Reflecting On 26.2

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chicago_marathon_chris_catania

Have you ever wanted to do something you’ve never done before and really make it matter? And make it matter not just for you but for others too?

Well, I did. I ran the Chicago Marathon for these three reasons. It was an amazing adventure that changed my life. It was so sweet on so many levels. It challenged and transformed me. So here’s what I remember as I reflect back on the experience.

Running 26.2 miles was complex. It was a revelatory blur of emotional, mental and spiritual transformation. The experience altered my heart, mind and soul forever, but at the same time so many parts of the experience remain a mysterious enigma. I’m still figuring out why it changed me and what actually did change within me.

And that’s why I’m writing this post: to see what exactly I do remember in hindsight with the hope that through the writing process I might make sense of the mysterious parts and discover new truths. I also hope to inspire you to share and reflect on your own running adventures and embark on similar journeys.

So here’s my story.

Getting revved up

It was 45 degrees and sunny as a steady wind blew in off Lake Michigan. It was a near perfect morning for a race through the city. I remember standing in the start corral on Columbus Drive in downtown Chicago surrounded by thousands of my fellow runners. Here we all were about to do this crazy ceremonial and communal act of running 26.2 miles.

My heart and mind revved up. I was filled with all sorts of emotions. Feelings of joy and excitement bubbled up as I thought back to all the work and time that led up to this moment. I found myself thinking back to all those long runs along the Fox River and my three reasons why I was about to run 26.2 more miles to complete The Mission and head into uncharted territory.

My eyes began to well up as I look up at the gorgeous Chicago skyline reflecting the morning sunshine and felt a swelling surge of energy coming from the crowds all around me.

I was pumped and bursting with pride and excitement because I was about to embark on an adventure that I had never gone on before. And even better, I was going to run alongside my brother Joe and run this race for a great cause: to support my aunt in her struggle with Multiple Myeloma cancer.

Shedding the old and ceremonial acts

I did what a lot of other runners do before the race. I peeled off a layer of clothing and left behind my warm-up jacket in the start corral. But for me this moment was more than just losing some extra clothing. I had heard about this practice of tossing your warm up clothes from other runners and I wanted it to be a special moment for me. I wanted it to mean something.

Leaving behind my jacket was an intentional spiritual act. I had run many training runs in that jacket and for me it was a shedding of the old and heading out on a new journey of self-discovery.

So I unzipped my jacket, slipped out my arms, rolled it into a ball, closed my eyes and gave it a ceremonial kiss and held it up to the sky like a warrior offering a sacrifice hoping for a blessing from the heavens before heading into battle. Then as the corral started to slowly lurch forward like a herd of cattle I tossed the jacket on the ground.

I then took the obligatory pre-race selfie with my brother, did a couple short jumps up into the air like a boxer loosening up before a fight, let out a few rebel yells and got ready to run.

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Even though I ran more than 400 miles during training nothing could truly prepare me for the burst of adrenaline that flowed through me as we crossed the start line and began the race. It was hard to fight the urge to go out hard and fast. But I resisted the temptation and stuck to my plan: run my own race and just enjoy the moment.

It was such a wonderful way to experience the city of Chicago. For the first few miles running through the downtown loop among the tall towering and magnificent buildings and cruising through the neighborhoods made me proud to call Chicago my hometown. It was nothing short of awesome to feel the love from the swarming throngs of cheering people. I had a huge smile on my face as I ran by and read all the creative, funny and inspirational signs of encouragement. And I didn’t know a cowbell could be so inspiring! I couldn’t help but run along the sidelines and slap a few hive-fives and smack signs that said “Hit the button for running super powers!”

Mile 2: The Blind Runner made me see

Speaking of inspiring it was amazing to run past the blind runner and his guide at Mile 2. I loved how every runner yelled and cheered as we passed him. As I went by him I wondered…

What does it feel like to see nothing the entire race but only experience the smells and the sounds of the marathon?

What does it feel like to run blind and only trust a guide to lead you for 26 miles through the city?

Would I have done such a thing if I was blind?

How different would running be for me if I ran less with my eyes and more with my heart?

It was a beautiful metaphor to ponder for the next two miles as my legs got loose and my body warmed up.

Mile 3: What if life were like this?

At Mile 3 I turned to my brother and said ‘Wow, how cool would it be if life were more like this and people were cheering you on all the time as we traveled through our days?”

He then looked at me and said, “You do have that. It’s called family.”

