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Last year, my willpower sputtered out at mile 23. A runner behind me wept as she shuffled along. That 26.2 miles is long way. “One foot in front of the other,” I told myself. This was awful.

But 20 minutes later, the announcer was saying my name as I crossed the finish line a human puddle.

“Never again. I’m done. Put a checkmark in that box,” I told my only cheerleader with quivering limbs and lips. It was my third, and last, marathon.

The Humboldt Redwoods Marathon is this Sunday, Oct. 21, and I can’t wait to do it again. I mean, I Can. Not. Wait. Recent events assure an emotionally charged event this year, but I feel solidarity amid the tragedy. We are going to run together.

Running is bigger than ever. Over 500,000 Americans ran a marathon last year. Why? It’s hard, time-consuming, hurts like hell, and to pay for it seems downright mean. But I’m signing up again and my only cheerleader is running the half marathon. She doesn’t understand why, either.

Here’s why. Something powerful happens when the starting gun cracks. As the throng spreads down the Avenue of the Giants, everyone wants you to succeed. Whoops of encouragement from runners and spectators alike pull you toward the finish. I got passed by a woman with a fake leg, and it was amazing.

Speaking as a casual (read: slow) runner, to be among Real Runners is to glimpse our ancestors who supposedly outran deer. These women and men hold a pace with grit and precision. Some run HRM as training for their next 50 miler. Others, to qualify for the prestigious Boston Marathon.

But hands down, the beginners are my favorite. Training has messed up their lives. Their feet hurt. Just by showing up, they’re exerting ferocious drive. They bit off more than they could chew.

So here I go again, my fourth-annual Last Marathon Ever. You should come too.

-- Mike Dronkers (2011 HRM Finisher 4:34:07)

For more info, including complete course and registration info, hustle over to redwoodsmarathon.org.

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Mike Dronkers

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