chapter four - start

2004 Chicago Marathon before picture The alarm went off at 5:15 but I was already awake, having slept lightly all night. I jumped from bed, hit the shower, and began a 90 minute exercise focused on dealing with my biggest marathon fear - making sure that I pooped completely and thoroughly before the race so that I would not have to stop. Over the 90 minute period, now known as Poop-a-thon 2004, I sat down six, that's right, six times, with the first four visits being productive, the fifth immensely satisfying, and the sixth a sort of exclamation point. Mission accomplished, I was clean as a whistle and ready to run. Young Stefan became more and more nervous as his personal purge would not make an appearance. Finally, around fifteen minutes before our planned departure time of 7:00, he began to knock urgently on the door, exclaiming that his time had come and was, in fact, upon him at that very moment! With great rejoicing, he accomplished his mission, as well.

Hollis and Kate showed up at the hotel at 6:00 sharp to see us off and to handle the logistics of luggage and checkout. Ever the Ansel Adams of Naperville, Hollis snapped several before shots. This picture of me, Stefan, and Matt is minutes before we grabbed our taxi to Grant Park.

As we left our room, we passed several other runners in the hallways, elevators, and the lobby. I was carrying a bottle of Gatorade and could only respond to one fellow runner's query about my readiness by drumming on the bottle and smiling, as if somehow attempting to communicate by Morse Code. Chuckles all around.

The cabbie could only get us within a couple of blocks of the park, let alone the starting line. We jumped out into a throng of athletes and well-wishers making their way to starting area. The energy was palpable and contagious among the sea of runners. On the way to the start area Stefan confirmed that he wanted to run with me. I had expected all along that he would run a faster pace and I was touched that he would want to share the experience. My primary goal was to simply finish the race with a secondary goal of running the race in twelve minute miles which translates to a 5:15 marathon. Matt's plan was to start with us for a mile or two, then make his way towards his four hour and a bit pace. We decided on a slightly more aggressive starting point than was our goal, the 5:00 pace group.

As we found the 5:00 pace group standard, I told Stefan to stay right with it, I had to pee, and I would rejoin him at the standard. I walked into Grant Park looking for rows and rows of Port-A-Johns only to find two with lines thirty runners deep. I had about twenty minutes and thought maybe this could work out. Fifteen minutes later, having moved up about five spots, I realized I would never make it. It was during this acknowledgment of my conundrum that I noticed folks in a small section of trees behind the Port-A-Johns relieving themselves discreetly. There were men and women both who, without speaking, without acknowledging each other, were simply relieving themselves near a tree of their choosing, then quietly leaving the wooded area. Dozens of them. It didn't take me long to join the tradition and I was set for the race.

As I worked my way back to Stefan and the pace group standard, I was amazed by the crowd I was rejoining, with runners in every direction as far as the eye could see talking excitedly to each other. Perhaps in the elite starting positions things were more businesslike but back with the unwashed masses it was a party! At 7:30, and freshly relieved, I followed Hal's last piece of pre-race advice, twelve ounces of hydration thirty minutes before race time. The fluids don't have time to reach the bladder before the race begins and you start with a full tank. Stefan and I sipped at our partial bottles of Gatorade and took in the sights and sounds.

At 7:50 a roar of cheering began from within the starting pack accompanied by an amazing sight. Outer layers of clothing, such as old sweatshirts, sweatpants, knit caps, gloves, and the like began flying from within the crowd, arcing towards the sides of the street like salmon jumping waterfalls as they race upstream to complete their cycle of life, hundreds and hundreds of garments within a couple of minutes as the start drew nearer. It was one of the strangest and most fascinating sights I have ever witnessed.

2004 Chicago Marathon start I never heard a starting gun, but at 8:00 we began slowly walking forward with the crowd. There was no pushing or shoving as each runner had a chip laced into their shoestrings to electronically start, track, and stop their individual times. We kept working at a steady walking pace towards the start line amidst an onslaught of cheering, smiles, and amazing energy from the first of the 1.2 million spectators we would see during the course of the race. I saw for the first of four times a lady holding my favorite sign of the day - it read "You Are All Kenyans". I felt like one! Still we walked, staying relatively close to our pace group standard, and to the 56-year young lady celebrating her birthday by running her third marathon. Finally, after nineteen minutes, we reached the starting line and we were off!

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