I love my birthday. Not for cake or celebrations or presents or plans. I love my birthday because it’s a day for me to look at how far I’ve come and where I want to go. It’s my day. It’s the start of my year. It’s new chapter of my life.

Only a few months into to 25, I knew I wanted 26 to be a big year. For some reason, 26 carried this weight. Early on, I had a feeling that 26 would somehow be significant. A meaningful year.

To mark what I hoped and assumed would be such a momentous year, I signed up for the Chicago Marathon. What could be more fitting (or more crazy) than to run 26 miles only weeks after I turn 26? And in my favorite city at that! In December 2016, with nine months notice, I was locked in as a first-time marathon runner.

The following nine months of 25 were filled with highs and lows. Such is life. In Shauna Niequist’s chapter entitled “Twenty-Five” from “Bittersweet” she writes, “There is a season for wildness and a season for settledness, and this is neither. This season is about becoming.”

Looking back on 25, I can pinpoint so many moments that contributed to my “becoming.” Moments that I can honestly tell you have made all the difference and have led me to where I am today. Taking on more responsibilities and getting that raise. Breaking up and knowing that I deserved better. Crying with a new friend who has become a best friend. Flying to Florida to understand what I want. Escaping to a tiny Ohio island and feeling refreshed.

Through it all, I ran. I pushed myself more than I thought possible, and I loved it. I woke up early and ran along with the sunrise, just barely beating the heavy summer heat. I ran for hours – gradually approaching 20+ miles – and I somehow felt good. I built my body up, I knew the routes, I anticipated the challenges, I flew down the hills, I breathed deeply, moved intentionally and constantly ran closer to accomplishing my goal. No matter what was going on in my life at the moment, my runs left me feeling invigorated, proud and accomplished (and often sore, hungry and sweaty).

When birthday rolled around, I was two weeks away from the big race. (Yes, I was exactly 26 years and 2 weeks old when I ran 26.2 miles – I honestly love that.) My actual birthday ended up being more significant and more meaningful than I could have anticipated, but that’s a story for another time. That day I was reaffirmed that 26 was about to be a big year.

I had run nearly 400 miles to train for the Chicago Marathon by the time all was said and done. 394 miles ran. 300 miles traveled. 26.2 miles left to go. I was ready.

The nerves were setting in, and the pouring rain in Chicago the day before the Marathon wasn’t helping. My parents, sister, aunts, uncles, cousins and I ran into church, sopping wet. During that mass, my favorite Bible verse was the second reading, and it couldn’t have been more applicable to my life that day.

“Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

God’s timing truly is astounding.

Then, as if to drive the point home that I had nothing to be nervous about, we walked outside after mass to find that the sun was out and there was a crisp, clear double rainbow just overhead. Just like that, my nerves turned to excitement.

On October 8, I ran 26.2 miles throughout the city of Chicago, and it couldn’t have gone better. My family was there supporting me, there were thousands of people lining the streets to cheer me on, the sun was shining, I felt good. When I started to feel the weight of my legs and the heat was beating down, my sister jumped in and ran with me. When I was starting to slow down and the soreness was growing in intensity, someone else would cheer from the sidewalk and give me a new boost.

Right around mile 24, someone was blaring Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.” My energy skyrocketed, and I took off. Singing out loud as I ran, suddenly I was flying – running faster than I think I ever have for the last two miles. (At least it sure felt that way.) Suddenly, with the finish in sight, I hustled through to the end and was so overcome with emotion as I crossed the finish line. After months of training, after miles and miles run, after all that had led me to this point, I did it.

I. Did. It.

That day meant so much to me. Like my birthday, it was a day for me to look at how far I had come and where I wanted to go. 26.2 represents more than a marathon for me. It’s representative of a moment in my life where it all came together. A moment of pride, joy and excitement for what’s to come. I know I’ll have more moments like this, but that 26.2 was a moment I’ll never forget.

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