It is quiet. The air is still. I hear a soft pounding in my chest and my feet on the asphalt. My heart reminds me of the task at hand: keep running. The crowd has thinned. Only a few hours ago I was kissing elbows with 8,000 of my closest friends--for today anyway. Now, we have all found our own pace along this course. The Halfers have turned off some time ago. The spectators do not venture down this street for cheering. I am alone with my race at last.
It is hard to tell when this journey began. Was it a few hours ago when the gun sounded at Hayward field? Was it a few months ago when our training group first gathered at the Eugene Running Company for our initial six mile run with Coach Joe Henderson? Was it 2005 when the first neurologist attempted humor by saying, "The good news is you don't have a brain tumor." Or was it before all of that?
I used to smoke cigarettes. I started smoking when I was very, very young, the fourth grade, in fact. My friend from school, a fifth grader, stole a pack of Salems from her mom and we took them up into the field behind the waste dump and lit their tips on fire with stick matches. I coughed and felt sick to my stomach when I first tried to breathe in the smoke through the strange cotton filter. I can still imagine the taste, menthol and burnt and polluting my lungs. By the time I was in middle school I was a regular smoker. I never thought I would stop, either. I tried many times. It was the hardest thing I have ever done, to quit smoking (and I think I have done some hard things). In many ways, I am still quitting by doing this race today.
Soon after my last cigarette, a friend of mine, John Medenbach, took me for a run. He actually took me running quite a bit back then, helping me to trade one addiction for another. I was so grateful for his patience with my slow pace and nicotine detox attitude. He ran my first 5K with me in 2004, a snail's pace at 34+ minutes, and he did not complain. He just helped, encouraged, guided. He also told me I would do this some day, that I would run a marathon. I owe him a debt of gratitude. Everyone needs a friend like that (thank you Johnny).
Deep breath, round the bend, press on. Through the tunnel and then out into the dappled light of UO through a million trees and a thousand cheering people. This is the dream. I can only imagine what it must be like... but no! I'm doing it! Me! I AM DOING IT! The hardest thing I have ever done, still, quitting smoking with each stride toward that finish line.