I had fallen in love with running at the age of 7 while watching my older sister compete on the middle school cross country team. She just looked so -- free. I knew from that point on, I needed to run. I did go on to compete on that same middle school team and won a few races along the way. Unfortunately, high school had other plans for me. I loved running (once I was good at it), but I also loved to be involved in school. Being a band kid, I was forced to choose only one other activity for the fall since marching season took up much of my time. I made the choice to audition and be in the school musical instead of competing on the Cross Country team. Holistically, I love where my life choices have taken me, but I will always wonder that had I competed, would I have had a scholarship to a different university? or would I have pushed myself too far and had a career ending injury before ever running my first marathon? No one will ever know, but living in the “what if” world is not worth your time, trust me.
A large part of my life is dedicated to the same topic – weight. Everybody struggles with their weight. Whether you wish to loss a few pounds, or gain a few, or bulk up, life is full of struggle. Running was my outlet. There were times when I gained weight and would increase my distance to slim down and times I would over-run and would have to incorporate sprints as well as weights to bulk up. No matter what direction you would like to go, running can take you there.
There are parts of single-life running that are amazing because you don’t need to worry about balancing your schooling, jobs AND a husband. Some might say this is a lonely life, but there are times when running alone can be the greatest and most freeing experience.
My transition to being an adult was a rough one, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this though. Hopefully you too have turned to running to keep yourself sane. From losing my grandmother whom I lived with my entire life and both family dogs in the same year, turning 16 was not easy for me. Running helped keep me alive. Without the ability to blow off steam and think more clearly, I don’t know if I would be here today writing this book. It’s funny how the adult mind looks back on situations and thinks “wow, I was stupid, why would I do that?” but when you are living those moments, it really does feel like the end and that there is no way to get over the grief and pain dwelling within. The next decade was still rough, BUT I finally get to run my first marathon, so it gets better.
Sometimes you know what you want to do for the rest of your life, sometimes you don’t, and sometimes you know but someone tells you that you’re not good enough and you give up... sort of. That was me! I knew I wanted to be a math teacher. I had teachers I loved (shout out to Matt Gruzka, Trig & Calculus, 2007-08) and teachers I wished they had chosen a different profession, but either way they inspired me to go into teaching. After completing an Associate Degree at Harper Community College in May 2011, I had transferred to Northern Illinois University (NIU). I moved in to the campus, set up an appointment and talked to ONE math professor. He told me I would never become a teacher and that my Associate Degree was useless and would need 5+ more years of schooling to get a bachelor degree. Instead of being a level-headed person and getting a second opinion, I was a scared 19-year-old whose dreams had been crushed, packed my dorm room into my 2002 Chevy Cavalier and drove home. How could I recover from this? What am I going to be the rest of my life? Was I to be the first of my siblings to be a college drop out?.. No. If running had shown
me anything, it’s that perseverance and dedication can accomplish anything, so I pushed on. With the school year starting up, I need to be enrolled at a University and fast! I ended up at Roosevelt University which little did I know, would be my home for many years to come.
Since I thought I did not have what it takes to be a teacher, I decided to pick a new career – Marketing. I pursued and complete a BA in Integrated Marking in May 2013 then worked full-time for a physical therapy & chiropractic office as their Marketing Director at age 21. To the outside world, I seemed like I had my life together, had a well-paying job and was set for years to come, but on the inside I was dying each day that I worked at my desk. I love to run and running was my best friend at this point. I hated being trapped behind a desk and running during my lunch break or after work was the most fantastic and freeing feeling in the world. When the CEO changed my required working hours to 60+ per week, I knew a desk job was not where I belonged.
I returned to Roosevelt University to pursue a second bachelor degree in mathematics as well as a master degree in secondary education. Being a bachelor and master degree candidate simultaneously AND working 60+ hours a week was a bit overwhelming to say the least. As I put in my two week’s notice, everyone around me had a similar opinion, “why do you need more schooling? You already have a high paying job..” From their point of view, sure, I was crazy, but from my point of view, no amount of money was worth my mental sanity or taking away my freedom – my time to run.
