By Leart Damoni (YES 2021-2022, Kosovo, placed by IRIS in Davenport, IA)
Running a half marathon was one of the most challenging things I have ever done. I didn't decide to face this challenge on a whim; rather, running a half marathon had been an idea sitting in the back of my mind for a few years. The urge to be part of a marathon event came to me in 2020. At the time, running sat on the sidelines as a complementary sport, and I never took it seriously until I started running longer distances. To my surprise, running felt good even though my legs were on fire (I found out later that the sensation was called a “Runner's High”). From that point on, I was hooked. The following year, I signed up to participate in my city's 10k marathon. However, COVID delayed the marathon, and eventually, the marathon organizers decided to host it online. It wasn't quite the experience I wanted when running my first marathon event.
After that letdown and the delay in my exchange year, things were looking up. Throughout my exchange year in the U.S., my love for running grew. However, while in the U.S., I never had the chance to run a half marathon. Though I didn't run a marathon in the U.S., I gained experience training with a coach, strength, and mental fortitude.
After returning from the U.S., I stopped running and focused on studying to pass the national exams and pursue architecture. Therefore, I slept less and ate more than I should have due to stress. When exam season passed, I wanted to do something that would keep me from being lazy over the summer break and to help get myself back into shape. Eventually, I saw an ad about a marathon, and it was almost perfect timing to begin training. After not running for a few months, I had eight weeks to prepare. I immediately customized a training plan from the internet to fit what I learned in the U.S., and I got working.
Finally, the day of the race arrived. I had lots of fun, from high-fiving police officers to somehow talking with fellow runners and eventually trying to survive with them. No matter how much you prepare for your first marathon, in the end, you will probably end up in survivor mode, which is still enjoyable for runners like me, somehow. Once I crossed the finish line, I did not know where my head was, and I felt like I was levitating, though it did not take long for the pain to sink into my legs.