Hmmm? I thought. Interesting response, because, yes we do have family, but honestly, life isn’t always like THIS. And life can be very lonely sometimes. We need to have more people cheering us on like THIS in life, I thought. We need more cowbells, slapping high-fives and “hit the power button” signs.

With that idea rolling around in mind I ran along I thought more about how I need to be more intentional in how I encourage other people. I felt a strong and unexpected conviction rise up in me. I realized that I need to work at encouraging people not at the biggest life moments and but also in those not-so-big-and-in-between life moments. I know I loved seeing all those signs and smiling faces as I ran along and once the race was over I knew I needed to return the favor back to people in my life.

So that was my second aha moment as I ran my first marathon. Thank you, Mr. Blind Runner. Thank you, thousands of cheering people on the sidelines. Only 4 miles in and two great learning moments. Not bad!

Mile 13: Running sideways and starting to feel it

And that’s where my mind was at, but how was my body doing? As I approached Mile 13 my legs felt more tired than usual. Looking back I think it was a combination of two things.

1) For the most part I did train on streets and pavement knowing the terrain of the Chicago Marathon but I will say that one thing that stood out was how different it is to run on the city streets. I don’t have any scientific  data or evidence, so all I can say is that it’s just different and I could really feel it in my legs.

2) The other thing that played a role was the fact that during the marathon I was rarely running straight for very long, especially in the first half. For much of the race I was bunched together with other runners I was doing a lot of weaving in and out, stopping and starting, speeding up and slowing down, and in some case I was actually hopping in between people in order to get ahead and find running paths. And I’m sure all that extra effort put extra pounding on my legs that added up. And that was a big reason why I felt more tired feeling around the halfway point. But what I didn’t expect was a big surge at mile 21. More about that in a bit.

Yes, I did have moments of doubts. I expected to. I intentionally trained without music and focused on using meditation and mindfulness concepts to quiet my mind. I learned a lot from reading this excellent book Running with the Mind of Meditation. This turned out to be one of my favorite parts and most valuable elements of my training as it helped me to cope with physical pain and mental obstacles like doubt, fear and uncertainty, all of which were major obstacles in the later stages.

Miles 14-16: Beyond the cheer zone and the race within the race

My first big wave of pain and doubt set in after the Mile 14 cheer zone. I would say that Miles 15-16 were some of the most solitary, quiet and contemplative too. As we left the mighty roar and inspiring adrenaline rush of the cheer zone behind us, you could feel the struggle set in and tension thicken in the air.

The emotional buzz of racing through the downtown din quickly wore off and I could feel and hear the murmur of the subconscious thoughts begin to bubble up and creep in. A strange sense of hyper-awareness came over me. I tried to run faster to run away from the unwanted thoughts but they were still there keeping pace with me. It was such a profound moment. It was the first time during the race that I felt like I was running away from something – and it was all happening in my mind.

It was a strangely surreal feeling to experience. It was like a race within a race. For a moment I forgot I was in the marathon and then I blinked a remembered I was running again.

The rhythm of the shoes pounding the pavement and synchronized breath of the runners around me thrusted me into a deeper contemplative flow. For a moment the fear of this thought chasing me went away and a new thought popped into my mind.

I realized I didn’t need to keep running from what was chasing me in my mind but instead I needed to slow down mentally and face what I was running from head on. I needed to let it catch me so I could conquer the fear I felt.

So I did let it catch me and this is what I found myself hearing as I slowed my mind down to listen…

Don’t let running be only about running from something or running to achieve something. Running is so much more than that. It’s about running to a new destination of self-discovery. It’s about being one person when you start and arriving back where you started as someone new.

It’s about being fearless and courageous enough to face the emotions and fears that bubble up while you’re running and not forgetting them once you stopping running but instead taking action in your life on those very thoughts.

And when you run with an open heart and mind you’re going to discover things about yourself that might be painful or terrify you to your core. But you must embrace it all. The good and bad. The joy and the fear. This is one of THE REASONS why you run, Chris: to face, cope with and conquer pain and fear in all areas of your life.

That was hard to hear because, for me, running is so often something I do to feel good and escape but it was a divine and sublime message that I needed to hear. And ever since I’ve continued to wrestle with those thoughts hoping to put them into action more in my life.

Miles 21-23: Into the unknown without my brother and why I love Pilsen

I didn’t expect what happened at Mile 20. To be honest, I didn’t really know what to expect beyond 20 miles. The plan was to run the entire race with my brother but it didn’t work out that way. At around Mile 21 my brother had some issues with his leg and waved me on to go on ahead without him.

