FANTASTIC! Start to finish, this was the best marathon experience ever, in part because Chicago is my home and my family was with me.

As I said to Tom, who finished the AIA Marathon in Fort Lauderdale with me, the Chicago Marathon is a must for every marathoner. 26.2 miles of spectators cheering and yelling encouragement to everyone they see. Bands, stereo speakers in windows, cheerleaders, young kids, older people, high fives, Elvis, whistles, cow bells, shouting. The energy level remains that high for nearly every yard of the race. It was simply unbelievable.

I will never be able to thank everyone who gave me encouragement before, during, and after this marathon. A few of those supporters are pictured below, including Dee and Lorrie, the "on-sight" members of The World's Greatest Cheering Section who stood in the 37 degree temperatures, with windchills below freezing, holding signs of encouragement over their heads for 20 minutes at each of three locations along the marathon course. Look up "kindness" in the dictionary and you will see pictures of Dee and Lorrie. Thank you Dee and Lorrie, and thank you to everyone (you know who you are!) who lifted me up and made this happen. You were with me every mile of the race, and we ran a good one!

A special note to Mary, a founding member of The World's Greatest Cheering Section, who followed the race on-line, phoned me afterward with her support, and was tending to Sue's really bad sprain. You were missed, Mary. Thank you. Feel better Sue!

On to the pictures . . .

Two days before the race. As the plane took off from Palm Beach International Airport, I thought of all the 5:30 am training runs when our group (Palm Beach Marathon Training.Com) was running along the intracoastal and I would look up at the first airplanes leaving the airport at 6:00 am and think about this very moment when the training would be over and I would be traveling to Chicago.

The top of the clouds resembled snow covered streets. By the start of the race, we were all sick of talking about the anticipated weather conditions for the run, which included the possibility of snow.

The Chicago Skyline.

Staying at the Palmer House Hilton just blocks from the starting line made the morning of the run very easy. The Palmer House was full of marathoners, so there was a lot of comradeship while waiting for elevators. We were treated wonderfully.

National Car Rental had a yellow VW Bug, convertible, just waiting for me at Midway Airport. I had a blast driving around Chicago in the Bug. VW is sponsoring the Prague Marathon in May of 2007. See you there.

Chicago's Art Institute was just a few blocks from our hotel, on the way to the start line in Grant Park. As I drove to the Marathon Expo on Saturday morning, I remembered all the wonderful tours and exhibits I had enjoyed at this fabulous museum.

I spotted a lot of runners out early on Saturday morning getting a few miles in.

The race expo was held in McCormick Place, a beautiful facility with plenty of room for the cars and RVs parked inside the third story expo area.

Thanks, Gwen, for getting the Expo off to a good start.

The race starts to get very real when you see your name pop up on the screen as your timing chip is passed over the sensor.

Plenty of shopping was available at the expo.

Rain, turning to snow, with a low of 29 degrees. Perfect running weather. I went back to the marathon apparel booth and bought a running jacket.

The new, fit Ronald McDonald.

I left the Expo and traveled South to the home of a founding member of The World's Greatest Cheering Section - my cousin Dee. Perfect timing to catch the fall colors in Chicago.

My cousins: Peggy, Lorrie, and Dee. Dee, also known as "Martha" for her cooking talent, organizational skills, fashion expertise, decorating abilities, etc., etc., etc. (she's just perfect, that's all!) put together a fabulous Premarathon Carbo Load/Birthday Party for Peggy and me. Dee is a founding member of The World's Greatest Cheering Section, and this year she was joined "on-site" along the marathon route by Lorrie. Peggy was one of the "off-site" Cheering Section members, monitoring my progress on the internet and calling Dee and Lorrie with information and updates. What a team!

After the carbs, it was time for the delicious birthday cake Lorrie made for Peggy. Front row: Mike, Michael, Ed. Back row: Lorrie, Missy, John, Gene. Thanks for the final stats Gene. Have I mentioned what a great team this is? Sorry you were so warm on Sunday!

The birthday girl. Hard to believe Peggy is 40! Thank you, Peggy, for telling me not to quit at mile 23. Your words, along with the words of my cousin Tom who told me to finish strong, were with me as I ran through the last three miles, something I had never done before. I even blew past the last Gatorade tables without stopping, and finished strong, thanks to your support. Thank You!

Peggy makes a wish.

Trick candles?

After leaving Dee's wonderful party and pep rally, I strolled around downtown Chicago, taking in the beautiful sights, and absorbing the energy of the city.

Street performers entertained the crowds.

