Running down a dream

For some, marathons are about finishing first. For Megan Ross, the 25th Chicago Marathon was about finishing—period.
Ross and fellow Fort Frances running enthusiast Bob Tkachuk both placed in the top half of the field in the Oct. 16 race through the streets of the Windy City.
But for Ross, 29, her debut marathon appearance was less a matter of placement and more a matter of survival.
“It was exhilarating when I finished, knowing I had accomplished my goal,” recalled Ross, who always wanted to try a marathon and was persuaded by Tkachuk to finally take the plunge.
“Bob told me the Chicago course was flat, which is good because we both have bad knees,” she noted. “I’ve got sore muscles now, but it’s more or less sweet pain.
“All that hard work was worth it.”
Tkachuk, 48, had previous long-distance experience at the annual Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth in 2000 and 2001.
But those excursions were nothing like what was awaiting him and Ross in a race that, with 31,120 competitors this year, is the largest of its kind in the world—exceeding even its more famous cousins in New York City and Boston.
“It was bigger than life,” marvelled Tkachuk, who missed his personal goal of four hours, but still chopped 30 minutes off his personal best time with a posting of 4:13.11.
“When we got there, we looked at the crowd and said, ‘Wow.’
“It’s a little frightening at the start, with that many people running,” he admitted. “You don’t want to be falling down, and you also had to make sure to not trip on all the clothes people ahead of you were shedding within the first mile.”
As Ross churned her way through the course, with an estimated one million spectators lining the streets, she anticipated hitting “The Wall”—the infamous state of exhaustion many marathoners encounter at some point in the race.
But the super-charged atmosphere of the event turned her into a “wall-buster.”
“We had our Canadian shirts on, and people were yelling ‘Go, Canada, go!’” recalled Ross. “One lady even gave me a high-five. I reached the 18-mile mark and I still felt pretty good.”
Meanwhile, Tkachuk was enamoured with the cultural kaleidoscope that unfolded as he put the miles behind him.
“It was a treat to go through the different ethnic neighbourhoods, like the Greek section, Chinatown, and Little Mexico,” he remarked. “But you still had to be focused on the task at hand. You were always in a sea of people.”
With their bodies pushed to the limit and their mental stamina nearly evaporated, the pair uncovered new stocks of internal energy as they neared the conclusion of their concrete crusade.
“When we came through the tunnel near the end and I saw the finish line, the noise was amazing,” said Ross. “It was like you were coming into the Roman Colosseum.”
“There had to be 10,000 people in the bleachers,” added Tkachuk. “I struggled the last 10 kilometres because I had a lot of cramping, but I sure sprinted to the end.”
Ross came even closer to the four-hour barrier, finishing only eight seconds over the mark. Disappointment, though, was nowhere to be found in her voice.
“We didn’t even know our times until reading them the next day in the paper,” said Ross, who also found out women’s champion Paula Radcliffe of England had set a new women’s world record in the same race with a time of 2:17.18.
“I thought it was great that we were part of history,” she said. “As for me, I’d received advice from a lot of people before the race to just go out and take everything in and enjoy it.
“It would have been nice to break four hours but the whole way through, my idea was just to finish and don’t worry about the time.”
The Twin Cities Marathon in Minneapolis/St. Paul is the next challenge the duo plans to pursue. But Tkachuk said rest and recovery are the immediate priorities.
“I’m really happy that we came out of this with neither of us being hurt, and that we had a great experience,” he said.