Friday, September 11, 2009

Why I'm running a marathon

Flour Girl is taking a break from baking-related posts for the day to bring you ...

One month from today (yikes!), I'll be joining thousands of other crazy people to run 26.2 miles through the streets of Chicago.

I've been training for the marathon with long runs every Saturday at 6 a.m. with a great group and, while I don't at all feel ready, I feel loads more confident than I did during that first, 6-mile training run in June when I thought I might puke.

So, at least I've got that going for me.

The question I get asked every time I tell somebody I'm running the Chicago Marathon is the same one you're probably thinking:

Why, in the name of all that's good and holy, are you running a marathon?

I usually tell them I need to work off some of the excessive eating and drinking I did over the long Chicago winter. Or that I ran one seven years ago (pre-baby and pre-30s) and want to see if I can do it again.

But I'll tell you all the real reason I'm logging so many miles each week and waking up before dawn every Saturday to slog along the lakefront trail:

Rachel Raviv Hoffer.

That's her, up at the top.

She was my best friend and she died of cancer two years ago tomorrow.

I hate those sappy cliches about people with cancer "who fought bravely" or "who put up a valiant battle against the disease." We journalists are plenty guilty of committing those sins to print. Blech.

But Rachel, who was diagnosed with widespread cancer just 10 weeks after giving birth to a baby girl, fought like hell. She tried every treatment she could find, endured terrible side effects and procedures and even underwent a hip replacement in the last months of her life so she'd be able to tote her baby up and down the stairs.

Every time I told her how amazing I thought she was, she'd look at me as if I'd sprouted a second head. "What choice do I have?" she'd say. She had me there.

To build up her strength, Rachel walked around and around the blocks near her home. When I visited, we'd walk together, just like we did around the lakes in Minneapolis when we were in high school.

On one of those last walks together, she decided we should run a marathon once she was healthy again. Neither of us are great athletes or anything, but it seemed like a good goal. Maybe we'd do it someplace fun, she suggested, like Hawaii, and make a vacation out of it. The cross-my-fingers-and-hope-with-every-morsel-of-my-being part of my brain thought that sounded like a fabulous idea. The realistic part of my brain knew that would probably never happen.

Several weeks ago, I started out with the training group on a 14- or 15-mile long run. It was already hot. And humid. I think I made it about 10 miles, maybe less, before I started lagging behind the pack. With the sun beating down, I gave up and started walking, watching most of my pace group chug down the trail.

After walking/jogging on my own for a while, I came across another struggling straggler. I asked if she wanted to make it to the finish line with me. So, we plodded along, stopping at every available drinking fountain, walking some and running a little.

"I'm Heather," I told her.

"I'm Rachel," she said.

When we finally, finally made it to the end of that rather crappy run, I told her about my friend. Rachel. And I thanked her for running those last miles with me.

So, on October 11 and on all of the runs before that, I'll be thinking of my good friend.

That's why I'm running the Chicago Marathon.

Thanks for running it with me, Rachie.


  1. I had no idea about Rachel, I did not know her well, I knew her brother. What a sad thing to read. Flour Girl, great luck in the marathon.


  2. What a wonderful tribute to your friend, Heather. I know you'll rock that run.

  3. Hey Heather,

    Geez, I'm so sorry to hear about the loss of your friend, Rachel. But what a lovely way to pay tribute to her strength and character! You ran that last marathon with such amazing intestinal fortitude, I have no doubt you can do it again.

    I've been slowly training for a "simple" 5k through the couch to 5k runner podcasts, but think I want to go all the way to the top: The Marathon. Like you said, I also want to see if I can do it again, but for me - with consistant, proper training this time around.

    Best wishes in training and good luck next month! xoxo, Bridge

  4. What an amazing way to honor your friend... I know you'll be amazing. I'll be cheering you on... even if just from Twitter! :)

  5. This post gave me shivers, Heather. I'll be thinking about you!

  6. Good luck, say hi to my brother.
    I'm running a 5K on 10/4 for my cousin who died of cancer in December. She was 25 and just married. It'll benefit the Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope and Healing (yeah, the guy from Grey's Anatomy, he's a local boy from Maine.)

  7. Heather, everything you do is amazing=your story about Rachel made me weepy=the reason for your running the marathon=I wish could be shared with the world.=Grace==Baubie

  8. Nicely put, and a wonderful remembrance.

  9. Good luck. I know Rachel will be on your mind when the going gets tough, and I know that will give you strength you won't know you have.

  10. The best reason to run a marathon! Good luck to you and I'm sure Rachel will be smiling down upon you!

  11. Wow! This is a great story! Thank you for sharing...funny, I've been wanting to run another half marathon-hoping my body could take it. Perhaps I should consider a full seems like the Rachel thing to do, and I am, after all, a Rachel too!


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