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Runners start the Chicago Marathon, Sunday, Oct. 9, 2022, in Chicago.

Runners start the Chicago Marathon, Sunday, Oct. 9, 2022, in Chicago.

Matt Marton

I ran the Chicago Marathon. One world major marathon down, five to go.

I’m normally a very active person, but I’ve happily accepted this is my week to be horizontal after running my first Chicago marathon on Sunday — checking off the first box in my quest to run six of the world’s most famous 26.2 milers.

As of Chicago Marathon weekend, only 8,067 people have run all six marathon majors, which are held in Chicago, Boston, New York, Tokyo, Berlin and London. Most of them require qualifying times for guaranteed entry.

My only other marathon was in 2021 in Philadelphia, which I finished in exactly four hours. My primary goal on Sunday was simply to beat my previous time. I crossed the finish line in 3:49:49 with burning feet and a full heart.

Aside from a few mishaps (such as underestimating my need for salt), I’m really proud of how my race went. The first 16 miles were smooth and relaxed, but around the 17th mile my rib cage felt like it was on fire. I had made the rookie mistake of only applying anti-chafing lotion to my arms and legs instead of my whole body. I ran the last 9 miles trying not to think about the band of raw skin that wrapped all the way around my midsection. When I got to the medical tent, my shirt was soaked in literal blood, sweat and tears.

My first marathon was one of the most excruciating experiences of my life. But when it was over, I knew I wanted to do it again — and again and again. The Chicago Marathon was slightly less excruciating — and I’d sign up for another in a heartbeat.

I fell in love with running while playing tag in the park during church picnics in Abu Dhabi, where I grew up. I tried track for a brief stint in middle school, but it didn’t stick.

Things only got serious when I started running solo in high school. I was a high-strung cheerleader staring down SAT practice tests and college application essays, so I turned to running after school to cope with the stress.

What began as an exercise routine to sweat out my anxiety became an obsession with constantly moving goalposts. A quick 2-mile jog before I started on the day’s homework turned into a daily running streak, logging anywhere from 3 to 7 miles a day.

Endurance sports like long-distance running appeal to me because I love seeing what I am capable of when I push myself. Testing my mental and physical limits is also one of the reasons why I climb — it’s a celebration of what my body can do.

Over time, the more I ran, the harder I was on myself. In my junior year of high school, I developed an eating disorder which — when coupled with my near-compulsive exercise habit — took a mental, emotional and physical toll on me. Only in the last three years have I learned, with medical and community support, how to manage my eating disorder, push myself as an athlete and practice self-compassion all at the same time.

I signed up for the Chicago Marathon lottery when I felt like I had finally found that balance.

When I learned my application had been selected, I had such high hopes for training. I researched speed workouts and read books about the importance of good recovery. I made plans to do long runs with friends so I wouldn’t slog through 20-milers alone. I talked with my therapist about how I planned to stay adequately fueled.

But training didn’t go as planned because, well, life happened. I adopted a dog. I broke up with a long-term partner, among other developments.

Still, I pushed through because I’m a thrill-seeking summit-chaser. I also really like checklists, and I was not going to give up my shot to cross off the Chicago Marathon.

Charmaine Runes runs past a tan building, wearing pink shoes, a white cap, white tank top, and black leggings. Her marathon bib is on her shirt.

Charmaine Runes finished the Chicago Marathon on Sunday, Oct. 9, 2022, one race closer to completing all six world major marathons.

Charmaine Runes

Boston’s qualifying time is a popular race goal for many runners who hope to complete the world major series. To qualify in my gender and age division, I would have to finish a marathon in three hours and 30 minutes, which means I need to shave 20 minutes off my time from Sunday.

Part of me wonders if I could have pushed myself harder, but I’m proud of myself for setting a personal record and hitting the goal I set — one that still felt difficult but did not come at the expense of my mental and physical health.

Yesterday, as I hobbled my way through a crowd of similarly exhausted and elated finishers — medals around our necks and aluminum blankets around our shoulders — I wiped tears off my salt-stained cheeks and grinned. I didn’t want to think about my next world major or training season. I had just run Chicago’s and that alone was a major accomplishment.

Charmaine Runes is WBEZ’s data/visuals reporter. Follow her @maerunes.

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