That Last Mile is So Much Longer

Dearest Rachel –

I have to confess, this title is so true, but I didn’t even have the energy yesterday afternoon to even begin to describe the rest of the day. Especially since I never did find a charge cord downtown, meaning my phone had as little energy as I did.

For what it’s worth, I actually managed to hit all four stops that I intended to in yesterday’s letter; that first one that I already related to was by far the closest shave of them all. At all the other pass bys, I was there long before Erin made it by, allowing me to settle in and find a good spot the view their approaching runners from. You could certainly say I got good use out of my Ventra card, given that I rode seven different trains over the course of the day.

[Which I should mention is a story in and of itself that I forgot to talk about yesterday. I had already researched what those one-day all-the-trains-you-want-to-ride passes cost, and had brought a couple of ten-spots with me in order to get what I needed from the vending machine. What I didn’t expect was that, due to the marathon, they would be offering a half-off discount for today – and it never occurred to me to bring any fivers. Worse than that, the machine didn’t give change. At least they took plastic, though, so there was that. Oh, and one more goofy thing about that little adventure – after getting my ticket and going through the turnstile, I realized that I’d left my orange juice on top of the machine, and had to go back to retrieve it, only for the turnstiles to react to my presenting my card with a “hey, weren’t you just here a moment ago?” and refusing me access. I had to get the attention of one of the guys in the booth to let me through.]

So, as best as my memory will allow, let me describe how the day went down from my perspective, since it’s the only perspective I have.

Miss Joan had advised me to bring along a lawn chair for viewing the marathon. I think she expected me to stay in one place, and if i had, that advice would’ve been fairly useful. As it was, the route around mile 11 was the only place I was able to actually set it up, and sit around waiting for the runners to go by (of course, I didn’t realize that at the time, as I was just appreciative for the suggestion as I sat there, holding my sign and ringing my bell).

I saw several members of our team go by before Erin and Loula passed, as well as a few more… curious… entrants. I would think of the marathon as being a serious endeavor, but it seems like some of the contestants don’t; some of them seem to approach it like some kind of lark. When I met her at dinner last night, after everything was said and done, Jenn agreed that tutus were a common thing at these kind of contests, it and it shouldn’t have phased me. But given him most of the runners we are stripped pretty much down to short sleeve shirts (or tank tops) and shorts, the folks in fancy dress just stood out that much more. More on that in Chinatown.

I will say at this point that I wish I had taken more pictures, but in order to have done that, I might also add that I wish I had a third arm (and hand) to hold everything with. You just can’t hold up a sign, ring a bell, and take a picture at the same time. Forget patting your head and rubbing your stomach; this is a real challenge.

I did get a shot of a police car riding along in the middle of this crowd of runners, which I thought at the time was rather strange. I understand the police protection around the route, and blocking off the streets, but wouldn’t driving within the crowd be something of an obstacle?

I sat around for a little bit after they went bye, in part because there continued to be runners from Team World Vision to cheer on, and in part because my next stop would be more than ten miles further on. Even if she maintained her intended pace, it would be well over an hour and a half before she would arrive at Chinatown. I was in absolutely no hurry.

Still, I’m not familiar enough with the CTA to know just how reliable and timely their trains are (or are not). So after the span of ten or fifteen minutes, I packed myself up and ambled back to the station. Every stop that I went to required that I transfer from one train to another in order to get where I wanted to be. Which is another reason to leave a given spot earlier than you think you’d need to. All of which meant that I missed a few people that I might otherwise be looking for, like Stephanie or Luke (you two know you are you are, if you’re reading this).

Still, this caution regarding timing meant that I arrived in Chinatown long before she did (although at that point, she had left Loula behind, and may have already passed one of the leaders of the group, who had been well ahead at the 11 mile mark: Erin later pointed out that he had been slightly injured throughout training, causing him to not be running his best race, and fell behind over time). Which honestly, was just as well, since public restrooms aren’t exactly a thing in the middle of the city – that’s not a condemnation of Chicago as such, I’ve been in enough cities (thanks to our families taste for cruising) to know that most public squares are light on public facilities. However, they did have some portables set up near the corner of Cermak and Wentworth, and I figured I had plenty of time to use them, regardless of the queue in front of me.

And speaking of what was in front of me, these three ladies were waiting in line ahead of me as well, and I just had to take a picture. After all, why should the contestants have all the fun with costumes?
That being said, I should back up and mention a lady spotted at the Fullerton station who was there to cheer on her son – who if you can’t tell, is a Harry Potter fan. I’m afraid I don’t recognize any of the Ravenclaw professors, however.
Chinatown also had an organized cheering section. I actually spotted some of these individuals on the train at one point or another, I think when I was making my way to the 4th mile stop. They had loud pop music going, and these folks have been dancing for what I imagine to have been hours. Honestly, for all the runners go through, there are certain spectators and other participants that put themselves through the wringer, too.

