First moments – they are equal parts exciting and scary. You never forget your first kiss, your first love or your first heartbreak. Life is full of firsts. As a runner, you never forget your first taste of the coveted runner’s high, your first finish line or your first marathon. I was never athletic growing up. In fact, I was quite the opposite. I was winded playing tag with my cousin and our childhood friends. I cut corners in gym class when the gym teacher wasn’t looking. I secretly hated running. It made me feel weak and inferior to my peers.
Then, something happened in late 2010 following my success with weight loss. I met a runner. They say people come into your life for a reason. It’s true. He was an avid runner who primarily ran marathons and ultra marathons. At first, I thought he was insane. Who runs for fun, I thought? Let alone 26.2+ miles? I associated running with painful memories. But, the longer I knew this person and the more he talked about running, I became curious. What was this “runner’s high” he was talking about? Why did he put so much effort into running? I needed to figure it out for myself. So, I started running in January 2011.
It was a slow process. It was a couple of minutes at a time on the treadmill. The first time I ran 10 minutes straight left me speechless. Who was this person I was becoming? Months went by and this person convinced me to sign up for my first race in April 2011 – the Mount Summit Challenge. It was a 3.5 uphill race. It probably wasn’t the best race to choose for my first race, but I signed up anyway. I finished the race and was instantly hooked. I. WANTED. MORE.
But how much more? On May 15, 2011, I spectated the Pittsburgh Marathon. I was so moved that morning, I went home and ran 13.1 miles which ended with me crying in front of my house because I was so proud. My previous distance record was 6 miles. This is not something I’d recommend anyone doing, but I was exploding with inspiration. This is the day I decided I wanted to run a full marathon.
I dove into distance running headfirst. I put in the work for days, weeks…months. My progress went from slow to fast. In the summer of 2011, I was consistently banging out 18 milers every single weekend. I wasn’t training for anything. I just loved running. I’m surprised I didn’t end up injured for as quickly as I had increased my mileage. Fall was suddenly upon me, and registration for the 2012 Dick’s Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon had opened. And after spectating the race just several months prior, I knew I wanted to be a part of it the following year. I jumped on the opportunity and registered. I joined the Steel City Road Runners club, which was new at the time, in order to find others to train with. Once January 2012 rolled around, it was time to start training. I had never trained in the snow, ice and bitter cold before, so it was an interesting learning process. But before I knew it, I was at the starting line of the Pittsburgh Marathon on May 6, 2012.
I’ll never forget the atmosphere. You could literally feel it – the excitement, the nerves and pretty much any emotion you can imagine. I knew my life was about to change.
There I was standing within starting corral C among thousands of other runners about to embark on the same journey, but for a million different reasons. I, for one, was chasing my fears. Then, the echoes of the National Anthem made its way throughout the streets and into our ears, instantly giving me chills from head to toe. In that moment, it was when I knew I was right where I had always belonged.
The corrals were made up of an ocean of people wearing neon colors as far as the eye could see. I was lined up with the 4:10 pacer – my B goal. My A goal was to finish because REAL TALK, I had no clue what awaited me out there. Moments later, I crossed the start line. It was the end of what I had worked so hard for, but the beginning of so much more.
The first few miles were unforgettable. The streets were filled with smiling faces and handmade signs. The sounds that rushed into my ears were comprised of cheering, clapping and cowbells – a melody of praise and encouragement.
I’ll never forget approaching the 12 mile mark and seeing the marathoners and half marathoners split. That’s when it truly hit me; I was running a freaking marathon! This moment was no longer a dream. It finally became my reality after months of early wake up calls, bone chilling cold mornings and times when I questioned my sanity.