Students eschew comfort for 26 miles of pain

By Marta Ryvak

While their peers were recovering from the previous night’s revelry, several U of C students rose early Sunday morning to brave winds of 20 miles per hour and temperatures in the low 40s with 40,000 other runners in the 29th annual LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon.

“The cold weather actually felt really nice,” said Sarah Smith, a third-year in the College and a two-time Chicago Marathon runner. “It was really cold getting there, but once I had run a few miles I felt warm.”

“The weather was quite cold in the beginning, but actually having temperatures in the low 40s is in many ways ideal for running,” said Aaron Shkuda, a third-year graduate student majoring in American History.

What is it that warmed these runners enough to bear the conditions? For many, it was a passionate love for the sport.

“I’m totally obsessed,” said Smith. “There is nothing in the world like running a marathon.”

“I came to love it for the competition, the social aspect to it, the lifestyle, and eventually the reflective part of it. I consider myself a marathoner,” said Andy Forquer, a third-year in the College.

First-time and experienced marathon runners alike underwent long training periods to prepare for the marathon.

“Training takes 18 weeks and generally involves three short runs on the weekdays (from 3–10 miles) and one long run on the weekend (6–20 miles),” said Shkuda, a five-time marathon runner.

“I am an athletic student in general, so my training started somewhat later than others,” said Forquer, who completed the 26.2-mile route in 2 hours, 57 minutes and 7 seconds. “It usually consisted of running three times a week for 5–12 miles, as well as consecutively longer runs on the weekends of up to 23 miles.”

Aside from being physically demanding, preparing for a marathon often involves modifying aspects of social and academic life, according to students.

“When my friends went out partying, I stayed in to hydrate and get to bed early so I could get up for my long run,” Smith said.

“I had to change my academic habits so that I wouldn’t stay up late doing homework and risk getting sick,” said Forquer. “This meant very little going out. Also, there was no real partying leading up to the marathon. I went out night though, shaky legs and all.”

In addition to the struggles during training for the event, the actual day of the marathon proved for some to be equally physically and mentally strenuous.

“It was very painful. I went out too fast, and had trouble cutting back,” said Forquer. “I was wearing some ultralight racing shoes, and my knees/shins/quads/lower-half are all aching as a result.”

In coping with the difficulties, students derived the will to go on from a variety of sources.

“I sang ‘While my Guitar Gently Weeps’ in my head a fair bit,” said Forquer.

Rona Hsu, a first-year in the College, said her friend provided support.

“When I signed up, I had to make sure that my friend signed up too because it’s comforting that someone else you know is going through the same experiences as you are.”

What with physical injuries, social sacrifices, and the massive time commitment demanded of marathon runners, speed-walkers and occasional joggers are left with a salient question: “Why?”

“Let’s see…why on earth do I run marathons?” said fourth-year Robin Scheffler, who after intensive training could not participate in the marathon Sunday due to a calf injury.

“Maybe there’s a certain Promethian quality to it,” Scheffler said. “That’s probably why not running on Sunday was so frustrating—something like having to turn away from the peak of a mountain during summit day.”

“Marathons are such an accomplishment,” said Smith, “and I am very proud that it is something I can do. But even if you are a non-runner, you can do it too. You just need to really believe in yourself, and the resulting confidence that you gain is invaluable.