Standing at the starting line with three thousand runners felt so exciting. A year ago, running one minute was an achievement and now I was standing at the beginning of 13.1 miles that would take me over 2 hours to finish. “Wow, look how far you’ve come,” I told myself. That was my victory; even before the race had started I had won.
The air horn went off, and off we went. Well not really, it wasn’t a magical moment like you see in the movies; I had to wait in order to cross the starting line because there was so many bodies trying to squeeze through. I laughed at myself for having this sort of expectation about the starting line. On the other side of the starting line was a different story, which is where the work started.
Many runners would agree that long distance running is a series of arguments between the part of you that wants you to stop and the part that wants to keep going. As the race goes on the voice that wants you to keep going gets quieter and the one that wants you to stop gets louder. At 3 miles, that voice was yelling at me. My knee injury all of the sudden flared up, I knew that this could go one of two ways, and it all depended on my mindset. I could either decide that this wasn’t going to happen and I wouldn’t finish, or I could be my own cheerleader. “This isn’t going to be easy,” I remember thinking, “You don’t need to be a hero, just go at your own pace; just finish. There is only 10 more miles to go.” I thought about a quote I had read from Martin Luther King Jr., “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward”. I decided to slow my pace and keep reminding myself that this was a long race and I was only racing against myself. Keep moving forward.
When I stopped focusing so hard on the race I got to see the beauty that was happening all around me. There were so many beautiful scenes along the way; the greenery, the water, the architecture; but that wasn’t the most beautiful thing. I saw people from all walks of life struggling to finish something. They weren’t doing this for anyone else, just themselves. I saw a man who was in his 70’s with a knee brace running his heart out, even though it obviously hurt. I saw a young boy who had to have been 9. I saw a woman holding her friends hair as she vomited on the side of the road. These were all beautiful: people struggling, and pushing through something difficult for them. They were all determined.
The voice telling me to stop got so loud by mile 10. I was hurting and tired, hungry and thirsty. Three miles seemed like forever. Keep moving forward. Keep moving forward. That’s when it happened, I accepted my struggle, and I decided to push through it. I pulled my knee strap tighter, I drank some water and I ran.
The finish line was complete joy! I stopped thinking about my knee and I focused on the large inflatable arches that would welcome me to my victory. A woman at the finish line awarded me a metal for simply completing the race and my mom had tears of joy as she watched me cross the line. I finished my race in 2:17. The time didn’t matter, I had made it.
Running has taught me so much about life. This race in particular taught me how to struggle. Turning your back to your struggle won’t win your race. Acknowledging your struggle and accepting that it is yours alone will get you to the finish line.