It's Race Day! Our first task was to turn on the weather channel. No rain! We decided to wear leggings, and jackets over long-sleeved dry weave shirts. My roomies, Geraldine (a/k/a Sue Ellen) and Tracy (a/k/a Joan Collins) are ready to run.

At 6:00 am, Tracy's excitement was contagious!

I left the room early, around 6:30 am to get to Grant Park and start taking pictures. Geraldine and Tracy were staying in the warm hotel a little longer - they were smart. Downstairs in the lobby I ran into Coach Bob and George. "Remember, start slow, finish fast. Pain is temporary, pride is forever." Thanks Coach Bob!

The crowd was warming up before heading through the frigid morning to Grant Park and the start.

This is what the Chicago Marathon is all about. One runner's Mother, Husband, and Children were waiting by the door of the Palmer House to start what would undoubtedly be a long, cold day of supporting their runner along the route. What wonderful inspiration!

Walking under "the El" on the way to the start in Grant Park

Past the Art Institute's lions. They reminded me of running on Palm Beach.

Plastic bags were the style of the morning. Where is Cleve when you need him?

Paper jumpsuits, paper pants, and paper coats were also popular.

Channel 2 is ready to broadcast the start.

Buckingham Fountain near the center of Grant Park

7:00 am

Liz and Emily are ready to run.

7:30 am

I lined up with the 4 hour, 30 minute pacing team. A bit ambitious of me.

There are certain things in life that cannot be explained. In a sea of 37,000 plus people, Geraldine and Tracy walked right in front of me as I stood in the middle of the crowd waiting to start the race. Roomies reunited for the start! How cool is that?

The three of us stayed together for about seven miles after the start of the race, until we lost each other at a water stop. Tracy put her name on the front of her shirt with stick-on letters, so all the spectators were yelling: "Go Tracy!" (That is, until the "T" fell off around mile 17, and the crowd started yelling: "Go Racy!" What fun!) Tracy told Geraldine and me that we were part of "Team Tracy/Racy," so we fed off the crowd's enthusiasm.

Geraldine strikes her now famous prerace pose

The race started just before 8:00 am. We approached the start line around 8:10 am, stepping over all the discarded bags, paper clothes, jackets, gloves, and scarves.

Geraldine ripped off her paper pants, revealing these stunning blue shorts. Sorry, Geraldine, I couldn't resist.

This picture of mile 13 is from Dee. It's perfect. There were so many fantastic "pictures" along the route, and so much I wanted to photograph; however, the tremendous number of people, the cold, and the fact I was wearing gloves, made pulling out my camera and stopping to get a clear picture very difficult. (Even the pictures I took indoors are blurry.)

Picture this: A man on the sideline with a sign being held over his four year-old's head that reads "Free High Fives," as his son holds up one hand, and laughs with glee as one runner after another passes and gives him a high five. We saw another runner dressed as Las Vegas Elvis in full white jumpsuit, who winked at everyone that looked at him. These are just two of the thousands of memories I wish I had captured. Running this race was like being on sensory overload. At times there was almost too much to take in.

I met up with the "on-sight" members of The World's Greatest Cheering Section between miles 12 and 13. I couldn't miss Dee's red sign, it was great. I was so thrilled Dee and Lorrie braved the cold to cheer me on. It made all the difference. As I left them, Dee said: "22nd and Michigan." It took me a couple minutes, but I figured out she and Lorrie had decided to scrap our initial plan to meet back at the hotel, and instead planned to travel along the marathon route to meet up with me during those difficult final three miles. I fought back the tears (something I have been doing almost non-stop for the past two weeks), and literally felt their support urging me on.

As it turned out, I slowed down by the end of the race, and either passed-up Dee and Lorrie without spotting them, or ran by the location at 22nd and Michigan just after they left. Tracy and Geraldine, who were running several minutes ahead of me, both saw the sign and noticed my number. They told me after the race that they spotted my cousins at two different locations near the end of the race, and were excited and inspired by the encouragement.

I asked if I could photograph these women who I had been watching for a brief time as I ran up to them near mile 16 (I think it was 16). One of them, and I won't say which one, had stopped running, and the other two women refused to go on without her. That kind of support was amazing to witness.

Mile 17, passing the University of Illinois Chicago, on the way to Little Italy. I lived in this neighborhood for two years during college and it was great to be back.

Entering Little Italy approaching mile 18. This couple was funny. I stopped to take a picture of the Italian Flags lining the street and they asked if I was Susan. They had picked a popular name to put on their sign, thinking they would inspire all the Susans who ran past them. That kind of creative spirit lined and defined this race.

