With over 40,000 participants and about 1.7 million spectators, the Chicago Marathon is one of the most sought after races in America. As a matter of fact, in company with the Boston, New York, London, Berlin, and Tokyo Marathons, it is one of the six World Marathon Majors. The route crosses 29 neighborhoods and has proven to be one of the most diverse races with over 130 countries represented. In a study by Medium on runners from the 2017 Chicago Marathon, 48% of the participants running identified as female.
Rahwa Teklai was one of them.
TONL and Nike have partnered to create a vibrant photography collection inspired by and centered around the Chicago Marathon. Highlighted by three diverse narratives showcasing past, present, and future perspectives on marathon running, the partnership takes TONL’s premiere diverse stock photography further into sport with over 60 images for free, editorial use.
This PAST prompt allowed us to learn more from Rahwa, an avid runner/competitor, as she recounts her experience participating in the 40th annual Chicago Marathon in 2017. Put yourself in her ‘running’ shoes as she gives us a full recount of everything she endured while prepping and running the race. Read her full interview below and don't forget to shop her NIKE Collection of running pictures.
I was born and raised in Eritrea until the age of 9. Due to conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia, my father joined the Eritreans Liberation Front and my parents were separated from 1975 until they were reunited in Sudan in 1984. We came to the United States in 1989. Like many immigrants in the US, I was raised by uneducated parents who sacrificed everything to afford their children a brighter future. I attended Penn State University after 4 years in the US and graduated with a Finance degree. I have gone on to have a very successful career in the financial service industry. In so many ways, my childhood and upbringing have a lot in common with running... both of them are about moving forward!
Why did you decide to run the Chicago Marathon?
The idea of running the 2017 Chicago Marathon started when I moved to Lititz, PA from Madison, MS during the summer of 2016. I was fortunate to meet a Soccer Mom who was a runner and part of Team in Training through Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS). I was invited to a Saturday run and met some amazing runners and was inspired by their commitment to find a cure for Leukemia.
At the beginning of each year, I write down my personal and professional goals. I call them “What Ifs” which included a job change and running 3-4 marathons, a Ragnar Relay and a 50K race. In March of 2017, I accomplished my first “What If” of the year by joining PNC Wealth Management as a Senior Wealth Strategist and Planner. This was a significant personal accomplishment for my family as my previous job required 50-70% travel and with two active children (now age 14 and 12), it enabled me to be at the events where my kids needed me. Now, it was time to tackle my additional “What-Ifs” with the marathons on the top of my list.
What adversity (if any) did you experience while training for the Chicago marathon?
Little did I know how challenging training would be due to a pulled hamstring that occurred in December of 2016, the cold winter and hot summer of Pennsylvania. My birthday happens to be January 5th and so that day I committed to raising funds for LLS and signed up to run the Chicago Marathon with LLS. The winter running was bitterly cold and long, but I managed to lace up and rack up my miles.
In May 2017, I successfully finished the Pittsburgh Marathon at 3:59:49. I was really proud of my sub 4 hour result given the physical therapy sessions, the elevation of the course and winter training. The Pittsburgh Marathon provided me the confidence I needed to handle summer training, but I had no idea how difficult running in humidity could be. Even though I had spent a full summer in Mississippi; Pennsylvania humidity was more challenging especially with the increased mileage of my running. In June 2017, I ran my first Ragnar Relay race and even got an extra medal for running the “Ragnar Leg” which is awarded to runners who run the hardest leg of the race, which was extremely hilly. At this point, I was still recovering from a pulled hamstring, but felt really good about my healing progress. In September, I ran my first 50K Trail Ultra (Boulder Field) and finished 5:59:03 and placed 3rd in my age group. Trail running is a different animal than road running. I felt a sense of peace and fear at the same time. Peace came with my ability to tackle the task on hand, but fear that I would miss the markers and would get lost in the woods. However, that fear ignited the motivation I needed to stay with a group of runners. Again, given the elevation of the course and technical nature of trail running, I was really proud of my accomplishment.
With the Pittsburgh Marathon and Boulder Field 50K completed, I felt confident that I was well trained and that the Chicago Marathon would be “easier” than both and finishing under 3:45 (3 hours and 45 minutes) would be attainable and this result would qualify me for the Boston Marathon. October 8th came and it was the 40th anniversary of the Chicago Marathon with cooler temperatures in the morning, but the sun was coming and temperature would rise to 75 degrees by noon. The race started as usual, fighting through the crowd trying to find my rhythm. A little over an hour into the race (around mile 9), I started to feel the Chicago heat and my average pace was above 8:40/mile and steadily increasing by few seconds every mile. Shortly after mile 9, I realized it wasn’t my day.
Describe crossing the finish line?
It wasn’t my day to have a Boston Qualifying time and I would enjoy the race for what it was. The Chicago Fire Department was out with water hoses trying to cool runners down and I saw a few runners that needed help getting off the course. Chicago Marathon spectators are one of the best I have ever seen and I enjoyed high-fiving children and people of all ages and backgrounds and meeting Harrisburg River runners at the finish line. And for the first time, I had a sip of beer on the course and walked away from Chicago Marathon knowing that the preparation journey was worth it and through the help of friends I had raised over $2,400 for LLS.
Final Thoughts on the Race….
When I look back, 2017 was a remarkable running year, which started with a commitment to help find cure for Leukemia and a “What Ifs” list. My “What Ifs” for 2018 included running 100K race and raising funds for Girls On The Run of Lancaster, PA as a solemate. I’m still chasing Boston and when the time is right, my “What If Boston” will be accomplished.
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