My friend Linda said it best! That's pretty much how it feels to finish a marathon - if you can get past the excruciating pain in your burning legs. I crossed the finish of the Portland Marathon this Sunday with a time 10 minutes faster than the last time I ran it. I'm also glad to report that I ran every step of the course and avoided the medic tent at the finish! The whole experience - the race, the support of family and friends, the generosity of all of the donors to Sherry's Fund - was one of the most meaningful of my life. They really need to come up with another superlative to describe how awesome it all was. I was high on marathon for at least 3 days after!

For aparently the first time in years, it rained on race day. POURED. Right at the start, as I stood in the dark with my friends Gene and Michelle waiting for the gun to go off. Just before the giant mass of 8000 people started moving, I looked to my right, and 6 people over was my high school friend Tim Marshall. Talk about six degrees of separation! But once the giant mass of shoulder to shoulder people started moving, we all lost one another for the time being.

The Portland Marathon is absolutely amazing for the sense of community support from the spectators lining the streets. There are kids wanting you to high-five them as you run by, total strangers that cheer you on. And bands dotted along the course, always, it seems, at just the time when you need a boost.

And there is something about sharing this grueling experience with 8000 of your closest friends that is so inspiring. You small talk with the runners next to you, people offer you power gel as you're gasping. We ran together en mass through the pouring rain and its resulting puddles in the beginning, as the sun came out and caused people to litter the ground with soaking wet t-shirts, and silently with focus through the most difficult parts.

One of the hardest parts of the course is a ~4 mile stretch that goes out and doubles back. On the way out, you see hundreds of people who are faster than you running back. But things improve at the turn-around and you become one of the 'fast' people. A little after I'd made the turn around, I spotted Gene and Michelle. Then a couple miles later, my sister caught up with me on her bike. Just as she wiped out on the bike, I caught up to my friend Tim, who was having bad knee problems, but ran with me for awhile in spite of them. Shortly after this, the familiar faces were many - Christy, high school friend Mike Betts, his wife Tracy Betts (who was running) and their family. It's such a rush to find a familiar face in the crowd of thousands of runners and thousands more spectators! Reminds me of that Cowboy Junkies lyric, 'Have you ever seen a sight as beautiful as a face in a crowd of people that lights up just for you?'

Make no mistake about it...there were grueling parts. Like the St. John's Bridge approach that rises 150 feet in less than a 1/2 mile. I kept telling myself, 'Chin down, arms up,' advice from a friend that works both for boxing AND running hills. I looked for my dad, et al, at the other side of the bridge, where I saw them last marathon. They didn't make it out this time, but it wasn't long before I found Mel. The course feels very long at this point - it's striking how much you need some/any kind of encouragement. That was about when my college friend Linda caught up to me. We ran together as long as we could, which really helped me keep going.

When I reached mile 22 at around 3:55, I realized I probably couldn't run the remaining 4 miles in 5 minutes. I was getting a little delerious at this point and told my sister I wasn't going to make it in under 4 hours. She said something to me that I registered as math in Swahili, and all I could get out was a pathetic and confused, "I don't understand..." She gave up talking to me at that point and just rode alongside me with Christy to the finish. I guess I was looking pretty sorry, and feeling that way, but I was still focused and determined.

As I came around the last corner to the finish, I was thrilled to see my friends Sheila and Melissa directing us. I was too exhausted to show it on the outside, but was really psyched on the inside. I crossed the finish in 4 hours 18 minutes and 46 seconds (under 4:20, which is what my sister had predicted in Swahili out on the course). Turns out my time was actually a little ahead of my training pace, which I figured out after I realized the pedometer I'd been training with had been set wrong all along. (Damn thing registered that I ran over 31 miles. So much for the Boston Marathon and its 3:40 qualifying time. Maybe if I give up my job and get a personal trainer I could get my body to do that!) All I knew at that point was that I'd run as hard as I could and I'd finished. A blur of god-send volunteers held me up on my wobbly legs, clipped my timing tag, wrapped me in a silver blanket, put a gold medal around my neck, gave me a gold pin and a rose, and congratulated me profusely. Those people are awesome!

I was corralled into the fenced off runners-only area with tables and tables of every kind of food you might want after running like a lunatic for 26 miles. There was water, gatorade, yogurt, bagels, ice cream, potato chips, bananas, power gel. But I walked right past it all, wanting only to find my sister, who'd been lost in the crowd at the finish. Amazingly, I found her out of the kazillions of people. I hollered until she saw me, and we met at the fence. We linked fingers through the fence and cried a little out of excitement, amazement, and relief at having finished.

Then I scored big on all the free food and found all my people.

There is total electricity in the air at the end of a marathon. Assuming you aren't injured or dehydrated, you're amazed that you've just accomplished this seemingly impossible feat. It's been compared to giving birth by a lot of people - pain and doubt eventually overcome by pride and amazement. I can see that. You are just so proud of every other foil wrapped finisher in your presence and want to hug and thank everyone. It rocks!

This marathon had the additional piece of having honored my mom and created an emergency fund for people going through a difficult experience, as she and my family had. It is that much more meaningful that this fund is dedicated to the community in which I grew up and that supported our family through that difficult time. The trip out to Astoria the day after the marathon was the true completion of the race for me. It's a beautiful place filled with wonderful people. When I was out bringing flowers to my mom's grave, I really had the sense that she'd be so happy that my efforts would go to help that community. And for me, I'm so glad to know she is and will continue to be remembered through the growth of this fund. I carried her with me every step of this journey. Her strength, love, and courage - and that of everyone else who's battled breast cancer - gives me heart.

my mom Sherry Bojanowski, my grandma Janet Weber, Penny Rodgers, Judy Hogan, Ana's donor, Hatsuko Anima, Beatrice Varmus, Lynne Donato, James and Ruby Reid, Patricia Lamb, Michael Cole, Hilda and Edward Goodman, Uncle John, Ken Green, Isa Gamero de Mendez, Cherrie Daye, Cheryl and Judy Betts, Maggie, Caitlin Haines Foote, Helen Gue, Rob Miller, the Schwartz family, Carmella Young, Verna, Pickle, Carl's mom, Harland Dominey, and anyone whose life has been impacted by breast cancer. (During the marathon, I carried a pink ribbon with each of these names written on it, with the exception of a couple I received after.)

Congratulations to all my friends who also finished last Sunday!
Michelle Lamb, Gene Niemasz, Linda LeBard, Tim Marshall, Julie Swensen, Tracy Betts - all first-time marathoners, except Tracy who did #2.

Special thanks to Mel for her sisterhood and being there for both marathons, Dad for calling me almost every day for the last few months to see how the fundraising was going, Jane and Grandpa for their support in rememberance of my mom, Penny Rodgers for her enthusiastic efforts on the Astoria end, Gene and Michelle for showing their support by running, Sheila Harper for using her magic masseuse fingers to enable me to walk normal today, Christy Andrews for painting my nails and biking the course, Melissa Marsh for being a site for sore eyes at the finish, and everyone else (too many to name) who offered an encouraging word or gesture (I know who you are)! I want to thank again EVERYONE WHO DONATED TO SHERRY'S FUND, which is just about up to $5000!!! The whole fund raising effort's been so successful that I'm working on having a local Astoria foundation administer the fund. These folks are very in touch with the needs of that community and are very accessible. American Cancer Society will be sending out acknowledgements for donors (for tax purposes) by December and will be listing Sherry's Fund in their database to increase awareness of the availability of this resource. P.S. It's never to late to donate!

With much love and appreciation,
Jen (#1678)