I get a kick out of this t-shirt:
because for me, that final 10K was a true test. Like many marathoners, the longest run I'd done in training was 20 miles. It felt like a huge leap of faith to think that another 6.2 miles would be no problem, considering that running 20 was such a challenge. But I set out on that fall morning in Des Moines trying to be as confident as possible that I could do it.
My husband and son were waiting for me at the 20 mile mark. They waved, cheered, blew kisses, and promised they'd see me just before the finish line.
As I passed them, a huge smile found its way across my face. In that moment, there was no doubt in my mind that I was going to finish the marathon. I felt absolutely giddy. All of those months of training were coming together. And with every step I took, I was running farther than I'd ever gone before. I passed a group of high school students who were playing the drums and as I crossed over into the park, I felt like I could conquer the world.
The trouble was, fatigue was starting to set in. My problem wasn't The Wall (which I never hit) so much as keeping my mental focus. Four plus hours is a long time to be doing anything; you can get bored watching a movie that's that long, much less spending all that time running.
I found myself taking walk breaks, not so much because my legs were tired, but to break up the monotony. I made a deal with myself: I would run the final two miles, no walking. Then, I spotted a pacer holding a great big 5:00 sign. I dug deep, started running again, and passed him. At 24 miles, I took my final cup of water. Before long, I was at 25 miles. Just 1.2 miles to go, I thought. That's not so bad.
That last mile was the longest mile I have ever run. For the entire race, I'd been surrounded by people, but in that last mile, things were quiet. There were no spectators or volunteers anywhere near by. Only a few runners were close to me, and I could see all of them struggling. One guy passed me, then stopped to walk I don't know how many times. He finally gave up and just walked.
In that final mile, I pulled out every trick I knew to keep going. I flipped through my iPod for good songs. I chanted my running mantra to myself: I am strong. I am tough. I can do this. I am a marathoner. I focused on objects a bit ahead of me and imagined myself pulling on them, moving myself further along.
Finally, I reached a volunteer. He pointed off to the left and said, "See that red thing right there? That's the finish line. Go get it."
As I ran towards that finish, the streets began to be lined with spectators. "Give me some love," I asked, and they'd cheer for me. The big smile was back on my face and grew even bigger when I saw Steve and Jack.
The two of them were about a quarter mile away from the finish line. Steve was holding up Jack so he could see me, and the two of them were grinning at me, yelling and cheering like crazy. It is a sight that I will never forget as long as I live.
I ran past the two of them, and the rest of the race was all me. I looked at that finish line, and kicked it in. I'm sure it's a mental thing, because for all of my running life, no matter how hard I've worked or how tired I am, I can always kick it to the finish line.
I'd imagined crossing the finish line a million times in my training. And always, the soundtrack was my power song, "All These Things That I've Done" by The Killers. That song was running through my head as I ran on:
While everyone's lost, the battle is won
With all these things that I've done
All these things that I've done
If you can hold on
If you can hold on
My eyes welled up as I crossed that line. A volunteer gave me my finisher's medal and wrapped me in a silver blanket. For the first time in four hours and 57 minutes, I had stopped moving forward. I quickly realized three things:
1. I was HUNGRY.
2. Holy sweet Yoda in the swamps of Dagobah, but my legs hurt!
3. I was a marathoner.