Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Most Memorable Marathon: Chicago 2011

On Saturday night, I set out my Imerman Angels top, triathlon short, and tether. I debated on whether to set out a hat or bandana, but friend, Alison, suggested I go with the bandana so I did. After some pasta and a day with plenty of liquids, I hopped into bed shortly before 10p.m. I would get up at 4:30a.m. to get my marathon day started. I laid in bed tossing and turning. I could not sleep. What did I do? Why am I running another marathon? Then I would take deep breaths and tell myself, you can do this. Tomorrow, you will hurt, but you will fight. I have never dropped out of a race I started so of course the Chicago Marathon will become another event I complete. I started to fall asleep, but was shaken awake. I tossed and turned even more. By Sunday afternoon, I would be sore and in plenty of pain, but this would all be over. I tried filling my mind with positive thoughts. Thanks to a late push from family and friends, I achieved my goal of raising at least $1,000 for Imerman Angels One-On-One Cancer Support. Two outstanding women will be my eyes on the course. Professional triathlete and coach, Kimberly Shah and elite marathoner, Jennifer Pfaff. I will be in great hands. Still, I could not sleep. When I did, I would dream about the marathon then wake up again. Finally, 4:30 rolled around and I dragged myself out of bed. I always have a bagel with peanut butter washed by an energy drink, but today, I was nervous, I could not quite finish my breakfast. At 5:30a.m., Kimberly arrived to take me to the race.

After some pre race preparations, we arrived to the race site. I was nervous and scared. Being with Kimberly relaxed me a little. We made our way towards the start as she described how the pro runners were running along side doing their warmups. Shortly aft 7 o'clock we made our way towards the start line. Last year, I was in the open corral way in the back and I did not get going until twenty minutes after the pros. This time, I would go off nine minutes in front of the pros. When we were allowed to file into our corral, Kimberly described our surroundings telling me how the pros were getting into their start behind us. It was clear, she was in awe and excited. I was so happy for her to have the opportunity to enjoy this. As a pro triathlete and champion Kimberly has experienced so much success. To hear how excited and nervous she was was on some level very comforting for me. A few minutes before the race, Jim Cornelison delivered his usual stirring version of the national anthem. At 7:20a.m. the wheelchair division started. We would go at 7:21. Kimberly instructed me to start moving. I did. In a blink of an eye she said "Okay, we're moving." I asked, "What? It started?" She responded with, "Yes, we've crossed the start line. We're running the marathon." Thirteen miles away from meeting up with my second guide and 26.2 miles from the finish line. It was so exciting to get moving and have almost no one in our way. We moved freely. Fans cheered loudly. Cowbells rang out. One of my favorite moments was making a left turn and being greeted by a giant roar from the crowd lined up on both sides and hanging over a bridge. As would happen several times during the race, the roar was so thunderous, I could not hear Kimberly clearly. Then she tells me that that excitement from the crowd was all for us. There was no one else on the road with us at that point. Honestly, it took plenty of strength to not break down and start crying at that moment. Even now, as I am remembering it to write this, I am choking up from the memory. We made our way and people yelled out, "Go Sexy Isra!" Thank you to Jemma of Imerman Angels who I believe was the one who wrote Sexy Isra on the back of my top. As we neared a gentleman to our left, he screamed, "Go Israel. You've got this." I did not know who he was. Before I knew it, Kimberly was telling me we were at mile two. The pros would be coming by any moment. We rolled on enjoying the crowd support. Then Kimberly said, "Here they come." The police, TV trucks, and pros made their way towards us. I heard them run by no more than three feet to my right. Just a few feet over from me were fifteen of the fastest human beings on the planet including the great Ryan Hall. As they flew by at about a four minutes and thirty seconds per mile pace, more elite runners made their way towards us. As many of them passed by, they offered me encouragement, congratulations, and back slaps while saying, "Go Sexy." "Keep going Isra!" The crowd continued to pump me up and Kimberly kept expressing her excitement. I would get very happy and want to sprint out faster, but I knew I had to hold off because there was still a long journey ahead. At one point, Kimberly had to tell me to pull back because I was beginning to push the pace a little too much. I kept thinking of my friend, Michelle, who passed away from cancer this spring. She was the reason I wanted to get involved with Imerman Angels. I have some family members and friends who have survived cancer, but Michelle's death was what pushed me to truly set this goal and go after it. I felt fluid and very relaxed. Kimberly described the crowd, signs, and area around us. Music blasted. Fans cheered. Other runners continued to back slap me. The miles rolled by. In fact, I felt comfortable at our steady pace, but was not aware of our pace until we reached the tenth mile when Kimberly informed me that we had done so in one hour and thirty-two minutes. I believe that is the fastest I've ever run ten miles. At that pace, I could finish in under four hours. Yet, shortly after that, I started to doubt myself. Could I do it? I began to fear how my body would feel in ten more miles. I started to wear down mentally. This can not be. Not this early in the race. By mile twelve, I found myself very concerned and I even told Kimberly that I was getting tired. I started to slow down. With the crowd cheering, I tried to feed off of that and press forward. We reached the thirteenth mile and the exchanged point where Kimberly would hand off guiding duties to Jennifer.

