Mile 22

It started off great. Adrenaline rushing through my body, my music playlist blasting one motivational song after another, and it was early enough that the picturesque landscape of St. George, Utah began distracting me. The colorful sunrise greeted me as my feet hit the warming pavement. Before I knew it, I was at mile 13. Ah, halfway there. I exhaled.

And then—my adrenaline wore off and the pain in my knees and hips took notice. The music in my ears couldn’t drown out the heavy beating in my chest. As the hot, blazing sun replaced the crisp morning chill, the miles became longer and longer and the finish line seemed unreachable.

In 490 B.C., a Greek messenger ran from the site of the Battle of Marathon to Athens to announce the Greek victory over the Persians. Pheidippides ran the entire 40 kilometers (nearly 25 miles) without stopping and exclaimed, “Vενικήκαμεν” (Nenikikamen—We are victorious!) to the gathered Athenians, then fell dead. The first modern Olympic games in Athens, in 1896, introduced the marathon as a noble test of human endurance, using the same distance Pheidippides ran of nearly 25 miles. The London games in 1908 extended the length to 26.2 miles, which is now the standard marathon distance. Today, marathons all over the globe attract hundreds of thousands of runners. While some chase personal best times, most are hoping to check off a challenging bucket list item.

I checked “run a marathon” off my bucket list 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 for completing an important life goal. I swore to everyone at the finish line, that I had finished my first and last marathon. It wasn’t. I finished the St. George marathon in 2016 and have more than 26.2 things to say about that one, too—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 the decreased blood flow to my digestive system caused severe dehydration, not a great state for completing a 26-mile race. I trained for four months for this marathon and stopped 4.2 miles short of the finish line, throwing up on the side of a road as other runners ambled past me. I felt like failure incarnate.

Thankfully, the medical staff rushed over with water and electrolytes. I was frantic, desperate to recover. While chugging down massive amounts of fluids, I thought of my brother Pete. Pete is just 17 months my senior, someone I’ve always looked up to, and not just because he’s bigger than I am. He’s the happy-go-lucky Greek in my family. Pete can make anyone smile by just his presence alone. Pete, the ever supportive protector, was at the finish line waiting for me. My parents were on a beach in Greece, my little brother Mikey was busy in school, so Pete made the trip to St. George to be with me. He arrived at midnight, just five hours before I was to be up and running. And he was ready to see me through, no matter what.

Texting requires no physical strength, so I weakly texted to him, mile 22. threw up. Pete tapped right back, I threw up just spectating. Keep it up. Almost there. His text moved me. From mile 22 to mile 23 I maintained a slow wobbly walk. Then I told myself, it’s only a 5k left to the finish line. So I ran (very slowly) and saw my brother at mile marker 26, cheering along with hundreds of other lit up supporters. I ran as fast as I could over the last few hundred yards. I didn’t finish in record time. I didn’t even come close to the time I was hoping for. But I did finish, exhausted and very much alive. I am victorious, I thought, both knees planted in the grass beside a long line of porta potties. I am victorious.

That was my mile 22. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t fun, and it certainly wasn’t me at my best. Mile 22 happens to us all. It doesn’t matter if you’re a marathon runner or not—mile 22 awaits you everywhere. During an unsuccessful point in your career or business, when you plateau in your weight loss goal, if you experience a sad or lonely time in your life, you may meet mile 22. It’s not getting the grade you wanted. It’s getting rejected by a boyfriend or girlfriend. It’s receiving terrible news about a loved one or even bad news about yourself. It’s anything that hits us when we feel least able to cope, when failure tears us up with its sharp claws.

Your mile 22 might last a day, a week or even a year. But whatever your mile 22 is, you’re not alone. If you look up, you’ll see someone cheering for you. Someone smiling or handing you water. Don’t ignore the power of those boosts, those texts, the humor, the hand stretched out to you—encouraging you to finish what you started. And yes, there are times when you have to be that person for yourself. Pheidippides carried victory all alone. Imagine if he had had a field of runners.

But you must prevail. Keep your head high and keep moving forward. Be brave and proud. 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. You’re only at mile 22. Keep at it and don’t look back but forward to where you can be. You’ve already come so far.

θα είσαι νικητής. You will be victorious.

7 thoughts on “Mile 22

  1. Joanne Saltas says:

    Eleni,

    CONGRATULATIONS. You are awesome. Your words are inspirational. MILE 22 will always be your personal challenge. Thanks for sharing and giving us hope. (Pete 😍)
    Love, Joanne

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