CHICAGO IS FOR RUNNERS - KURT FLIEGEL First time I tried to run as an adult, at 43, I made it half a mile and thought I was going to die right then and there. Never felt as hurt or defeated in my entire life as on the walk back home. Was I really that far out of shape? Was it all the years of abuse from alcohol and cigarettes? Could I ever make it back?Turned anger at myself into focus, and started training, alone, with the classic walk/run method. Worked up to a 5k, did okay, then finally put down the cigarettes after 25 years (yes, I used to come back from workouts and light up). Have run almost 200 races since then, working up from 5ks to 8ks to 10ks, eventually half marathons, and have been fortunate enough to collect some age group hardware along the way. Experienced runner now. Grizzled, even.This year I’m training for my first marathon at 61. Coach, crew, masseuse, yoga instructor, nutrition, head on reasonably straight for once…all the boxes are checked and I’m ready to go. Even with all that I have to say I’m a little scared. I also know I’ll make it to the finish line somehow, but with a lot of help.The biggest change in my running life came from pacing side-by-side with someone, in total synchronization every step of the way, for 13.1 miles. For the first time I wasn’t just inside my own head, and it was like, I shouldn’t say this, but it was like having sex. We all like to acknowledge that running is about the experience, and about honoring the gift, but in finding a partner through running I understand the gift differently now.As I’ve gotten older, and inevitably slower, I’ve found that the gift keeps expanding out from accomplishment and satisfaction to include peace, grace, a good measure of shared happiness that isn’t available anywhere else, any other way. And above all, love. I don’t say that lightly. Running opens up our hearts in ways that little else can, establishes connections with the people and the environment around us. Every time I pin on a number, or flow with the crew through the streets, I can say it’s mostly about love. Running is the way I explore the world now, whether it’s Chicago or Milwaukee or Madison…or New York or Los Angeles or San Francisco or Austin…or London or Paris or Rome. There’s lots of love out there to be found.Some days I look around and wonder, where did everyone else go? A lot of people my age have sat back down. I’m not ready to sit yet. Not even close. I even tattooed this on my shoulder, to make sure I keep it all going to the absolute end: Run Free. Breathe Deep. Finish Strong.And looking back on where I started this adventure, and all the way I’ve come, there is one thing I believe today with absolute certainty every time I pull on the gear. There may be younger runners. And there may be faster runners. But every once in a while, into the setting sun on a warm summer’s night, there is no more magnificent runner, than me.