My race started at mile 22.
Prior to that marker, everything else about the OC Marathon was easy. I woke up at 3:30 a.m. fully rested and mentally prepared. I ate a light breakfast, drank exactly one and a half cups of coffee and chased it with a quart of water.
It was still dark on the line at 5:30 a.m. I stretched and prepared myself for the road ahead. I wasn’t scared of the pain that I would experience. I was going to take it mile by mile, follow the pace runner in the neon yellow journey who was carrying a sign that said 3 hours and 30 minutes and I was going to make it the finish line.
Boxing myself into a group of runners who were running with the pacer, I forced myself to run at a conservative pace. It was surprisingly peaceful. After training alone for the past four years, I had forgotten how quickly the miles go by in a group.
At mile 12, I was reaching the halfway point. After seeing my parents cheering me on from the sidelines I decided to begin working my way up the pack.
Focusing on the shoulders of every runner in front of me, I pulled them in one by one. With every runner I passed, the more confidence I gained. From mile 17 to mile 20 I was unstoppable.
And then I hit it mile 22, a brick wall that towered in front of me. My thoughts began to turn from the task of passing the next runner to the distance that I still had to travel.
My calves and feet burned and my back began to hunch over. My pace began to slow. The long cloudy stretch of the Santa Ana River became a wasteland.
Everything before this point was a warm up. Every mile in training, every pull-up, every stroke of a bicycle pedal. It was all in preparation for these four miles.
At every turn, every water station and every moderate hill climb screamed at me to stop. Despite the handful of people who passed me, I refused to stop no matter how much my pace slowed.
I thought about the nine years that I have spent running, my old coaches and my old teammates. I thought those who had supported me in training and my family. If I were to stop running, I would fail them all.
I thought of every hardship and every failure that I had experienced. As I crossed the mile 25 mark, my lungs burning and ready to give in, I decided that this would be neither a hardship nor a failure.
Turning the final corner, I heard my parents screaming at me to finish. I saw the blue arches of the finish and massive crowds.
Pulling deep, I forced my legs to move faster and run on my toes. As a group of runners passed me and I entered the kick, I remember muttering under pained, erratic breathing: “shit.”
I crossed the finish line with a time of 3 hours, 24 minutes and 43 seconds. Out of 1,896 marathoners, I finished 116th. My average pace was 7:49.
After the lactic acid cleared my legs and I had regained my appetite, I began thinking: “When can I do it again?”