A/N: Man oh man, I know this was a really long time to wait for such a dumb little short chapter. Thanks for sticking it out with me and I hope you like it...I have never run a marathon or anything even close, but I researched this the best I could, as I do with most of my other stories. Let me know if you notice anything grossly inaccurate and hopefully, I'll be able to update better and more often from now on.


CHAPTER TWELVE

There's a blur as all the racers move forward at once, a few even stumbling as they literally trip over each other. I take a few deep breaths and try and establish my pace, ignoring people ahead of me and passing me every second. I'll catch up to them in the end. It takes a little bit, maybe about a hundred yards or so, but I eventually settle into my groove, the comfortable running rhythm I've been practicing for the last six months. Most of the other people are finding their speeds too, which is nice because it was awfully crowded before.

The first few miles are pretty easy - I've run this distance before on most of my practice runs and my body's used to it. It's also less like running in a huge crowd as the runners gradually thin out. I pass a whole bunch of people, though not Jared. I try not to think about that.

It's around mile ten or eleven that the honeymoon ends. I'm hot and sweating like a pig, the back of my tank top completely soaked. I've been downing a couple of glasses of water at the hydration stations they have every mile, but my mouth still feels dry. I'm still doing okay though...some of the people I've passed have been gasping and wheezing, looking like they're about to fall over. I adjust my speed a little and try to breathe through my nose, not my mouth.

It takes me what feels like forever to get to the thirteen mile marker and only about five minutes after a drink a cup of water, my mouth already feels like a cat litter box. My tongue is sticking to the roof of my mouth and every breath I take tastes disgusting. Still, I power through, keeping up my pace and humming a tune in my head that has a beat I can jog to.

Melissa's waiting for me at the halfway point - along with a bunch of other people, but she's the only one I really see. I muster a smile and slow to a walk, feet thudding awkwardly as they try to fight their momentum. There are bananas and granola bars on a table next to the cups of water and I grab one of everything, trying to eat without breathing too hard and spraying it everywhere.

"You're doing great." Melissa kisses me on my sweaty forehead and Tanya winds around her legs to lick my knee.

"Yeah, almost everyone else is a mile or two back." I turn my head a little and see Rock. I honestly had no idea he was here. Maybe I'm just not used to the new haircut yet or something.

"Thanks," I mutter through a mouthful of banana. I don't want to eat too fast, but at least three people have already passed us and I'm starting to get anxious.

"Remember, just keep your pace and don't forget…" Rock launches into a lecture that's drowned out by me not caring. I just nod in between bites.

Melissa gives me a hug and kisses my neck, giggling. "You're really gross."

"Tell me about it," I swallow and give her a little squeeze back. "See you later."

I shove the banana peel into Rock's hands (he's still talking) and jog back to the road. It takes me a couple of minutes to get back in the groove, but it's a little easier now. At least I got some of my breath back.

But it doesn't last long. I'm barely past the next two mile markers when I start huffing and puffing again. My heart is pulsing so hard, I can feel it in my face, which also feels hot as anything. Even though I really don't want to, I decide to fast-walk until my head doesn't feel like it's about to explode. That takes nearly another whole mile, so that brings me up to...what, sixteen or seventeen? I sigh and start running again.

Soon enough though, I hit that runner's high, where all the endorphins in my brain decide to trick me into feeling great and not tired at all. It's fantastic, actually. I pass like four or five people just by keeping my pace. Even my legs don't hurt anymore - the only pain I can feel is a good sort of pain.

This is the only part of the marathon I've really enjoyed so far. Unlike the beginning, I'm not nervous or freaking out, and I'm enjoying the running so much that I actually get a chance to get a look at the scenery, which is pretty nice. I don't come to this county that often...there are a lot of fruit trees.

I get about three and a half, maybe four coasting on that, adjusting my speed when it feels right to go slower or faster. But at what I think is the twenty-first mile marker or something, all the adrenaline begins to fade. My legs start to get all shaky, I start breathing hard again and my clothing is so weighed down by sweat that it starts getting really uncomfortable...I mean, like my socks are rubbing against my feet and my underwear is riding up my butt and it sucks. I don't wanna slow down though, because I'm practically in the home stretch! And honestly, I'm not sure I could start running again if I walk.

So I plod along the best I can, mostly staring down at the ground because honestly, even holding my head up feels beyond me right now. My breathing is more like gasping at this point and -

Jared.

I don't know when I caught up to him or when he caught up to me or how long we've been running side-by-side like this, but there he is. Running at the exact same speed as me, clearly struggling a little bit too...his long hair is limp, soaked with sweat and I can hear him huffing and puffing from over here.

He looks up too and we lock eyes. He flashes me the quickest of smirks, one that only lasts a split second before he gasps for air and looks down again.

I look away too, gritting my teeth and trying not to speed up or slow down. To be honest, I'm a little surprised he's at the same point as me, I always figured he was more of a sprinter than an endurance runner. But it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter. I can't let him get to me, I can't let him get to me…

I get a little farther chanting that mantra, and when I look up again, he's gone. I'm not sure what mile I'm on - I'm not near any mile markers and I honestly can't remember the last one I passed. My legs are practically numb so I force myself to slow down just a little bit and take it at a light jog until I feel a little better. There's no one in sight, but I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing.

I stop for a second at the next hydration station, sipping water slowly even as I get antsy to get going...drinking too fast would be really uncomfortable. While I sip, I glance around for a mile marker, but I still don't see one. Which could be a blessing, I guess. I crumple my cup, throw in the vague direction of a trash can and keep going. By now, my legs aren't sore, just kinda rubbery. They feel weird when I run, but it could be worse.

The sun's moved a little so it's no longer right overhead - which is good, but it also makes me wonder how much time has passed. I can run a mile in about 5:45, so...let's see, accounting for all the jogging and walking and the drink breaks, the whole marathon would probably take me…

I'm interrupted in my mental calculations (most of which are probable completely bogus anyway) by the twenty fourth mile marker. A little thrill of excitement goes through me, made even better when a someone shouts from the sidewalk, "You're almost there!"

I laugh and lift an incredibly heavy arm to give a wave to my unknown cheerleader. I also speed up, just a little, because now I KNOW I can do this. Two miles? Two miles is nothing, I can do this!

There is a definite blister on my left heel now and one that's forming very painfully on the edge of my right pinky toe, so even though I'm running faster, I'm also limping just a tiny bit. Despite that, I actually still pass a few people and, since I can't see anyone in front of me, I speed up just a little more out of excitement. I can so do this!

So, as a result of all this speeding up, by the time I get within sight of the finish line, I am practically swimming in my own sweat and gasping for breath so hard it hurts. And then, of course, like an idiot, as soon as I see the finish line, I start sprinting. Pretty much the number one thing not to do in a marathon and I start doing it, just in the hopes that I can finish two seconds before somebody. Sprinting slightly crookedly on my rubbery legs and blistered feet with no one in sight ahead of me and my heart rising in my chest as I get closer and closer…

Fifty feet…

Twenty feet...

Ten feet…

Five feet..