Long Train Running: A Chicago Marathon Story | Chapter 4 — Why We Run

Long Train Running: A Chicago Marathon Story | Chapter 4 — Why We Run

By David Himmel

“All men should try to learn before they die what they are running from, and to, and why.”
—A Panda Express fortune cookie

Jim Von Handorf ran marathons for the same reasons he climbed mountains: to escape and to conquer.

A career fireman in Nashua, New Hampshire, Jim was an outdoorsman to the fullest. He climbed mountains, bouldered, swam, bicycled and ran. His daughter, Amy explains that her dad could never really sit still. That he had a constant need to just go, go, go. He grew up in a small, Boston apartment with a lot of people. The bustling tightness of the city drove him to get out. It was always in his nature to escape. He was into Thoreau and Kerouac. He needed space. So he headed into the wild. His mountaineering expeditions he made with his buddies took him to peaks all over the country where he would test his mettle against the elements and his own limits.

He even showed esophageal cancer that he was not one to go down easy.

Several years back, my younger brother Eric and I made a bet over which of us would beat the other in the Boston Marathon. We did this not realizing all of the prerequisites that go into running the Boston Marathon. We quietly abandoned the bet years later. When I decided to run the Chicago Marathon last winter, I asked Eric if he wanted to run it with me.

“No,” he said.

“We’ll likely never do the Boston. Let’s make the bet about Chicago,” I said. “You can help me raise money for Gilda’s Club. It’ll get our asses in better shape.”

“I’ll give you money for Gilda’s Club.”

I’m running the marathon for one of the same reasons many others run it: to raise money for a charity. I’ve been involved with Gilda’s Club Chicago since 2011 and have been hitting friends, family, and co-workers up for sponsorship dollars, to buy tickets to events, to donate products or services as auction items, and more. As grateful as I am for all these people have given time and again over the years, raising money for a charity isn’t easy. I know the asks get annoying. I know the donors grow tired of being sold on the mission or having to part with their hard-earned money and limited time for the benefit of others they might never meet or even see. This is a challenge not unique to me or to Gilda’s Club Chicago. This is the DNA of philanthropy.

But when it comes to raising money for organizations through walks or runs, it’s easier than spitting on Eric Trump in a fancy restaurant.

“Oh, you need money? What do I have to do? Nothing? How much do you need? Whatever I am comfortable giving? Okay. Here’s fifty bucks. Good luck with that walk or race or whatever.”

The only way I understand why it’s easier to get people to make charitable contributions to a person running a race is because it requires very little effort on the donor’s part and they know they won’t be on the hook for big bucks since many others will also pitch in. It sounds like people are careless and lazy. But that’s not what I’m saying. I’m simply saying this is what it is. And I’ll take what I can any way it’ll be given to me.

“You’re telling me that your band of bigots is planning a 5K walk to cure breast cancer?”
“It’s a run/march… but, yeah.”

Warden Belding overhears Carl and Vick's plan for a secret Klan rally, but he quickly learns to never judge a book by its cover. Which is quite ironic if you think about it.

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Starring: A.J. Miller, Brendan Hannigan, and Phillip Edward Van Lear

Taken figuratively, we’ve all run from something. A relationship; responsibility; our demons. And we’ve all run to something. A relationship; responsibility; our demons. Why we choose to run rather than walk is because when it comes to that thing, time is of the essence. We don’t want to stay too long nor do we want to miss the moment. And so we run.

Taken literally, the running becomes less about the mind and more about the body. Run from the burning house. Run to the bus stop as the bus approaches. Run from the linebacker for as many yards as you can with the ball under your arm. Run to your kid at the playground to prevent her from smacking that other kid with her shoe.

The why we figuratively run from something can be buried deep in the muck of growing up. It can change as instantly as news comes in or moods swing. Knowing why we run from or to something can keep us from running or empower us to continue on. This running is purely mental. The why we literally run for something is obvious. There’s a physical need to move fast.

Why we run marathons is both figurative and literal.

I’m running the Bank of America Chicago Marathon because I care about the Gilda’s Club mission. I’m running for its members, so that no one has to face cancer alone. Literally running lets me support that mission because I can raise money. So, I run for all those people.

I’m also literally running because I had never ran a marathon before and figured that now’s as good a time as any to give it a go. And it forces me to get away from this stupid laptop and out of this stupid chair, and give my body the opportunity to do what it was designed to do: move. I want to feel better. I want more energy and brain power and mental clarity the natural way. Exercise does this. I’ve already noticed a shift. Coffee and speed pills and Red Bull are fine in a pinch, but I need a stronger base.

Figuratively, I’m running from decrepit old age. I’m running from the recurring nightmare I have where I’m unable to stand up — my legs sapped of all strength. I’m running from complacency. I’m running from the idea that I can’t do this. I’m running to a different way of thinking. I’m running to a better version of myself. I’m running to something to write about.

Like Jim Von Handorf, I’m running to escape. Escape from my routine.


I never knew Jim. He died the day after Thanksgiving 2005 a little more than two years after being diagnosed with esophageal cancer, two months after the cancer woke up from a year of remission. He was forty-nine. But I know his daughter — I was the best man at her wedding. And by association, I know his wife, Janet and his son, Jay. Jim sounds like the kind of guy I would have liked: alpha, tough, and full of rich information about running this marathon.

So I’m also running, in a small way, for Jim because he can’t. And because the money I raise will help families like his — daughters like Amy, wives like Janet, and sons like Jay. 

And also like Jim, I’m running to conquer. It’s the best reason to run I’ve heard yet.

Jim Von Handorf atop Mt. Washington in New Hampshire.

Jim Von Handorf atop Mt. Washington in New Hampshire.

Please help Gilda’s Club Chicago in its mission to provide free cancer support to anyone impacted by cancer, by making a donation to my Team Gilda running page. I appreciate your help. More importantly, so do the thousands of Gilda’s Club members who would be lost without it.

Catch up and keep the pace!
Previous Long Train Running chapters

Chapter 1 — Ready, Set, Ouch
Chapter 2 — The Cost of This
Chapter 3 — Weather or Not

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