It started off great: adrenaline rushing through every bone of my body, my music playlist blasting one motivational song after the other, and it was early enough that I was easily distracted by the picturesque landscape of St. George, Utah. The colorful sunrise greeted me as my feet hit the pavement. Before I knew it I was at mile 13. Ah, halfway there. I exhaled. And then—the adrenaline left me, and I instead began feeling pain in my knees and hips. The music in my ears wasn’t enough to drain out the heavy beating in my chest. A hot, blazing sun replaced the crisp morning. The miles became longer and longer and the finish line seemed unreachable.
Running a marathon isn’t easy. In 490 B.C. the Greeks had just defeated the Persians at the Battle of Marathon and Pheidippides, a Greek messenger was sent from the battlefield to Athens to announce the victory. Pheidippides ran the entire 40 kilometers (nearly 25 miles) without stopping and exclaimed “νενικήκαμεν” (we are victorious!) to an assembly before dying of exhaustion. In 1896 the marathon was introduced as a race during the first modern Olympic games in Athens, it’s length the same distance of nearly 25 miles—just like Pheidippides had done. In 1908 at the London games, the race was extended to 26.2 miles and is now the standard distance for a marathon. Today hundreds of thousands of people run marathons every year all over the globe. Some marathoners chase personal best times, but most are there to check off a challenging bucket list item.
Running a marathon was on my bucket list, and I happily checked it off at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in San Diego in 2013. I cried when I finally reached the finish line, some tears of pain but mostly of triumph. Immediately after the race I swore to anyone that was miles within earshot that it would be my last marathon. It wasn’t. I recently finished my second marathon and have over 26.2 things to say about it—both good and bad. I’ll spare you the boredom of a long list of my emotions and will stick to just one point. Mile 22.
I threw up at mile 22. The hot desert sun got the best of me, and I started to experience a decrease in blood flow to my digestive system and became extremely dehydrated. Not exactly the best thing to be going through during a race. I felt like such a failure at that point. I had trained for four months for this marathon and was 4.2 miles short of the finish line and was throwing up on the side of a road as runners ran past me. Thankfully, the medical staff rushed water and Gatorade to my aid. As I was frantically trying to recover with mass amounts of fluids, I texted my brother Pete, who was my loyal spectator for the race. I weakly pounded on my phone “mile 22: threw up.” He quickly responded in his humorous but supportive way, “I threw up just spectating. Keep it up. Almost there.” That was enough to get me moving again and I walked to mile 23. Here, I told myself there’s only a 5k (3.2 miles) left to the finish line. So, I ran (very slowly) towards the finish line—saw my brother at mile marker 26 with other hundreds of other cheerful supporters, and sprinted the last .2 miles. I didn’t finish in record time nor the time I originally hoped for during my training. But I finished. I felt exhausted, but very much alive. I thought, I am victorious (Είμαι νικήτρια).
That was my mile 22. That was my hard. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t fun, and it certainly wasn’t me at my best. But, it happens. And it happens to us all. It doesn’t matter if you’re a marathon runner or not—mile 22 is so much more than that. It’s an unsuccessful point in your career or business. It’s hitting a plateau in a weight loss goal. It’s a sad or lonely time in your life. It’s not getting the grade you wanted. It’s getting rejected by a crush. It’s receiving terrible news about a loved one or even yourself. It’s anything that hits us when we least expect it and we feel like we have failed ourselves or someone else. It’s all of these things and more.
Your mile 22 might last a day, a week or even a year. But whatever your mile 22 is, you’re not alone. All you have to do is look up long enough to find someone is stretching their hand out to you and encouraging you to finish what you started. And sometimes you have to be that for yourself. Sometimes you have to throw up and just want to give up and not want to press forward one more mile or even one more minute. Keep your head high and keep moving forward, because you will reach your goal. Be as brave and proud as Pheidippides. Take that one step toward the finish line, that goal you’ve set, or the hope for a better tomorrow. And then take another step and keep going. You’re only at mile 22 and you will be victorious.