On the downside, it was 80 degrees with a gazillion percent humidity at the start of the race. On the upside, it was just like home.
“Everybody take it easy today. It’s hot out here. Today is not a day to set any personal records.” The PA announcer’s words carried over the first corral where we stood fidgeting, sweaty shoulder to sweaty shoulder, trying to manage a few last stretches without bumping into one another, which of course was impossible. We were like sardines in a sauna. “Be careful, folks,” he continued. Then, with a stimulating final flourish, “Everybody run slow today!”
Or, as they say in the nautical world, “All is lost!”
“The Star-Spangled Banner” blared through the speakers. It was just a recording, but everyone in the first corral was treated to a live performance by a classically trained singer who also happened to be in the first corral. He sang with the aptitude and flair of a professional. This wasn’t his first rodeo. I placed my hand over my heart and sang along.
The race began. Unfortunately, it wasn’t my day, and I knew it immediately. I tried to remember what the PA announcer had said before the race, something about not running for time but just soaking in the scenery of the beautiful city of Chicago.
I’d been pretty disheartened by my inability to patch a good race together as of late, and Chicago was supposed to fix that. Instead, it added to the pile. By mile three, I was ready to quit. I told myself if I could remember Tom’s number, I would throw in the towel, hop off the course, and have him pick me up.
Three one four, seven two six? Or is it six two seven? Seven six two?
Unfortunately, I couldn’t get past the area code and had to keep running. (I did discover, however, that I still remember the Tanner’s phone number from Full House: 555-2424.)
By mile nine, I found myself running (relatively) alone, the race having spread itself out by that point. The girl I had been using as a pacesetter began pulling away from me. In fact, she was more “lighthouse in the distance” than pacesetter. I changed my focus to a guy in a green singlet. Follow him.
And then he faded to lighthouse status.
I found another guy. Two, actually. They looked to be in their mid-forties and entirely in control of their pace. I tried to latch myself onto them.
Two more lighthouses were soon added to the collection.
Three one four... seven six two? I think it's seven six two... I was back to Tom's phone number. Perhaps I'll call my mom and have her call Tom.
Just then, I heard the distinct patter of a small stampede approaching from behind.
“Just in time,” I joked as the pace group drew even with me. “I was waiting for you guys to carry me to the finish.” (Side note: No one laughed. I blame the heat and humidity.)
“Sure! Run with us!” a gentlemen to my left said.
“Well, I’ll try to keep up with you guys as long as I can.”
“I hear ya.”
Everyone was quiet for a while. Eventually, I looked around to see who my new running companions were. There were a few guys to my left, a few behind me, another girl to my right, a few steps back. And parallel with my right hip, nearly bumping elbows with me…
Huh. That looks like Meb Keflezighi.
He was wearing sunglasses and a hat. He held a GoPro camera on a stick in his right hand and, in his left hand, he held a pace sign. The pace sign, ironically enough, was a cutout of Meb Keflezighi’s head.
Wow. That looks just like Meb Keflezighi! But why would Meb Keflezighi hold a cutout of his own face on a stick? That can’t be him!
I kept running, reasoning that the Meb Keflezighi lookalike running next to me holding a cutout of Meb Keflezighi’s head on a stick was not, indeed, Meb Keflezighi.
Have I ever mentioned that, sometimes, I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer?
We came to a water station. I reached out my hand. The guy who looked like Meb was right there.
“Oh, sorry!” he said, moving aside. “Go for it.”
I grabbed the water.
“Good job,” he said.
I drank the water and marveled at the guy's likeness to Meb Keflezighi.
Seriously. I think that’s Meb Keflezighi. It has to be. But why is everyone acting so chill?
I started to drop off. I wasn’t going to be able to hold the pace much longer. “So... wait…” I asked the guy bringing up the rear, “who is the guy pacing us?”
And then, they began to pull away from me.
It. Was. Meb.
I had been running with Meb Keflezighi, and I had spent the entire time trying to convince myself that Meb Keflezighi wasn’t Meb Keflezighi.
I began to lose my will to live. I had had the chance to finish a half marathon with an Olympian and Boston Marathon champion, and I couldn’t hold a pace I had run a dozen times before. Even worse, I couldn’t even pull myself together enough to say, “Hey! You’re Meb! You’re awesome! Big fan! I love you!”
Guys, I’m not gonna lie. By mile eleven, I was totally and utterly depressed. At mile twelve, I had to walk.
“I can’t believe it,” I said to Tom after the race. We stood at the finish line, waiting for my sister, Alicia, who was also running. “I blew it. I could have run with Meb.” I plopped down on the pavement in the shade, away from the post-race festivities. I shook my head. “I’m retiring.”
“Yeah, but you could have not run with him at all,” he said, ignoring my retirement plans.
“I know, but it would have been fun to run the rest of the race with him.”
“Sure. But at least you got to run with him for a while.”
He had a point.
Yes, I wish things would have rolled differently in Chicago. But it is what it is.
And, on the upside, I got to run with Meb.
Amy L. Marxkors is the author of The Lola Papers: Marathons, Misadventures, and How I Became a Serious Runner and Powered By Hope: The Teri Griege Story. Click here to receive Amy's weekly article via email.