Completion.

What an amazing word. It has been one of my favorites for a while – a word frequented by myself and my running partner.

Some days are record setting days, some days are easy and fun, and then there are other days where completion is the one and only goal.

This weekend was my second full marathon. Since my running partner, Dawn, and her husband are on this quest for 50 marathons in 50 states, I figured- why not join in on the fun. So off to Las Vegas we went to cross Nevada off the list.

The unique thing about the Vegas Marathon is that it is a night race. I use the term “night” loosely, as the sun sets at about 4:30 in Nevada in the fall.

I have never before done a night run- especially not a full marathon, but when you get to run the strip in its neon glory, you run when they say to run!

The experience was unique in a myriad of ways. We flew in a few days before to take in the sights – which in turn, meant a ton of walking. Even on marathon day- before the race started, we had covered at least 7 miles on our feet.

The eating was spectacular. Maybe not the best idea for two whole days before running 26.2, but we didn’t let that slow us down!

Race day finally came and I rather enjoyed the part where we didn’t have to set our alarm to get up and get ready. Nevertheless, nerves had me up and at ’em at 7 am. After a large breakfast, we retired to the room for a nice 2 hour nap. I feel like that really made a huge difference for me.

The trek to the start line was tedious to say the least. It was nerve wracking trying to get around the strip- they shut the whole thing down hours before to prepare, which makes travel rather difficult.

The past weeks months that we have been training, I had two separate goals. The first (and really my only) was to beat my first marathon time of 5:33:54. The second (and rather timid) goal was to run a sub-5 hour marathon.

It was a dream, really – a hope, a prayer. I had no confidence that I could truly do it. My amazing friend kept speaking life and hope into me every run we would train. She knew I could do it- I, on the other hand, was rather skeptical.

For all you non-runners out there- I want to try to explain. When you are on a 26.2 mile course, anything can happen. Some days you have it and it’s easy. Other days are a fight to just keep moving forward. My 20 mile run was brutal, while a week later, 22 was a breeze. There is really no way to tell or prepare for what you will encounter. Especially on a course you have never run or trained on. There are just wayyyyy too many variables to account for.

So, race day. I was ready. The weather was perfect. At start it was 55 degrees. My favorite running temp is 53. Not too cold, you can still wear shorts and a tank, but not too hot where your body gets overheated. The wind made its presence known, so we decided to start with our jackets on. Before mile 2, I decided the jacket was no longer needed. It was beautiful and glorious running down the middle of Las Vegas Boulevard just taking in the sights. Neon everywhere. People everywhere. Cheers everywhere. I don’t think I even noticed how far we were until about mile 7- too many things to look at and point out. We even stopped twice to take a picture!

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The plan was to stay together at a 10:30 pace until at least the half. Dawn is a whole lot faster and stronger than I am, so I fully expected her to pull ahead at that point. My plan was to drop to an eleven minute mile until a could no longer sustain it.

Half came and went and our pace did drop a little, but together we simply kept talking and running- after all, it’s what we’re used to. For me, talking keeps my mind off the miles and makes the time much more enjoyable.

14,15,16 passed and the miles came easy to me. My mind was on 16 the entire time. Somehow getting 10 miles from the finish seemed so do-able. I can run 10 miles on a bad day. 10 miles is no problem. 10 miles is cake.

Mile 17 proved a tad bit harder. The majority was uphill, even though it was a slight climb. Our pace dropped and so did our conversation. I could tell something was wrong, but I didn’t want to address the issue. We just trudged on. My mind kept racing, and so did my mouth. I just talked. And talked.

For about a mile, the conversation was one-sided. I knew I was talking to the air, but I didn’t mind seeing as how it was more for me anyway. Dawn always says I run faster when I talk and we lag when she talks – I’m not sure why that is, but its the truth.

Mile 18 was the breaking point. We walked for a bit. Her body just wasn’t cooperating. She had said several times before to me to just go on ahead. But finally, she had to make me leave her. And it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. We have trained through blood, sweat, tears, vomit, dogs, dark, afternoon sun, everything you could think of. But, she knew I wouldn’t make the 5 hour mark if I stayed with her. I knew it too- but it was so difficult.

With 8 miles to go, a tear-filled hug and a send off, I was on my own. I cried for what seemed hours- it was probably a half-mile in reality.

I was on my own. Two earbuds now instead of simply the right one. Thoughts swirling inside my head instead of escaping my mouth.

This is when it gets real.

