The D&L Blog

Delaware & Lehigh - Mile 22

Mile 22

Written by Natasha Orzel

This past November, I ran my first marathon, the St. Luke’s D&L RaceFest Marathon.

The idea originated when some friends of mine and I decided to run the relay. We planned for me to start at the beginning, “pass the baton” to the next person, and then continue running the full marathon “unofficially.” I had never committed to nor taken running seriously before last year, and I wanted to see if I could do it. My interest in running a marathon was piqued after watching a video about the Boston Marathon and discovering the requirements to qualify. You can’t just sign up. That thought sat in my brain for a little while until a registration email came across for the St. Luke’s D&L Marathon. Alright, challenge accepted. How hard was it to run 26.2 miles?

In early May 2023, I printed out a “couch to marathon” handbook and made my plan. I started with zero experience with distance running or the nutrition protocols required for effective training, but through extensive research and interacting with experienced runners, I learned what I needed to be successful. I explored a lot of the D&L Trail as I practiced running further and further. Gradually, I worked up into running longer until I ran 10 miles for the first time in my life. And then 18 miles. I had all the confidence in the world and training was going great through the summer of 2023. Then I fell ill with COVID.

Reluctantly, I took a few weeks off from running. I never got to run past 18 miles in my training for the big race, but I forged ahead with the plan. Again I asked myself, “How hard could it be?” 18 miles seemed like a good place to stop my long training runs. Going in with no experience, I had no idea what to expect from start to finish. The nerves from just waiting to line up at the PPL Center were almost unbearable- I had never ran an official race. Not even a 5k. When the conch shell was blown and the fastest runners took off, so did my heart.

We ran through center city Allentown, through the Lehigh Valley Parkway, across bridges, under bridges, and eventually ended up on the D&L Trail. I was so familiar with this trail because that’s all I ran leading up to this day. But what I wasn’t prepared for was how much further I needed to run once I got there.

By the time we reached the trail, there were still about 16 miles to go. I had my hurdles, but I was managing.

My team that was running the relay version of this race had just finished and I was just finishing mile 20. I was feeling confident and emotional. As I crept up on mile 22, the world slowed. It was at that point, right there, that I wanted to quit. My body hurt, my head told me to stop, I was out of fuel. I remember messaging my team telling them I want to quit, I couldn’t run any further. I started walking, wondering if I should ask the crew to wheel me back in their golf cart. None of the running articles or blogs I read warned me about mile 22. It was a brick wall that you can’t spot right in front of you until you run into it. I questioned everything and I was ready to throw in the towel.

Picture provided by Natasha Orzel.

I came up to the water station by the boat launch and asked “am I the caboose?” The gentleman volunteering handing me some Gatorade and said “it doesn’t matter, you’re here.” Teary eyed, I checked my watch for any messages and I was bombarded with “you go girl,” “you’re so close,” “don’t quit, the finish line is worth it.”

I thought to myself, I didn’t come this far to quit. Somewhere deep inside me, probably in my toes, something started pushing me. I started thinking to myself, I’m about to accomplish something great. I am on the most beautiful trail with peaking foliage, I have fresh air in my lungs, I’m so close to the finish, and I am proud. Let’s do this!

I started running, pushing, and broke past the feeling of defeat. When I got to the river, I heard my friends before I spotted the finish line. There was music blasting and the emcee was announcing my approach. As I rounded the corner onto Larry Holmes Drive, my team ran up to me, and helped me finish out the marathon. The tears of relief and joy came pouring out as I received not one medal, but two. The race director was kind enough to give me a medal for finishing the relay, and one for finishing the marathon.

I am still so proud of what I accomplished, and I’m thankful for my team. I am grateful for mile 22. 

Mile 22 was a pivotal moment of breaking free from what I thought I could do and what I can do. It proved that we hold ourselves back, but if you believe, it’s all possible.

I’ll see you again in November, Racefest.