“Are you sure?” I asked.

“Yes, go!” he yelled waving his hand.

So on I went in to Pilsen and into Chinatown.

Then came one of my favorite moments of the marathon: running through the hispanic neighborhood of Pilsen. I will always remember the glorious thumping, pumping and pounding of the tubas, drums and guitars coming from the mariachi bands.

I know this might sound weird but I didn’t really hit “The Wall.” at Mile 20. I expected to but it never happened. During miles 20 through 24 I felt a surge of energy I didn’t expect. And I’m sure it’s no mistake that those mariachi bands are at this point in the race, and I tip my hat and say thanks to the race directors for the strategic placement of the tuba and mariachi by the race directors. I sure needed those tubas then and I will never forget how it all made me feel.

Miles 24-25: MMA fights and baptisms

At Mile 24 and 25 the physical side of myself was so broken down and my emotions and mind were so raw and unavoidable. I could no longer hide behind what my body could do. I was running on pure emotion, grit and will. All of my fears, doubts and anxieties were right there taunting, poking and punching me. It’s was like a violent and twisted MMA fight inside my body and mind. It was hard to separate the external cheers from the internal jeers and vice versa.

From that point on it was a series of rapid-fire visceral and mental and physical thrashings. I had no choice but to dig down and find a deeper level of spiritual contemplation and emotional revelation. A lot of weird thoughts went through my mind. I was coming to the end of my physical self and I literally thought about everything in my life. My wife, my son, my daughter that’s on the way, my job at Walgreens, my dad who passed away in 2010. My successes and my failures. It all rushed at me, full force.

Back and forth the inner battle went. Sometimes my body was crying out wanting to quit and other times my mind was screaming ENOUGH! I felt great then…I felt like shit. But I fought through it knowing that each of those moments were only a temporary moment of doubt and pain.

Then suddenly I remembered what I read in George Sheehan’s classic book Running and Being, where he sagely says that running and going beyond our physical self in a marathon and pushing ourselves beyond our physical and spiritual limits is like an act of holy sanctification, our sweat is like a baptism and the whole experience is a rebirth and cleansing of the soul. I then felt the sticky and sweat drenched shirt clinging to my chest, arms and back. I smiled and looked up to the heavens. Took a deep breath and my mind calmed back down. I acknowledge the pain I was feeling, accepted it and ran on through it.

I was pretty pumped up as I neared the end of the marathon. It’s was hard not to be. And at Mile 25 got lost in the moment. I remember grabbing a banana from the aid station, then downing some water. I remember slapping someone another high-five.

For a moment I forgot where I was on the course. Then I had this enormous sense of self-awareness come over me. Then at the same time everyone around me faded away and it was as if it was as I was the only one running the marathon. It was like I was floating above the pavement.

It was a beautiful thing. It was a spectacular spiritual moment to behold.

Moments like this don’t happen to often, so for a few steps I closed my eyes, kicked my head back and extended my arms to my side like a soaring plane. I put my palms up and smiled up at the sky as I felt the sunshine hitting my face and soaked in the glory of the moment. And on I went to the final mile.

Mile 26: Completing THE MISSION and scaring ladies

I opened my eyes and had my game face on. I quickened my pace. It was time to finish THE MISSION. Heading into the final stretch I felt emotionally spent but spiritually strong. I felt physically tired but still searching for something more and wanting to see what I could do beyond my physical and emotional means.

I loved the final moments of the marathon and the only real downside to this moment was that I scared a few other runners as I cranked out and powered through the last mile. I let out a few tribal yells (including a few fist-pumping F-bombs and extra curse words to push myself.)

That said, I’d like to take a moment to say sorry to the two runners I scared. Sorry, ladies. I hope I didn’t startle you too much as I came up behind you as we all scurried down Michigan avenue and turned on to Columbus Drive and made our way to the finish line. I hope you both weren’t too scared and had a great finish to your race.

Beyond 26.2: New behaviors, real life challenges and what’s next

I took about a week off after the marathon. Yes, I was sore and hobbling right after the race. About halfway through Monday I started to feel better and I took my first post-marathon run on Friday and felt pretty good.

As I recovered I stuck to my training diet (which is now what I normally eat) and ate the usual mix of recovery food which for me included protein shakes, fish oil pills, chia seeds, greek yogurt, quinoa, etc. And as a bonus, I’ve continued to eat quinoa and chia seeds before and after runs which I didn’t before and I feel great.

