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Saucony 26 Strong: Chicago Time

Sara LordThis is a big marathon weekend, and two of the Saucony 26 Strong teams will be in Chicago for the Bank of America Chicago Marathon on Sunday. First-timer Marla Brizel and vet Jason Dement, both of Chicago, will be tackling their hometown race, while Sarah Lord and Carmen McDowell, both of Overland Park, Kan., will be making the road trip to one of the biggest marathons in the country. The Bank of America Chicago Marathon filled to its capacity of 45,000 runners last winter.

Also running will be vet Gael Henville from Team 15, which last week helped her first-timer finish her first marathon.

All five runners have been training this summer as part of the Saucony 26 Strong program, a collaboration between Competitor and Saucony that pairs experienced marathon vets with first-timers (“cadets”) as they both train to achieve their marathon goals.

Marla and Jason, Team 10, have been training together all summer, and Marla is excited to complete her first marathon in Chicago.

“I am feeling anxious, but in a good and excited way,” she says. “I feel confident that I can do this and just want to get to the starting line at this point. I’m also in a slight state of disbelief—I will attempt something that I once thought to be completely impossible.

“My only goals for the race are to finish and to enjoy the experience as much as I can,” Marla says. “I have a goal time in mind but I’m reluctant to share because I don’t want this race to be about time. I actually had the opportunity to meet Meb Keflezighi this past weekend at Fleet Feet Chicago, and he signed my training log with “run to win.” I laughed and joked about how that was unlikely to happen and he simply responded, ‘If you try your best, then you have won.’ I’d like to carry that message with me through the race.”

Veteran Jason Dement says his own training for the race has been helped by working with Marla this sumer.

“My training has been elevated through working with Marla on her first marathon,” he says. “If I must be honest, I was in a bit of a rut with running. Since Marla and I started 26 Strong my outlook on the sport has gained strength, so much so that I decided to do my first Ironman this year. It was refreshing and invigorating to have a fresh outlook on endurance sports, and rekindled my love for marathoning and pushing the body’s limits.

“Marla looks excellent,” he says. “She is going to cruise through her first marathon. There have been ups and downs with nutrition mostly, but I think she’s got that dialed in at this point. Now we just have to wait and see what Mother Nature brings us.”

Cadet Sarah and vet Carmen, Team 13, have also spent the summer training together. And they learned, like many marathoners, that training with a group brings more benefits than just endurance.

“I am feeling good about the race,” Sarah says. “I can say that I have had a lot of fun with training because I have spent a lot of time running with a good group of girl friends. I have been able to build friendships in the process. Carmen, has trained a lot with me and has always been willing to talk about things that I have worried about, and she gives some good tidbits about racing that have been helpful.

“It seems as though I am the type of person that seems to function better when I have a goal in mind and a plan to follow so the training plan has actually been a good thing for me,” she says. “Ultimately my biggest goal for running has been to raise money for Parkinson’s Research and so I believe having that in mind throughout the process has made the experience all the more meaningful for me, and the fundraising has gone well.  It’s hard to get frustrated or down when I know I am doing this to honor my dad.”

“Sarah is more than ready!” Carmen says. “She has had a really strong training cycle. I’m proud of Sarah for taking this goal on and I can’t wait to celebrate with her.”

Carmen is shooting for a new marathon PR at Chicago, 4:45. But various injuries this summer have put that in jeopardy.

“If I can get to the starting line healthy and finish the distance I will be happy,” she says. “Because this is my 3rd marathon I think I am confident that I can finish the distance but smart enough to respect that it’s still 26.2 miles.  I feel much more mentally relaxed and ready to go, I just hope I can get my body to the same physical state.”

Good luck to all those running Chicago this weekend!