10/24/2013 03:19 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

The Chicago Marathon That Changed My Life: Stories Left Behind Must Be Shared

Periodically, I have some fresh experiences to pass on to the teens and young adults I work with when they're in tough times. The same stale stories can become old and less potent, unless I'm growing and struggling to overcome my own challenges along the way.

Look around you and you'll see adolescents and young adults who look to you to learn how you rise above the flood. To take your tools into their own arsenal. To build on your experiences.

As for me, I had a new challenge... something impossible... to hone my own endurance skills. I needed to be in my own battles, have new experiences and find solutions of my own so I would have fresh ideas to offer my young clients.

After training for six months with CARA, the Chicago Area Runners Association, I felt I was prepared. Last Sunday, October 13, I joined 45,000 other brave souls to run 26.2 miles for the first time in my life.

It was like I lived an entire life in one day. The emotions, the mental battles... Never before have I experienced such extreme demand in every fiber of my body, much less the psychological and emotional gamut of fears, hopes, failures and success that I did in that 4 hours and 33 minutes.

Miles 1-4 Pain in my foot.. will I be able to make it? Maybe something is wrong and my foot won't hold up to the end...? By mile 5, the foot pain was gone. I was ecstatic!

I'm gonna be able to do this.

I was feeling great and my body was literally gliding through the streets of Chicago. I was aware and focusing on my breathing, noticing the sea of 45000 people all on their own journey... and believe me, it's quite a journey.

As I ran the fifth mile, my purpose took a turn. It was no longer only about my good intentions, it had become something bigger... and I won't lie... it was about me... it was about my wife... it was about my brother-in-law who battled cancer... and it was for my 3-year-old daughter, who told me at the finish, "Daddy, I want to run marathon."

Miles 5-13.6 I'm going to make it all the way...

I was still feeling it... that I'd make it. Enjoying the crowd, looking for my family so I could kiss my daughter as I ran by. Later, I found out they saw me, but I pretty much missed them... so I started getting a little annoyed. Where are they, for crying out loud? Signs of my deteriorating state as I ran.

Miles 13.6-19 - I'm in and out of hell -

... but why? I've run 20 miles in training... I should be fine.

The emotions of it all: the stress of thinking about strategy and all the training I put in... then it comes down to this one day.

A shooting pain started in the left side of my knee that radiated down.

I'm not walking. I'm not walking. One foot in front of the other... you don't walk, you push. You fight. This is nothing compared to what others go through. This is nothing compared to my brother-in-law's cancer fight. This is nothing.

Knee pain decided to vanish. Poof. I learned that running a marathon is about 80% psychological. At least that's what I think.

I was back and pounding the pavement to mile 19. I was focused, motivated and ready for triumph.

I will make it to the finish line and I'll sprint. I'll put my arms in the air...

Miles 19-25 You gotta be kidding me. Who does this to themselves? This is the most unhealthy event I could ever imagine being a part of. This is insane and all these other 45,000 idiots are just crazy people...!

Oh and by the way, run in a straight line. Don't bump into me. Pick a line and run straight for crying out loud.

I look around and see some pretty unhappy people. The smiles are gone and the sounds of 45,000 joyful people has turned into silence. All I can hear is breathing, spitting, grunting and crying. I'm not kidding about the crying.

Then it came to me, Why are you doing this?

For my brother-in-law who battled cancer, my wife and my daughter, for my friends and family, for my clients. I need a perseverance story. I speak it all the time... I need a story.

My head is down, I'm plowing through this run. Legs are heavy... like lead weights, making it nearly impossible to lift but...I'm still moving.

All of a sudden, my sister-in-law jumps in and says, "Let's go, I'm running you in... five miles to go."

She was smiling; in her element. I changed my posture, stood up straight, maybe cracked a smile ? ...and realized that I'm running for something bigger than me.

OK, maybe this is disputable, and yes it's true that a large part of this is about myself, but in that moment, it was about Lisa and Rob. Rob who'd fought so hard to battle cancer. What I'm doing is nothing compared to his fight.

Mile 25 One to go. Speed up, Todd, speed up!! You really should go faster here!!

Legs pumping.

No way. But I'm going to finish this thing.

Emotions are coming in... feel like crying now. Told you I was all over the place!

Wait. I forgot this is 26.2! Why didn't somebody say something? Only .2 to go. Sprint, sprint, sprint, and don't forget to put your arms in the air as you cross the finish line.

Then, incredibly, I run through the line with my sister-in-law, arms in the air.

Mission accomplished.


As a mentor for teens and young adults, I found so much to share with them in the trenches of that run. Things like the power in community, the necessity of perseverance in this life, and the importance of pushing out of your comfort zone to show yourself as a member of the community and world you live in.

The key for me, and for our teens, is to keep putting one foot in front of the other. To keep showing up and holding our place in society, no matter how we feel. What strength that skill brings to us when it's given the chance to develop... just showing up.

We each face mountainous challenges from time to time, and those who look to us need to hear how we survived them and attained the rewards. Our stories of challenge and success help those who follow us to cross their own finish lines and move forward into successful futures of their own.