Our Marathon Maniac was once your average runner looking to sweat for emotional salvation until her first half.

first marathon
Illustration: Marisa Morea

I set out for an 8-mile run—my farthest ever—at the end of November in 2009 with no rhyme or reason. I just wanted to see if I could do it. At 23 years old, my ill-fated first marriage was crumbling before my eyes. Running was an excuse to get out of the house and try to work through a maelstrom of emotions.

Despite the fact that I majored in geography in college, I have a shockingly bad sense of direction. I got a little lost, but kept running just the same. This was before my first GPS watch purchase, so when I mapped out my route at home online, I was shocked not only at how far I had run (11 miles!) but how great I felt. Serendipitously, someone on a message board I followed suggested a get-together at a half marathon the following weekend. I thought, Why not? What’s another 2 miles?

Rookie mistake. The meetup didn’t end up happening, but I was undeterred. Plus, I had already registered and was not about to waste the fee. I had no idea that this decision would change the course of my entire life.

I found a friend at the start line, and we waited for the gun to go off. A ball of nervous energy and excitement, I stood in the 40-degree wet weather, shivering in the rain that was steadily falling. Before I knew it, we were running. I had no watch, no headphones, no distractions. It was just me, my thoughts and the rain.

Related: How To Handle A Rainy Race Situation

I climbed and descended the rolling hills. Water stops came and went; I didn’t stop or drink anything for the entire 13.1 miles. I was convinced that if I slowed to walk or stop, I would never start running again. (Side note: This is not a good race plan.)

A couple of miles away from the finish line, my lack of training started to catch up with me. After all, a little over a week before the race, I had never run more than 7 miles. It was so difficult and so long. I remember thinking, How do people possibly do this twice? Why would anyone ever run a marathon?

To this day, I have never been more proud or excited than I was the moment I crossed that finish line. Tears welled up in my eyes as I lifted my arms over my head. I heard my friend cheering wildly for me out there in the rain. “You did so great!” she exclaimed as I hobbled toward her. “Thanks,” I said. “Never again!”

A week later, I signed up for my first marathon. I thought, What’s 13.1 more miles? The rest, as they say, is history.

Danielle Cemprola lives in South Carolina with her husband and Rottweiler. When she’s not running, Danielle blogs at trexrunner.com.

Related: A Love Letter To Running