Months of determination and days of stomach-knotted nerves take time to come undone. When I crossed the start line Saturday, the emotions were welling up inside of me. Just the sight of my Dad’s proud smile, all the way across a corral full of people, was enough to put tears in my eyes. There was so much anticipation, so much build-up, so much shock and pride and hope at what was to come that I feared I wouldn’t have the focus to take on the task at hand. I had to mentally separate myself from the emotion of the marathon in order to take on the physical part of it.

It probably seems silly, feeling that emotional about a race. But for me, it wasn’t just a race but the culmination of a goal 15 years in the making, from when I took the first steps away from being someone who feared running and started to make my way into someone who found refuge in it. Sometime around age 17 I wrote a list of life goals in my journal and hesitated to include the marathon, because I didn’t think it was attainable. I wrote it down anyway, and kept it in the back of my mind in the subsequent decade as I abandoned and returned to running time and time again.

The beginnings of resolve finally crept into my head this fall, with twinges and pangs that said the time is now. I still didn’t trust that I could do it, but I printed out the training program anyway and left it on my desk at work. I told Scott and he, mercifully, was game for the challenge. A few weeks later, and another friend had signed up for the ride. Now there were people to answer to. We had found ourselves a team.

For four and a half months, there were early mornings and late evenings and Saturdays spent with our soles on the road. There was chafing and foam rolling and begrudging rain checks for Friday happy hours. But mostly, there was a camaraderie on our team that made it all seem doable. When it comes down to it, meeting any goal is as simple as breaking that goal down into steps, and then making a decision each day to take the steps to get you there. While it certainly isn’t always easy to take those steps, it’s a lot easier—and even fun—when others are taking them with you. When I was scared for a long run I’d think of it as a long outside catch-up with friends, and then it didn’t seem so scary.

18 weeks go by fast. Suddenly I was standing in my corral line and my parents were there with signs and omigosh, it was really happening. The 13-year-old girl who was among the slowest at field hockey tryouts was about to run a marathon. It took me until mile 4 or 5 to calm down my emotions and get into a rhythm that, along with the hearty spectators and our awesome support team, carried me until mile 25. Then I realized I was really going to make it. Pride swelled, tears came and I started to lose my breath. I was by myself at that point and just wanted to let those emotions go, but I knew I had to keep them in check if I wanted to maintain my pace. I took deep breaths and calmed those emotions again. I forced everything back and crossed the finish line.

Three days later, those emotions are starting to resurface. But now instead of pushing them away I’m sitting with them, reveling them, and enjoying the thrill of accomplishing a lifelong goal.