First Person: Long-Distance Runner

When I ran my first marathon, it was part of a life plan that I hoped would lead to a baby. The marathon was the easy part.

Illustration by Britt Spencer

I’m running single file in a line of runners that bobs through DC like a dragon in a Chinese New Year parade. I watch the legs of the man in front of me and move my own in unison. The congenial conversations, the clapping beneath the underpasses, the Howard University pep band—all are miles behind. A few oohs and ahhs greet us as we pass Nationals Park. Then only feet slapping on pavement.

The aid station comes into view—the 20-mile mark. The clock reads 2:58, and I feel the chill of the early-spring air on my arms. I’m going to finish the National Marathon in less than four hours.

But I’m unprepared for the loneliness of the next five miles. No one cheers us on as we run alongside the Anacostia River. My legs begin to ache.

It’s 2008, two months shy of my 26th birthday. A year before, I decided I needed to achieve something beyond the 9 to 5, to prove to myself I wasn’t moving in circles. So every morning before work, I put on my sneakers and ran the streets around the Columbia apartment I shared with my husband. Soon I began entering road races. Within months, I registered for the National Marathon.

As life developed a happy rhythm, my husband, Dustin, and I began thinking about our future. The timing was perfect, we decided, to have a baby. We daydreamed of a helmet bobbing in a baby bike seat, of happy grandparents.

In December 2007, three months before the marathon, I swapped my birth control for vitamins. Dustin and I set a plan: We’d start trying after the marathon in March. The next December, I’d bow out from my job, and my boss would throw me a baby shower. Maybe the following April, I’d burn off the last of my baby bump in the Cherry Blossom ten-miler. In the fall, I’d run another marathon, this time training for speed rather than completion. In 2010, I’d run Boston, and my one-year-old would be waiting at the end in a MY MOM IS FASTER THAN YOUR MOM onesie.

That won’t happen, though. The cherry blossoms will bloom and scatter. December will come, and after a lot of soul searching, I’ll leave my company for a promotion elsewhere. My longtime boss will call me disloyal, and maybe I’ll deserve it. My husband and I will go for monthlong stretches without talking civilly, unsure how to comfort each other after failing, yet again, to conceive. Boston 2010 will happen without me. I’ll cry more often than I’ll run.

I don’t know all this yet as I chug up a hill on C Street, the final stretch before the homecoming at RFK Stadium. A woman stands on her porch clapping. I breathe in, breathe out, and will my legs to keep running. But I must be almost walking because other people steadily jog by—the only ones I pass are the injured. As we drift toward the finish, the dragon has been dismantled.

Then I see the stadium, and a woman with a volunteer shirt and bright smile looks into my eyes and says, “You’re going to finish.”

I cross mile 25 and decide no one will pass me during the final 1.2 miles. I fly, and then I’m in the chute, sprinting, my husband and friends screaming at me to go faster. My time is 4:04—just over my four-hour goal—but I’m beaming.

Amy didn't run the March 26 National Marathon this year because she's pregnant. This article first appeared in the April issue of The Washingtonian.

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