It's 6:45 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 7 and there's a buzz inside Grafton High School. The dimly lit hallways are packed with people. Some walking, some standing or sitting. With a wide range of ages on display, it was clear these people weren't students. They were runners warming up before heading outside to find their spots at the starting line for the 2012 Lakefront Marathon. And I was one of them.
Seven years ago, I was in a similar position when I ran the Chicago Marathon and wrote a story for OnMilwaukee.com about the experience. Ever since completing what was my first marathon in 2005, I had the urge to run another. (This is how the addiction often begins.) But my experience leading up to the Lakefront Marathon was different for several reasons.
Married with kids. I got married in 2007 and now have two kids. With a 2-and-a-half-year-old boy and an 11-month-old daughter, making time to train was a challenge that often resulted in late-night or early-morning runs. Or runs cut short.
"You didn't pick the best year to train for a marathon," Melanie, my wife, would often say (usually as I was heading out the door on a long run). Working around our busy family schedule turned out to be more difficult than I imagined.
Flying solo. I trained for the Lakefront Marathon alone this time, minus a co-worker who occasionally ran with me over the lunch hour. Going through periods when my motivation was challenged, I could only point the finger at myself when I missed a scheduled run. Without training partners to talk to during the long runs, I relied on Pandora Radio to help pass the time.
Summer swelter. It may have been one of the worst summers to train for a marathon. Temperatures consistently hitting the 90-100 degree mark. Not ideal for running. My boss, who trained for the 2012 Chicago Marathon that also occurred this past Sunday, agreed.
"It was just too hot," Tom Watson would often say. "By the time I'm done with my long runs, I'm dripping in sweat and my shoes are soaked. I'm a hot mess."
Injury. It's the word marathoners hate, but is prevalent. And lucky me, it happened roughly four weeks before the race. After experiencing some pain on the outside of my right knee during a 20-miler, I visited the doctor the following week. The good news: no structural damage. The bad news: No running for the next week. When I did begin running again, the knee pain would often come along with me, which led me to doubt my chances of making it 26.2 miles. So I cut back on the running program with hopes that I'd make it to race day healthy.
Now, here I was outside Grafton High School, anxiously waiting in line at 7:15 a.m. to use the porta-potty before the race. I struck up a friendly conversation with the woman in front of me because everyone seems to have great running stories. And this woman was no different. Looking to be in her mid-to-late 60s, she was a marathon veteran, and not just the Lakefront. Nashville, Chicago – you name it.
"I bet I've done roughly 20 marathons total," she said. "This is probably my last one though." And when I asked if her husband still comes to watch, she replied, "He's relaxing at home."
Shortly after arriving at the starting line and wiping the final sleep out of my eyes, the race was underway. Unlike running through the urban jungle that is Chicago, the Lakefront Marathon is a beautiful progression from rural to urban. From the roughly paved county highway and farms at the start to the friendly suburbs of Bayside, Fox Point and Whitefish Bay and finish at Veterans Park, it offered a fantastic tour of the area. Combine that with the fall colors and the scenery provided a temporary distraction from the run that was in front of me.
While it is difficult to compare the crowds at this race to Chicago, I had flashbacks as people waved big signs and kids throughout the race stuck out their hands in hopes of getting high-fived. This time it was my son in the crowd, and I made sure not to miss him.
The first half flew by, but the second half was a challenge. Muscles tightening up. Knee pain off and on. As I struggled mightily mile 18 on, people I had never met saw the name "JOSH" on my bib and cheered specifically for me, which helped immensely. This is what it was all about. Community coming together to support one another.
When the finish line was in sight, I gave it one last sprint, leaving nothing in the tank. My name was announced as I crossed the finish line in a time of 4:17:20. Three minutes faster than my Chicago time. While not record-breaking or the ideal time I was aiming for, I was happy to finish and cross another marathon off my list.
My story is just one of the thousands. If you ran the Lakefront Marathon this past Sunday, I'd like to get your thoughts on your experience.