Life has a way of working out. I like to think that when I make big decisions and “crazy good coincidences” happen, that this is really a way of the world telling me I made the right choice. While working on my degrees at Roosevelt University, I had a
professor that little did I know was the District Head for Mathematics of one of the top school districts in Illinois. She taught adjunct for the university so she could influence and see new potential teaching candidates before they are licensed. At the end of the semester that she taught me (spring 2014), she offered me a position as a mathematics teacher’s assistant at the high school where she worked. It was here that I would spend the next two school years working for her full time, gaining experience, and when I would run my first marathon.
This is it, I finally had come to the end of my degrees, so that same professor helped get me a placement for student teaching within her district. I will never be more grateful for this because it was during my student teaching in the fall of 2016 that I coached cross country for the first time and fell in love with the sport all over again.
As you can see, I had A LOT to figure out and settle in my career and running life before marriage was even an option to me. Don’t rush into things, it’s okay to take some time to find out who you are BEFORE having to find out who you are as a spouse or parent.
Chicago Marathon (Chicago, IL)
Elevation Gain: 163 ft. (50 m)
There’s nothing quite like your first.
I “trained” for this one… ran a 5k almost everyday 60 days prior and would do a workout video every day as well (21 Day Fix by Autumn Calabrese). The farthest distance I had run prior to the marathon was 14 miles, and it DID NOT go well. This scared me which is why I vowed to not run long distances before the marathon for fear I would get injured or worse – psych myself out and defer the marathon a year.
My whole running life had lead up to this moment. I had been dreaming of running the Chicago Marathon since I was a little girl and it sure as hell didn’t disappoint. As you run through 29 neighborhoods of Chicago starting at the historic Buckingham Fountain knowing that the next time you see it, you’ll have just crossed the finish line is just the most amazing thing I’ve ever done.
I always wondered why people where crying in the finisher photos… had they pulled something? Dropped and broken their phone? Fallen down and had cuts that needed tending to?... no… There is just something that overwhelms the body as you hit 26 miles, are crossing “Mount Roosevelt” (the overpass of Roosevelt Rd that leads to the end) and can see the beautiful finish line just .2 of a mile away. Maybe it was because I grew up in the suburbs and lived in the city for University, or maybe it was the exhaustion of running 26 miles, but I broke down in tears yet could not stop smiling. A life long dream actually completed. Nothing broken, hadn’t fallen down, beautiful weather with
perfect blue skies, I almost thought I was dreaming and that I hadn’t woken up to head to the start line yet.
Was I injured from not training properly? yes. Do I have a scar on the back of my thigh from jumping a fence to get in my corral because I was late? yes. But more importantly, was it worth it?.. yes.
Green Bay Marathon (Green Bay, WI)
Elevation Gain: 430 ft. (131 m)
Keeping on with conquering the Midwest through marathons, I decided to make another one of my dreams come true –running inside Lambeau Field (yes, I’m a Green Bay Packer fan that lives in Illinois).
In this marathon, you finish your last mile getting to run the same tunnel the team uses, take a lap around the track on the field, cross the finish line and celebrate your accomplishment right outside the Packer’s stadium. The only way this experience could have been better is if Aaron Rodgers (current Packer quarter back, #12) was waiting at the finish line to hug and congratulate everyone.
Being a May marathon in the Northern Midwest of the United States, you never quite know what the weather will be like. In 2016, it was unseasonably warm, hitting 84* by noon, but had beautiful blue skies and scenery to make up for it. Having a beer with a stranger while running through a neighborhood of Green Bay, to running on a paved nature path, to getting to run a lap around the inside of the stadium, it was all definitely worth taking the heat.
In case you were wondering, I trained better for this one since I was very injured after the Chicago Marathon (from not training properly). I was not able to walk correctly for a few days and couldn’t run more than a mile without tears for almost a month post-Chicago. I had learned my lesson and decided to train better using a watch with real-time pacing. I also learned to work in more swimming as well as longer runs once a week to keep up my cardio health. This change in training allowed me to do a light “shake out the legs” run the day after the marathon with no pain! =O
Chicago Marathon AGAIN (Chicago, IL)
Elevation Gain: 163 ft. (50 m)
I’ll keep this one about life lessons since you read the details about the first time I ran the Chicago marathon earlier. Did I ever plan to run the Chicago Marathon again? Not even for a second, but fate had it that I give it a second go.
