I was the very last person on the race course, about half an hour behind everyone else. I still had two miles to go, and all I wanted was to finish the marathon. I no longer cared about my time, or about looking somewhat happy for the finish line photo, or even about snagging the medal. I just wanted to finish. During the previous 24 miles, I had thrown up once and burst into tears four times: once because I saw a dead bird on the side of the road, once because I saw someone holding a really nice sign, once because I couldn't find the Slim Jim I'd packed in my waist bag, and once (around mile 18) because I just couldn't believe I still had eight miles left to run.
It was hellish and I finished dead last, but I finished. The very second I crossed that finish line, I vowed never to run another marathon again, possibly never to run again at all. But two weeks later, as I was out for a "quick three miles," I found myself daydreaming how, if I ever ran another marathon, I would do so much better.
If it's so horrifying, why do I run? In fact, why would anyone in their right mind run 26 miles, or really, run at all? Some of us run because we want to control our weight or be healthier. Some of us run because we want the medals and trophies we collect at the finish line. Some of us run because we like the challenge; because we like the feeling of community; because we like to eat cookies.
I run because of my dad.
I started running in the summer of 2012, and I hated it. I couldn't run a 1/4 mile -- that's once around the track -- without stopping and gasping like a fish out of water. Everything hurt. I decided to quit, but then two days later, my dad died suddenly. Looking back, it wasn't a shock: he was young, but he was a heavy smoker and he'd never really taken very good care of himself. The day after the funeral, I went back to the track, and I've run at least three or four times a week ever since. I can't be my dad. I can't die in my early 60s. I still have way too much to do!
... like maybe run another marathon?
One of the marvelous things about living here in St. Clair County is the tight-knit community of other runners who live (and run) here. St. Clair County is home to dozens of races, too, and many of them benefit causes and charity groups in our own communities. There are 5k races for runners of all ages and experience levels like the annual Pickerel Run in Algonac and Sunset Run in Marysville and also 10k races and half-marathons for more serious runners like the Orthopedic Associates and YMCA Blue Water race series. If you're not quite ready to race yet, or if you just want to get in a good training run, we've also got incredibly gorgeous and well-maintained running trails, including the Bridge to Bay Trail and the Wadhams to Avoca Trail.
The important thing, of course, is to take that first step, that first lap around the track, that first run around the block. If I see you on the trail, I'll give you a high-five and we can trade encouraging words. And if I can find my Slim Jim, I might even share that too.
Jennifer Knightstep is an author, freelance writer and photographer who contributes to The Keel.