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CERSOSIMO: Life's like a marathon

Try to picture the drive from Mitchell to Forestburg.

Now, imagine running that distance instead.

The two towns are 25.4 miles apart, which is still about one mile less than the length of an official marathon, which is 26.2 miles.

On Sunday, I was pushed to my limits, running farther than the distance between Mitchell and Forestburg.

I enjoyed, suffered and accomplished the feat of running at the 36th Annual Lincoln Marathon in Lincoln, Neb. There were 1,458 marathon runners, 607 were female, and the marathon's registration closed at 10,000 applicants. The remaining runners participated in the half marathon, which is 13.1 miles.

From start to finish, it took me 5 hours and 2 minutes. My last steps were in the middle of the Nebraska Cornhuskers football team's Memorial Stadium, and it was then I realized that a marathon emulates life.

There are parts where you absolutely love what you are doing, and there are other times you question why you are on the path you are. Sometimes, you dread what's to come and completely shut down, but you find out it was all worth it.

As I waited at the starting line in the 40-degree morning, there were thousands of runners of all shapes and sizes eager to get going. But even in a crowd of thousands, I felt alone thinking about the 26.2-mile route. And at that time it was only 6:45 a.m.

Knowing that I'd be on the course for several hours, nerves weren't an issue, as I knew the part of the race I would have to worry about wouldn't come for another three hours.

I began the race with a smile on my face as my family and best friend Christianne -- who flew in from Los Angeles -- cheered me on, taking pictures and videos. For the first 13 miles, there were members of the Lincoln community, family and friends of runners and college students shoulder to shoulder.

These spectators cheered on all 10,000 participants with signs, words of encouragement and live music. I vividly remember two moments along the first half of the marathon.

The first was within the first mile of the race as several fraternity and sorority students stood in their front lawn with a sign that read, "Almost there."

Part of me wanted to lash out at the sarcastic sign, but all I could do was laugh because, well, every single person in the race was crazy. We had to be if we were foolish enough to put ourselves through this.

The second memory was the act of a middle-aged man during the eighth mile. He had the most genuine smile and a sign that read, "I don't know you, but I'm proud of you." For that quick second, I knew I wasn't alone in the race.

When I neared the end of the first half of the journey, the half-marathon runners turned toward Memorial Stadium, and I ran straight ahead toward a sign for the marathoners. The people running the half were happy and excited as they neared the end of their journeys, but I stayed focused as I knew my race was just beginning.

As I set out on the 14th mile, there were marathoners returning to the finish and I began to question my want and need to do this. But I kept running.

Spectators grew scarce as the race continued, but my support system never failed to show up every few miles -- a support I desperately needed.

I committed to a seven-month training schedule, beginning in October. I wish I could say that the long, tedious preparation was the hardest part of it all, but it wasn't. I've heard there is a point during a marathon that a runner hits the wall, which I found true.

When I approached the turnaround -- leaving me with just six miles left until the finish -- I stopped, walked and needed some serious encouragement. Christianne and my brother, Jacob, jumped into the course and walked with me for several minutes. It couldn't have come at a better time.

From then on, I fought against my aching feet, knees, legs, hips and back to strive toward the finish, running with frequent walking and stretching breaks at water and first-aid stations.

When I reached the 24th mile, I could see Memorial Stadium and my spirits began to lift. Once I passed the 25-mile mark, I knew I was going to finish, so I took my time walking and making sure my legs were able to run the final stretch.

When I turned into Memorial Stadium and saw the finish line, I wanted to sprint -- but I clearly was incapable of moving any faster. My name was announced in the loudspeaker as I approached the end and could hear my six-person cheering section celebrating.

As I crossed the finish, my arms went up in the air and instant tears filled my eyes. I had a flashback of my dad, John, finishing his first Lincoln Marathon in 2006 with his arms raised. Ashton Pollreisz, a best friend of mine from high school, finished her first Lincoln Marathon in 2008 with smile. Ever since then, finishing this race has been a dream of mine.

But for the past six years, my dream of running a marathon has been put on hold as I pursued another goal of competing gymnastics at the Division I level.

The joy and hardship of the experience is something that's unforgettable. No matter the pain felt during, immediately following and days after won't ever outweigh the feeling of accomplishment.

When my support team congratulated me in the minutes following the finish, I looked at them with discomfort and said, "My body hates me. ... I don't ever want to do that again, but I probably will."

Brooke Cersosimo
Brooke Cersosimo is The Daily Republic's sports editor.