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Graduation Day

You’ve been preparing months for race day. Fighting the cold and darkness of winter. Trying to stay motivated and enduring the cruel conditions is as challenging as the running itself. Finally, one last test is in front of you – graduation day.

There will be no more long runs, hard speed work or hill repeats. Your training has reached its pinnacle. From here until race day, it’s taper and maintain. There will be no more tests to pass.

After many weekend long runs of 14, 16, and 18 miles, this one is the most anticipated. The 20 miler that puts you over the top and gives you the confidence that you are prepared for a marathon.

Capping off months of training for many runners in St. Louis means one thing – a run to the Gateway Arch.

Most runners make the journey by starting in St. Louis’ Forest Park, one of the largest urban parks in the country. Some run a lap around the park’s 6-mile perimeter before heading east towards the Arch. Others venture to the nearby town of Clayton, located on the western outskirts of St. Louis, making a 6-mile loop.

The 14 mile out and back journey takes you through St. Louis’ Central West End, Midtown and Downtown neighborhoods. Each one unique in it’s own way – the Central West End’s mix of restaurants, clubs, high-rise apartments and medical centers; Midtown’s arts and theater district and Saint Louis University’s scenic urban campus; Downtown’s financial and entertainment districts. Every two to three miles you pass through a different neighborhood, getting a different feel and perspective of the city.

The quiet, tranquil neighborhoods of the Central West End and Midtown along West Pine Street eventually are left behind. Emerging from SLU’s tranquil campus, the reality of the city sets in. The sights and sounds of downtown awaken your senses. People and traffic crowd the streets.

As you reach the top of Market Street, the Arch looms in the distance – slowly getting closer with each step you take.

With over twelve miles behind you, the Arch grounds welcome you – an oasis of ponds, trees and wide-open green space among the concrete and pavement of the city.

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Members of STL Runners Meetup Group run the Grand Stairs at the Gateway Arch. Photo: Tony Leong

The pure magnitude of the silver stainless steel Arch overhead is striking. Tourists and visitors snap photos and stroll along the grounds, stopping to gaze up at the Arch and as Mississippi River flows by to the east.

The Arch grounds are great place to stop, recharge for a few moments and enjoy the breathtaking views around you.

Then it’s back to the task at hand. With about 7 miles to go, you head back to Forest Park. With each step you come closer and closer to finishing the high point of your training season.

With downtown and the Arch behind you, your sights are set on reaching the high-rise buildings of the Central West End on the western horizon. By reaching them you know, it’s a few more miles and your journey is complete.

Nearing the twenty-mile mark, you reach Forest Park. The runners’ “rite of passage” is complete. Months of training, hundreds of miles, and many hours of training are behind you.

You have put in the work. You’ve completed the final hurdle in preparing for the big race. Now you are confident in your ability to succeed on race day. Today marks the day you graduate from training to race mode.

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