Dawn’s mantra that I have adopted has been “Me and Jesus”. Anytime we talked about a PR or a goal- the final thought is always the same. Me and Jesus. We got this. Or maybe much more accurately- He’s got me.

The next two miles passed quickly and at the 20 mile marker I was at 3:43:55. I knew then that a 5 hour marathon was well within reach. I cannot even explain to you the emotions that flooded me that last 6 miles. I think I cried at least 25 times.

Naturally, after 20 miles, your body slows down. There is no more push left. With very little reserve, it simply becomes putting one foot in front of the other as a conscious constant decision.

I prayed so fervently that last hour and 15 minutes. I prayed for my husband, my kids, my nieces and nephews, my friends that I love like blood, my feet, my legs, anything that would take my mind off the reality that is the last stretch of a marathon.

My music stopped at one point and for 10 whole minutes while my phone was locked up, I prayed out loud. I have no idea how many people heard and I don’t care one single iota. It was the only way to make my body keep going.

Running has been my therapy. I have seen my loved ones lose so much, I can’t even begin to understand having the ability to run and not taking it. I run because I can. I run because I know people who would love to walk, much less run and don’t have the ability. I run because my lungs and legs work and I want to keep it that way.

We reached the strip again about mile 24. My watch was clocking about a quarter mile ahead of the race signs. While this may not seem like a big deal, a quarter mile could be the difference between meeting my goal and falling just short.

The return trip was nowhere near as exciting as the departure. There were no crowds for miles. The neon seemed dull, the concrete more real, the cheers sparse and muted at best. My eyes were searching for one thing- the finish line.

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My pace was probably a 12:30 at best at this point. My body had quit responding to my mind. I kept telling it to run faster, but faster wasn’t anywhere near attainable. Until….

Rounding the corner at the Encore, I saw it. I literally cried out for joy. I yelled, “I see it“. I’m pretty sure some people laughed. I couldn’t care less. I repeated that mantra for the last mile. I see it, I see it, I see it. Me and Jesus.

Mile 26 flew by- I passed the flag and all of a sudden my legs had strength that I thought had left back at mile 18. I sprinted towards that line crying the entire way. I must’ve passed at least a dozen runners in my enthusiasm. I heard the cheers, the whistles, the roar of the fountain at the hotel, the congratulations just on the other side of the finish.

I crossed the line and bent over with a rush of emotion that I couldn’t contain. Tears spilled down my cheeks, cries of pure joy escaped my mouth with abandon.

I had done it. I had finished. And no matter my time- I had given every ounce of strength I had. I had pushed harder than I thought my body could handle. I had taken on every mile with determination. I had faced every hill and conquered.

Completion.

It took me at least 10 minutes to pull out my phone. I couldn’t stop the tears- and the shivers. It was freezing, I realized soon after my body stopped moving and heating itself to an acceptable temperature. Finally, I checked it.

This was the text and the next round of tears “Elizabeth Wagner has crossed the Finish Line at 9:50:14pm, with a time of 04:59:04. CU at the Travelers tent!”

Yall see that mess?!?! Seriously. Do. you. see. that? 4:59:04. 54 seconds. I took that goal by :54. 54 SECONDS. I just can’t even….

It was all over. Mascara was running down my face. I could barely keep my composure. Other runners were checking to see if I was dying… Nope. “Just happy.” I eagerly explained to anyone kind enough to ask- I had just broken 5 hours for a marathon. I ran 26.2 with my LEGS and FEET in less than FIVE hours!!! And they all rejoiced with me. They celebrated my victory as if it was theirs. They met my tears with shouts of “congratulations” and “great job”.

You see, fellow runners know the hours spent. They know the blisters nursed. They know the muscles cramped. They know the morning run rather than the morning slept in. They know the badge of a sub-5 goal is not earned in the 4:59:04 that I had just completed. It’s earned through the 5 mile runs before taking the kids to school. It’s earned during the 80 degree 10 milers when it’s “too hot to run”. They know the countless moments that were spent in preparation for this one epic moment.

Completion.

Such a beautiful word. Sometimes it means a personal record and a wonderful race. Other times it means crossing the finish line no matter the obstacles that you could not have foreseen. Either way is joyful and earned. Either way, completion is the real goal.

Because it’s not always the strength to start that matters, but the determination to finish. And to finish with all you have.

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This weekend was monumental for me as a runner. I will never forget those miles, those moments, and most importantly, the wonderful friends that got me to this goal and through it with such joy.

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