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This morning I enjoyed the best run of the year. It was not the best because I set a personal record in time or distance or because I did it despite the bed begging me to hit snooze one more time. It was not the best because I perfectly timed my arrival at the end of Navy Pier as the sun broke on the horizon and got to take in my city coming to life.
It was the best run of the year because it was the last run. The last “training” run before 26.2. My favorite run of the year…..but not because it’s the last run, my favorite because it is so very different than any before or any yet to come.
Let me explain.
I am fortunate to train on two of the greatest running paths in the world. Chicago’s Lakefront Running Path and the Illinois Prairie Path in the Western burbs. Both beautiful in their own way and both buzzing with activity on any given morning or weekend. I have my favorite points along the way and great memories of runs past. Most importantly, they are both familiar and safe places for me to escape in a good long run.
During Marathon training season, you get to know those in training. You don’t know their names or their stories, but know them because you see them in their groups or on solo long runs, you see them when you know they don’t want to be out there and you see them getting stronger and more tired all at once. As summer comes to an end, the traffic thins as the city transitions into fall, preparing for the winter ahead. Runners run with a purpose now.
Over the last few weeks of training, runners along the path(s) are different then during the season. You can see the difference in their faces. This is the grind. You have to fight with yourself every morning to get out and run. These are not the hard miles, they are the tedious ones. Everything aches and your legs feel like lead pipes, so much effort to put one in front of the other. Long runs are in the rear view mirror and Marathon day dangles like a carrot in front of you. There are no milestones to achieve, nothing to celebrate, simply “easy” runs to keep your body in tune.
When eye contact is made with others in the grind, no words are exchanged, but there is a deep sense of appreciation for what each other has accomplished and a nod of support as if to say, “Good job, almost there.” It’s a comforting and uplifting non-verbal conversation.
The last run, however, is different. The mood is upbeat and energetic. A burden has been lifted and legs feel light and powerful. The end is here and everyone has a spring in their step. Smiles replace the furrowed brows of the last few weeks. Anticipation fills the air and you long for the race to be right now as you could run forever in this moment. I especially love watching those in from out of town. They are in awe of the magnificent track that we are fortunate enough to train on all season. The energy in the city is electric, charged by 45,000 runners, preparing mentally now, the physical part is done, for 26.2.
My Last run today was same as the last two years. A 4 miler to the end of Navy Pier at sunrise. From this vantage point, I can see all my favorite spots. The Adler, The Shedd, The South Shore Cultural Center, The point. As the sun rises above the lake, the skyline comes alive and I enjoy the moment of calm as I reflect on the enormity of it all.
The emotions and energy that make this seemingly pedestrian run the best run of the year are hard to describe. It’s just a feeling. A feeling of pride, accomplishment, brotherhood, respect and joy. My words don’t do it justice, but I hope, if you’ve ever experienced this feeling or do one day, that you feel as energized and high as I do right now. It’s a pretty spectacular place to be 48 hours before 26.2.