There was Jenny. Ready and excited to take on the responsibility to get me to the finish. We moved along. The crowd pumped me up. Jenny's excitement gave me a boost and we moved along. We reached the fourteenth mile. Suddenly, I heard a thunderous boom from the fans. Yells of "Sexy Isra!" One woman yells out, "Isra, you're the sexiest!!" It was the Imerman Angels cheering section. It was so loud, I could not hear Jenny. I could feel my body getting weaker. I did not want to slow down or walk, but I knew it was coming. I tried my best to fight it and for a while I was successful, but before long, I was beginning to give into my fear and doubt. Our pace had slowed, but we were still making good time. By mile seventeen, I knew I had hit a wall. Even last year, when I sprained my ankle in the third mile, I did not hit a wall until exactly the twenty mile marker, but now it came sooner. This could not be happening. I made it to mile eighteen. In my mind, I was so close yet so far away. It was only eight more miles. I struggled over the next several miles. My pace was very slow. Jenny held on to the tether on my left side as Kimberly ran along my right side. Both women encouraged me. It helped that they would tell me how far away to certain landmarks or aid stations. I tried running to those landmarks. Then we reached mile twenty-one. I said to myself, five more miles. In the last few weeks of training I had been running five to six miles at an eight minute per mile pace. I would lift weights or ride a bike with the purpose of tiring my legs out before trying to run five miles to toughen me up mentally. Now is when those have to matter and pay off. Now is when I have to go after it. I started pushing through the pain. For a while I found some heart and toughness. Jenny kept telling me how I was picking up the speed. I was starting to flow. I was moving again. I pressed on. As soon as I felt I was rolling, I would want to walk or slow down. Jenny and Kimberly kept driving me to fight those urges. They screamed and yelled at me to run. I am sure they received dirty looks from the crowd and other runners for pushing me so much. There were times I wish they would stop and let me walk, but for the most part, I was so thrilled that they were motivating me. I knew that deep down inside, this is why they were my guides on this day. If I were to achieve something special on this day, it would be because two very special women would know how to get the best out of me even when I did not think I had anything left or even when others may have let me rest. These women have achieved great personal athletic success because they know when to push and how to dig. to the best of their abilities, they were going to press the correct buttons to ensure I did the same. The distance to the finish line kept getting shorter. Before long I was down to under two miles. Then just a mile and a half. It was so close yet again, so far away. I wanted to dig deeper, but I could not. I had reached my limit and whatever guts or heart I had, I had to display right then. One mile to go. Finishing was never a question. It was just a matter of how much time it would take me and if I would go after it by sprinting to the end, hang on for dear life, or get dragged to the line. As I made my way with Jenny and Kimberly continuing to drive and inspire me, I moved forward to the best of my abilities. I struggled up one final hill. Later jenny would inform me that I was moving at an eight minutes and fifty second pace at that point which was around the same pace as I was moving in the very early stages of the marathon. I was amazed that I had that in me at that point. We reached the twenty-six mile marker. Just over 300 meters to go. As with every race, I wanted to lay the hammer one last time and burst across that line. As I made my way, I could not tell if I was moving my legs or at what speed. I could not feel anything. Then Jenny and Kimberly informed me that we had crossed the finish. At that moment, I finally felt something. Cramps. Relief. Love. Love for these two amazing women who had given up their Sunday morning to get me through the streets of Chicago. As painful as the back half of that marathon was for me, I would not change anything about that experience. Well, my performance could have been better, but otherwise, to be able to now say I ran the Chicago Marathon forty-six minutes faster in 2011 than in 2010 is as a result of having two tremendous women supporting me every step of the way. Every race, I want to do well as a way to show my gratitude for my sighted guide. In this case, I was able to push myself because of my guides. Every race is special. This one is made even more special because Kimberly Shah and Jennifer Pfaff forced me to dig deep and aim for being special.

I thank Kimberly and Jenny for forever being a part of my life and a part of some very special memories. Thank you to Imerman Angels for allowing me to fundraise and run on the team this year. The great people such as Kat, Jemma, Jessica, David, Rachel, and of course, Mr. Johnny Imerman. All of you have been so wonderful and kind to me. Last year, I was just another runner in the open corral. This year, I was categorized as a visually impaired runner in the disability corral. According to the Boston Athletic Association web site, a blind/visually impaired participant can qualify for the Boston Marathon by finishing a certified marathon in under five hours. Chicago is one and I did. I do not know how events will play out from this point, but if it does turn out that I can now go race in Boston, then I will gladly accept that experience. If there is more I need to do or achieve before having that opportunity, then I will gladly put in the work and effort to do what is needed of me. For now, I am grateful for Kimberly, Jenny, and Imerman Angels. Thank you to my friends and family as well as strangers who donated to my fundraising cause, who cheered me on the streets of Chicago, and who showed an outpouring of love after I crossed the finish line.

To all who read this, it is my privilege to live then share it with you. I thank you for having an interest in my athletics and artistic ventures. Thank you for being a follower to this blog. As always, please feel free to reach out to me. I do my best to be available to you.

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