As you can see, there was no lack of costume among the spectators, but it was here that I saw the most among the runners as well. I had seen two gentlemen running together wearing top hat and tails like stage magicians – only, one was dressed all in orange, and the other in a sort of powder blue, rather than your basic black – at the 11 mile mark, and they were still at it, little the worse for wear, at mile 21.5. Around the same time, another fellow ran by in miter, robe and crozier, blessing the crowd as he ran. And what was just silly on its face had an added layer of absurdity by the fact that this fellow was well-tanned and high-cheekboned, and presented like nothing other than a certain recent leader of the country. Yes, honey, it would seem that PopeBama had blessed us with his presence. Again, I am sorry that I didn’t have the presence of mind or speed of hand to get a picture.

The best I can do is this guy in a skirt and cape.

I should mention at this point that the weather forecast has been for sunny and 80° temperatures, which is not ideal for running a marathon. However, once I found myself a spot along the Chinatown route, it was not only cloudy, it had begun to rain a little bit. Just a little shower, no torrential downpour or anything, but enough for me to be thankful that I could hold my sign over my head and shield myself from the worst of it. However, at that point, I decided to set my bell down and grab my camera.

Which allowed me one reasonably decent shot of her running

And again, when she passed by, I determined to slip out of the crowd and head for the stop at mile 25, which was just a few blocks east (not west, like I’d written you earlier) on Cermak.

Before I get there, I should remind you that I was under the impression that the last mile was likely to be relatively cleared of spectators, due to security reasons. So I expected it to be fairly quiet and empty as they ran that last, hardest mile. And I figured that, of all the stretches on the course, this was where they would need the most encouragement – where she would need the most encouragement.

I won’t say I was misled – I’ll get to the reality of it in a moment – but as of mile 25, nothing could have been further from the truth. It was here the crowds were really at their greatest, and with the tall buildings around acting like canyon walls, the echo of the noise they were making (to say nothing of a handful of DJs stands blaring upbeat and positive music as their own form of encouragement) was all but deafening. I couldn’t find a place to set myself up, so I decided to make my way along side the runners to find something further on.

Even the churches along this last mile were encouraging.

It got so crowded along the sidewalks that I found myself having to proceed in the street, virtually alongside the runners. I got my feet stuck from time to time to the asphalt, as it was coated in the Gatorade that was being handed out by volunteers.

I don’t know the proportions of men and women in this race, but it did seem that the women that were running generally tendef to have the larger cheering sections. I saw one cluster across Michigan Avenue that looked like they could’ve been out of central casting for Sex And The City, holding a placard reading ‘Badass Women Run Marathons.’ Somewhere else along the road, I saw a fellow with a T-shirt reading ‘I don’t do marathons, I do a marathoner.’ Uhh… congratulations, I guess? Good luck keeping up with her, champ.

And of course, the further up Michigan Avenue I went, the larger the crowds got, absolutely contrary to what I’d been led to expect. There was no place to set up at this point and be spotted, so I kept going; this last mile seemed a lot longer that you’d expect. Eventually, the course turned to go over a bridge at the south end of Grant Park.

And that’s where the chute began.

With 400 meters to go, the sidewalks were blocked off. At least the police were friendly and helpful, instructing me but if I wanted to meet up with ‘my’ runner, to keep heading north to gate 7. Later, that became gate 4, and still later, gate 1. Didn’t see any gates in between those numbers; wonder where they went?

I was pretty sure that I was ahead of her as I got to this barricade; the app said she had run 96% of the race at this point (wherever that was), and that she was now ahead of basically everyone else I had been tracking, aside from a random bib number I’d looked up in order to determine what percentage of the race the Chinatown photo spot represented (81%, for the record). However, by the time I had gotten to gate 1 (and after several calls to and from her parents), she was well and truly finished, although honestly, she didn’t look nearly as exhausted as I would have expected.

I did finally seen Luke on my way to the gate; it seems he and Amy (and another runner) had hired a pedicab to wheel them to the World Vision tent just alongside ‘the Bean.’

Other runners were simply carried along by their family and friends.

I actually passed by her dad without realizing it at one point, but we ultimately managed to make a connection with her and her family (in that order) by that first gate, and we walked together – along with one of Erin’s coworkers and her boyfriend – to the Millennium Park entrance. We walked and talked for several blocks (after all, after 26.2 miles, what are another few blocks, amirite?) before they said their goodbyes and we headed for the tent.

Each runner was introduced as they entered, along with their time and the amount they had raised. True to form, Erin seemed embarrassed by it all, despite a more than respectable showing from either perspective, especially given her first-time status.

I would say something at this point about “and that was it,” which is mostly true. There was a bit more to the day, but at the moment, I need to get on with this one, so I’ll have to get back with you on it.

Until then, I hope you enjoyed this story. I’d like to think you would have had fun chasing after her, too, cheering her on for point to point, and maybe being my third arm along the way (or I yours). It was an adventure that would have been nice to have shared together, but possibly been more of a challenge than I had on my own. We’ll never know.

I will check in with you later, honey. For now, I need to get your car to the mechanic’s (and walk back from there, as I still need the exercise – Erin’s race is over, but there’s still life to do yet). Take care.

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I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

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