By Karla Bruning
Chicago, I’m coming home. I’m running the 2009 Bank of America Chicago Marathon. It’s my third marathon, but it might be my most significant. The race coincides with the 6th anniversary of my father’s death.I was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs. My family lives in the city proper now, and I visit a few times a year. But when I left for college in Massachusetts 13 years ago, it was the last time I ever called Chicago home. After graduation I moved to New York, where I still live. Now when I line up for the start in Grant Park, it’ll be a homecoming of a different kind.
Just after the 12-mile mark, the marathon course tracks past The Merchandise Mart, where my dad worked during his glory days. I spent many weekends at my dad’s office when I was growing up. I can never pass the Mart without thinking of him. He was a workaholic, but more importantly, he was an alcoholic. He died of alcoholism at the age of 58.
So this year, I’m going to run for my dad. How can I not? Whether I believe in a Judeo-Christian vision of life and death, a Hindu-Buddhist one, or some other worldview, I figure he could use the help. So during all those times when I just want to give up the race (and I know there will be some), I’m going to think of him. And when my legs ache and my lungs burn and the effort literally numbs my brain, I’m going to “offer it up” for him. A marathon can be symbolic of so many struggles and that symbolism is not lost on me.
But before I get too somber, I want to celebrate this race, too. I had the pleasure of running 15 miles from Soldier Field up the lakefront earlier this summer. And you know what? It got me excited. It was flat and it was fast, as the course is often renowned in running circles. This is what I signed up for when I made my goal to drop a half hour from my best time.
But it also reminded me that I love Chicago, and running her streets brought me closer to the little girl who went to work—and Bears, Bulls, Sox and Cubs games—with her dad. Jogging around the city’s museum campus reminded me of all those outings with my mom— to the Field Museum, the Shedd Aquarium, the Adler Planetarium, the Art Institute and the Museum of Science and Industry—trips that got me thinking about traveling the globe and busting out of Chicago. The city was the gateway to the world. Running around downtown reminded me how much excitement and promise Chicago meant to me as a child. How it somehow symbolized all my dreams. Dreams that my parents—my mom and my dad—helped me realize.
And so I’m taking it to the streets. I’ve logged over 400 miles and 9 races this training season. My goal is to break 4:30. I know I have it in me, but if the stars don’t align and it doesn’t happen, I’m okay with that. While this time last year I was obsessing over which shoes to wear for the New York City marathon and whether to sport shorts or tights, I am much more laid back now and, dare I say it, have more perspective. My last long run was awful, but so what? I’ve been fighting a cold that knocked me out for the last week, but so what? This race isn’t about a PR (that’s runner speak for “personal record”). It’s about so much more than that.
My dad used to tell me I’d come back to Chicago—that we always return to where we are from. Well, here I am. Dad, this one’s for you.
Karla Bruning is an award-winning journalist and running nerd. She has completed three marathons, trains with the New York Harriers and is an active member of New York Road Runners. Follow Karla’s “Notes From a Running Nerd” at RunKarlaRun.com and Twitter@KBruning.
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