Inspiration Pendulum

Last weekend I cheered for my sister Abbey during the Chicago Marathon, her first marathon attempt. I happened to be in the city as a groomsman in a close friend’s wedding. I travel all over the country for work, so the way timing clicked together was some sort of magic.

Abbey took up running less than two years ago. I like to think my Appalachian Trail thru hike served as motivation to explore her athletic boundaries. I was only about 75% certain I could finish at the outset. She said she was proud of me for committing fully to the journey regardless of the outcome.

With a couple 10k races under her belt, she started considering a half marathon one day. She was less sure about a full marathon. It might be too much. I told her not to artificially limit the scope of her ambition. Why not aim for a marathon? Tens of thousands of runners do it every year, people with careers and family commitments. Why not her?

She finished her first half marathon a few months later. Running 26 miles no longer seemed unfathomable.

Abbey’s friend Nina traveled with her to Chicago for moral support. After my post-wedding Sunday brunch, I met up with Nina downtown along the Chicago River to watch Abbey cross the 13 mile mark. We saw her again near mile 17 in a less congested area. We shared a quick sweaty hug. Her legs were cramping and she was clearly in pain. Whether shambling or sprinting, I knew she would finish.

Wacker Drive, Downtown Chicago. That’s Abbey in the bottom left, 13 miles into the race and going strong!

Nina and I caught her again right before the final mile. My eyes welled up. I was so immensely proud of her. She finished in 5 hours and 23 minutes, ready to collapse onto her hotel bed ASAP, already fantasizing about her next marathon.

I left Chicago inspired as all hell. I seized my next free day to go on my very first trail run! I’ve been a casual jogger since college, but I’m a huge klutz and have anxiety about snapping an ankle running on more technically challenging terrain. I almost always hike with trekking poles because they save my ass during countless inevitable stumbles.*

Watching the marathon got me in the mood to trust my body and try something new. I found an eight mile loop linking several parks and nature preserves outside Orland Park, IL. The terrain was relatively flat, perfect for a novice trail runner (and very emblematic of the midwest). There were some dips and rises to test my endurance.

Eight miles is the furthest I’ve run at once in almost a decade. I paused only to snack on trail mix, let some horse riders pass, and take pictures of golden fall leaves. I met some great trees that day.

Beautiful fall colors in Cherry Cliff Woods (or Palos Park, it’s hard to tell), Illinois.

I focused on my footing and didn’t stumble even once! The trail itself was fairly undemanding, sure, but I took it as a win. It’s always important to collect evidence that my daily anxiety— assuredness that something is about to go wrong—is unfounded.

I can run on a trail without falling. I did it once and snapped zero ankles in the process. I know I can do it again and I’m ready for a greater challenge. 

If you’re fortunate to know someone who inspires you to try new things or push past personal roadblocks, make sure to let them know. You never know when the inspiration pendulum will swing back your way. 

Thank you, Abbey. You inspire me. I’m honored to be your little brother. 

Celebrating Abbey’s completion of the Chicago Marathon.

**Read more of my thoughts on trekking poles here.

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