I am not an athlete. My sister is. We have good genes. We are both strong. We have good body proportions. We are coordinated.
But when she wakes up she will move mountains to squeeze in a 20-minute workout. I will move mountains to squeeze it a visit to Starbucks for coffee and a sausage sandwich. That’s the real difference.
But, because of my sister mostly, I have always been a borderline athlete. I ran track and cross-country in high school (she medaled regularly—I didn’t). I did Tae Kwon Do with her (she got a black belt—I didn’t).
So, the idea of running a marathon wasn’t entirely insane. When I got it into my head, nobody suggested medication to control my delusions. But, it was definitely a stretch.
I realized quickly that I needed to somehow commit in a serious way, otherwise it would be too easy to back out. First, I found a friend who was going to do it with me. But, I worried she would back out, so I needed more of a commitment. I decided to sign up for a marathon in a different city—even a different country. If I got a plane ticket, a hotel, told the world, I couldn’t back out.
It immediately came to me: Prague! Prague is an important city to me since I spent my last semester of university there. I met a guy I fell in love with there, and he was a significant part of my 20’s. And, my mom came to visit me there. Every experience tied to my mom was more significant after she died. Plus, it is a very flat city (minus the giant hill of the castle).
So, I decided on Prague, which meant May (2000). That meant training through the winter — in Chicago. Running the streets in ice and snow was a daily experience. The alternative was running 10-15 miles on a treadmill—not fun.
This marathon was becoming more and more significant. It was a chance to visit a city in which I transitioned from kid to adult. It was a chance to prove to myself I could set a challenge and achieve it.
My sister and my aunt flew to Prague to cheer me on for the five hours—yes, it took me grueling hours—to finish the race. That is love and dedication and support that is unparalleled.
And, at the start of the race I met Amy-Catherine, and woman who was also running her first marathon and with whom I have stayed close. Amy-Catherine is a being so full of love and lightness and energy and smiles that we ran the whole race together, with our arms above our heads waving at the throngs of supporters. Every time someone cheered or clapped for us, we waved. By mile 15, I couldn’t move my arms any more. I hadn’t done my hours of training in the dark cold Chicago streets with my arms waving above my head. They throbbed. I thought they might literally fall off.
At mile 22, Amy-Catherine got a surge of energy, and I told her to go on. I was puttering out. They were literally taking the race course apart as I ran I was so far in the back of the pack. I was spent. I felt like quitting. Just then, my sister appeared at my side and ran the last 4.2 miles with me, not letting me walk, not letting me quit.
When I crossed the finish line under the famous Prague clock tower I burst into tears. I had been here with my mom. I was here with my sister. And I had just pushed my body to the extreme with the help of them both, as well as the magical city of Prague.