As I left for the marathon, I watched them set up the aid station just shy of the intersection of Eriq La Salle and Oliver North Avenue (I actually live *on* the marathon course) and I noticed a large number of people with number bibs heading north along the sidewalk. I had to ask. "We're walking the whole way so we're starting early," I was told.
I got to the tent said hi to a few people, tried to figure out how to get my transponder attached to my shoe, and then suddenly it was five minutes to starting time. I called out for members of team twelve ("the old, the sick, the lame, the unbelievably determined") and found only one: Dan Levin who was interested in maybe running a bit faster than 12. I told him that I was not, but he decided to stick with me anyway.
It took us about 7 minutes to cross the starting line from the back of the pack (just behind three guys in wigs, caps, capes and kilts). It took a lot of effort to restrain Dan from starting too fast and even with my best efforts we finished the first mile in 11-something. Start slow and finish fast, I kept insisting. The best plan was to save the extra energy for mile 20. All those people who are passing us right now--we will pass every single one of them eventually (and I was right). During this same time frame we hooked up for a while with Ben and Sarah Squires who stayed with us for the next mile and a half before dropping away at a port-a-potty stop.
Margaret Novak caught up with us at this point and we managed to maintain my discipline of walk from the beginning to the end of each aid station (Dan was chomping at the bit but I persuaded him to hang back). Over the next few miles (up to Belmont), we had a few more port-a-potty stops and I instituted a walk-until-the-person who's-behind-catches-up-rule. We managed to keep that in effect until one such walk was interrupted by the cops threatening to put us onto the sidewalk. Margaret, somewhat miraculously, managed to catch up with us about 2 miles later, although she missed the discussion of Star Wars, Star Trek (all the odd-numbered ones suck), and South Park.
In the loop we managed to catch up with Arlene Jackson. With her acquisition we had managed to recover almost all of Team Twelve. Until just short of mile fifteen. That's when my break from training after my knee injury really hit home. I just didn't feel like I had the energy to keep running. Keep going, I told the rest of the group, I'm going to have to walk it from here.
This was a good thing because at mile 18 my knee started to hurt again. Better to hit the knee pain walking than running (I hope--I guess I'll have to go see a doctor for real now if I want to keep running). It was going to take about 6h15m to finish by walking, I estimated, and while that was disappointed, I was also a bit disappointed that I was going to miss out on the emotional rollercoaster that I'm told accompanies the late miles of the marathon.
It turns out that I was going to get it anyway. The first bit came just as I turned onto 18th street. Just some nostalgia for my life in Los Angeles, I told myself, as I struggled to hold back tears.
Pilsen was still my favorite stretch of the route. It was well over 4 hours into the marathon. The fast people were already there and gone but people were still out to watch and cheer. Especially fun were all the little Mexican kids in the street who just wanted to touch the hand of anyone with a bib number pinned to their shirt.
Once I walked past mile 19 an especially demoralizing thing happened. A Hertz truck drove by with a big stack of mile markers and timer displays in the back. When I got to mile 20 and saw that they had just left a single sign up and no timer I nearly gave up right there. I was willing to accept the idea that I was going to be walking the last 11.2 miles of the race and it would be over 6 hours when I finished. I didn't like the idea of finishing the course while it was stripped. What's more I could not run if I tried. My knee was beginning to hurt and I simply could not lift my legs.
I walked with one slow FOOL for a while at this point, but couldn't keep pace with her and let myself slip further and further back. At the aid station near Comiskey Ben and Sarah Squires finally caught up with me and then passed me. They had adopted a walk fifty steps/run fifty steps plan that I was unable to keep up.
Walking from 35th street to 39th street I was getting so tired I began walking ten steps with my eyes closed then opening them for a little bit to make sure that I wasn't too far off course and repeating the process.
At 39th, my brother and his wife reappeared. They had first seen me on Taylor Street not long after I had given up on running, but they were willing to cheer me on. "Do you want anything?" they asked. I knew that there was some foodstuff that I would enjoy, but I could not think of it. "A ride." Then a woman walked past in the opposite direction eating an orange. I knew. "No, an orange. I'd like an orange. A naval orange. No seeds." They went off to find a fruit store in Armour Square and I began the death march back up towards IIT. Air-conditioned luxury buses with soft comfortable seats cruised vulture-like alongside the zombies approaching mile 23. It would be really tempting to just get on. But my brother and sister-in-law were coming with an orange. I couldn't leave them wondering what happened to me. I would have to continue.
Just after IIT they caught up with me. I ate the orange and they forced a couple Motrin tablets on me. Then the most important thing in the race happened. My brother volunteered to walk with me through the rest of the course. His fresh injection of energy made a huge difference in my energy. I picked up the pace as he walked with me and was no longer being passed by other walkers but instead was passing them. We got to the final stretch and a police officer looked at us and said, "excuse me sir, you can't finish" (NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!) "with him" (phew). My brother had to leave me and I took the last half mile by myself. I was newly energized and began walking at an even stronger pace, passing each person in front of me one at a time. One Leukemia Team in Training runner/walker was being supported by another runner. He was in unbelievably bad shape. I turned to give him a few words of encouragement and saw that he was in even worse shape from the front. Still going. I could see the finish line. The walking FOOL who had passed me at Comiskey came into view. Go FOOLS, I called out to her. C'mon run the last bit. She tried but decided she couldn't. I was already running. I could see my family in the grandstands cheering me on. On the other side was my brother. He looked me in the eye then started running along the side. I put on a bit more speed and sprinted the last 100 yards. I crossed the finish line, was given some big silvery piece of plastic and a medal. "Donuts. I want donuts."
No donuts. The beer was gone too. But I had a hamburger and some ice cream. And a truly amazing experience. Everyone was gone from the FOOLS tent but those few of us who were way at the back of the pack. I congratulated Ben and Sarah again, admitted that I didn't even know what my time was ("there was an eight at the end"), and after greeting my family who had caught up with me, it was time to get on my bike and go home.
I didn't beat Oprah. I didn't beat Al Gore. That's OK. I beat Al Roker.