26.2 is no joke.

Lulu finishing strong at the Portland Marathon.

Lulu finishing strong at the Portland Marathon.

A marathon is something I’ve always wanted to do. This year, I turned 30 and decided it was time.

I crafted a training plan for the Portland Marathon and did a pretty good job of sticking to it. As a former 5K racer, the long runs took some getting used to. But, the feeling of completing runs longer than I’d ever done before was exhilarating. And exhausting. Thanks to some serious Jasyoga stretching, strengthening, and recovery, I made it through all the training without injury (a feat in and of itself). By the time race day rolled, around I was ready.

Heading to the start line with thousands of other brave souls in the still-dark morning was exciting. It’s incredible that weekend after weekend in cities worldwide, racers of all shapes, sizes, and backgrounds take to the streets and bust out 26.2 miles.

The horn went off and away we went. I knew I should start out slower than my usual race pace because I was settling in for a long haul. Unfortunately, I didn’t do that. When I realized I was still up with the 3-hr. pacer for the whole first half, I checked myself and settled back into a groove with the 3:10 group. By around mile 18, I was riding the pain train. I slowed to what felt like a glacial jog. Over the next few miles, the 3:15 pacer passed by… then 3:20… then 3:25. By mile 22, my calves had locked up and I had to walk. I’ve been racing competitively for 16 years and I have never walked in a race.  

The next thing I knew, my boyfriend was running towards me. I took one look at him and burst into tears. He took my hand and we walked, him fetching water for me at the stations as we went. The 3:30 pacer passed us, then 3:35. “That’s Boston,” Chris told me, “do you think you can run?” I tried. Nope. So, we kept walking, my hand in his until mile 24, when he asked again if I could run. This time, we did. I ran (shuffled), Chris right beside me, all the way to the finish, where I crumpled into his arms in a heap of tears. Tears of pain, joy, deliriousness.

From a running perspective, that was a bad race — so bad that I felt embarrassed for the friends tracking my progress online. But, from a runner’s perspective, this is why I do this. 

“Really?” you might ask. Is it worth the early mornings, blood blisters, and (let’s be real) bathroom issues?

Yes.

I do this for the community — for people like Chris, who take my hand during the deepest, darkest hour and help me to find something more that I didn’t know I had. For Anny, my high school coach, who pushed me, believed in me, and loved me into the person I am today. For my college teammates with whom I spent countless hours traveling, eating, laughing, crying, sweating, and showering with, and who remain some of my greatest friends today.

I plod along, much slower than I once was, because I still have days where the air in my lungs and the ground under my feet make me feel like I’m flying. I know when I lace up my shoes and head out the door I’m exactly where I need to be. 

I run because I must.

And 26.2, you haven’t licked me yet. I’ll be back, wiser, stronger, and better from the experience — you can count on it.