It was going to be my Boston Qualifier. I was coming in after an amazing experience running the Portland Marathon in the fall. My enthusiasm for racing (and confidence) was high. I had goals and stupid amount of will power. At the time, I felt a random occasional pain in my knee was nothing of great concern—something that could wait until post-race to be dealt with. I knew how misguided that judgement call had been fairly soon into the Eugene Marathon (a fast, flat course that held particular importance to me being in the city I was born and went to college in). By mile 9, I was limping—bad. Mile 12, I made the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make in a race: to quit. I was worried about getting super far out from the finish line and being so injured, I’d have to take the medical van back in, so when the course split (half marathon to the left to head into their last mile back, full to the right to head out for another 14.2 miles), I went left. I hobbled across the finish line and straight into the medical tent.
I started working with an acupuncturist to help with the knee and planned my next race: Portland Marathon, again, in the fall. During a relay race about two months from the marathon, I started feeling a sharp pain in my leg. I thought I had a shin splint. I was wrong. A month before the race I was forced to drop out after a hairline fracture formed in my right leg (from running too much). After dropping out of two marathons in a row due to injuries I decided to refocus my training onto shorter runs. The year immediately after taking time off for the leg fracture, I ran 15 races (at least one every month) with the longest only being a half marathon. While I was racing faster than I’d done before, the old injuries would act up occasionally, causing just enough random pain to keep me wary of registering for anything longer than a half marathon.
Then I moved to China. The summer prior to my move I felt I was in the best physical shape I’d been in since my first marathon. I’d been training and running distances for 10 years now. My runs were feeling strong and I’d taken up Thai boxing for strength training (and just general self defense skills). I intended to keep up with training throughout my time in China. Pollution was a much bigger problem than I’d anticipated. One year and a lung infection later, I returned stateside and entered my first 5k since moving. I ran a full minute and a half slower per mile and was topped out at about 3-4 miles for my distance runs. It felt like one year of living abroad had undone a decade’s worth of training and hard work. Devastated, I thought it was the final straw—I’d never run a marathon again.
A year into being back stateside and working on improving my lung health, a friend brought up the subject of running a marathon. He’d decided he wanted to run Boston and “needed a training buddy” to keep him motivated. The qualifier? Eugene. I’d never really let myself forget not finishing that race. A goal yet accomplished. (If I had died, and become a ghost, running Eugene would be my unfinished business.)
Some 6 years after my first major running injury, I reregistered for the Eugene marathon. I was nervous. The last few times I’d planned on running a full hadn’t worked out well and this time I’d also be coming in off of a major lung infection that still occasionally affected my breathing. But the more I thought about it, the more it felt like something I had to do. I’d also set a goal for myself to build back to my pre-China physical health by 2019 and marathon training seems like a good way to jump right into it. (Two birds, stoned.) To add an extra layer of pressure, I decided to document my training in the 16 weeks leading up to the race with a YouTube series: The Running Diaries. Like that’s something I’d ever need, more pressure to accomplish something I wasn’t confident I’m physically capable of doing.
The morning of the race, I stood “stretching” at the side of my coral, trying to calm myself down. I could feel tears wanting to bubble up from nerves (the same nerves that caused me to overshare about my experience with this race to the total stranger that made the unfortunate mistake of asking if this was my first time at Eugene). This time, when the start gun went off, things felt different. Stretches of the course I could vividly remember being painful the last time, were going smoothly this time. I ran a good first half. A really good first half. Mile 16 was when it really started to hit me. My legs were feeling the strain. Mile 19, I started reasoning with myself: the important part is to finish and not cause horrible damage to myself in the process. I decided to run the remaining miles as intervals (in reflection, I still feel this was probably a smart choice, all things considered). By the time I came to the last mile marker, I found the energy to sprint the rest of the way to the finish.
I came in right at 4 hours. It was my slowest marathon yet, but I didn’t care. I’d crossed the finish line. I made it all 26.2 miles of Eugene, something I’d honestly never thought I’d accomplish. Six years after walking across that line defeated, I was standing in the finishing area feeling more accomplished than when I’d finished my very first marathon.
GRETCHEN IS A WRITER-BASED IN PORTLAND, ORE. SHE GOT HER START AS A JOURNALIST WORKING ON THE SUSTAINABLE FASHION AND RESTAURANT BEAT BEFORE MOVING INTO COPYWRITING AND ADVERTISING WORK. SHE CURRENTLY BLOGS AND WORKS AS A FREELANCE WRITER.