The Chicago Marathon is a lottery system with no guarantee you will get picked where registration opens in February, 8 months before the race. I told my friend, Mike Depa, that I did not really want to run Chicago again (since I checked Illinois off my list the year prior) but that I would enter the lottery if he would run the Green Bay marathon with me that May. I never expected that both him and I would get picked, but fate wanted us to run Chicago together.
This was a really cool experience since it was less about the marathon itself and more about enjoying the views of the city and sticking together with my new marathon buddy. We both
had family members following us via LiveTracker and they saw something incredible. We had identical splits, down to the tenth of a second at every marker across the course, including the finish line. Many people run smaller races together, but usually in marathon settings, eventually you split up. This marathon was more about pushing each other to keep going and not giving up on one another. There were a few times before 13.1 that he wanted to stop but I wouldn’t let him and just made smaller goals, and there were times in the second half that I wanted him to go on without me to PR but he wouldn’t.
Teamwork is an important skill to have in life, without the ability to work together to accomplish a goal, whether it be in school, work, home or on the track, life can seem much more stressful and lonely and will be less full of fond memories.
St. Louis Marathon (St Louis, MO)
Elevation Gain: 778 ft. (237 m)
Some marathons say they are hilly but aren’t that bad and some marathons say they are not that hill, but are just terrible. This one would be quite the combination of the two. I heard mixed opinions across the running community and decided to ignore everything and keep an open mind. Technically everyone was right! There were long stretches of the course that were amazingly straight and flat but there were also parts of the course that have 50+ degree hills to run up or down.
It was definitely beautiful to cross the start line with the Mississippi River on your right, run across the bridge to Illinois and back, and get to run through the city before finishing with
the Mississippi River on your left. Overall not a terrible course but it did not have very much crowd support, so at times, it felt rather lonely.
Although it was a beautiful view to finish the final stretch next to the Mississippi River, it was not phenomenal that the post-race party was up at the normal elevation of St Louis, so there was a bit of an uphill hike to get there. If it had not been such a hot day, I think I would have spent more time taking pictures and enjoying the St Louis Arch and the post race party, but unfortunately was not able to.
Flying Pig Marathon (Cincinnati, OH)
Elevation Gain: 1,063 ft. (324 m)
When most people think of Ohio, immediately they think of Cedar Point or Ohio State University, but in the running community, the Flying Pig is legendary. Although not one of the big-name marathons like NYC, Chicago or Boston, it still an amazing event.
Frist, I want to give great praise to the pre-race expo. This was by far the best marathon expo I have been to. The official merchandise booth had fair priced custom shirts ($25) that came in multiple colors, sizes and styles, which were made quickly while you wait. Then, to my surprise, the race swag came with a free full sized, well-made embroidered backpack and t-shirt. Finally, having P&G as a main race sponsor, they had a huge table of free P&G products that was very efficiently set up with volunteers to help the line move quickly.
The enjoyable and giving race expo set the stage for a fun race day to come. Once again, I was fortunate for good weather on race day with 41*F at the start line, which is a bit warm, but not terrible. Although the elevation change is rather high at over 1,000 feet, overall, the race did not feel overly hilly. I remember getting to a specific point on the course where you look out from the top of a hill over the Ohio River and being confused about how we got so high above sea level because the majority of the hills were so gradual.
From a great expo, to fair race weather and mild hills, I would highly recommend this race to runners of all speeds. Just don’t forget to get a finisher photo at the “Finish Swine” and your tequila shot with a stranger at mile 24.
Grand Island Trail Marathon (Munising, MI)
Elevation Gain: 1,535 ft. (468 m)
NO… just no…
The idea of running surrounded by lake Superior on an island that has no cars or technology and is covered in trees and beaches sounds so amazing – but don’t let that fool you. Unless you are a hardcore trail runner, this course is going to beat you up both physically and emotionally.
Take a second look at the elevation gain. That is not a typo, this is by far the most hilly of all the courses I have run. Now, on top of the very steep hills, lets add in the point that it is not paved and
many parts have large ditches/ canals through the path that need to be jumped over. If the hills and ditches weren’t difficult enough, let’s add in blood thirsty mosquitoes that are so strong and quick that they will get you through your running gear while you are running.
