By Stacy De Cuir, 18, Del Rey Continuation School
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Stacy (center) posed with her two running partners in a hotel lobby before the big race.

It all began when my history teacher, Mr. Broitman, brought in a flyer about Students Run L.A. and asked me to make a sign about it to hang around school. I learned that through this program, I could run the L.A. Marathon, get free shoes and clothing and a $500 scholarship! I decided that this would be a good way for me to lose weight and get the P.E. credits that I needed.

When I told my friends I was going to run a 26-mile race, they were shocked. I’m known as the ultimate lazy person. My idea of exercise was to download songs onto my computer. The only thing I did you might call a sport was to play the bass drum in marching band.

But as September went by, I was running a mile to two miles a day. Pretty soon, I went to my first race for Students Run L.A. It was five kilometers (5K)—about three miles. That seemed like a huge distance. But my teacher encouraged me and said, "I know you can do this." Mr. Broitman the history teacher had become Eddie, my coach and mentor.

As the months went by we added more and more miles. Eddie pushed me to do things I would have never thought possible, like running seven miles in an hour and a half. I would whine and whine and he would tell me I had to do it. He’d say, "You can’t quit now, you’ve been working at this too long." I’d say, "Damn it, OK, I’ll do it."

By December, three months into my training, I was running five to seven miles a day. As it got closer to the marathon date, we ran longer distances to build up stamina and muscle. We ran 10K, 15K and 30K. I wanted to quit so bad. My knees hurt. I had to wrap them before every run. But if I quit I would have let a lot of people down, like my mom who took me to all my races, bought me special running shoes and cheered me on. Every time I was tired and wanted to stop running, Eddie would tell me, "Only one more lap."

I just couldn’t quit

In the week before the marathon I started to get nervous, excited and terrified. The more I thought about running 26 miles, the more I wanted to quit. But I just couldn’t give up. My principal, Ms. Cassyd, wanted to see me cross the finish line because I was the only kid from our school running the marathon. But most of all, I would have let myself down—all the running I had done and all the time I put in would have been for nothing.

When I thought about my training, I felt ready. Back in September, it had taken me 45 minutes to run three miles. I had improved my speed to run three miles in 30 minutes. Plus, my mom found some special knee braces to help me through the race.

The morning of the marathon I was so nervous I could hardly eat breakfast. My friend and my boyfriend told me I would do fine. My mom encouraged me with her warm smile and big hug. When we got to the Wilshire Grand Hotel and I saw the thousands of runners, my stomach started turning. I looked at them and wondered, have I trained enough? Can I really do this? Are my knees going to hold up? I was so scared!

The Students Run L.A. kids were sent into a ballroom for our group picture and to get our tracking tags. Then we lined up at the starting line with all the runners. I launched into my stretching routine. Then I did what any typical Los Angeles person would do before running a 26.2-mile race. I checked my cell phone to make sure it was on. To my delight, half the other runners were doing the same thing.

I inspected my fanny pack to make sure I had all the necessary gear: an mp3 player (just in case I got bored), five Goo packets (for energy boosts), two small tubes of sunscreen, my contact lens case (hey, a girl’s got to look her best), $20 in cash (if I decided to stop and dine at a restaurant), and of course, my cell phone. News helicopters buzzed over us at the starting line, and everyone waved and cheered. The marathon, scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m., was now an hour behind. A bunch of Los Angeles dignitaries who I didn’t know or care about decided that we had to listen to their dumb speeches before we could begin.

I set off rather fast, keeping up with my coach for the first two and a half miles. At mile four I met up with a pace group called the L.A. Leggers. I ran with them until mile six and decided that they were running too fast. I slowed down and ran on my own.

Stacy's mom was one of her most loyal fans.

I noticed Franky, a leader of a pace group that I had run well with before. His group was running for one minute and walking for three minutes. This made things a lot easier. We started to lose people at mile nine. A woman quit because of knee problems, and another because of exhaustion. At mile 10 my knees twinged but I didn’t stop. We lost another person at mile 12 and at that point I thought I was going to stop too. Instead, at the next water station I took some painkillers and was off again. My mom and friends called me about every 15 or 30 minutes to see where I was and to help me get my mind off the pain.

I passed my "fan group" at the halfway mark and they handed me a sandwich. I didn’t have much time to talk or I would lose my pace group so I took the sandwich and ate when I had a chance. (It was the lousiest sandwich I had ever had!) At this point my knees were really hurting. I couldn’t listen to music or I wouldn’t hear my leader tell us when to run and when to stop. Besides, most of the music I had heard too many times before.

‘I’m dying!’

At mile 18 there was a pain relief station where I had some pain-killing spray put on my knees. It helped a little. When my mom called at mile 20, I said, "I’m dying out here."

At mile 24 I couldn’t run anymore. I was one of only four people left in my group. I walked until a half a mile away from the finish line. At that point my legs wobbled with every step I took. I thought my knees were going to give out. After I rounded the second turn from the finish line I knew I didn’t have far to go. My group was now down to two people—me and a woman named Paula. When I saw the yellow finish line arch, I got really excited and started sprinting. I crossed the finish line in seven hours and three minutes.

I felt victorious until I was told I had to walk back to the hotel that I started at—half a mile uphill. This made me so mad. I was hurting so bad I wanted to cut my legs off. When I got to the hotel, I followed the lead of the other kids in the Students Run L.A. program. I staked out an area on the carpeted floor, laid down and crashed. I was in a bad mood for the rest of the night. I couldn’t take a hot shower for a week because the backs of my legs were so sunburned. I stayed home from school for two days and did a whole lot of nothing because I could hardly move. My boyfriend came over almost every day that week and gave me little massages. They felt so good!

Looking back on it, the marathon was not fun. I didn’t particularly like it, but it showed me that I can do things I never thought possible, if I work at it. I just built up little by little. It was really hard, but I’m proud of myself for finishing it.