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My husband told me Sunday he had read that only one percent of people in the U.S. can run a marathon.

I don t know if that s true, but I thought about that a couple of times during the race. Am I really doing something that only one percent of the population can do?

By mile 21, I understood.

I headed down to Victory Park Sunday morning, arriving at 6:30 a.m. for the Metro PCS Dallas White Rock Marathon. It s my first.

People were already packing the plaza. Traffic wasn t as bad as I had planned, so I had some time to kill.

I finally sat down against the outside wall of the American Airlines Center. I must have looked nervous. The man sitting across from me turned and asked if this was my first marathon. Yes, I replied.

He was a hard-nosed New Yorker who lived at Fort Hood. He didn't look nervous at all. There was a good reason for that. This was his 86th marathon.

He said he s run a marathon every month for the past 25 years. He gave me this advice: Start slow and you ll finish strong.

He told me that at the end of the race I would say one of two things: Wow, this sucks. I m never doing this again. Or, Wow, this sucks. When s my next race?

The first 8 to 10 miles were great. I started slow, just like the New Yorker advised. The weather was perfect and the crowds were entertaining.

I especially liked the sign that had Tiger Woods' picture and said, Run like you re being chased by a Tiger.

Just before I hit a hill, I could look up and see a sea of people ahead of me. I was running alone, yet still with 20,000 friends.

The real fight was up ahead.

I had positioned my family at places throughout the course, but wouldn t reach the first one until mile 16. Once I hit White Rock Lake, the euphoria of running left me. It was replaced by a cold wind.

It was about that time that a guy with short shorts and really hairy legs decided to turn and spit. It hit me like a rock to the chest. At that point, I was just happy it didn t land on my face.

And I was particularly happy that I tied my top around my waist instead of ditching it. I now had two reasons to put it back on -- the cold and the spit.

At mile 13, I looked down at my watch. I was right on target. I knew at that point that my brother-in-law, who was running the half, was finished. And I secretly wished I was running with him.

I try not to think too much about the miles when I m running. Instead, I think instead about pancakes -- big fluffy ones with bananas.

I stopped thinking about food when I hit mile 16 and realized that I still had 10 left to run. That s about the same time I heard my name being yelled from the woods. It was my other brother-in-law and my niece. I was so happy to see them I nearly cried. It was the perfect motivation to keep me going.

At that point, I hadn t walked yet, but I was strongly thinking about it.

I could feel my foot throbbing. It felt like the top of my foot had been hit with a sledgehammer. Blisters were forming and my knee had started hurting a little, too.

People will tell you that running a marathon is 90 percent mental. This is about the time when I needed to mentally go to my happy place.

At mile 19 we finally left White Rock Lake, and that was a good thing. It felt warmer the moment we ran into a subdivision.

The aid station leading into it had men dressed as women handing out water. It was hilarious -- mostly because the aid station before that had Hooters girls handing out water. But these men, dressed as women, were very large up top. And you couldn t help but laugh.

I finally hit mile 20, walking only at the aid stations as I drank water. This is where you could say I hit my wall -l- like a car going 100 mph slamming into a median along Highway 75. My feet felt like they weighed more than my body and I began stumbling at every indention in the road.

But I knew that when I hit Swiss Avenue my parents would be standing along the street. And I sure as heck wasn t going to let them see me walk!

I could see them as I turned the corner -- my dad with his camera and my mom all bundled up and warm. I hugged them as I passed by.

Just five miles to go. I ll admit it. I lost my target race time because of the next three miles. My legs ached and feet were killing me.

I stopped and walked for brief periods, then tried to labor on.

I made a deal with myself: I wasn t going to walk the last two miles. And I didn t.

I have never been as happy as when I looked up and saw the downtown Dallas skyline -- the promised land. The end of my agony.

I started to run.

When I hit the last mile, I picked up the pace. I didn t want anything left in my fuel tank. I wanted to end the race knowing I was totally empty.

My husband was waiting at the finish line and I wanted to end the race running. And I did.

I finished at 4:54:15, a time much longer than what I wanted.

When I crossed the finish line, I thought: Wow this sucks. When can I race again?

I still have a goal of 4:35 to beat.

E-mail mharris@wfaa.com

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