Every year I’ve lived in Chicago, come early June, I have plotted out a regimented running schedule, trained for a sweaty 18 weeks and, eventually, hauled my somewhat in-shape ass 26.2 miles: under the Randolph Street bridge, past the Elvis impersonator on North Avenue, through the scent of tacos in Pilsen and across the finish line in Grant Park. Yes, I’ve completed the Chicago Marathon. Three times, going on four this week.
I’d like to say this makes me an urban warrior. But if that’s true, the threshhold for making such a claim is far too low, with fellow warriors including the guy who ran 2010’s marathon in an Eiffel Tower costume, approximately half of my Facebook news feed and, probably, your grandma.
Let’s face it, lululemon-clad brothers and sisters: If you’re doing 26.2 for the bragging rights, you’d better be qualifying for Boston. Otherwise, kindly shut up.
For the 2,128 people who completed the first Chicago Marathon in 1977, it was a genuine distinction. The fact that few people had any idea why or how such an event was occurring—this was pre–Chariots of Fire—made it even better. Registration numbers climbed throughout much of the ’80s, hitting nearly 12,000 in 1986, but dipped back to 6,941 by 1993.
I pinpoint 1994, when Oprah ran the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C., as the beginning of the end. Send in the sheep. By ’97, enrollment for the Chicago Marathon was up to a record 16,372. It snowballed from there, more than doubling to 37,500 in just four years. This year, 45,000 people signed up, capping out noncharity registration in a record 31 days. There are no stats, unfortunately, about how many of these entrants are running it just to put it on their OkCupid profiles.
Before you team up to tackle me on the course, let’s get a few things straight. I love running marathons. It’s a feat that keeps me in shape, keeps me (sometimes) from succumbing to too much whiskey on sultry summer nights, gives me a goal I feel good about meeting. And I’d love for you to complete a marathon—your first, your fifth, your tenth; sprinting, jogging, walking—if it has true significance to you. I just may choke on my mile 20 banana if I meet one more person who thinks crossing the finish line is an achievement equal to curing cancer.
This may be you if: You tweet the exact mileage of every training run, or, in the style of my doorman, physically pat yourself on the back as you tell me how many miles you ran that morning. Please don’t wear your medal to work. Or feature the postrace photo of your disheveled self on your Christmas cards. Or create a marathon shrine in your bedroom. My medals are tucked in the drawer that houses my wicking tees, and that’s where they will stay.
Run. Have fun. Eat a heaping pile of white-chocolate pretzel pancakes with your friends afterward. Just don’t expect the bus driver, the Starbucks barista and 80 of your closest coworkers to fawn over what 36,088 people (nearly twice the capacity of the United Center) did last year alone.