The Chicago Marathon moved to an alternative, virtual format this year, and for Brendan Cunningham, that meant an opportunity to run through Beverly/Morgan Park, supporting a hospital that has meant so much to local families.
Cunningham, of Morgan Park, completed five laps through the neighborhood—each one of them a little over 5 miles—the morning of Oct. 11, with loved ones cheering him on in front of their homes or joining him for a few miles at a time.
He raised over $4,000 for Lurie Children’s Hospital, and he was grateful for those “friendly faces” offering support all morning.
“That really does become necessary when you’re in the ‘dog miles’ of the run,” Cunningham said. “You need something to distract you from being in pain. That was really a key to success, having people out there cheering.”
Cunningham, 41, ran the Chicago Marathon in 2018, and this year, he decided to raise funds, as so many others do when running a marathon.
He chose Lurie Children’s Hospital, he said, because many local families have turned to the hospital when loved ones have battled cancer, including Finley Bracken, a 2-year-old neighbor of his who died in September.
Cunningham carefully plotted out his route, using his stopwatch and even driving the route to get it down to the exact mile.
He began at the 10900 block of South Washtenaw Avenue, near his home, then headed east, to Hoyne Avenue. He made his way to Longwood Drive, then ran north to 97th Street. He headed back west to Seeley Avenue, then back south to 103rd Street and toward Talman Avenue.
He ran past the homes of family and friends, and on each lap, two or three people ran with him. His friend Matt Kreiter, who served in the U.S. Army and completed a marathon in Kuwait while wearing his military gear, joined him at one point. Other supporters included Howard Ludwig, Fran Blake, Tim Burke, Katie Leyden, Shannon Gall, Kristen Marron and P.J. Vaughan.
Matt Boyle trained with Cunningham but couldn’t run on race day due to a back injury.
Cunningham finished in 3 hours, 52 minutes, just 2 minutes slower than his 2018 time.
Better yet, his finish line nearly took him to his front door.
“It was awesome,” Cunningham said. “I ended up three houses from my house.”
Cunningham completed a standard marathon training program, much of it locally. He ran into Oak Lawn and past Advocate Christ Medical Center, and he made his way down 95th Street and Longwood Drive.
Three weeks before the marathon, he completed a 20-mile run near Lake Michigan; most utilities have been closed due to COVID-19, but amenities such as portable toilets were set up to help runners.
Cunningham was motivated to try a marathon, he said, by Jenny Harkins, the owner of Treadfit-Beverly. He was a client at the fitness studio, 10458 S. Western Ave., and while finding himself alongside Harkins during the Ridge Run, she encouraged him to run a marathon.
This year’s race will be his last marathon, Cunningham said. His body has now recovered, and he said the only chance he will give it another try is if certain family members join him.
“I told my kids the only way I’m running one is if they do one when they’re older,” he said, “and I’ll try to do it when I’m an old man.”
Cunningham credited those who joined him for the final two laps for providing “a little emotional boost” and helping him finish strong.
In the future, he would love to provide the same for marathon runners.
“I’d much rather be a fan,” Cunningham said, “than a participant.”