Last weekend I walked my first marathon-and-half, as part of the 2013 Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. I trekked in, around and through Chicago. It was exhilarating. I was part of a $5.2 million fundraising effort, a small fish in a big sea of people sweeping the streets in honor of survivors, and in memory of loved ones lost. I saw a line somewhere along the race path that read, “Walking for a world without breast cancer.” Indeed. This was the first time I physically pushed back against the disease that stole my mom.

That thought fueled me forward, through blisters, backaches and sore shins.

I stirred Saturday around 4 a.m., left the house by 5, and landed at Soldier Field around 6. Shortly before 7 I was pushing north along the lake, and finished a half-marathon a little after 11. After breaking for lunch in a park, I wended my way north.

The 17-mile marker was just steps away from Lucy's house, in Lincoln Park

The 17-mile marker steps away from Lucy’s house, in Lincoln Park. Photo by Kristina Cowan.

Rest stops brimmed with buckets of ice, water and Gatorade, sugary and salty snacks, and medical tents with everything from Moleskin to Aspercreme. And of course portable latrines. I’m no expert in movable bathrooms, but these were certainly cleaner, happier places than I expected. I imbibed abut 100 ounces of a water-ice-Gatorade combination, but I didn’t duck from a chance to dart into Starbucks for a spot of afternoon tea and the use of a normal bathroom. Such simple diversions were balm for a walk-worn body and soul.

The day was humid, intermittently sunny-and-cloudy, and generally lovely for an extra-long hike. I wrapped up a marathon just before 4 p.m. As I arrived in Horner Park the skies opened and rain poured. Standing beneath a small tree and my trusty umbrella, I called my husband. He drove me to my good friend Lucy’s house in Lincoln Park. She and I have been friends for about 21 years, and her place is always my home-away-from-home, whether I’m living across country or 30 minutes away. I was happy to visit with her, shower and grab some proper city food.

Sunday morning found me with almost eight hours of sleep, as I plodded back to Horner Park. From there I walked due east and then south, through the heart of downtown and the Lincoln Park Zoo, and finally back along Lake Michigan. Around noon I crossed the finish line at Soldier Field. My walk-wounds were minor, a few blisters and lingering aches in the lower-shin and foot areas. I had suspected that my knees would complain, as they sometimes do after a long run, but they held up beautifully.

Wrapping up a marathon walk on Saturday afternoon, just outside Horner Park. Photo courtesy of a kind woman at the mile marker using my Windows smart phone.

Wrapping up a marathon on Saturday afternoon, just outside Horner Park. Photo courtesy of a kind woman at the mile marker using my Windows smart phone.

39.3 miles is a BIG walk. For perspective, it’s 40 miles from my home in the suburbs to the center of Chicago. I’m grateful I could go the distance, through neighborhoods that hold the most significant history of my life. I passed the Lakeview streets where I spent my first years out of college–Cornelia, Roscoe and Melrose–the door of my old office building on East Ontario in Streeterville, and Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where I gave birth to Noah. The Moody Church, where we used to attend and where Noah was dedicated, was directly on my path.

Watching my adult life on rewind allowed my childhood, where my mom’s memory lives, to mingle with my current existence. As a motherless child you learn to accept that part of you will forever be frozen at the age you were when your mom left. Any opportunity to reconcile the old and new is true grace.

At one of the rest stops, inspiring quotes were tacked to the doors of each portable potty. One by Arthur Koestler caught my eye: “Courage is never to let your actions be influenced by your fears.” Applying that to everything in life seems a great idea.

I’m grateful for the financial, moral and emotional support of my friends and family. I’m also thankful for ibuprofen, my faithful Asics, Gatorade, coffee, umbrellas, Chez Lucy, my sister, Lisa, and niece, Autumn, who looked after Noah and Syma, my incomparable husband Matt, and the reason for it all: my angel Mom.

avon walk finish

Embracing the finish at Soldier Field, Sunday, June 2, 2013. Photo courtesy of a nice man at the finish line using my Windows smart phone.

  1. Congrats on finishing your first marathon-and-half. I’m sure the aches were nothing compared to your sense of accomplishment and nostalgia.

  2. Well done!

  3. Just read this, Kristina. I’m a bit slow on catching up on e-mails. But my hat sure is off to you for persevering to the end. And, as usual, a wonderfully written accounting of the endeavor.


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