Success arrives after year long goal

I could barely sleep the night before -- my mind was racing. I had built up the coming day for nearly a year, a goal I'd envisioned in August 2000, and later cemented as a 2001 New Year's resolution with three friends as witnesses.

When I finally did fall asleep my dreams were of cheering family and friends and the absolute joy I felt once I reached my goal. When I awoke the following day I was filled with energy and ready to put my best foot forward, which I did.

It took 4 hours and 23 minutes -- but I did it! And I didn't walk

once! I've successfully completed my first marathon!

All of you were there at the finish line cheering me on, at least in my head. Thanks.

I'd trained for 16 weeks with Nov. 4 being the set date of my

marathon. I'd begun training for a marathon once before that was supposed to be held in April-- but the Moroccan Ministry of Sports is not the most dependable, and I ended up just running a half marathon.

The Ministry failed again in holding up its promise of hosting a full length marathon in Fes on Nov. 4 but I was determined to run a marathon -- so I did. The catch is that I did it all alone.

My marathon in Tiznit, Morocco, North Africa, started just 30 minutes before the 30,000 marathoners in New York City started theirs. I had mapped out the course with my neighbor's help (and car) so that I'd run exactly 26.2 miles. With a snap of a quick photo and a wave goodbye to my neighbors my race started at 2 p.m. I was the only runner on the course, but I wasn't alone.

Habiba, my closest Moroccan friend, was with me on a bike with a basket full of water and snacks, and plenty of energy stored up to cheer me on. We turned on the radio and sang the whole way -- well she did, I opted to save my energy for the marathon I was running.

As my good luck had it, the desert sand storm which had been making good progress of blowing Tiznit away the whole week slowed to a gentle breeze for the day of my marathon.

I ran west across the 10 miles of desert between Tiznit and the waving blue Atlantic ocean. I reached the ocean, waved hello and smiled, did a quick loop, and headed back into the desert. I was almost halfway done. Habiba was still filled with giggles and plenty of encouragement -- "Rebecca est tres sportif! Bravo!"

At the 14-mile mark there was a quick hand-off of the bike to my friend Saod -- he had the water carrying responsibilities for the next 7 miles. Habiba rested her tired legs with Saod's wife and nibbled on some snacks while I was off running miles 14 through 20. Saod long ago had also been a marathoner. He had placed eighth in the Marathon of the Sahara -- a five-day marathon that takes the runners across the real desert.

The route rolled along through a small village where children stopped their play and stared as I ran past. They didn't know what to think of the blond stranger that was running through their desert village of mud houses. I passed some women carrying the firewood for the stove on top of their heads and offered them a word of peace -- "Sallaam Alikoum." They smiled and blessed my good health -- "Bishal." Finally I was back to Habiba with only 6 miles to go.

I'd already run 20 miles, and I felt great! Of course, I'd read that the last 6 miles were supposedly the last half of the race, so I was prepared to fight off the negative feelings and the aches that were certain to hit soon.

Just as I started to weaken, my cell phone rang. Habiba reached into the sack she was carrying, pushed the talk button and handed the phone over to me as I kept running. My mom, dad and little brother David were on the line -- they'd called to cheer me on! What timing they had!

My mom told me to keep going, my dad said he was huffing and puffing along with me, and David asked if I was tired yet. What a boost their cheers gave me. They wished me luck, and told me they'd call again sometime after I was suppose to be finished.

Only four more miles to go, and I was tired. Habiba just kept repeating in a rhythm that matched the pounding of my shoes against the street -- "finish, finish, finish." She made me lift my tired head and look how close Tiznit was at that point. She cheered and cheered, and I just kept saying in my head, "Finish, finish, finish." I knew I would finish, but it made me feel so much stronger to say it.

We entered Tiznit, rounded the corner, passed the mosque, and glided onto the dirt road that leads straight to my house. I was there! I had run 26 point something miles, and I just had a few more meters to go. I wiped away my aches and sprinted across the finish line.

Habiba's cheers brought my neighbors out of their homes, and they ran out to cheer me on, and congratulate me! They snapped some photos, offered me water, and almost lifted me off my tired feet in their assistance to get me inside my house. I was elated! I did it!

Last night at this same time I had just run across the finish line. Today I've felt great. My legs are a bit sore -- stairs are not my friend today, but otherwise I feel wonderful.

I have run more than 600 miles since August 2000, and now I've finally reached my goal! All the training was worth it -- I can now call myself a marathoner. Two of my 2001 New Year's resolutions I have checked off. One: I ran a marathon. Two: I've become a more positive person. I feel like I can reach the stars if I wanted to touch them, so I think that qualifies as a positive attitude.

Now what?

Well, I'm going to run another marathon. But not this year. Next year when I'm back in the USA I'd like to run my second marathon, hopefully with thousands of other runners at my side. Would any of you like to join me?

Other news from the desert of North Africa:

The king came to visit last week. King Mohammed VI of Morocco arrived into Tiznit with a full caravan of guards, police, military, doctors, journalists, royalty, staffers, etc ... I'm sure he planned his visit both to wish me a happy 25th birthday, which was October 27, and to offer his encouragement for my up and coming marathon.

Hummm, well maybe not. ... But his visit was fun anyhow.

My whole little desert town was decked out for the event. We dressed in our best and left our homes early in the morning to secure a good place to see his majesty as he passed by.

As we waited a dust storm swept in covering each and every one of us with a layer of soot. Our colorful kaftans, the brightness of the hundreds of red Moroccan flags draping the buildings, and the crispness of the newly painted store fronts were all masked by the dirt and sand that certainly blew into town all the way from the Sahara.

But the King did arrive -- waving from the sunroof of his Lexus limousine, with a Saharan style turban wrapped around his head and across his mouth to protect him from the bitter sand. The town people were happy despite their dirty faces, clothes, and shoes to see The King.

The King left, but the sand didn't. All week long the sand has blown and blown through the streets. We've all been forced to stay in our homes, since the grains of sand beating down on the town is too much to face for a stroll to the bakery. But as I already mentioned the storm was swept away just in time for my marathon.

I'm not sure of the king's intentions with making a tour of Morocco at this point in time, but it certainly has provided a distraction for Moroccans from world events.

As each town has awaited for his arrival, they've turned off their televisions, stopped talking about the war in Afghanistan, and focused on all the preparation being made for the visit.

All remains very calm in Morocco, with very few demonstrations or strong voice of anti-Americanism. But we're still on alert here, ready just in case tensions flare up.

This week I'll be getting back to work at the orphanage -- I miss my little play group. Twice a week I organize an activity with the children -- I believe it's the highlight of both theirs and my week.

Much love, peace and happiness to all of you.

Editor's note: Carson City resident Rebecca Goldenberg is serving in the Peace Corps in Tiznit, Morocco for two years.


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