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I've been running since 1978. I have had relationships start and end, friends and family get sick and die, but running is what has sustained me at the lowest and highest points of my life.

My first race was a 10 kilometer. I'm still at it, although I do fewer races at shorter mileages now. When I started running I was 24, now I'm 47. Almost half my life I have been running. Now I run with bumps, bruises, cranky joints and aching feet.

I still dream of running another marathon. I have completed 14, attempted 15, but had to drop out of one when I broke my leg. I suffered a stress fracture to my femur and ended up not running for six months, and I was in pain for at least another six months. I've had shin splints, planter fasciitis, hip tendinitis, pain and sorrow. Running has been the only thing constant in my life since 24.

I've slowed considerably, but I realize I am carrying more baggage. Not just in poundage, but mental baggage. I have my grandmother, who never knew a lick about sporting events, but could tell you how long a marathon was, and frequently bragged to her friends that her granddaughter ran them, all 26.2 miles.

I carry Andy, the young man in whose honor I ran for the Team in Training. He passed away a few years after that. I carry the memory of this sweet young man, who just learned of life. He had his first plane ride when he came to Washington, D.C., to watch the team run the marathon. I bought him a baseball hat -- he was so excited by the whole trip. I carry him as I run, and think of the life cut too short.

I carry my mother, she had polio after I was born. Spent 42 years of her life in a wheelchair. She was my next big supporter after my grandmother. My mom passed away almost five years ago. I still hear her cheering me on when I am running. I wear the medallion she gave me after my first marathon. It is my touchstone during the races.

The memories keep me putting one foot in front of the other. I have my dad now, too. He has Alzheimer's, and is living in an assisted living facility. He would run the last mile of my marathons with me when he and mom came to watch.

I run with all the people who have touched my life and are now gone. People who benefit from the charity runs I have completed, people I have never met, but still touch my heart. I keep running because I know there are others who can't, and dream of it. I keep running because it keeps my bear at bay, the dark depression that sometimes overwhelms my life. Running keeps me one step ahead of the black abyss.

I run because I hear all the echoes of those who have gone before, and keep searching for them behind a tree or around the next corner. I keep running because, however slow, I still can.

PAMELA L. BOUQUIN lives in Cheektowaga.
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