My First 26.2-Mile Victory Lap: A Story of Grit and Triumph

By Natalie Swan

The road to the marathon (pun intended) includes pain, discouragement, injury, and doubt. If you’ve experienced any of these, it’ll make your medal that much sweeter.

As a runner you are familiar with race day exhilaration, especially at the finish line. In 2012 I volunteered at the Chicago Marathon finish line beer tent. Marathon running looked like the most fun, though painful, activity in the world. It also offered sweet victory packaged as a cold one and post-race snacks. Even with the limping, waddling, and moaning, the runners were beaming with pride. We’ve all had the thought – “How awesome! I could do that!” It seems like a good idea at the time.

That winter, I trained for the 2013 Eugene Marathon. It was rough. So many miles, running alone, in the dead of Chicago winter. Training isn’t the glorified, elated, prideful experience you imagine. It hurts. It’s exhausting. At one point, I struggled to walk much less run and was diagnosed with tendonitis. When injury hits, it’s hard to stay positive. You want to feel strong and keep up with the work you’ve put in throughout training. But your body has other ideas. The marathon seemed near impossible during my second stint of physical therapy. With failed long runs, a non-existent taper, and an 18-miler two weeks before the race (my furthest distance), I decided to try.

Despite my setbacks, I had run a lot and given training my all when my body cooperated. When toeing the line, logically you know you’re prepared. You’ve put in the hours, skipped (some) beers, and invested in several pairs of shoes. But the uncertainty creeps up and reminds you that it’s still 26.2 miles. That’s plenty of time for “it” to hit the fan. But you know one thing without any doubt – you’re going to try to finish.

Hurt it did, but it was the greatest pain and highest high simultaneously. Turning the last corner into Hayward Field and running down the track, you forget everything else, except that you did it. And you’re a marathoner.

Training is never perfect because life gets in the way. But, you show up. You do what you can. You adjust and learn to live in the gray. My favorite marathon saying: it’s time for your 26.2-mile victory lap. You’ve done the work. Race day is the celebration.


Natalie is a Eugene native and six-time marathoner. After working in Chicago in marketing for five years, and enjoying the beautiful running paths and parks, she recently re-located to Seattle. She loves running along the water in the city and all the new scenery!

My First 26.2-Mile Victory Lap: A Story of Grit and Triumph