KT Hawbaker Credit: ryan edmund for chicago reader

In 2019, my body became a walking cancel culture.

My head canceled a steady newspaper job. My liver canceled booze. My uterus canceled a pregnancy. These were not all bad things, but each offered its own kind of upheaval, resulting in playlists full of wise-woman acoustic rock—the most fitting soundtrack as I wondered aloud, “Oh, God. What the fuck do I do now?”

There was one constant in all of this: Every Saturday I had to get up at 4:30 AM to meet my running training team at Foster Beach. My body may have felt like a windblown trash bag, but I’d committed to run the Chicago Marathon in October. And, as most runners will tell you, Saturdays are for long runs.

Credit: ryan edmund for chicago reader

Running wasn’t ever supposed to be mine. I was and am a fat grrrl. In middle school, I tried running cross-country for one season but quit two races in. I hated publicly exerting myself. I was already so goddamn visible, my big, hairy body a constant source of conversation and commentary. As I toughed it out on dirt paths, it was easy to imagine what race spectators were thinking: “Come on lardass, let’s hustle.”

I now envision my younger self as a new can of pop, shaken constantly by the conservative, white, hetero hands gripping them. Crash diets, bad boyfriends, divorced parents, an unruly adolescence.

Eventually, this was going to explode. And thank God it did.

Somewhere in my mid-20s, all that agony turned to anger, and I became hellbent on reclamation. Sex? That now belongs to me. Food? As much as I want, and unconditionally. Emotions? I’d like to supersize them, please, with a side of therapy and medication. It’s still a messy process, nonlinear at best, but it churns forward.

And then I came to reclaim movement. As I floated in my little pool of obstinance, I decided to go straight to the thing I feared most: running. I’d flirted with it in college and spent a few months on my feet in grad school, but in those situations it always boiled down to weight loss. Now I wanted the real deal. The electrolyte tablets, the weird chafing, the obsessive community in moisture-wicking fabric. On the day I quit my job at the Tribune—reclaiming my time from a bunch of old, white men—I joined the AIDS Foundation of Chicago‘s marathon team, T2.

Credit: ryan edmund for chicago reader
Credit: ryan edmund for chicago reader

I started slow. Extremely slow. Thirteen-minute-mile slow. One or two, here or there. That was all I could do with the bottles of chardonnay coursing through my veins. If I was going to do this, it was going to require patience and faith in my body’s ability to adapt. It was going to require months of commitment. And less booze. Actually, no booze.

As training season continued, I joked that all I did was run and work. In reality, I ran, worked, ranted about sobriety, and went to therapy twice a week. The miles began to stack up, and suddenly I was doing nine without stopping.

Friends asked if I felt “amazing.” I sent them pictures of the scrapes left behind by my sports bra. It was “amazing” that I’d stuck with this.

My teammates made it easy to stick with it, and now, in the final days before the marathon, they continue to do so. Haters don’t tell you that sports are completely different when you’re a grown-up, that some people gather together just to support one another. It also helps that the T2 team is queer as hell. When we run together—in public, in tight, little shorty-shorts— it feels like a protest. We’re trans, Black, gay, Latinx, HIV-positive, nonbinary, fat, married, drag queens, survivors, parents, and more, all taking our own time and exerting strength in a world that doesn’t want to see it. When I had a miscarriage in September and barely showed up for our 18-miler, they immediately made space for my grief and held me as I cried. But that’s what running long distances will do to you. You let someone else see you sweat and suffer like that, and you’re friends for life. I’m hooked.

Of course, with the Chicago Marathon days away, I am anxiously awaiting all the weird things I will do over the course of 26.2 miles—people actually shit themselves, after all. More experienced runners say that you find religion around mile 20. That’s probably true, but I’ve been acting on faith the whole time.   v

Credit: ryan edmund for chicago reader