Since the marathon, I’ve also had many moments in my personal life and at work where life has challenged me and I’ve looked back at my marathon experience for strength, clarity and inspiration. And I love the fact that I’ve been able to do transfer my marathon experience in to real life moments because that’s exactly what I was hoping this whole adventure would do. I wanted to do something I’ve never done before so that I could use the experience to overcome challenges in other areas of my life.

So what’s next? Well, I’ve been planning my next race adventure as I look at doing a trail run or half marathon in 2015 and maybe even an ultra in the near future.

I hope my marathon story has inspired you to run a marathon or do something you’ve never done before. I hope it’s inspired you to not only do something like this for yourself but do it to support others and to connect with the world around you and the world and feelings that are inside of you.

I can’t say enough how honored I feel to have had the opportunity to make my training and marathon matter beyond myself and support the MMRF and my aunt Angie. Because of that, there’s one question I’ve really pondering; “how can I make each run count?” I don’t want to be the only person to benefit from running, training and racing. I want my physical activity to help make the world a better place.

That said, since the marathon I’ve been experimenting with and planning on doing a few things.

1. I’ve been using the Charity Miles running app. So far I’ve enjoyed using it and each run I do I get to pick a different charity to support. It’s a pretty cool app and I love the concept and like my Fitbit experiment I’ll be sharing a full review and thoughts on the Charity Miles app in the future.

2. I’m planning on volunteering for a race. In his book “Eat and Run,” Scott Jurek encourages all runners to give back and volunteer at a race and I’m looking at organizations like Chicago Run and local races to donate my time and efforts to help others.

3. I know I need to connect more with other runners. Running is such a solitary sport and it feeds my natural introvert tendencies. So I need to be intentional about seeking out community. I really miss the meaningful experience I had training and running the marathon with my brother and because of that I’m aiming to connect more with other runners and get involved with more group runs and local running groups.

Well, that’s it for now. I’ll be sure to share more as I continue to reflect and hit the road and running trails. Congrats to all my fellow Chicago marathon runners and I hope to hear about your experiences too, and I invite you to share them in the comments below.

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Best of 2011: How Did Live Music Rock Our World and What’s Coming in 2012?

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janelle monae

Yes, my fellow concert fans, it was another amazingly complex, transitional and evolutionary year of live music.

During this episode of Live Fix Radio, we explore the top shows, our favorite concert fan moments of 2011 and trends we expect to develop in 2012. Catch up on what you missed and listen to all 2011 episodes here and rock on!

Subscribe via iTunes.

Show Notes:

  • Segment one: What is Hatsume Miku, live music news, concert fan fraud
  • Segment two (37:00): Critic trends on the interwebs, our top shows of 2011, what it all means
Music played during the show
  • Hatsumi Miku
  • Fishbone “Lyin’ Ass Bitch”  live at Bottom Lounge
  • Weezer “Say It Ain’t So”  live at Congress Theater
  • K.flay live at Subterranean

Links and stuff we talked about:

 

Share Your Story

What were you favorite shows of 2011? Got a question about a topic we talked about during the show? Share your concert experiences and thoughts about this podcast in the comments below, on Twitter @livefixmedia, on Facebook or call the concert fan hotline at 773-609-4341, and we’ll include them in a future episode of Live Fix Radio.

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Most Read Live Music Stories of 2011: What You Loved To Explore and Discover The Most

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Now that we’ve shared our favorite concert fan moments, let’s take a look back at the top Live Fix stories you loved to read in 2011.

As you’ll see, from Rihanna firebombs and inviting blind U2 fans on stage to continued Kings of Leon concert drama and Dave Grohl stopping a fight, this is a great list that shows which artists amazed, let down or created the biggest buzz for fans while on tour this year.

Beyond what happened on stage, this list also shows what you, the fans, cared the most about — before, during and after the show — as you sought to understand, share and discover the emotional impact and significance of your live music experiences. I had fantastic year connecting with many of you at shows and virtually on Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus. And I’m pumped about the possibilities and experiences that await us in 2012.

It was lots of fun reflecting on your favorite posts and we’d like to know what you think. So be sure to check out the info below to learn how you can help us make our concert explorations even better in 2012.

Most Read: Live Music News

 

 

Most Read: Live Music Experiments & Explorations

 

 

Share Your Stories

What was your favorite Live Fix story of 2011? Did we miss a story? What type of concert news stories would you like to us to explore in 2012?

