rich and in the process, I turned my left foot suddenly to plant it and push off further left than originally intended. In doing so, I put all my weight on my left side while I was only on the ball of my foot. My ankle shook unsteadily then a sharp pain engulfed my left foot and I found myself planting the left foot down in a dip in the road as it twisted awkwardly. I hoped it was just an awkward plant, but I knew immediately, it was much worse. I knew I had sprained it. So many questions filled my mind. Is it bad enough that i must stop? Does my day end right here midway through mile three? After a few minutes, I felt I could run through the pain. It was difficult so I started to pray hoping the pain would go away. It took over a mile, but I soon felt I could live with the pain. We reached an aid station and took a break for the rest room. Rich suggested I unlace my shoe and tie it tighter in the hopes it would keep the ankle in place as to avoid any swelling. At that moment, a young woman called out my name. It was Sylvia, who was also running in the marathon. I had known Sylvia through my friend, Michele who just told me a few days back that her friend was also competing in the marathon, but what were the odds that we would actually run into each other along the course? Rich and I resumed running. The pain was much less, but the discomfort remained. We pressed on down Lake Shore Drive then to Wrigleyville which was one of the craziest parts of the race. The fan support was spectacular. The cheers were loud. There were times I could not hear Rich's commands because he was drowned out by the crowd. As was the case in Boys Town. We worked our way back towards downtown and neared the thirteen mile marker. My ankle was still bothering me, but I was fighting through it. We reached the exchange point where we were greeted by Peter Mullen. Rich said he would head over to the twenty-fifth mile and when we would arrive there, he would run the final mile with us.
Peter and I began the second half of the race. In the twelvith mile, Rich's final mile guiding me, he informed me that he would push me so that we would finish strong which I believe we did. When Peter took over he had me kick it into high gear. He was fresh and excited by the moment. I was hurting, but I pressed on not wanting to disappoint him. We reached the fourteenth mile which was where many of the marathon charity groups were having a block party. I heard screams of "Go GLASA!" Peter recognized someone he had met the week before at the Bucktown 5K. He and I kept a steady pace for a few miles before we hit a small stretch of few fans. Not having the loud crowd support, I eased up a bit. The sun was beginning to take a toll on me as the temperature hit about eighty-six degrees. As we hit an aid station and moved into mile seventeen, the fan support became electric once more. As we weaved around people, I thought I heard people screaming my name. I looked to give the thumbs up to the crowd just in case someone was screaming my name and that's when I heard a voice which sounded like my eldest sister. That has to be her. As it turns out, all four of my sisters were there screaming for me and one of them was recording Peter and I running by. This helped push me forward, but I then heard an announcement that the weather had reached dangerous levels and there was a possibility the race would be stopped. At the very least, runners were asked to slow down and take extra caution. We made it to the twenty mile mark and Peter said, "This is where the race begins." For me, this is where I hit a wall. I was able to make it halfway through the mile before finally having to truly slow up and consider walking. I was so proud that I had gone this far before having to walk. This was the longest distance I had ever run before walking. We navigated the final few miles weaving through so many walkers. At one point, Peter informed me that we were among the hand full of people who were still running. Most were trying, but were unable to push. Others had simply decided to walk. We entered the Pilsen neighborhood and cheers of "Go Mexico!" filled the air. It was a festive stretch with music, dancing, and noise. Then we reached a turn that Peter said was the last big turn. From that point, we were heading back to the downtown area and into Grant Park. We reached Michigan Avenue and the crowd truly began to carry me. We neared the twenty-fifth mile when I heard Rich's voice. He joined us just as we arrived to the final aid station. I stopped running to walk through the station. The second I stopped I cramped up in both legs just above my knees. It almost felt like both knees were locking up on me. The pain was so much I almost began to cry. One mile to go. I could not bend either leg. I could not walk. I did not think I could run anymore. After trying to simply move forward for a few minutes, the pain went away. I bent my legs and resumed running. Rich and Peter kept encouraging me and estimating how much further we needed to travel. With about three quarters of a mile to go, I heard a woman on my right screaming, "You can do it! You are almost there!" I wanted to stop running and I guess she could see it in my face and body language because she then stated, "You can't stop now. Think of Liz and Emily. Think of how proud they will be that you finished." I pressed on. Rich said, "You have about half a mile to go. You're doing great." Screams and cheers grew louder. The finish line was in sight. I could hear the public address announcer. Rich said, "This is it. About 300 meters. Give it all you have." I forced myself to find some speed and and as best I could, I galloped acrossed the finish line.
I had done it! 26.2 miles. I had now become a marathon runner. In my first attempt, I completed the marathon distance in my home town race in front of family and friends as well as conquering the course on the same day so many friends had done so too. Of course, this amazing achievement was made possible by Rich Karnia and Peter Mullen volunteering to guide me. Two men who I had not met until three weeks ago decided to step up to guide someone neither of them knew, but in short order and on this extremely special day, they had played a major role in helping me realize that I too can run the 26.2 distance the same way the great Paula Radcliffe did when she shatter the women's world record at the 2002 Chicago Marathon. I battled the heat and ankle pain to gut out my own victory. 10-10-10 the date Sexy Isra accomplished something great!
Here is a link to video of Peter and I running at mile seventeen as well as Peter, rich, and I reaching the finish line