I was thinking about this memory today and wanted to relive it, so I wrote it down. This is from November 2012. It also makes me miss the fall weather, although right now I’m just happy to not be freezing!
It’s a fall day in Philadelphia. About 52 degrees, low humidity, sunny but not the sweltering sun. The sun that peaks through the red, orange, and yellow leaves on the trees, the same leaves that crunch under our feet on the path. It’s a perfect day for not just running, but being alive.
I’m on my first 20-miler. The farthest I’d ever run before today was 16 miles, but with the Philadelphia marathon in two weeks, I need a little more preparation.
Earlier in the day I felt nauseated with excitement. I sat in class, appreciating the act of not moving, as I knew I’d be doing quite a lot of moving in the afternoon. I ate lunch with my friends, struggling to finish a peanut butter banana sandwich, something I didn’t usually have for lunch. Isn’t this what runners eat?
I get ready, deciding what to wear. It’s a little chilly outside, but I’ll have plenty of time to warm up. I debate bringing my headphones to listen to music. Will it distract me from talking with my friends? Can I do both? I bring the headphones.
I leave my room, checking that the door locks behind me, and walk quickly to the stairs. I’m anxious, and all I can think about are the next four hours.
It’s ~1/3 mile to the gym where I’m meeting my friend Danielle and her friend Jackie, whom I’ve never met. Danielle and Jackie have both run multiple marathons, and Jackie’s PR is around 3:10, a time I wouldn’t even dream about. I figure if anyone can get me through a 20 mile run, it’s them. I choose to walk the 1/3 mile, save my running legs for later.
When I see them, my heart beats faster. I can’t believe how real this is. I’m going to run 20 miles.
As we chat for a minute or so, going through introductions, I wonder how the run will start. And then, it just does. We start running down the street, and I can’t believe how nonchalant it is. Who would have imagined that’s how 20 mile runs start – with just one step?
We’re going to follow the course of the marathon, but first we have to get to the “start,” about 2 miles from our own start point. I listen to music those first 2 miles, but then pause the playlist the rest of the run, letting the headphones rest in my ears the rest of the way so I don’t have to carry them. Near the start line, in front of the “art museum” (just the Philadelphia Museum of Art, no big deal), we stand in the middle of a grassy field, and Jackie reads the back of Danielle’s marathon shirt from 2011 that has a map of the course printed on the back. We laugh as she pokes Danielle indicating all the turns in the city we need to take.
That first leg in the city is annoying. We’re weaving through pedestrians, waiting for lights to turn green, dodging potholes and navigating uneven sidewalks. Around mile 3, I start to get tired and panic for a moment. How am I supposed to run 17 more miles? Don’t think about it, just do.
We get back to campus about mile 10 and make a pitstop in the engineering building. The steps made by our running shoes echo through the majestic marble hallways whose walls are lined with pictures of prestigious engineers and their inventions. We suck down Gu and drink water from the water fountain.
And we head out again. This feels easier. We’re on the west side of the Schuylkill, admiring the scenery and the weather. It occurs to me how perfect this moment is. I feel so alive.
When Jackie’s Garmin beeps for mile 16, I’m congratulated for being in uncharted mileage territory. I’m now running longer than I ever have before. And I feel great!
We run back along the east side where we see dozens of runners, walkers, and bikes. I have an overwhelming urge to shout, I’m on mile 19 of 20!
When we pass by the steps of the gym, our own finish line, we high five each other. Jackie and Danielle congratulate me on my first 20-miler. I feel elated. But we have to hurry – there’s a running club dinner in an hour!
I walk home again and make a stop in the dining hall on the bottom floor of my dorm for a glass of chocolate milk. I have a huge smile on my face I can’t wipe off. I just ran 20 miles. I just ran 20 miles!
I still can’t believe it. Just a year and a half ago, I couldn’t run more than 2 miles without stopping. I just ran that distance times ten. I’m dying to tell someone.
I take the elevator upstairs. I’m usually a stair person, but I deserve this elevator ride. At the top, in the lounge full of people, I see one guy I’m friendly enough with leaning against the wall. I walk up to him and whisper, “Guess what?” He whispers back, “What?” and I say, “I just ran 20 miles!” as though it were some grand secret. His face is shocked and I am thrilled.
I grab my shower caddy from my room and hobble down the hallway in my towel to take a shower. Everything aches, and the warm water feels good, but I have to be quick. I dry off, get dressed, and head back out to meet up with my running club friends. I can’t wait to tell them I ran 20 miles!