It started off great: adrenaline rushing through every bone of my body, my music playlist blasting one motivational song after another, 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 (though the Olympic Committee were hoping that none of the competitors died of exhaustion). In 1908, at the London games, the race was extended to 26.2, which is now the standard distance for a marathon. Today hundreds of thousands of people run marathons every year all over the globe. While some marathoners chase personal best times, most are hoping 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 tears of triumph of completing my goal. Immediately after the race, I swore to anyone who was miles within earshot that it would be my last marathon. It wasn’t. I finished a second marathon in 2016 and have more than 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 dehydrated, a combination not ideal for completing a 26-mile 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 other runners ran past me.
Thankfully, the medical staff rushed water and Gatorade to me. I was frantic and desperate to recover. While chugging the massive amounts of fluids, I texted my brother Pete. Pete is just 17 months older than me and is someone I’ve always looked up to, and not just because he’s bigger than me. He’s the happy go lucky one of my big Greek family, and can make anyone smile by his presence alone. Like my parents and younger brother, Pete supports me in everything I do. Though he may not understand why I would actually choose to run in the first place, he knew how important it was to me to have him there. My parents were out of town (on the beach in Greece), my little brother, Mikey was busy in school, so Pete made the trip to St. George to support me in my race. He arrived to St. George at midnight, just five hours before I was to be up and running. And he was ready to see me through the finish line, no matter what.
Since texting requires no physical strength, I was able to weakly tap out on my phone: “mile 22: threw up.” Pete responded in his usual humorous but supportive way, “I threw up just spectating. Keep it up. Almost there.” That text from him 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, cheering along with hundreds of other cheerful supporters—and sprinted the last .2 miles. I didn’t finish in record time, and I didn’t even come close to the time I was hoping for. But I did finish. I felt exhausted, but very much alive. “Είμαι νικήτρια” I thought. I am victorious.
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 doesn’t only exist on the race course. It exisits as an unsuccessful point in your career or business. It’s exists as a plateau in your weight loss goal. It’s exists as 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 either ourselves or someone else. It can be all of those 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 on the course. If you’ll look up, you’ll see someone is cheering for you, boosting you up through a text, or stretching their hand out to you—encouraging you to finish what you started.
Sometimes you have to be that person for yourself. Sometimes, having just thrown up, wanting to give up, you will be sure that you don’t have the energy to press forward for one more minute, let alone for one more mile.
But you must prevail. Whatever it is that you’re working towards, keep your head high and keep moving forward, because you will reach your goal. Be brave and proud—just like 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 and another. Keep going. You’re only at mile 22. Keep at it and don’t look back where you were, but forward to where you can be. You’ve already come so far and you will be victorious.