There were plenty of "stunt runners" out there on the course. I was unable to get a picture of the two women dressed as "Thing One and Thing Two" in red longjohns with blue spikey wigs. The stunt runners kept the mood light and were a welcome distraction near the end of the race.

No time to stop and enjoy the pumpkin bounce house

Another great picture Dee took, this time of Chinatown at mile 22.

This one is for you, Peggy. (Not the Tylenol sign, the park in the background.) You ran with me from mile 23 to the finish and your words of encouragement from Saturday kept me going. Thank you for sharing your birthday with me!

I was the second person to take this woman's picture as she stood around mile 23. How could we resist? Her shirt read: Run Like Hell, Fr. Mike. Cute. My Father's name was Mike, so I took the wording on her shirt as a personal message from above.

I finished the race with Dimple. I introduced myself to Dimple 800 meters before the finish line, though I had seen her at several points earlier in the race. I have always heard remarks about my dimples, and her name on the back of her shirt caught my eye during the marathon. Dimple and I were running about the same pace for the last several miles.

Dimple started to slow to a near stop as we approached the final "hill" into Grant Park before turning to see the finish line. Though we had not talked to each other in the nearly five hours it took us to get to this point, at this very late stage of the race, when all protocol had evaporated, I felt comfortable patting Dimple on the back. "Let's go. We've got this thing. There's no stopping us now. We're almost there." Dimple looked at me with a slight smile that was framed by a face feeling pain and hoping for the promise of joy. Dimple drew down, deep into the recesses of her soul, and she started running again.

"Yes! You are great!," I shouted to her. We exchanged names, where we were raised, where we lived, and any other absolutely meaningless tidbit of information that would keep us talking and distracted from our pain.

When you look at this picture of Dimple, please look deeply into her eyes. That is the look of a first-time marthoner's joy, of a person who overcame all the odds, who trained hard, and who finished with spirit. It is the definition of what it means to push yourself to the limit, to overcome adversity, and to know that you have what it takes to succeed. That is the look of a winner.

Dimple motivated me through the final 800 meters. Having her to encourage and support made it all the easier for me to keep going no matter how I felt, to set an example. A man named Franklin set the same example for me at mile 25 of my first marathon. That mutual support is what running marathons is all about. Maybe that is what life is all about. Plunk down $500.00 for a ticket to a Streisand concert this year and you'll hear her tell you: "People who need people, are the luckiest people in the world."

"There's the finish," I yelled to Dimple, pointing to the overhead banners as we turned the corner into Grant Park. "Let's go. We've got this thing." Dimple responded with sheer determination, sheer gut. She ran.

Dimple, you are great! Realize it. Bask in it. For the rest of your life, you will have whatever you set your sights on. You have what it takes to succeed. You will not fail. You proved that on Sunday. Thank you for helping me realize the same about myself.

Dimple, we've got this thing.

The walk back to the hotel was misery. I was freezing and shaking, and the beer I was handed at the finish line wasn't strong enough to provide any real sedation. I took a couple bites of an english muffin and found myself stopping to ask a spectator the way back to the Palmer House. Mind you, it was only three blocks away, but my mind obviously wasn't working at this point. Eventually I found the hotel, and was greeted by Lorrie who snapped this shot and captured my frozen joy. Lorrie was so excited, it was great seeing her. Thank you, Lorrie, for sharing your Sunday with me, and welcome to The World's Greatest Cheering Section. You definitely qualify for the title!

The traditional post-race luncheon at The Big Downtown in the Palmer House. Calamari and chocolate chip cookies (Cookies supplied by Martha who stayed up after hosting a carbo load/birthday party on Saturday and baked! Dee, I mean Martha, you are remarkable!) YUM!

Lorrie snapped this picture of Dee and me at the post-race luncheon. Tracy is an experienced marathoner and she brought stick-on letters for our shirts and signs, so I created this sign the morning of the race to hold up for Dee and Lorrie when I saw them. There were no more "c"s, so the sign read "Dee and Lorrie Rok." They do!

One final note. I drove back to Little Italy on Monday before leaving Chicago and found my favorite corner market, Fontano's, just down the street from where I used to live. The hot Italian roast beef sandwich tasted the same as it did 30 years ago. It was in Fontano's where someone asked me how I did in the Marathon (He noticed I was walking like Frankenstein.). "I finished in an upright position," I said. He responded, "That's better than the winner."
Thank you. Time: 4:58:49





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