Local mother tackles her marathon goal


Rachel Schaeffer shows off her Chicago Marathon medal

By Lucas Didier, Staff Writer

The marathon. A 26.2-mile footrace that pushes people to their limits and requires a strong commitment in order to cross the finish line. Millions of people run this demanding race worldwide each year. Some of them are elite, professional athletes. Many more are ordinary people. While the accomplishments of the former group are immensely impressive, there is something special about the latter. These people are not running for fame and fortune. They run for personal satisfaction and growth. They run for the love of the race or to prove that they can. Approximately 35,000 dedicated runners gathered in Chicago on October 10th. Among them was Rachel Schaeffer, a local mother of three.

Schaeffer has been running as a hobby for many years. “For me it’s my me time,” Schaeffer said. “When I’m running, I get lost in my head and I can think about whatever I want to and I’m not getting interrupted. And I just feel, I guess, freedom because I can go wherever I want and think my own thoughts. I kind of brainstorm and dream a lot when I’m running. So, it’s just good thinking time. It clears my mind. It makes me happier.

Schaeffer first took her hobby to the next level back in 2013. She entered the Atlanta Marathon, where she was living at the time. This was her first time ever running a formal race of any distance.

“I like to run by myself normally, and I like the challenge of a marathon because it pushes me beyond what is my normal amount of running,” Shaeffer said. “But I need the motivation of the crowd and the other people around me to make it more of an exciting event in order to make it to the finish line.”

In her first competitive race, she posted a time of 4 hours and 19 minutes, an above average time for women in her age group.

Two years after the race, Schaeffer became a mother. Soon after, she and her husband moved back to their home state of Illinois with their new daughter, where she would have two sons in the next few years. All the while, she continued to use running as a source of relaxation. Before she had ran in Atlanta, Schaeffer had a desire to run the Chicago Marathon, one of the most famous venues for the race as well being close to her hometown of McHenry. So, after more than seven years without a race, Schaeffer began to fit time in her busy mother’s schedule to train on the Prairie Trail that runs through her neighborhood. After four months of increasingly difficult training, it was time to race.

With a new venue came a dramatically different experience. While the length of the marathon remains consistent, time and location bring about a number of variables from race to race. Atlanta in 2013 saw a starting temperature of around 40 degrees Fahrenheit, while this year’s race in Chicago started at roughly 70 degrees, despite being raced at the same time of year and in a typically cooler climate than that of Atlanta. Additionally, the terrain varies dramatically.

“Atlanta is very hilly,” Schaeffer said. “There’s a hill for every mile and they’re not little hills. Chicago is very flat. So that really made a difference because hill running is harder on your muscles, but flat running is harder on your joints. So, it was a different kind of pain to endure throughout the race.”

Perhaps the biggest difference for Schaeffer, however, was the size of the event. While Atlanta saw about 900 runners in 2013, Chicago brought in roughly 35,000 in 2021. In addition to the crowded running lanes, Chicago’s streets were lined with spectators for nearly every inch of the route.

Schaeffer went into the race hoping to finish under the four-hour mark, shaving off 19 minutes from her Atlanta time. Unfortunately, when race day came, she wasn’t feeling her best, and instead she added nearly the same margin to her first time, finishing at 4 hours and 37 minutes. Schaeffer says intermittent stomach cramps were one of the toughest challenges she faced throughout the race. However, despite falling quite short of her personal goals, her time placed her in the top 13,000 among all racers. Additionally, she broke the top 5,000 among women and top 1,100 in her age group.

Schaeffer does not see herself giving another shot at the four-hour milestone. She says she had two dreams involving this race after running her first in Atlanta. One was to run another after having kids, and the other was to run in Chicago. With both of those dreams fulfilled, she intends to keep running as a casual hobby without a need to run 26.2 again.

“Although it was an amazing experience both times, it’s a big-time commitment,” Schaeffer said. “I don’t know if a want to do that again and take that time away from my family, or even just other ways I could invest in my hobbies or take care of myself with that time. And it’s just really taxing on my body. I think it probably comes easier to some than others, and the more you do it, to some extent, you might just get used to it, but you also might just end up injuring yourself. So, I am pretty satisfied with my two experiences.”

If this really is the end of Schaeffer’s story with the marathon, I think she is right to consider it a successful one. She may not have reached any lofty milestones, but she did run 52.4 miles in a competitive setting, which is far more than most of us. She set goals for herself that many of us would never consider, and she ran times that are certainly impressive for someone with no other competitive running experience. Schaeffer pushed herself to her limits and ran a race built for the elite, not just once but twice. And the second time, she did it while raising three children. Whether or not you have a desire to run a marathon , I’m sure you can think of a finish line that you dream of crossing. Schaeffer ran her race. What’s stopping you from running yours?