Joe’s Journey to the Chicago Marathon

Where it all began CHICAGO MARATHON

I registered for the 2017 Chicago Marathon before I had run any foot race of any distance. Yup, you read that correctly. My approach to running was a fairly unorthodox one. I had not run for 36 years because my teacher shamed me during a softball game, jeering me with “You run like a girl!” as she ran alongside me to first base. This movie clip played in my head for years. Even after I came out, I still let her words define me. It wasn’t until much later in life that I realized they were offensive to girls, too.

Chicago Marathon - Joe Guarino

Two days after watching my husband complete the Chicago Marathon last year, with admiration and inspiration, I decided that I was done letting anyone’s words define me. I wanted to run. And not only run, but run a marathon. I laced up my shoes and took my first steps as a runner.Three days shy of one year later, I achieved that goal. In between there were a whole lot of miles – 1097 miles to be exact. Some domestic, some international, some in oppressive heat, some in freezing cold, some in the rain, some that boosted confidence and some that filled me with doubt.   I ran my very first race, a Turkey Trot last November. After that I added a three 5Ks, four 10Ks, 2 ten milers and 3 half marathons. In the end, each and every one of those steps led me to that Start line in Chicago on October 8, 2017 and more importantly to that Finish line at the end.

As a newbie, one of the things that helped me do it right was engaging with Coach Andrew very early on in the process. Having guidance from the start meant that I would have someone’s expertise there to guide me and prevent me from doing the things that many new runners do – add too much mileage too soon, overtrain or skip cross training. Andrew boosted me when I had doubts, reminded me that “not every run is a good run.” He helped keep it all in perspective for me.

Chicago Marathon - Joe Guarino

Polar Dash

The first race goal I had set for myself was the Polar Dash in Chicago – a January race on Lake Michigan of multiple distances. It’s not the usual race many put on their calendar but one that was soon enough after I had started running that I felt would keep me motivated and get some racing under my belt. A month before it, I twisted my ankle when I caught a curb that was obscured by leaves. I remember thinking, “Here we go. I just discover a new sport and I could already be down for the count.” It set me back a few weeks but could have been much worse. Still, I felt the remnants of that injury for months later. Nonetheless, I got through that first one – a 10k followed by a 5k followed by a one mile run – on a very cold day with a real feel temp of -5. By the end of it, I was pretty sore. I remember hobbling to the garage to get my car. Looking back at it now, it’s funny to think how far I have come since that cold day in January, really just nine months ago.

My confidence was growing…until taper set in

Each race that followed helped build my confidence for the marathon. I purposely stacked my year with a number of them for a few reasons – mechanics and confidence. I wanted to experience the ins and outs of race day – corrals, water stations, nerves, port-a-potties, you name it. I needed to know how those worked so my first time wasn’t on a course with 45,000 other people. And secondly, I wanted the confidence boosts of finishing. Needless to say, as a newbie runner, I collected a good bit of bling and swag within this first year. Each helped to validate me. Another thing that validated me was hearing Andrew refer to me as “one of his athletes.” There is a term that I have never considered donning myself with. It wasn’t until I had run my first half marathon that I started to really feel it and believe it. But there was still a piece of me that felt like someone was gonna “catch me” and call me out on it.

Somehow I still didn’t feel completely legitimized. Yet. Each long training run that I completed brought me a little closer to feeling it – believing it – I am an athlete and I can do it. The confidence would build as the miles increased – 14 miles, 15 miles, 16 miles. I’d think, “Now I’m beyond a half but a full marathon is still 10.2 miles longer. Holy crap! Can I really do that? What’s gonna happen? What about that “wall”? I ran 18 miles then 20 miles. Wow! I may actually be able to do this. But there’s still a 10k at the end!” Practicing mindfulness helped me build my mental game. It still played with my mind a bit.

Taper Madness

The week leading up to the marathon I had “Taper Madness.” I was experiencing what many do with checking multiple forecasts several times a day and letting doubt creep into my head. On the one hand I knew I was ready. I had done all of my training. On the other hand, there was this big unknown. One of the things that helped me ease my nerves was realizing that every person out there, whether they were running their first or fortieth marathon, didn’t know what that day would bring. Each race is its own race with so many factors that play into it. This leveling of the playing field made me a bit calmer. But it was my pre-marathon pep talk that was one of the moments that really resonated with me.

Pep Talk

Coach Andrew asked me what I was thinking. I told him I just couldn’t picture that last 6.2 miles. I could visualize the finish line. I had played what that last .2 would feel like countless times. And I knew that unless I was injured, I would finish this race but I just didn’t know what to expect in that last 10k. His advice was just what I needed. He asked me to sit down for a few minutes after our call and visualize the last 6.2 miles. Then he wanted me to jot down what would help me get through it. I came up with a great list. It had things like “just keep moving”, “breathe through it”, “there will be pain”, “it too shall pass” It also had affirmations – “I can do it!” and “I AM a marathon runner.” I re-read that list many times leading up to the marathon. I took it with me that morning and read it again. Many of the phrases became mantras for me.

Race Day

Race day I was ready. Nerves didn’t really hit me until my husband and I got into our car. Then I felt like when you’re on a rollercoaster and the cart is clicking up the hill. Like it or not, this is happening! My second butterflies and tears of anticipation came when my team manager started to call us to head to the corrals. Man, this is really happening now! I got swept up in the emotions of the morning and remembered words that I heard a number of times.”Enjoy your first marathon. You never get another first time.” If I did anything correctly that day, it was soaking up my first marathon in its entirety.

I truly enjoyed every moment from the gun to those final strides of success. I took all the high-fives I was offered. I thanked spectators who shouted my name. I fed off the energy of the crowd. I remembered Andrew’s words – “Have fun with it. Know that at some point, it will get hard. When it does, embrace it.” When it got hard, I was ready. My training prepared me. I ran the race like a victory lap for my year of training. Running a marathon completely changed my perspective of who I am. Coach Andrew had said many times before, “The man who crosses that finish line is different from the man who crosses the start.” He was right. It was a cathartic experience. The threshold of what I feel is possible for me has changed. I feel like someone handed me a sledge hammer and I shattered the glass ceiling that I thought was above my head. I’ve already registered to run the 2018 Chicago Marathon with my charity team

Connecting the dots at the 2017 Chicago Marathon

Chicago Marathon - Joe Guarino

Soaking it all up

I soaked up my first marathon in its entirety. I truly enjoyed every moment from the gun to those final strides of success. I took all the high-fives I was offered. I thanked spectators who shouted my name. I fed off the energy of the crowd. I ran the race like a victory lap for my year of training. For some, a marathon is a “one and done” experience. I feel like my work is just beginning. Oh, and now I feel legitimized. I have joined the ranks. I am a marathoner. I am an athlete. And the best is yet to come.

How can I learn more?

Want to learn more about how you can run your first marathon just like Joe? What if you just wanted to improve your times at 5K, 10K, or half marathons? Use the Contact Us page to learn more. We provide 1:1 coaching as well as individualized plans, and consultation. Our coaches are certified and experienced helping athletes finish over 75 marathons in 2017 alone. We’d love to help you do big things in 2018!

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *