Mile 24 pace: 13:39 I looked up and saw my friends finally! They were all still together! I waved at Bertha and mustered, “Looking good!” Then I realized that there was an out and back part of the course that totalled about a mile. I was staring at my friends and a few feet from them but was not allowed to follow. I had to head off deeper into the parking lot first, circle, then come back to the spot they were going. I wanted to cry. I wanted to quit. It seemed impossible to finish this race. I was so alone.

I could only muster 5 or 6 steps of running, then I’d stop and walk, then run a few steps, then walk. My shouders were slumped over. I felt defeated. Tired. Conquered. It was too much to ask my body to go another 2.2 miles. It sounded like the farthest distance I could imagine. Much more than I could do. “Please, God. Let this end.” I prayed to the skies. If someone would have come up to me and offered me a ride about then, I’d have had to struggle to say “No.” I’m glad noone did. It was lonely and wet and cold out there. Not many people hanging around a park on a day like that. I started to think I was the last runner in the race and that depressed me. But, I could see anyone as far back as I could see. Just me. Barely moving forward.

Mile 25 pace: 14:29 I’m back in the park that Bertha and I like to run in. I can see the golf course we stop at every time and buy Gatorade from — and I don’t care. Everything hurts. I feel cranky and tired and wet. I make out the brick red bridge that means mile 26. I’d stood in front of that bridge the day before and said to it, “The next time you see me, you’ll be welcoming home a marathoner!” At this memory, I almost start to cry. Not from happiness. From realization that this IS so much harder than I thought it would be and I’m in worse condition than I ever imagined I could be at this point in the race. I’d visualized sprinting across this bridge, through the parking lot ahead, across the 4 lanes of traffic and into the finish chute for weeks. But… all of a sudden — I don’t care. I just don’t care anymore.

Mile 26 pace: 13:20

That’s when the angel showed up. She was blond and wearing a blue jacket. She’d been behind me but I hadn’t seen her. I muster enough energy to say “You’re doing great!” as she passes me. She sees the look of pain and hopelessness on my face and she stops to walk with me. I tell her it’s my first marathon and she says “OHHHHHH.. as though that explains it all.” Then she says, “You know, 90% of women cannot finish their first marathon in under 5 hours and YOU are about to do that!” A glimmer of hope returns to my weary soul. “Really? I ask.” I look at my watch and suddenly, I’m not sure I can do it. What if my legs can’t run another step? What if I just stand still and can’t will myself to get this done?” She says “COME ON!!! You’re doing this!” and I follow like a tired puppy. I follow until I stop – only a few steps later. I just can’t keep up. She notices and comes BACK to me, grabs my arm and says “You have to dig deep! You can do this! I’m not leaving you.!” I wanted to cry with gratitude. I told her “You’re an angel from heaven!” And we go. My face is twisted with pain as we go through the parking lot (it feels SO far)….. then the crossing guards stop the traffic and I see the crowds lined up along the sidewalk in the rain cheering us in. I know SO many of those faces – family and friends. I see Bertha wearing her medal and smiling from ear-to-ear at me and yelling my name. I feel like I’m walking through thick mud, but my legs are running again. Slowly and surely. I hurt so much. I’m shivering but I stumble forward and cross the finish line right after my angel does. I hit stop on my Garmin and see 4:57:30. I did it! I broke 5 hours on my first attempt! In the rain! Wow.

The last .2 pace: 9:04 which of course I owe entirely to my sweet fellow runner who mentally got me through that end.

For weeks I’d practied in front of the mirror the pose I’d use when I crossed that finish line — arms raised in victory, big smile on my face — but that was not the way it really ended up happening. My face was twisted in pain and agony. I forgot to raise my arms at all. I just stumbled over the line. Reality is funny that way.

Bertha ran up to me, beaming, holding my finisher’s medal – and she placed it around my neck. I started to cry as she hugged me and said “I’m SO proud of you!” I love her to pieces! She’s the best running pal ever!! I’ve known her since we were 6 years old. She felt like my own sister in that moment! Just so bonded and so happy!

Wayne and the kids, my parents, my sister, her husband and her kids swarmed me with congratualtions and hugs! Several of my other friends came to congratulate me too. I felt so grateful and loved!  Cameras started to flash! My Dad and Mom handed me a gift bag. I reached inside and pulled out — a cute runner’s trophy with my name on it!! The statue is a girl runner with wings on her feet!!! I accidently dropped it since my grip wasn’t working right after being in the cold so long. Luckily it was fine! I love my statue!! My Dad gave a similar one to my Mom 14 years ago at the end of her first marathon! My parents were so proud! I could tell! I kept saying “I’m so hungry” and my sister went to get me a bowl of soup. I was shivering and looked around for the mylar blankets that I thought all marathons offer – and realized there weren’t any. Oh yeah – small race. Man! I’m cold!!!!! My teeth were chattering and the rain kept pouring down. I couldn’t bare to wait in the rain for the awards ceremony or the official posted results. I hugged my friends and slowly, with much pain, headed to the van.

I don’t remember feeling this hungry before! I had Wayne head to Burger King and order me two hamburgers, two fries and a large Coke! I only ate one of the hamburgers – but I ate the rest. Once I got home, I had to have help getting out of the van. I could not work my legs and I was covered in a big blanket my Mom had handed me. Slowly and painfully, I made my way back into the house. The stairs were SO painful! One at a time, I slowly made it up to my room. I wanted a warm bath SO badly!! I was shivering! I had Becca bring the camera and take pictures of my bloody feet. Pretty cool! Pretty gross. 

When I was alone I finally got my clothing off and saw the chaffing damage. OUCH! Under both arms, my inner thighs, and those bleeding ankles. When I lowered my sore, naked body into the hot water I had to swollow a yelp! It hurt SO much on the raw skin! It felt on fire! But the warm water was soothing. Very soothing to my cold skin and aching muslces.

After getting dressed in my warmed pj’s, I layed in my cozy bed (Rebecca had made it for me so I’d be comfy – isn’t that sweet? ) I asked Wayne to bring me a Snickers bar, a cup of hot cappuccino, two slices of bread and two servings of pot roast (I’d set up the crock pot and bread machine before my race so I’d have something hearty to eat when I got home.) I ate and ate and ate and still felt hungry!!!!! Then I slept for a good few hours.

I did it guys! I ran a marathon! I was so afraid I couldn’t do it – but I poured myself into it out there and gave it everything I could today!!!! I didn’t hold back! I went for it! I’m so proud of myself!

And — my buddies did amazing too!!! E and D came in at 4:44 (that’s a PR for E who’s last PR was 4:51 at last year’s race), and B came in right behind her at 4:45 (A PR of 32 minutes better than her last marathon in April!) My pals are my heros! We did it! 

The End.

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