Step By Step

I’ve been assigning my summer students writing and occasionally writing models for them to look at. Here’s one from this assignment.


“I don’t know if I can run another step,” I thought to myself as I hobbled down San Vincente Boulevard. The sun was blazing down on me as I stayed as close to the tall, green bushes lining the road, as if they could give me any shade. 

I was at mile 22 of my very first marathon. I was terribly undertrained, since my longest distance up until this point had been 13 miles… which I had run three months ago… so I was definitely feeling the pain as I trudged along. I looked down at my feet and saw blood blooming in the toes of my shoes. “Ugh,” I said to myself as I realized just how badly my body was reacting to this run. “Maybe I should just give up.”

It was easy to think about giving up. To be honest, no one thought I could run a marathon. Even my boyfriend, who loved me dearly, had laughed when I told him I wanted to sign up. “You’ve never run more than three miles!” He said, with genuine concern in his voice. He wasn’t wrong. I had never been a runner and didn’t want me to hurt myself. 

There were, of course, much less loving doubters in my life. Since I was a kid, I remembered all the taunts I heard about my weight growing up. “Look at her run! Ugh! You should’ve been a dog!” Sebastian Sherman, another 8th grader at my school, called at me while my thirteen-year-old legs ran laps around the basketball court in middle school. The skinny, pretty blonde girls sitting with him all laughed. 

These were the voices scrolling through my head as I felt the pain build up with each step. Quitting seemed so easy, so expected of me. Maybe it was time.

Then, a man came jogging by, his body tall and strong. He was carrying a little flag that said “5:15” on it. He was a pacer! He was helping people finish at the pace they wanted to and encouraging them. He looked strong, but a few of the runners with him looked as worn down as me. Still, they persisted. Without hesitation, I started to run with them. 

The pacer looked over at me in his peripheral gaze. “You doing okay?” He asked quietly?

I immediately started to cry. “This is just so much harder than I thought it would be,” I blubbered naively. 

The pacer nodded sympathetically. “It’s hard. Find a mantra. Stick with it. You are strong. You have energy. You can do this.”

I sniffled my sobs away and fell back, my legs still too tired to keep up with him. I slowed my pace as I caught my breath, but still kept putting one foot in front of the other.

“I am strong. I have energy. I can do this.” I say to myself. I keep pushing. One foot in front of the other. “I am strong. I have energy. I can do this.” 

I see the mile 23 marker and smile. 3.2 more miles!

“I am strong. I have energy. I can do this.”

I think about my parents waiting at the finish line, I see my mom and dad yell, “Go, Baby, go!” as I keep speeding past.

“I am strong. I have energy. I can do this.”

I see students near me, many of them wearing the same neon jersey I am, as their group inspired me to try this in the first place.

“I am strong. I have energy. I can do this.”

Mile 24 comes and goes. Then I hit the mile 25 marker. 

“One. More. Mile,” I think to myself. “I am strong. I have energy. I can do this.”

Finally, I see the finish line up ahead, and see my parents, my friends, and my boyfriend, now believing in me, cheering me on. I dig deep and find a secret well of strength as I sprint to the finish line. 

As I cross the blue time mat, I immediately start weeping, my breath catching in my chest. I throw my hands in the air. I did it! I really did it! “I actually finished!” The voice in my head cheers.

I walk forward as someone puts a medal over my tired, sweaty head. “Congratulations!” they say.

“Thank you!” I reply. “I didn’t think I could really do it!” I say, to no one in particular.

I look down at the medal in my hands and smile.  “What else can I do that I thought I couldn’t?” I wonder to myself. 

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