I wipe the sweat out of my eyes as I run past the Potomac River. To my left, a girl cries out that she can’t go any further — which is pretty much how I’m feeling, too — and her friend encourages her to hang on just a little longer.
Putting one foot in front of the other, I count in French to fifty, trying to distract myself from my thighs muscles screaming in pain, my right ankle’s dull throb. Mile 19 passes in a haze of bright sun, and I am focused only on making it to the next aid station.
When I finish the marathon, I don’t cry; my body is too dehydrated for that. I can’t believe I completed 26.2 miles, the farthest I’ve ever run — or walked — without collapsing. I am exhausted, salt drying in uneven tracks on my arms, my legs are sore and wobbly — and I’ve never felt better in my life.
I believe that running is more than simply exercise. I believe it pushes me to go farther than I ever thought possible. I believe it is more than even a way of life — it is life.
I had always been a recreational athlete. Throughout high school, I played basketball and soccer and ran track, and I loved the way my body felt after a hard workout. Making that basket or running a 100-meter sprint to reach a personal record was a euphoric experience.
But running satisfies something deeper, and more elemental. It allows me to set a goal — one that is actually achievable. When I started out long distance running I had never even run five miles; the first 10-mile race I signed up for was daunting. I finished, but it was a struggle and I felt sick and exhausted. I wondered why I had done that to myself, and vowed to take a break.
Yet I always came back. I trained better, pushed myself harder, and my times improved. I set goals for myself, and met them. I signed up for the 2005 Marine Corps Marathon, logged more lonely miles during training than seemed fathomable, and crossed the finish line with a grin on my face. I can’t wait to do another one.
When I run, I breathe deeply. My body finds its rhythm, and settles in. As my feet slap down on the trail, my mind wanders. The world seems infinite and ripe with possibility.
I believe running makes me stronger. I’ve learned I can accomplish anything I set my mind to, even if it hurts sometimes along the way.
In this movement, I exult.
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