My running partner and myself exploded multiple mosquitoes on our arms, legs and faces. I say “exploded” because they were so full of blood from feeding on us and our fellow runners that they would leave large amount of blood where ever you smashed them. It makes sense to me now why only 114 people had signed up to complete this trail marathon.
In summary: Mosquitoes… mountains.. muddy ditches.. trail marathons are not for me. I do recommend everyone do at least one, because you will appreciate and respect your non-trail marathons more.
Beyond The Beach Marathon (Gary, IN)
Elevation Gain: 359 ft (109 m)
I would like to preface this marathon summary by stating this was the first year for the course and the first year for the race director. Everyone has to learn by trying, it just isn't the most fun when there are failures in how the course is marked.
Normally I would not have run a brand-new course, but it seemed so intriguing. The first part that caught my attention was the phrase "loop marathon". Running the big marathons are great, but running unique marathons are fun too (unless it's a trail marathon). This race consisted of two 13.1 mile loops. The
fun part is you know what to expect after the first loop, but on the other hand, you must mentally face running past the finish line at 13.1 miles having to keep running for a second lap.
The second reason I chose to run Gary was more about my upbringing. Having grown up in the Northwest Suburbs of Chicago, the only opinions I had of Gary, IN were not flattering. I recall a memory of driving through Gary as a child while heading toward Michigan and my mother telling my siblings and I to keep our heads down so people would not see us in the backseat. Part of my goal to run a marathon in all 50 states is to see the beauty our country has to offer. With my predisposition to Gary, I felt running their marathon could give me a 26 mile glimpse into their town and to hopefully change my previous learned fear.
Not only did I have the opportunity to run past beautiful gardens and paved running paths with view of the beach, but I was also able to truly open my eyes to see that the same breathtaking sunlight shines equally on all cities across our world. Gary may have a "bad reputation" but it is not a bad place. There were many friendly people and volunteers out and even a farmer's market with rib smokers within a mile of the finish line.
Although not a well-marked course in 2017, I expect that will be properly taken care of for future years and would recommend everyone to run Gary. If you've never heard of their town or have heard of it for all the wrong reasons, I challenge you to get out of your comfort zone and see the beauty somewhere that many choose not to.
St Jude Memphis Marathon (Memphis, TN)
Elevation Gain: 445 ft. (136 m)
What an amazing event! With supporters at every mile this race had such high moral. So many people, both runners and spectators alike coming together to support a cause that hopefully one day will no longer plague our younger generations.
Knowing this race is to fundraise money for St Jude’s Pediatric Cancer facility and that all runners go through the village where the children being treated as well as their families live, I had to have fun with my costume to help put a smile on the face of those brave children. I ran the entire marathon with a full Yoshi headpiece as well as turtle shell on my back. My running partner wore a full Mario jumpsuit. Although it was a hot day, we knew what we were experiencing was nothing compared to the fight the brave children of St Jude experience every day.
Being the recognizable duo of Mario and Yoshi, it was a fun 26.2 miles. From randomly taking pictures with strangers and seeing their smiling faces once they figured out who we were, to spectators along the course offering adult beverages, it would have been hard not to enjoy yourself on such a beautiful December Tennessee day while supporting a great cause.
Arbuckle 2 Ardmore Marathon (Ardmore, OK)
Elevation Gain: 725 ft. (221 m)
TCS NYC Marathon (New York City, NY)
Elevation Gain: 607 ft. (185 m)
Alright New York, you win. Having conquered 10 states, and having multiple people ask me my favorite marathon just to be told, “I bet you haven’t run NYC yet, right?” Yes, they were all correct. Chicago will always hold a special place in my heart since it is my hometown and was my first marathon, but the crowds in New York were truly better and more consistent. Taking in the sights while experiencing different crowds that represented each of the five burrows was truly impressive. There were little to no spots on the course that didn’t have spectators out cheering. Now that you get the I enjoyed and loved running the marathon itself, lets take it back to the not as enjoyable part – the start line.
Houston Marathon (Houston, TX)
Elevation Gain: 139 ft. (42 m)