It’s 4:30 on Saturday morning and my mom steps into my room to wake me up. “Are you sure you want to do this?” she asks. “YES!” I exclaim, still half asleep, but quickly jump out of bed and into my running gear. I have fallen asleep in the car on the way to every race I’ve run this summer, but this one was different. I was a complete chatterbox and could not shut up about how I was going to run the 5k with my running idol, Shalane Flanagan.
It all started the Tuesday of my Project Linus Blanket-Making Event (post to come soon!) I was scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed on the train home from work and could not believe my eyes when I saw that Shalane would be running the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon Chicago. Just a few minutes later, I got an email that she would be running Saturday’s 5k at an 8:00 pace, designed as a pre-half shakeout run. This was a dream come true- my favorite famous person was coming to my town to run my favorite race in less than two weeks!
I literally ran off the train to tell my mom the exciting news. I was going to run with Shalane. Of course, my mom had her worries- surely I should not run a 5k the day before a half marathon. There would be tons of people at this race- what made me think I would be able to run with her? When I would not shut up about this, my parents agreed to sign me up but did not let me forget that running this race might hinder my performance on Saturday.
We arrived downtown at 6:30, just as packet pickup was beginning. The race did not start until 8:00, but I was unable to attend Friday’s expo and expected it to be very crowded. Luckily, I was wrong, and it felt more like a neighborhood race than a major running event. All of a sudden, about a half hour before start time, my mom yelled out “Is that her?” Shalane and her husband were casually chatting, and no one was around them. I literally jumped up and down before running over.
As I neared America’s fastest marathoner and three time Olympian, however, I began to freak out. What was I going to say to her- I came down here to run with you?!- without sounding like a total stalker? I felt like a preteen approaching Justin Beiber. I introduced myself, told her how excited I was to meet her, and asked to take a photo together. She was friendly and polite, but I felt extremely awkward and now saw no chance at running with her. Boy was I in for a treat!
I could tell by the size of the start corral, number of costumed runners, and number of individuals wearing the race shirt (or even worse- wearing the following day’s half marathon shirt!) that this was not going to be a fast 5k. I normally wouldn’t want to start a 5k at the very front the day before a half marathon, but Shalane was there- this was a once in a lifetime opportunity! I ran closely behind Shalane and the RunWestin concierge for the first mile. Although my hopes for chatting on a run with her were now lost, I figured that running near her was the best alternative.
We clocked in the first mile at under 7:30, so Shalane told the RunWestin guy to go ahead while she slowed down a bit. I could not believe what happened next! She turned around, waved to me, and said “Oh hi, how’s your run going?” I cannot put the next 2.1 miles into words. A shakeout run with my running role model- they were simply the best 2.1 miles of my life. We discussed Park City (where she just spent time altitude training and where my family always skied until Daniel broke his leg), the new Nike Lunarglide 6, our favorite distances, Runner’s World magazine, and even some of my medical conditions. This conversation felt personal- while there were a few other folks around us running and listening, it was really only the two of us chatting!
As we neared the finish I could see my mom laughing! When I asked her about it later, she explained that I had done exactly what I had said- run the race with Shalane. “Are you surprised?” I asked. “No, not really…not at all” she said. As we crossed the line, Shalane instructed me to throw my hands up in the air with her- that’s where my favorite picture comes in! She high-fived me, thanked me for running with her (I think I should be thanking her!) and went off to run with her husband before the photo opportunity.
Just when I thought my morning couldn’t get any better, I met some great running gurus in line to take a photo with Shalane! It all started when Melissa apologized to my mom for bumping into her, and her friend Caroline recognized me as the girl who had run with Shalane! Then we met Dave, a hilarious marathon maniac who seems to know absolutely everyone. He took this selfie during the race- how lucky to meet him (I later met The Pavement Runner as well!) As we waited in line, we all had an interesting discussion about race experiences and took some fun photos. These were the people that helped prompt me to start this blog, and they made me appreciate the friendly running community more than ever before!
“It’s my running buddy,” exclaimed Shalane, with a smile on her face as I approached her. Her words were magic to my ears. We got some great photos (the candids are my favorite) and she signed my race bib, encouraging me to go for a PR on Sunday- which I did! I was at a loss for words- this morning had been a dream come true- and I tried to express to her how happy she had made me. After I said goodbye to my new runner friends, my mom and I spent some time in Millennium Park before meeting my dad at the hotel and heading over to the expo. It had been, without question, one of the best weekends of my life, and it was only 10:00!