Two weekends before Memorial Day, Peter, Joanne and I did our last training run before the Sunburst Marathon in South Bend this coming Saturday. It was one of those runs that makes you want to quit with each step but one that makes you feel so accomplished when it’s over. They say that 75% of running is mental. Well, for this particular run, that was definitely true. In fact, it may have been more like 90% on the mental part.
It had been raining all night and was still raining when I left the house to meet up with Peter and Joanne. By the time I made it to the lakefront the rain had stopped but the wind took it’s place. We watched the waves beyond the Montrose Marina walls crash into the shore creating what looked like 30-foot splashes of water. We made the decision to run on the more interior path meant for bikes as the running path was likely flooded out since it sits so close to the water.
Once we hit the trail, the wind calmed down a bit and we all commented that it wasn’t as bad as we thought it would be. We ran through Lake View and around Belmont Harbor with no issue. We wound through Lincoln Park, also with no issue. We then ran up the incline to the North Avenue Beach bridge. Once we got to the crest of the bridge, the wind hit like a brick wall.
There’s about 40 feet of beach separating the water from the running path, but the wind had obviously been blowing so strong that the water had washed up to where the path was. But we continued on. Once we ran a little bit south of North Avenue Beach towards Oak Street Beach, the wind was actually to our backs so it felt cold but there was not a struggle to keep pace. I noticed all the people passing us who were running north had big smiles on their faces. I thought to myself that even in nasty weather, runners are happy to be out doing what they do. I felt weirdly inspired by this, actually. I realized about 15 minutes later that their smiles were actually knowing grins as they thought, “Oh, you think this is tolerable, somewhat delightful even. But you just wait. You have no idea what you’re in for.”
We ran past Oak Street beach and were making our way toward Lake Point Tower. There’s an area of this stretch that is water to the east, to the west is Lake Shore Drive. There’s no beach in this area, just concrete. There’s also a wall about 20 feet high separating the lake front from Lake Shore Drive. We noticed the waves were pretty high but they weren’t crashing up onto the shore, so far as we could see. But as soon as we got into a corner where there is literally nowhere to go but forward or backwards, this giant wave came crashing up at least 10 feet high. Joanne was in the front of the pack and didn’t have time to run back so as the water hit the shore like a tsunami, she was waist high in it. Peter and I ran back far enough to only get ankle-deep water.
Joanne started wringing out her pants legs. She was drenched. Peter offered to get us a cab back to our cars but Joanne insisted on moving on, like a true runner. I was very impressed as I thought that if I were as wet, and now cold, as she likely was, the only running I would be doing would be to a taxi. It was almost time to turn around, so Joanne started running, saying she just wanted to get to the 6-mile point so we could head back.
Once we hit the 6-mile point we took a short break to suck down energy gels and power bars then turned around. It immediately felt like we entered some kind a gravity field that pulled us backwards instead of down. Oh, the wind. The fierce, strong, dreadful wind. We would run a bit, convinced that “It’ll be better when get past Oak Street.” We passed Oak Street.
“It’ll be better when we get past North Ave.” We passed North Ave.
“It’ll be better when we cross the bridge and get on the west side of Lake Shore.” And on it went for at least four long, windy, excruciating miles.
Each time we passed someone heading the other direction, like we had been a short time earlier, I looked at their smiling faces and just smiled back as the other runners had done to us when we passed them by so dreadfully naive of what was to come.
It finally got better north of Lincoln Park after a couple of miles of feeling like I was attached to bungy cords and was being pulled back by a team of people. We were so exhausted from breaking through the continual wall of wind, all we could focus on was being done. Once we hit the golf course near Recreation Drive, I felt like a horse heading back to the stables. Nothing could slow me down. All I wanted was to be done. When I finally turned the corner onto Wilson Ave. and saw the tree I had parked next to a couple hours earlier, I found the energy for a sprint.
Finished at last, I thought that the finish of the half marathon won’t feel as gratifying as ending this run. But the sense of accomplishment was worth every second.
I was telling this story to Brian’s uncle the other day. He, too, is a runner. When I told him it was the kind of run you do knowing you’re crazy, but when it’s done you can’t imagine how awful you’d feel had you quit, he gave me that knowing nod of his head. He told me about a run he did last summer in near 100-degree weather. He said as he approached an intersection he noticed a car pulling up to the light, rolling it’s window down. He was expecting some sort of confrontation when the driver stuck his head out the window and yelled, “YOU ARE EFFING CRAZY!” It was then he knew he was a real runner.
It’s these experiences that confirm you’re crazy, but there’s no way you could go back to being sane once you feel what facing and conquering a real challenge is all about.