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I told myself I wouldn't run another full marathon. Too much time. Too much commitment. Too much money for food stuffs (you've got to provide calories to use calories, people). However, somehow the running culture of Boston got to my restless bones, and I thought to myself, what if I could qualify for the Boston Marathon? Afraid of the failure, and the time I would be wasting if I did not qualify, I reasoned that the only way I would try would be if I ran for a charity; ergo Team in Training, a fundraising branch of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society that raises money for blood cancer research and treatments. (Back story: my brother was diagnosed with cancer the year I left for college, and I can happily report that he has his health back plus a family of his own now.) When I looked up TNT’s upcoming races, one just happened to be a Boston qualifier: The Chicago Marathon.

The Chicago Marathon | Blog | Smudge InkI stuck to one of the BAA training plans and three months later, I was on my way to Chicago, making it just in time for the pre-race dinner. The dinner included trays of delicious carbohydrates, final fundraising updates, guest speakers, and hundreds of people gathered together in a large room all for the same purpose. I ran into a man in the elevator only to find out later that this was his 40th plus marathon running with Team in Training. He was recognized in the banquet room with a few others who had raised over $50,000 for blood cancer research over their years of involvement. They reminded me of my dad's cousin who ran with Team in Training for years (who one year ran for my brother) and who sadly was later diagnosed and lost his battle with cancer. 

A guest speaker also reminded me of my family and the way I was brought up. The woman speaking was on another TNT team (the Alaska team). Her six-year-old son had unfortunately lost his battle with cancer, and she was heartbroken. It seems silly, but the part that got me was that for his Make a Wish experience, all he wanted to do was drive a John Deere tractor. My family farms, and driving a tractor is something everyone in my family gets to experience. Thankfully this lady's son got to experience the simple joy when he got to drive tractors all day at John Deere's headquarters in Michigan before he lost his battle with cancer. The woman was encouraged by a friend to participate in Team in Training after his passing. Though it was tough for her at times, she continued to go to practices as a form of therapy almost and their team's mantra became fittingly, "Run like a Deere." I decided I would do just that.

The next morning, all of the TNT runners met at 5:30 AM to shake out some nerves, encourage one another, and hear one more inspirational story. Once again, the experience hit a little too close to home. We were all given pennies and were recited a poem about a penny as a traveling vessel for an angel. It was written by another individual that did not win his battle with cancer. The Christmas after my Papa's (grandfather's) passing, all of us in the family were given pennies with the stamp of an angel on it. He never failed to pick up spare change, even a penny, when he found coins lying on the street. That morning, we were all encouraged to leave the penny we were given somewhere along the course. I had a feeling that my Papa was with me that day.

I checked my bags, stood in line for the porta potties, and made my way to the corale with the rest of the runners in a buzzing maze humming to the tune of excitement, nerves, and Portuguese/Spanish accents. I oddly felt more and more at home. The day was beautiful and the weather was set for perfect running weather: a cool mid-50 degrees. Before I knew it, the starting gun sounded, and there was no turning back.

The course was great! You really experienced most of the neighborhoods of Chicago. You can even see the virtual map here. It's basically like running it in warp speed. The aid stations and volunteers were AMAZING! There were so many great people cheering on us runners and providing entertainment along the way. My top 10 moments: 1) A sign that said, "If Trump can run, so can you;" 2) A golden lab dressed as a bumble bee; 3) Eating the Swedish Fish that Sarah gave me along the way; 4) Dropping my penny on the course; 5) A drag stage thumping some pop classics; 6) Seeing one of my super enthusiastic coaches, Laura, at mile 16 yelling with encouragement and the prideful chant of "GO TEAM;" 7) The rhythmic Chinese drum in Chinatown; 8) Lip sinking to Bohemian Rhapsody and slightly air drumming in the final stretch of the race; 9) Passing people who weren't running for a charity (don't get me wrong, it's great that people run marathons whatever the reason, but there's something gratifying about representing a great organization like TNT towards the front of a pack); 10) FINISHING!

The Chicago Marathon | Blog | Smudge InkHopped up on endorphins, I was ecstatic to find a free Goose IPA directly after the finish! Yes, it was handed to me even before the metal, but I'd rather finish like that any day! I cheered to my dad's cousin in a silent/subtle act of solidarity and enjoyed what the remainder of the day had to offer. It involved a quick change back at the hotel, watching a few of my fellow teammates finish, a second Goose IPA, texting with family and friends, and live music. Did I mention Giordiano's deep dish pizza, accompanied by another beer? After sufficiently refueling, I hobbled back to the hotel, stretched a bit, and slept the most magnificent sleep of my entire life.

Despite my reluctance to sign up for another marathon, I couldn't have asked for a better race and experience. The Chicago marathon is seriously one of the best organized races I have EVER experienced. I felt connected to the TNT cause. I felt family and friends with me that weekend in spirit. Grand total for my fundraising: $2,580.88! Almost $200 over my fundraising goal! My team raised over $40,000 as a whole! And ... well, I guess I'll say it, I qualified for Boston! Thanks friends and family for all of your support! Thanks to everyone who donated! Special thanks to Black Ink Harvard Square and Marathon Sports Brookline for contributing to my fundraising efforts. And congrats to all of my fellow teammates who ran their marathons and reached their fundraising goals!

Stay tuned for 2018! I think I'm running again with TNT! Smudge, you may not know this, but I'm thinking of having you guys help me with a fundraising idea called, Make Purple Sell (it's fitting for both Smudge Ink and Team in Training).