If you had told me Jan. 1, 2011, that I would run two marathons in the next four years, I would have laughed in your face.
Running and I had a love/hate relationship for most of my formative years. I ran in P.E. class because I didn’t have a choice, and I generally did all right in our annual mile run. I ran cross country in middle school because my homeroom teacher talked me into joining the team so they’d have five girls, thus allowing them to score at meets, and I generally loathed every second of it. I continued to run a two-mile loop in my neighborhood throughout summers in high school because it seemed like an easy enough way to exercise, and I definitively decided I did not have the physical ability to run more than that.
I have no tales of high school cross country glory (though I could tell you plenty about my mediocrity as a sprinter and long jumper in track). I have no tales of a change of heart upon starting college.
What I do have, however, is a tale of a suburban mother who inspired me to give running one more chance.
In 2011, I interned at Chicago Athlete magazine, and one of my responsibilities in that position involved interviewing and writing each issue’s "Everyday Athlete," which is a feature on a regular person who had a story worth printing. During that time, I interviewed a woman who started running with Team in Training after her daughter’s leukemia diagnosis. Her first race ever was the Bank of America Chicago Marathon. There I sat, a college student in my 20s, and I thought, “If she can run a marathon, surely I can run a 5K.”
I went for a few runs along the Lakefront Trail during my internship, and after that ended, I bookmarked the Couch to 5K program on my computer. I followed its direction religiously from day one, and in August 2011 I proudly completed my first 5K. I enjoyed the experience so much that I decided I wanted to keep going, maybe run a 10K within the next two or three years, a half marathon a few years after that and hopefully make it all the way to a marathon before 2020 -- or maybe 2030.
On recounting my first 5K experience to a friend a few weeks later, I found myself challenged to a 10K the following May, and soon after completing my first 10K, I agreed to run a half marathon. I finished my first half marathon thinking, “Oh, I could definitely keep running,” and in 2013, seven years ahead of schedule, I finished my first marathon.
While my first 5K introduced me to running, training for my first 10K made me fall in love with the sport. I felt an incredible sense of pride looking at my Garmin and seeing numbers I had never dreamed I would see: I had run four miles, five miles, six miles, seven miles. I ran seven miles. This, from legs I really, truly thought did not have the ability to go one step beyond two miles.
I haven’t set a personal distance record since the Bank of America Chicago Marathon in 2013 when I ran 26.2 miles for the first time. Despite losing the sense of constant wonder at how far I’ve gone (though I do certainly still have my moments), I have found so much more in running. I have found a community in this enormous city, I have found an ongoing personal challenge, I have found a way to turn off my mind and just be for 30 minutes, 60 minutes, three and a half hours or more. In running, I have found myself.
Bethany Stripp is a local runner and the editor-in-chief of Chicago Athlete magazine.