“It’s a marathon, not a sprint.” How many times have you heard this? There’s a reason that phrase exists. It means you’re in it for the long haul.

After 4 months of training, I ran the Chicago Marathon. All 26.2 miles! (actually it was 26.53) And, as we’ve sung hundreds of times, “I had the time of my life!” And you know what? “I’ve never felt this way before. I swear!” (Ok enough, right?!)

Marathon training is exhausting. I knew I’d be tired physically, but I didn’t anticipate that I would be mentally tired, too. But, 1 week post marathon, I still feel a bit wiped out.

Nearly 50,000 runners took to the streets of Chicago for the 45th running of the Chicago Marathon, and it DID NOT disappoint!

Race day was incredible! I was nervous. But, before I said goodbye to my wife and daughter, I heard, “Go do what you’ve always told me to do. Go make a difference!” (insert melted heart sound effect)

I left the hotel and there were people everywhere! And, I’m not just talking about runners. I’m talking runners AND spectators! The energy in Grant Park made Willis Tower look like a Lego piece.

My wave was set to go off at 8a! At 7:43 I made my way to my coral. As I walked in, I bumped into a West Michigan runner, Janet. What are the odds? After chatting for a few minutes, we huddled up and prayed. We thanked God for dry weather, our families, our health, and for the gift of running. After a loud “AMEN!” I got into “run mode”.

At 7:59, I started my playlist of jams and was ready to go! Little did I know that there were a few waves ahead of me. Oops. So, at 8:23, we finally crossed the start mat!

My nerves were wound up, the course was lined with spectators, and it was flat and fast! I had to contain myself. My friend, Eric, warned me that I had to slow things down at the start to not deplete my energy too early in the race. My goal was a Sub 4 hour marathon. (My target pace was 9:07 per mile)

The first few miles went by quickly! And, the next thing I knew, I saw my wife and daughter cheering for me, and holding my “Tommy Fat Head” at Mile 3. That was a wonderful boost!

Another thing that made time fly by were Aid stations positioned every 1-2 miles apart. These were very well organized, and spaced out. this made it very easy to get the aid I needed (Thank you volunteers! You were incredible.)

Each mile had something different. From entertainment with music to landmark neighborhoods like Lincoln Park, passing Moody Church, (A nice moment to say, Thank You, Lord!”) Pilsen and a run through Chinatown.

Mile 13 was special. I noticed a runner ahead of me with a Bible verse on her shirt written above the words,”Team World Vision”. Oddly, her stride looked familiar. As I ran alongside her, I said, “Hello Cheryl”. Cheryl is ANOTHER West Michigan runner! She shouted, “Tommy! I could use some prayer. My knee is really hurting me. I tripped and fell on my knee.” So, there on the streets of Chicago, in a marathon, I prayed for her knee, and her strength. What a gift God gave each of us. Out of nearly 50,000 runners, we crossed paths. WOW!

After another AMEN, I ran to see my wife and daughter just after the half marathon checkpoint! I felt strong! And, as each mile ticked away, I held my pace. In fact, I noticed I was running 8:55 or better.

At mile 20-22, I never felt like I, “hit the wall”. I actually felt stronger. Again, as each mile passed, my pace was faster than my target pace. I knew that I only had a 10k left. (6.2 miles)

Let me say this, I never really knew what my time was on pace to be, as my watch was set to “lap time” and not the overall pace. Looking back, I think this was a good thing. It got me out of my head, and not freaking out about my time. All I did was run!

As I got onto Michigan avenue near Mile 24, the energy of the crowd began to increase. It felt like it was pulling me to the finish line. Mile 25 to the finish was a blur! From the noise of the crowd, to the smiles on every runners face. It was insane!

As I made the turn toward “Mount Randolph”, I saw my wife and daughter, and that “Tommy Fat Head”. I immediately began to tear up as I heard them scream “Go Go! Run! I’m proud of you!”. (I’m getting teary as I type this)

I thought they were just being cheerleaders, when in reality, they knew that I had to hurry to get my Sub 4 hour goal! What THEY didn’t know was that as I turned to the finish line, I had another gear! I gave it all I had and crossed the line with a scream of “YES!” Along with a Ric Flair “Wooooooooo!”

Immediately, I bawled. And I mean, “The Ugly Cry”. I just couldn’t contain myself, and I didn’t care. It was emotion. It was celebration. It was healthy.

And then came the text.

“Tommy went Sub 4 hours!” I did it! I screamed with more joy, and almost fell to the ground in tears. Official time was 3:58:56. Thank you Jesus!

The Chicago Marathon was a highlight moment of my entire life. I have learned so much from the hours of training. And, looking back, it was completely worth it.

Life is a marathon. Not a sprint. Sometimes you hit your goal. Sometimes you fall and skin your knee. Sometimes you give your best Ric Flair, “Woooooo”. Sometimes, it’s the Ugly Cry.

Goal accomplished. Go make a difference. Always Run By Faith!