Prior to running the marathon I ran a yearly 5k on thanksgiving just to eat more and see if I could still do it. I watched Erika’s Lighthouse runners two years ago at the Chicago marathon and loved the energy of the day. Of course Erika’s Lighthouse is near and dear to my heart and I knew running for such a worthy cause would be a great motivator.

I also had a high school friend that wanted to run it to commemorate our fiftieth birthdays. She agreed to join the Erika’s Lighthouse team and off we went.

Training

We ran short runs during the week and long runs as a team on Saturdays together. I thought I was just going for runs and it would be lonely but what I discovered was a community of generous people helping any and all levels.  Our differences melted away and we all became runners sharing this transformative experience.

I had good runs that inspired me to dream of a fast marathon and tough runs that challenged my resilience. This wasn’t going to be something quick. It took time. Patience and discipline became the most important qualities even more than fitness.  How could I occupy my mind for all those hours?  Podcasts was the answer for me.

The best runs were with a buddy. My sister in law ran my first ten miler with me. It was hot and hilly and tough. She knew just when to encourage me and helped me get through a tough mile. My high school friend ran with me for my first half marathon training run. We met another Erika’s Lighthouse runner, Kim, and ran together. Again the support was generous, each runner encouraging the other through their tough part. Then the big twenty miler that everyone kept talking about. It’s the longest mileage during the training phase.  Ours was ninety degrees and humid, not ideal conditions, and tough didn’t describe it. And again my friend and I ran with another runner we just happened to pace with. She talked about her love of running, a favorite marathon in Minnesota and again we all helped each other get through the later miles. I think April called it the ultra-marathon shuffle. The shared experience through something so challenging was the biggest reward.

Race day

I will never forget the crowd’s encouragement. I was told it will carry the runner through but it’s hard to believe that until you see and hear it. Chicago is a beautiful city and although it was a warm day to run, the sun shining on our beautiful city made it glisten. The character of each neighborhood was a delight, from Lincoln Park and old town through little Italy, Pilsen, Chinatown and the west side, the flavor and sounds of all these places made the run so fun. And the bands, I passed so many fun bands, what a party!

During my run I was so lucky to see my family twice, my high school girl friends twice and Erika’s Lighthouse supporters cheering me on. What a difference those beautiful smiling faces made. I was humbled and overwhelmed by the love and support.

The end of the race was rewarding for the accomplishment, surely, but the journey is what I will always remember. In the end, all the individuals I had the pleasure of meeting and connecting with on this awesome endeavor, all the friends and family that supported with kind words and generous donations to Erika’s Lighthouse, this made the most impact on my life.

I ran over twenty miles with knee pain that I had never experienced before. It slowed me down but never stopped me. I endured. Admittedly I am competitive though and not entirely satisfied with my time. I just may have to do it again 🙂

If you are interested in running for Erika’s Lighthouse, sign up today, limited spots available!

By: Kathleen Hooper, Lighthouse Council Member and 2017 Team Erika’s Lighthouse Chicago Marathon Runner