The idea of running first went through my head after my boyfriend ran his first Half Marathon in 2018. At that time I didn’t exercise much and honestly speaking, running seemed such a boring sport. Not that I didn’t have respect for runners, on the contrary, I always felt great admiration for them, but some questions always roamed through my head. How can they do the same activity for so long? What are they thinking about while they run? It seemed like a lot of time just with yourself, a space for introspection, and that scared me a little bit. I kept saying to my friends that I wanted to try it out but the desire inside me wasn’t enough, and running fell into the long bucket list of undone personal projects.
The day of the Miami Marathon & Half Marathon 2019 arrived. My boyfriend trained hard for the whole year for this event. I felt his nerves growing the week before the race. That January morning he was tense and focused. I wasn’t sure what was going through his mind. But how could I understand? That was an unknown feeling for me at that time.
We started driving to the location where the race was going to take place around 5:00 am. The sun was not even out, but the city felt different. The air had strange energy… you could tell it wasn’t a regular Sunday morning. When we finally got there it all felt like an explosion, a burst of adrenaline. All the runners walking to the starting line, with their t-shirts and gadgets, with the same look I saw on my boyfriend’s eyes that morning. A look of determination. It all seemed like a big cult of people who loved running more than anything in the world. Everybody seemed so happy, so full of joy. Thousands of crazies spreading just good vibes and positiveness with every breath. For them, the long wait was over and the race day was finally there. Needless to say, that was the final push for me to start running. That day, after the race and the celebration, the registration opened for the next year’s Half Marathon, and I enrolled.
This is when the story of one of the most special years in my life began. This is when everything got real. It was not just an idea, it was a fact. I had less than twelve months to prepare my body to run 21 kilometers.
The first day of training I had this feeling like nothing could stop me, like it was me against the world, and all those childish innocent thoughts we sometimes have. I put on my running clothes, tuned up my music and hit the road. But I couldn’t even run 1 mile without having problems with my breathing. I knew at that point, more than ever before, that this was not going to be an easy thing to do. This dream was going to be painful and demanding.
From there I started running 3 to 4 days a week. Adding more distance with every small race. Going from 1 mile to 2 miles, from 2 to 3, and so on, until 1 mile seemed easy and I was eager to make longer distances each time. My feet got hurt, my muscles got tired, but with each step also stronger. I started learning and using the runner’s vocabulary, “pace”, “sprints”, “long runs”. Strava became one of my most-used apps. Our YouTube videos were about half marathon preparations, Eliud Kipchoge, and how to not “hit the wall”. My neighborhood got bigger and the streets smaller. I felt I had a friend on every other runner, someone who knew me in some way, simply because we shared one same passion. I was becoming part of a community that I admired deeply, and a sense of self-love seized me.
A friend and experienced athlete, also a mentor of a virtual club of Cuban runners, recommended doing a practice race before facing the Half Marathon. I registered with my boyfriend to run the Key Biscayne 10K in December of 2019. This was my first official event, the first time that I wore a race bib with my name, and it went well. But when I finished those 6.2 miles, all sweaty and exhausted, only one thought went through my head: In less than two months I’d have to run more than the double of that distance. My body was still not ready for that challenge, but it was getting there. The only thing I could do was to train more, and harder. No excuses.
Finally (drum rolls)… The Miami Marathon and Half Marathon 2020 event. An entire year talking about that day, wondering what I would feel, doubting if I would make it to the finish line. I could barely contain myself, too much excitement, too much fear. My goal was to maintain my pace, not to rush, and above all to have fun. The race started. Thousands of other runners next to me, talking, laughing. I had my favorite music playing, and Miami never looked more beautiful to me than that morning.
The first few miles were easy. I was enjoying everything, the view of the city, the spectators. Then, in the middle, I started yearning for the mileage signs, looking for them in the distance. I tried to keep hydrated, to run at a comfortable pace, not too fast, and to breathe properly. By the time I hit the 11-mile mark I was not feeling okay. I walked, just a few feet, trying to recover myself to get to the finish line. My legs were hurting but my brain was saying “keep going”. I gathered all the possible strength, pushed the limits of my body and started running again.
The last couple of miles were a mix of exhaustion and euphoria. The spectators were making music with casseroles, dancing, screaming, applauding. There were many epic signs along the way: “This is a lot of work for a free banana”, “You could have chosen chess”, “May the course be with you”, “You are now the person your dog thinks you are”. A song came up on my Spotify. It was a classic 2000’s disco song that my brother sent to encourage me just a few weeks before the race, and it got a whole different meaning there. I thought of him and my parents back in Cuba. I started dedicating this personal milestone to them and tore a little bit. My face was salty and I couldn’t stop smiling.
The finish line was closer with every stride. I could see it in the distance. It was just steps away. Hundreds of people cheering for us. A year of training. A lot of pain. 13.1 miles. All done. I was not sure when I crossed that line if that was real life, or just a fantasy (like Freddie). I kept walking, almost like a zombie, received my medal and started looking for my boyfriend on a huge crowd of fellow finishers. Then, I almost blacked out. Even though I tried to keep hydrated that race was a big toll for my body, something never experienced before. I felt I was going to faint. When I finally found him we hugged and the only thing I could say was: “I need food”. After three apples and a lot of Gatorade I recovered. We then celebrated our journeys that day, laying on the grass with no shoes.
Running didn’t come to me naturally, but through the spirit of another dedicated runner, who captivated me with his devotion for this activity, and taught me about the feelings of freedom and personal accomplishment that one gets on the tracks. This experience was a beautiful lesson of things I didn’t know about myself and showed me that all limits are meant to be broken. My body showed me new capabilities, my mind expanded its horizons and something that seemed impossible at the beginning was then doable. I’m now thinking of running a full marathon.