The tears wouldn’t stop even though it had ended. I was in the arms of Ali:
“You finished it why are you crying?” he asked in a very joyful voice.
“I want my medal.” I managed to whisper between the cries.
He laughed so hard at that moment and went to get me the bronze piece of accessory. In the real world, it had no significant value but to me it was my proof, a means of validation. I ran 42.195 kilometers in less than the seven hours limit.
After a sleepless night, I woke up on Sunday November 13th 2016 at 5 a.m. just like I had been doing every Sunday for the past 4 month. Today was the big day. I couldn’t believe that when I first joined the 542 training program, I thought a marathon was 10 kilometers – the distance I was aiming to be able to run. I could barely jog from my room to the kitchen at that time. But then here I was putting on my tights, my orange 542 shirt and my first ever running shoes.
“Are you ready?” asked Karen, my running buddy while we were goofing around at the starting line. She was scared, I guess we all were. We agreed to do this together and I thought we would.
I just smiled at her and kept dancing and singing with the pre-marathon entertainments. A few fleeting moments and the race had begun. A marathon isn’t really a race, however, it takes endurance rather than speed and so we were managing our pace at a very slow one for the first half of it. Karen and I were having our regular small talks. When the conversation got a little tiring on our breath, we would each enjoy our playlists, customized specifically for this big day. The parades and cheering stations were super encouraging and we would stop for quick pictures with them. I really wanted to enjoy this first of its kind experience. Making good memories out of it was all I really cared about. But then, it all went wrong. At 30 kilometers, my stomach started itching and my tears were rushing down my cheeks. Then, I would suddenly stop crying and start laughing like a complete crazy person. I had hit my wall. I lost control over myself and the pain was atrocious. Never had I ever felt something like this before, even though I ran for 36 kilometers in one of the trainings. To make things worse, I twisted my ankle and sprained it shortly after I had hit the wall. Karen couldn’t run next to me anymore, I was too slow so I asked her to leave. She did but asked a former runner, Fabienne, to finish the race by my side.
“You ran most of the distance, there’s only the seaside road, Mar Mikhael street and then the finish line” I said to myself. By the end of Bourj Hammoud I was nauseous however, and vomited, so much for my body helping me! But I did keep going, Fabienne was my co-pilot on the ride, holding my water, my gels and guiding my way.
“ Yalla khalsina, khaliya tensehib aam tetghandar, hayda ma esmo raked, badna neftah l tari2.” I heard someone screaming at me from his car. I got myself together and politely stated that I was going to finish the race as slowly as I needed to, and that he couldn’t do anything about it. Obviously, he left and the moment he did I burst into tears again- so much for trying to be tough. I had one more hour to run the last 6 kilometers, they felt like an eternity. My mind flew back to the old me, before I signed up for this training program. I was doing okay. However, something was missing: a sense of fulfillment. Once I was in the program I got to practice a sport I never thought I could take part in. I met some amazing people that gave me the motivation to keep running not only on the roads but also in my personal life. I never wanted to run a 42.195 km long marathon at first. When all of these thoughts were rambling through my head while I was in pain, I didn’t want to run it either. I was just doing it because I can, a motto I came to adapt in my life ever since that marathon “Do it cause you can.”
“Cassandra hurry! You have 10 more minutes or you’ll be disqualified.” The words of my assistant coach Karim hit me suddenly. My whole body clinched, I was enduring so much suffering for the past 6 hours 50 minutes and wanted my medal. I had half a kilometer left. On my best day I would finish it in five minutes. I wasn’t even close to my best at that moment. But you just forget everything and transcend into a feelingless state where it’s only you and the road. I heard the cheering of my dear friends but all I could say was: “move out of my way” (sorry Claudia I forgot my manners). It all ended when the clock hit 6 hours 54 minutes 50 seconds with May Khalil (the BMA founder) holding my hand and crossing the finish line with me- the last finisher. And then I fell into my dearest coach Ali’s arms.
My marathon story isn’t the most pleasant one, to say the least. Yet, every time I think of it a smile draws itself on my face. I’m absolutely and completely in love with every bit of that once in a lifetime experience. I couldn’t explain how so much pain can cause so much pleasure at first. Now I know and that’s why I’m sharing it so that everyone preparing for it can know. The marathon isn’t a distance you run, it’s a feeling that builds up from the moment you start training for it, while you’re running it and forever onward. Feelings are everlasting. You might not feel it anymore but you most certainly remember it. The marathon feeling is so intense that you cannot but fall in love with it. On a last note, no matter how prepared you are, the marathon is something you cannot really be fully prepared for and that’s okay. Do it, cry if you need to, crawl if you must, finish it and then feel it.