There are certain experiences in life that are so potent, so memorable, so palpable that they stand out against all others. The smell of your Grandma’s peanut butter fudge every single Christmas, the song you spent the summer of 1998 listening to on repeat (hello “Strawberry Wine”), the way you felt the first time your heart was really, truly broken. When that stuff comes back to you, it’s like it’s happening *RIGHTNOW!

I have such nostalgic feelings about the marathon. Not the half-marathon and certainly not the 10k! Only the marathon haunts my dreams. The months of training, the meticulous “night before” preparation, the obsessive need to get adequate rest the night BEFORE the night before — and a psychotic focus on not eating dairy or too much fiber the week of the race.

There’s ensuring you have the perfect outfit, the perfect shoes — you have worn every single item on at least one 20+-miler before, right? God knows when the chafing begins in a new place at mile 13, you are in for a long road sister. Then, there’s your stash of goods — how many Gus do I need and really, what flavor won’t make me want to throw up as I’m rounding mile 23? To bring the iTunes for back-up or wing it and hope you won’t need them? What about sunglasses? Throw-away clothes — or will it be cold enough for that? Do you want to bring the gloves or will you regret it and be sad you are tossing them off to the side later?

Then there’s hat, sunscreen, iPhone (a must!), and the perfect breakfast (one-half whole wheat bagel toasted with peanut butter and honey, half a banana just before the start.) And mental preparation — be sure you’ve got that done before race morning! You need to envision what it feels like to want to quit, when your legs are burning and you want to slow down. You need to know that at that moment, you can pull out your guts and carry on!

You cannot wing a marathon. Well, you can if you are Laura, but not if you are most people 😉 The buzzing excitement of race morning, the first creaky steps into mile 1, the relief of crossing the halfway mark and the pain of the realization of how long those last 6.2 miles really are — those are feelings that remain with a runner forever. When you ask yourself why you do this, making promises that “next time” you’ll train better, harder, stronger.

And then there’s the finish line, often up over a big, ridiculous hill (thank you, Marine Corps Marathon x 5) — and if you’re lucky (and/or you really did work your butt off!), you’ll see the timer clicking to a place that seems do-able. For me, it was seeing 3:58 tick slowly by — and then stretching my legs across the finish line in order beat 4 hours. I had done what I needed to to make that marathon mine — and it was one of the best feelings I’ve ever had.

So yes, I dream about marathons. I wake up in the middle of trails and roads, feeling unprepared, lacking the right shoes, without fuel, running late to the start or wanting to quit in the middle because I’m so far behind. I remember the grit and the joy and the buzz that makes a marathon all that it is. And I miss that!

With sciatica, a bad back, sometimes aching knee and a kid on the way, I’m not sure when I will get a chance to do the real thing again (a distant vision of Fall 2016 floats in her eyes). Until then, I guess I’ll keep dreaming of PRs and prep and then 9 I’ve had the privilege to run already.

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