Post your feedback below, or call our concert fan hotline at 773-609-4341 and we’ll include your stories in a future episode of Live Fix Radio.

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You Rocked The Show: Best Concert Fan Stories and Interviews of 2011

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This is why we do this. You. The Fans. We love discovering, celebrating and exploring your concert experiences.

And throughout 2011 we had the extreme pleasure of sharing some truly amazing live music moments with you.

There was no shortage of emotion in 2011 as we explored why concerts move us so much.

And as you’ll see many of the most vivid memories during 2011 were defined by moments of youthful amazement and history in the making, grief and pain.

Throughout the year, the live concert experience was many things to many fans. And what a concert is and means to you continues was redefined and evolved with each passing show.

As I mentioned before, I had just as much fun going to concerts myself as I did hearing about and experiencing your concert adventures through your eyes.

And because live music would be meaningless without the fans, we salute you and all that happened in 2011 with these top concert fan news and interviews.

Stay tuned for more and follow us on Twitter @livefixmedia, Facebook, and read this to learn more about our Google Plus plans for 2012.

 

Concert Fan News Stories

 

 

Concert Fan Live Fix Interviews

 

Thank you to all the fans for sharing your concert stories with us and we look forward to another rockin’ year in 2012!

Send in Your Stories

What was your favorite Live Fix fan interview of 2011? Did we miss a story? What type of concert stories would you like to us to explore in 2012? Post your feedback below, or call our concert fan hotline at 773-609-4341 and we’ll include your stories in a future episode of Live Fix Radio.

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Best Concert Moments of 2010: How Live Music Changed Our Lives

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B.O.B. at Hard Rock Hotel in Chicago

Before we dive into a new year of concert adventures, let’s see what live music moments mattered the most. Let’s discover how the live concert experience changed our lives in 2010.
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The Top 35 Most Addictive Live Music Stories of 2010

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Wrecking Ball Punk Fest

When I think of eager concert fans in 2010, I think of the photo above that Colleen took during a climaxing moment at the Wrecking Ball Punk Fest in Chicago.

Those fans where some of the most relentless, hungry and addicted live music fans I saw all year long. And when I think of those fans reaching out for that bass guitar, I wonder if that’s what you looked like while you read these 35 top Live Fix posts of 2010.

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17 Questions Music Bloggers Should Ask Before Writing Your Next Post

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Is Your Music Blog…

pushing boundaries…
helping people…
changing minds…
reflecting who you really are…
starting new conversations…
letting loose and having fun…
putting the spotlight on others…
asking the important questions…
following a clear mission…
taking risks…

or does your music blog only

feeding the hype machine…
playing by the rules…
flailing and wandering…
reading like a recycled press release…
always pleasing the readers…
never making anyone nervous…
only contributing to the numbing din of the blahosphere?

It’s a daily battle we must fight together my fellow music bloggers. So are you with me?

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Live Fix Featured In The Wall Street Journal’s Live Music “Field Guide”

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Wall Street Journal field guide to live music Sean McCabe

Hi Everybody! I have some great news! Today John Jurgensen of the Wall Street Journal featured Live Fix in “A Field Guide To Live Music Online” and in his “Is Video Killing the Concert Vibe” article.
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Making Concert Memories Social: Interview with Recreate My Night

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Recreate My Night
What happens when you use social media to express and share your favorite concert memories?

In what ways do you and other concert fans use Facebook and Twitter to capture, share and celebrate your favorite concert moments?
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A Hot August Night Tribute To The Biggest Neil Diamond Fan Ever

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Neil Diamond Hot August Night

A long time ago I realized that there was no point in denying the influence of my parents on my musical tastes, especially my love for live music.

And in my early twenties, I started asking my parents questions about…who they were when they were young, why they made the decisions they did and other important details about their lives that I didn’t already know the answers to.

During my inquisitive quest, I got to know more about my dad’s love for Neil Diamond. And sadly, last Monday my dad, Joe Catania, passed away at the young age of 60. And like we’ve done for other live music fans who’ve passed on, this post is a tribute to his life and especially his love for experiencing Neil Diamond live in concert.
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3 Ways To Improve The Lollapalooza Fan Experience

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There are a lot of moments I will never forget about Lollapalooza 2010. As I told you earlier this week a lot of great performances lifted me off my feet and dropped my jaw.

But on the flipside, there are a few things that could make Lollapalooza better for fans, bands and everyone in between. And this is how we can take the 2011 festival experience to the next level.

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