“I’ve had a runner collapse in my arms on that hill. It’s just awful. Lemon Drop Hill. A horrible big hill; that’s where most runners hit the wall, you know.” The lady giving out pre-race day refreshments gushed enthusiastically on and on. 

I knew about “the wall”—the point in the marathon when runners find themselves unable to run any farther. I had heard stories of horrendous injuries and seen youtube clips of peoples’ legs give out underneath them. I had heard the news of runners dropping dead from an overworked heart part way through brutal races like the marathon. 

During training I had told myself finishing would be enough. I had just wanted to finish upright, no serious injuries or passing out (or dying) on the course like runners have done before me. But then I had seen the medal at the fitness expo when I picked up the race bib. I wanted that medal. I wrote in my journal that night before the race: 

What lies out there tomorrow? How frigidly cold will the morning wind be? How brutally hot will the rising sun be? What lies beyond the mile 17? What lies inside? 

And that night before bed, I asked God for the goal that almost I didn’t want to admit to myself because it would hurt to want it so badly and not get it. Faster than 7 hours, I prayed, just a little faster than 7 hours. 

At mile 22 the gently turning path straightened out and in the distance, terrifyingly tall, rose Lemon Drop hill. Now, I knew that I had to keep running or I might not make it to the end. And, I remembered how badly I wanted that medal. I remembered what Olympian, Ryan Hall, had said was critical in marathon running: Run the mile you are in. 

No looking ahead at a distance as big as 26.2 miles. Just like life, you have to run the mile you are in. Deal with the present challenge. Staring ahead at fears in the future, at worries that we can’t control, at Lemon Drop hill isn’t worth it. Don’t waste energy thinking about if you’ll need more strength in mile 19 or 22 or if you’ll struggle with that new job or if you’re not sure what you will do after this year. 

Run the mile you are in. Focus on the present moment. 

I stared at my shoes and forced my hobbling legs to go from walking to running. I am running for the girl who ran in the snow. I had run through horrific winter conditions because I wanted to run a marathon more than I hated the cold. I was not going to walk towards this biggest hill of this race. I am running for the girl who ran in the hail. I began to run a little harder, and I remembered all the times I had given literal blood, sweat, and tears for a chance at finishing the marathon. I am running for the girl who ran in the beating sun! I had burned because I believed in a dream this big. I am running for the girl who didn’t believe she could run a marathon; who couldn’t run a half a mile without hours of training! I am running because I am here right now at this hill; this is the mile I am in, and I grateful to be alive! 

“Good job running the hill,” a breathless voice said beside me and I glanced up to see another runner sweating and walking slowly beside me. I was at the top of Lemon Drop hill.

I didn’t hit the notorious “wall” on that hill. For most of my life, there was a wall between me and all the beautiful athletic dreams in life I thought were impossible. At Lemon Drop Hill the wall came down. 

I didn’t stop running as the ground began gently sloping away into the final stretch.

I crossed the finish line in 6 hours 17 minutes and 17 seconds. I completely crushed the goal of running in 7 hours. There’s a lot more stories from that day that I will treasure in my heart forever. But for now, I just want to stop with the words that carried me through. 

Pick a dream that scares you. Run the mile your are in.

The Medal

One thought on “Lemon Drop Hill: A Moment From My First Marathon

  1. Congratulations Jacqueline. What an achievement. Mind over matter (shaky legs). We’re so proud of you.
    God bless you. Your mom & dad must be sooooo proud too.
    ❤️ David & Michaele

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