Richmond, Va. -- The man who won the 2015 Anthem Richmond Marathon finished the 26-mile race in two hours and 18 minutes. The fastest woman crossed the finish line near Brown's Island in two hours and 42 minutes. The marathon officially ended seven hours after the last runners took from the starting line at from Grace Street at 5th Streets. But for Nikkia Young, her race was an eight hour and six minute journey that pushed her to the edge of her mental and physical limit.
While she did not officially finish the race (one must complete the race in seven hours to "officially" finish), Young said she accomplished her goal by crossing the finish line.
"You know you want to finish, but then when other people are so excited to see your success, that's really what the Richmond running community is all about," Young said. "I could not let them down. I knew I could not let myself down."
Young, 24, decided over the summer to run the Richmond Marathon after she had fun running both the Monument Avenue 10k and the half marathon last year.
"It's kind of like a gradual progression of nuts," she said describing her interest in running. "When I moved here I wanted to focus on my fitness. I had just graduated college. I had gotten a new job and I finally had all this free time that I never had before."
While she felt she properly trained for the Richmond Marathon, she admitted the experience was much different than the other races she completed.
"It's a whole different animal," she said about the 26-mile course.
The morning of the race was one she described as being filled with anxiety and excitement.
"Am I going to keep going when it gets horrible?" she recalled asking herself as the start of the race approached.
When the race started, Young said she kept her slow and steady pace, making sure to hit the cutoff times to avoid being left behind.
Around Mile 15, Young said she made it to the Lee Bridge where the wind "knocked the life out" of her. By the time she hit Mile 18, she knew she had to pick up her pace to hit the Mile 20 cutoff. She said that is when she closed her eyes and ran blind, pushed herself and relied on her friends for support.
"I worked too hard to get there and there were a lot of people rooting for me," she said.
As she approached the finish line, "it got pretty interesting," she said. She said she was having trouble breathing and congestion set in. A friend, waiting for her at the finish line, ran up to encourage her to the end. "You gotta finish this thing," he said.
"At this point, I knew that everything had been shutdown, the course had been shutdown," Young said. "Mind you, there are people behind me still, but you still had to finish."
Even though the big crowds had long gone home, Young saw her friends and running teammates, some of whom finished three hours earlier, waiting for her at the bottom of the hill.
"When I saw it... I picked up the pace and jaunted down the hill," she said. "It's the most exciting. I'm coming down the hill and there's a solid 20 people waiting for me to finish."
She called crossing the finishing line an emotional experience.
"Everyone is in tears. We're all just a mess. It's the end of something great," she said.
While it may have marked the end of that race milestone, Young is not done running. She is signed up to run a 5k and half marathon this weekend and the Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach in March.
She hopes her story can inspire others who are on the fence about running.
"I think a lot of people need someone to look to who is like them. A lot of people think these running superheros, they think 'I've got to be skinny, I've got to be the fastest, I have to be the best.' But you have to be the best for you," she said. "There's not really such a thing as a typical runner. There's all shapes and sizes. It's more so about your heart and what you want to do and how hard you want to push, rather than what you look like."
With the help of Richmond's running community, Young believes she has found a supportive home, away from home.
"That's the best part about running in Richmond. There's a whole diverse group of people. Some people walk, some people run. But as long as you're moving forward, it really doesn't matter. Just keep moving forward until you're finished," Young said.