On this day twenty years ago, I became a marathoner. A runner since childhood, I’d tried training for my first marathon in my early twenties, but got injured and had to stop. By the time that hamstring was fully rehabbed I was knee-deep in grad school and holding down two jobs, but I was anxious to check off that box on my list, so I signed up anyway. (That’s kind of how I was back then.)
My first 26.2 was a local race now known as the Carlsbad Marathon, then called the San Diego Marathon. (Our now world-famous Rock n Roll Marathon had just started the year before, marathons were still relatively small events, and Chinese real estate conglomerates didn’t yet own the world of road racing.*) My mom came down from Sacramento to cheer me on, and took me to a celebratory dinner afterward at Anthony’s Seafood Grotto. (Anthony’s, which operated on the waterfront here for 71 years, closed its doors in 2017.) My dear friend Krista, who had steadfastly detested running for the many years I’d known her, came out to support me anyway. (Krista? Now an accomplished trail runner. An ultramarathoner, in fact!) And my boyfriend Marc, neither early riser nor runner, put in a long day figuring out where to find me without the benefit of smart phones, GPS, or runner tracking systems. (We’ve now been married for 18 years, and he’s since logged many more hours on the sides of many more roads.) I was in my first year of graduate school, in a Master of Social Work and Master of Public Health program, fitting long training runs in between classes, work, and late nights of studying. I didn’t sleep much back then, ate poorly, and ran myself ragged. (After almost two decades in social work, I’m now back in graduate school again, pursuing a Master of Library and Information Science. But this time around, I get my 7-8 hours per night, eat my vegetables, and know how to shift it into low gear when I need to.)
Much has changed about me, San Diego, distance running, and the world I live, work, race, and study in over the past twenty years. But on that day I fell in love with the 26.2 mile distance, and we’re still going strong 21 marathons later. Marathons are hard, but not like the you-have-to-be-a-superhuman-to-do-it kind of hard. Racing has inspired many fun vacations and introduced me to some seriously delicious regional cuisine. (I’m looking at you, South Carolina.) And every time, after the inevitable sense of overwhelm that hits me somewhere around mile 16, and the slow, steady, and sometimes painful chipping away that follows, the finish line always arrives. That knowledge is something I carry with me everywhere, and on the hardest of the hard days, I always know there’s a finish line, even if I can’t see it yet.
*Source: Jen A. Miller (November 5, 2017). The Running Bubble Has Popped. The New York Times.