The alarm goes off at 3:30am this morning. I quickly get dressed, make a big bowl of oatmeal, and am out the door at 3:55. The hour and a half drive goes by quickly; before I know it I am parked and following the crowd to the biggest line of school buses I have ever seen. I swear there are at least 100 yellow buses lining all the nearby streets. After a quick bathroom break, and some instructions I board a bus along with 4000 other crazy people. I take a seat next to a young college girl. It's her first time too. We're both a little nervous. She shares her bagel with me, and we proceed to small talk for the next 40 minutes while we travel 26.2 miles through several small towns, and then up a long canyon. We are surrounded by darkness - the huge rain clouds cover whatever light would be coming from the moon. The sky is just beginning to lighten as we debark the bus at 6:40am. I have to pee; there are about 60 port-a-potties, but the lines are forever long. I wait for 10 minutes without making much progress. I assess my options and decide a short hike to some bushes is really my only option. There's no time to waste waiting in line.
After finding a bush, I follow the light from the bonfire burning just down the hill from me. It's warmth draws me in on such a chilly morning. I sip gatorade out of paper cup as I warm my legs by the fire. The sound of the gun is coming any minute. I wait for what seems like forever. This is the moment I have been preparing for for the last 3 months. I get lost in my own thoughts, until I hear a sudden, loud, gun-shot. All 4000 of us begin filing down the canyon. Everyone is trying to run, but there is no room.
After several minutes we have all spread out a little leaving enough room to really begin the run. We all set our own pace and begin the long run back to the finish line. Mile by mile pass by slowly - some miles slower than others. I realize quickly that if I count the miles as I go I will never make it such a far distance, so I agree with myself that I will only focus on one mile at a time - no thought of how far I have come, and no thought of how far I still need to go. This seems to work.
I meet friends along the way. We run a short ways together until our paces no longer match, and we drift apart without a word. Whether it is only a few feet or few miles we spend together, I am grateful for the companionship and the motivation to continue.
The hours tick by - the miles all begin to run together. Before I know it I am at the base of the canyon. There are hundreds of people lining the streets - cheering, clapping, ringing bells. I can't help but feel that all those people are there just for me - angels sent to lift my tired body and encourage me to keep going. I wave and cheer back - grateful for their support. The crowd quickly thins out and I wish more people would come - I wish all the people would cheer when I pass them. Don't they know how much their cheering helps?
It begins to rain - a light rain. I am grateful for the change - anything to break up the monotony of the miles that lie before me, although the rain doesn't last long. The miles keep coming, getting harder and longer with each one, but I keep running, knowing that if I stop I won't start again.
Finally I see it - mile marker 25 - the last mile marker before the finish. I try to pick up the pace, I'm so close, yet my body can somehow sense that that last mile will be the longest mile of the race. The rain starts again, although this time it is not a light drizzle - it is a cloud burst - coming down in huge, rapid drops. In less than a minute I am drenched, but it is so refreshing. As quickly as the rain starts, it stops. I hear someone yell "2 more blocks". Can it really be only 2 more blocks. And then I see it - the finish chute. I have made it - I take off at a sprint and cross the finish line as the clock reads 4:10:00. I am a marathon runner!