Hello readers, this is Matt writing to you again. You may remember my In His Words story featured in back in September. In that story I spoke of my intention to run the Chicago Marathon on October 7, 2012. The responses to my story and the requests to hear about my marathon experience were enough that I asked Beth if I could do a follow-up piece for you. She was more than happy to feature it and here I am again.
There are many experiences in life that no matter how prepared we feel, we cannot be 100% prepared for. The marathon and its 26 miles and 385 yards is most certainly one of those experiences.
Race day is always such a special day for so many reasons. No matter what the distance or how many races I have done, my emotions always seem to be all over the map. The marathon was no different for me. My 4:45am wake up call came and I jumped out of bed. I was so excited to run my first marathon.
I had my pancake breakfast, showered, stretched and got dressed to leave.
The Chicago Marathon is a very well-oiled machine I’ll tell you. It was nearly a 2 mile walk to my gear check area because there were three different gear check areas depending on your starting corral. My mom came with me as I got my things in order, stretched a bit, and dropped my gear off. She gave me a big hug and off I went into Corral L around 7:45am.
It was time.
Standing in my race corral, surrounded by 45,000 other runners was really a breathtaking sight. As we inched toward the start line I found myself becoming more and more serious. Gone were the days where I could train. Gone were the days where I could daydream about this moment. And gone were the days where I was not a marathoner. The moment had come to actually do it. At around 8:15am, I blew a kiss to the sky (something I do at every race for certain loved ones no longer with me), started my Garmin, and was off. It was official, I was running my first ever marathon!
Start to 10K
As I began to run, a huge smile crept over my face. I just kept thinking “I am running the Chicago Marathon. This is so cool!” The 10K distance went by in a blur. The streets were lined with thousands and thousands of spectators. That, coupled with adrenaline, had me feeling so good. I hit the 10K mark in 1:05:48, feeling fresh and confident.
10K to Half Marathon
This might have been my favorite stretch of the race. I knew going into the race that I would see my friends Jon, Steph, and baby Samantha (people I consider true family) at the Mile 7 marker. I saw them right where they said they would be. They jumped up and down and screamed when they saw me and we shared a hug. I gave baby Sam a kiss, took a photo with Jon and Steph, and was off and running again. It was such a boost to see them. Miles 7 through 10 flew by as I was feeling great and knew my Mom would be waiting for me around Mile 10. As I approached I saw her and my friend Jillian. My mom started jumping up and down like I knew she would. I got a hug from both of them and a “You got this.” from my Mom and off I went. As I crossed into double digits and hit the half marathon marker I felt so good. I passed the halfway mark at 2:20:19, ahead of my projected finish time, and figured if I kept at this pace I would be just fine.
Little did I know…
Half Marathon to Mile 20
This was, by far, the most lonely and challenging part of the race for me. As I passed the Mile 14 marker my body began to do something it had never done in two years and nearly 1000 miles of running … it began to breakdown. My quads began to violently twitch and spasm. At first I thought it was a temporary setback and pushed through it the way I had pushed through everything else along the way in life. The pain became so intense that it forced me to begin walking and, eventually, come to a complete stop. I was so unprepared for something like this, as I had never experienced it before. To look down and actually see my muscles spasming to the point that it nearly buckled me was scary. I did what I could for the next two miles knowing my Mom had said she MIGHT be at Mile 16. Well, Mile 16 came and went and I couldn’t find her.
At the time it was crushing. It may seem odd for me to tell you that in a field of 45,000 runners and almost 2 million spectators that I was lonely, but I truly felt that way. For a split second I thought “I still have ten more miles to go.” but immediately stopped that line of thought. I made a tough decision and decided to lay down the fierce competitor in me. The race became about finishing and not about time anymore. When I finally got to the Mile 20 marker I saw my Mom and she knew something was wrong. She gave me a tight hug and said exactly what I needed to hear. “Do what you have to do Matthew. I love you.” It was then I decided not to seek medical attention because I knew there was a chance they wouldn’t let me back out to finish. I was willing to risk permanent injury to make this dream a reality. I was finishing this race … by any means necessary.
Mile 20 to Finish
They say the real race begins at Mile 20. I can’t really vouch for that, but I can tell you I learned a lot about myself during those last 6.2 miles. My quads were still spasming but I began to figure some things out. I shortened my running stride and was able to run easier than walk. I ran/walked (more like a shuffle) the rest of the way. I was able to put together a 10:45 pace when I did run and felt pretty good. I saw the the “1 mile to go” sign and decided to run that last mile. As I turned the corner past the Mile 26 marker and saw the finish line it dawned on me … I was about to finish. After 5 hours, 24 minutes, and 45 seconds, I raised my arm to the sky and crossed the finish line. It was official. Matthew Frates had become a marathoner.
In the weeks since then I have had some time to really think about the whole experience. While training for this took place in 2012, the real journey toward this moment started back in 2010 when I decided to get my life together. As much as this race for was for me, I realize now that it was as much for those I hold close as it was for me. I received an overwhelming amount support along the way and I know I would never have achieved all that I have without it. I was fortunate to not only have my Mom there, but four of my closest friends as well.
I will never be able to truly express what that meant to me and I know that no matter where my life takes me I will never forget this experience and everything they contributed to making it such a success. 26.2 miles is a humbling distance and the experience of running it taught me many things. The most important thing it taught me is that no matter what life throws my way, I will never again think or feel that I cannot do it. I am a marathoner and no one will EVER be able to take that away from me. Thank you so much for reading my story.