Chasing Down a Cure: Meredith’s Chicago Marathon Recap

Merrie miles pre marathonMere-a-thoner Chinatown cheering section IMG_2338We did it!  After 18 weeks and 432 training miles, I crossed the finish line in 5 hr 20 min.  A year ago, I couldn’t have imagined this day.  Yet with inspiration from Mom and the support of all of you, I have become a marathoner.  The experience was almost beyond words, but I’ll try to capture the highlights.

We woke up crackling with nervous energy. The sun was starting to rise over Lake Michigan as we headed through the crowds toward the starting line.  We lined up in a massive bullpen, admired the helicopters circling overhead, and shed a few tears as the National Anthem was sung. Someone started blasting Born to Run as the elites started, far out of our sight.

We waited almost 20 minutes for our turn to cross and started out intentionally slow.  I soaked in the energy from the supporters and admired the architecture.  Susan, Patty and I ran together for about 3 miles, before Patty dropped back to her planned pace. Susan and I enjoyed the next 10 miles, especially appreciating the supporters (including live bands, drag queens and an Elvis impersonator). We had an unscheduled stop so that I could slather my feet with Vaseline to avoid the blisters that were unexpectedly starting to develop.

Then, just around mile 13, we were ecstatic to find Sam, Susanna, Renaat, Robert and the kids in their Merrie Miles t-shirts and holding huge signs.  After a brief pause for hugs, high fives and lots of pictures, we kept going.  As a bonus, we saw my friend Kryss and her family just a bit afterwards. Just after mile 14, we saw the Team Fox cheering section, which included my parents, Watt and Katie (my brother and sister in law), and Craig (Susan’s husband) and Rick (Patty’s husband).  It was an emotional moment as we again stopped for hugs and pictures. We left feeling inspired and ready to take on the remaining 12.2 miles.

After that, it started to get challenging. The temperatures were steadily rising and shade was hard to come by.  Volunteers sprayed us with hoses and offered ice-cold sponges, but those provided only temporary relief. The crowds started to thin, and energy levels around us started to drop.  The sugar in the sports drink and sports beans dried out my mouth, and the equilibrium between hunger and nausea that I struggle to maintain on long runs was starting to slip.

As the heat persisted, Susan slowed down a bit, and I tried to keep on track with her.  However, at mile 18, I started to feel desperate to finish the race as soon as possible, and I picked up my pace.

I was still feeling reasonably good at mile 20, which was the longest I’d run. I’d heard that the next 4 miles were the toughest mentally in the course, so I knew it was time to hunker down. I put on my music, pointed myself toward the finish line, and forced myself to keep moving.  My quads were sore, and my knees ached, but I knew that I was on track. Best of all, I knew that I still had 2 more cheering sections ahead.

At mile 21 in Chinatown, I was thrilled to see Sam, Susanna, Renaat, Robert and the kids.  They fortified me with extra water and lots of encouragement.  I barely remember the next 2.5 miles except for the fact that I started to become oddly chilled (which probably wasn’t a good sign), but I don’t think that I’ll ever forget seeing Watt and Katie at mile 23.5—one of the most isolated spots on the course in South Chicago.

My desire to get the race over with became a compulsion, and I started running faster.  I had run the first part of the race slower than I’d trained, and I started to become obsessed with trying to ‘make up time.’  I can only attribute this to early heat exhaustion, though this seemed very rational at the time.  Because I had started slowly, I was surrounded by people who had gone out of the gates too fast and were now walking.  I passed people by the hundreds as I ran as fast as I could manage.

As I approached the final mile, the extra energy from the crowd propelled me up the final toward the finish line as fast as I could hope to move.  As I crossed, I managed to smile for the cameras, victorious. I got my medal and my funny metal blanket and posed for the Mere-a-thoner picture that’s attached.

Afterwards, my poor racing strategy came back to haunt me. I could barely walk, and I was unable to stomach any food. I managed to very slowly change my clothes and then start literally hobbling toward the Team Fox charity tent, about a mile away. Sam appeared like an angel and very slowly escorted me to the tent.

While I could barely walk and felt as sick as a dog, seeing the family standing by the tent at the top of a hill, cheering and holding up their signs, was one of the sweetest sights I’ve ever seen.  It was incredibly moving to see Mom and Dad, especially.  Plus, my kids were highly impressed by my finisher medal and immediately started taking turns wearing it.  When Patty arrived and we had our Merrie Miles reunion, it was the culmination of our journey, and I’ll never forget it. All in all, it was an exceptional day—one that I’ll never attempt to repeat, which is part of what makes it so extraordinary.

Doing something so physically demanding for an important cause while supported by those that I love made this a peak life experience. One of the things that fueled me was our fundraising success.  Thanks to all of you, my total is over $29,000, which is almost 10 times my original goal!  In fact, I landed on the Team Fox page this week as one of their top 10 fundraisers for 2011! Team Merrie Miles as a group has raised more than $40,000! When I started this journey, I thought of the fundraising as primarily symbolic—something that would give purpose to the effort and show support for Mom. But now, these funds will make a substantive difference in the search for a cure for PD.

Your incredible generosity has inspired an even more amazing piece of good news. An anonymous donor has pledged to match all donations to Team Merrie Miles dollar-for-dollar, up to $50,000 through the end of this year. Because these donations will also be matched through the Brin Wojcicki challenge, that means all of your donations will be quadrupled.  That means that the $40,225 the team has raised will actually be $161,100 for Parkinson’s research.  This takes us into the fundraising stratosphere! Your amazing levels of support inspired this donor, so it’s thanks to all of you that Team Merrie Miles has turned into a powerhouse fundraising machine.

Finally, I’d like to thank all of you one last time. Your support, both financial and emotional,  has meant more to my family than I can ever hope to express.  This has been a transformative experience for all of us, and it has become one of the most important things that I’ve ever been a part of.  Beyond your generous contributions, I will always remember the warm thoughts, the motivational emails, and your willingness to hear me talk about all things marathon for a solid 18 weeks.  Thank you all so very much. You’ve been a part of something very powerful for my family and me, and we will never forget it.

Best, Meredith

Week 18 Miles Run: 37.2

Cumulative Miles Run: 458.2

Donors: 140

Dollars Raised: $29,200 –> $58,400 (anonymous donor match) –> $116,800 (Brin Wojcicki Challenge match)

Team Merrie Miles Dollars Raised: $40,225 –> $80,550 (anonymous donor match) –> $161,100 (Brin Wojcicki Challenge match)

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