Celebrating with my girls minutes after becoming a marathoner

Guest Blogger Luis Bueno

Around midday on Feb. 7, 2010, I felt a feeling like never before.

It was then that I had done it, had conquered the impossible. Amidst all the challenges and obstacles thrown my way, I overcame. I had the ultimate bragging rights after bagging the ultimate prize.

I was a marathoner.

While my body was a mess – every muscle protested the rigors of what I had just put them through – my heart soared, my confidence boosted, my elation skyrocketed.

Conquering a marathon is perhaps the most difficult physical task I’ve ever undertaken, one that for many years was neither a goal nor a dream of mine. Not only had I done it, having run the 2010 Surf City Marathon, but I knew it was not over. I knew I wanted more. I was instantly hooked.

Reveling in my accomplishment while trying to mask my pain after the 2010 San Francisco Marathon

Why the allure? If something so life- and soul-sucking can leave you feeling utterly and completely drained and sore for days, why come back for more?

For me, it’s the finish line.

The scene and emotions at the finish of a marathon are unique and exhilarating and makes training for and running a marathon worthwhile.

At no point is the marathon more real than at the finish. Every training run, every long run, all the pounding the body has suffered through for several months leading up to the big day and in the race itself culminates at the finish line. You’ve invested time, energy, heart, soul, blood, sweat and tears to take on the challenge, and this is where the dividends pay off from that investment.

Throughout the race, you’re gunning for the finish line. Sure, you have to divide up the race in small increments. Unless you want to be mentally defeated before you get your legs underneath you, this division is a necessity – water stations, landmarks, mile signs, time goals and other such dividers help break up the immense undertaking that is a marathon.

As the mile markers fly by, energy gels consumed and sports drinks gulped down, the finish line becomes not just an abstract, far-off destination but an actual location, the ultimate landmark.

It almost seems a bit surreal. After all, more than likely you’ve been running for anywhere near three hours, four hours, five hours, churning your legs over and over again, perhaps smiling along the way, possibly crying, and then right before you is the finish line.

After my first marathon as a pace leader, celebrated with friend and group member Ku'uipo Benson

Crowds grow larger. People you’ve never seen before and probably won’t see again are clapping for you, shouting for you, encouraging you to keep running, to stay strong, to finish. A race announcer may say your name, friends and loved ones may do the same, and then the running is over. The race is done. More cheers, more congratulatory applause and a shiny medal goes around your neck.

This is glory at its finest.

And I want that feeling, I want to experience that again and again.

In some ways, I feel like I enjoy this more because of my past. Aside from a brief stint as a standout T-baller in Rancho California Little League in the early 1980s, I never played sports growing up. Once out of high school, my weight got out of control as I ballooned up to more than 300 pounds, and thus never played team sports then either. I don’t possess any strong athletic ability – I have the grace of a mechanical bull on the basketball court, the touch of an ostrich on the soccer field and can throw a football as swift-looking as a helicopter missing its tail rotor.

Jumping for joy after my sixth marathon, the 2012 OC Marathon.

Having had that background and athletic ability throughout my life, it’s only natural then to feel as if I’m living through something that was never intended for me, being at places I may not have meant to have been at. To conquer a marathon is to be a strong and determined athlete, and here I am, someone who not too long ago was wearing size 44 pants. And yet I’m rubbing elbows with these elites, with these standout athletes who have done nothing but succeeded athletically their whole lives. Here we are, wearing the same medals around after the race, having run the same course and persevered through the same conditions.

The electricity I feel at the finish line is simply a reminder to me of what happens when you dream big and work hard.

And my thirst for reveling in that can never be quenched.