One more week until the Eugene Marathon. Barring any illnesses, ankle sprains, alien abductions or acts of Gods, I am confident I can make the 13.1 miles in the time allotted. The last mile is unknown to me, as my longest run is still only 12 miles.
As I look back on the last three months, I am humbled by the progress—not just mine either, but the progress of my teammates and of my coach. I have also watched the progress of people whom I work with who will also be participating. I know a few friends along for the event as well. Some are doing the full Marathon. Some are walking. All of us are doing something that we felt called to do in one way or another, called together in this communal affair that has spanned these many months.
Yesterday I ran along the river path. I saw people out there with “Finisher” shirts on from years past. I saw some of the same runners I have seen over and over again for the past few months, now leaner and faster. Some of them are random blurs that have compelled me. Some are distinct and I see their faces clearly in my mind’s eye, even now. One person who stands out in my thoughts is a tall woman with sun-streaked hair, possibly in her late 40s, and flush-pink skin on her legs and face. I have seen her a lot these past few months. She pops up along the river path passing me at full stride. She nods encouragement to me on her downhill as I climb my slow uphill out on Donald. She is there at Oakway Center at the end of a 12 mile run, smiling and clapping.
Like the 13th mile, I do not know her . . . or do I?
Isn’t she a part of me and this great effort? Isn’t she the voice I hear when my thoughts of doubt creep in at mile 9? Isn’t she the strain and stretch of the last mile, every last mile, my last mile?
Yes, she was there at my first class with this coach and our team. I’m sure I remember her curving smile when I crushed out my last cigarette some years ago. She was at my first 5K, my first 10K. In my mind, I see her standing over me at the curb when my ankle collapsed, telling me to get up, telling me I to get ice on the injury sooner rather than later. I see her, too, there with me all of those nights when I could not bring myself to stick the injection in my body one more time, knowing that the MS drug would make me too sick to run the next day, or too sick to do much of anything the next day. Yes, she was there.
So, it is no surprise that I see her now, one week out from the Eugene Marathon. She has become a part of me and all that I do. I think of her, her graceful stride, her smiling face, her tenacious spirit. She is me and I am her. She is my last mile, strong and sure. She flows with ease and confidence over the distance drawing me nearer to her with each step. And she will be with me next weekend, I know. I will look for her in the crowd at Hayward Field and along the route cheering, and running next to me and running through me. And in that last mile, that unknown mile, I will become her. In the last mile, I will join her.
She is me, the person I am becoming.