If no one was there to put a medal around my neck, did I really run a marathon? The answer is, undeniably, YES! There was no one there to cheer, no one to hand me a water bottle, no Gatorade, no orange slices, no space blanket, no finish line photo. But there was the same feeling of accomplishment, the same rush, the same glorious soreness at the end of my 26.2 mile run last Saturday.
I finished a 23 miler with my fantastic partner, Leah, who is training for the Eugene Marathon. Even though I was not planning on running the race, I wanted to do the training with her for several reasons. 1) It keeps my mileage up 2) I have a 50K coming up in July and I need to do several runs at marathon distance as part of my training. 3) Running with Leah is too fun to pass up. This was her last and longest training run. The one, once finished, gives you that feeling of coming up on the downhill slide to race day. The taper begins, the work is finished. All you have to do is stay healthy, well-fed and try to relax until the gun goes off.
Our route ended at Alton Baker parking lot where we said a quick goodbye. I walked over to the drinking fountain to fill up my water bottle for the drive home. That’s when a wave of sadness hit me; I won’t be running the race. I won’t be going the 26.2, I won’t have that feeling of satisfaction in going the distance, the icing on the cake. I trained alongside of her for the all the long runs and now I’m just going home with only a 23 miler in my bag? Well, I said to myself out loud, “Not if I head out and run another 3.2 miles.” I slipped my hand through my water bottle strap and jumped on Pre’s trail before I could think twice.
There was a 5K going on at Alton Baker that morning so there were race vibes in the air. I tried to catch some as I watched my Garmin carefully so as not to go out too far. All I needed was a 1.6 out and back to finish up my own personal marathon. The soft bark chips felt good on my sore feet and all the people on the trail made me feel like I was not alone in my endeavor. The run out seemed long and quiet. No partner, no tunes, just the sloshing of my water bottle. Finally reaching that 1.6 marker, doing a 180 gave me a rush even though Leah and I both commented earlier that day how strangely demanding that feels on your legs once you’ve been going in one direction for so many miles. I was so excited to get back to the park, I couldn’t help speed up. By the last mile I glanced at my watch to see I was on about an 8:30 pace. That’s slightly slower than a 5K pace for me and it felt hard. But there was a voice in my head that kept repeating, “This is what speed work is for. This is what speed work is for.” The voice was right and I felt strong and steady that last mile.
As I clicked off my Garmin right at 26.2, I was all smiles and sweat. A finisher’s medal, a cheering crowd, tables and tables of post-run nosh and even hugs from my family and friends could not have made me feel more alive than I did at the end of my self-made marathon. Cherishing my salty face, I took a victory lap around the duck pond. THIS is why I run. For me. To prove to myself over and over how strong I am, how determined, how much joy I reap from pushing myself, how much fun it is to cross that finish line, even if you draw it yourself.