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June 4th 2006
The volunteers in the red shirts direct us to enter our corrals. It’s race time. Twenty-three thousand of us cram into our assigned areas and stand shoulder-to-shoulder, no room to move. I know what lies in wait—fifty-four thousand steps, or twenty-six and two tenths miles. It is surreal to think that among all these thousands of competitors, I am the youngest participant. How did I get here?
Every night around 8:15, my dad started running on the treadmill upstairs. The placement of our treadmill was that it was directly above the chandelier in our kitchen nook, near my bedroom. For forty-five minutes, five nights a week, our chandelier rattled as my dad ran, and as it was a comforting sound, it lulled me to sleep. Saturday afternoons my dad ran outside and my brothers and I tried to keep pace with him—an all but impossible task. The “Saturday Run” was three miles round trip, with a steep downhill for the last half-mile that needed to be climbed on the way back. My brothers and I were always instructed to wait under a particular willow tree just before the hill so we would not have to face the challenge.
One weekend, I decided it was time to bypass that willow tree, to “go the distance and run the hill. Though I had no problem all the way out and even down the hill, at the bottom, I did the one thing my dad had warned me never to do: I looked up at that monster hill facing me, and, exactly as he’d warned, I became afraid. But it was time to bypass the willow tree, I was determined to run up that intimidating hill, and step after step, I did. That was the day I became a runner. I was eight years old.
June 4th 2006
Running down this closed highway is pretty amazing, but then so have many of the places I have been training over the past eighteen months. Running on soft sanded beaches of Costa Rica and Australia, weaving between people and vehicles along the city streets of Tel Aviv and Sydney – these are indelible memories of extraordinary, indescribable joy and liberation.
June 4th 2006
The race is now almost over: I have only two-tenths of a mile left. For most of the twenty-six miles I focused my running gait. At mile twenty, however, I hit the proverbial “wall,” the physical breakdown that everyone talks about. Though stunned that it happened to me, I somehow struggled through it by realizing that I am not just running for myself, but for my trainers, friends, relatives and family members who believe in me and have steadfastly urged me on. I am running for them.
Turning the corner at the Marine Corp Recruitment Depot, I see thousands of spectators crowding near the finish line. My knees are now buckling, my calf and quad muscles in spasm, my entire body trembling with glycogen depletion. I seriously wonder if I have two-tenths of a mile left in me. But I remind myself that I do not want to be sitting under that willow tree of my youth – instead, I want that feeling I had ten years ago when I finally ran up the enormous hill. I look squarely towards the finish line and refuse to be daunted by this last stretch. I shake off my pain, ignore the trembling and, step after step, keep on running. I cross the finish line. I lift my arms up. A sudden feeling of euphoria takes over and I no longer feel any pain in my legs, or any pain anywhere. I am a marathoner.
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