Jacklyn Cawiezel of Gering remembers vividly the first time she signed up to run a full marathon.

It was about 15 years ago, when she was 22 and living in Delaware. One of her friends invited her to go to an informational meeting about the Mayor’s Midnight Sun Marathon and Half Marathon in Alaska, an event in which proceeds benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

“They were recruiting runners to participate in it, and by the time the meeting was over, I had signed up to run in a full marathon,” Cawiezel said.

Just one little problem, though. Cawiezel didn’t know much about the sport of running, so she really didn’t know what she was getting herself into.

“At that time, I’m pretty certain that I didn’t even know how long a marathon was,” she said, laughing. “I was really ill-prepared to do that. I wasn’t a runner at the time, so I didn’t know what I was doing.”

Cawiezel, however, wasn’t afraid to give the marathon a try, especially since it was for a good cause and also because it was in Anchorage, Alaska. The marathon, which takes place every year in June, takes the thousands of runners and walkers along the coastal trails of Anchorage along the Cook Inlet. According to the event’s website, the marathon is timed to coincide with the summer solstice, when the longest day of the year brings a full day of sunlight over this subarctic region.

“It rained all day on us, but it was beautiful there,” Cawiezel said. “We were running through the woods and up and down mountains. It was amazing.”

But as far as the actual running part, well, Cawiezel said she struggled to complete the 26.2-mile marathon. In fact, she almost didn’t finish the race.

“It was painful and terrible,” she said. “It really was a tough experience. I had big blisters on my feet. Running in wet shoes and wet socks for 26 miles was very painful.”

Making matters worse that day for Cawiezel was that she had been suffering from knee pain stemming from her training to prepare for the marathon.

“I was not a smart runner at the time, and I had an injury on my IT band, which is a common runner’s injury,” she said. “Instead of taking time off and figuring out how to get over that, I just kept running on it. So during the marathon, at about mile 17, I thought, ‘I’m not sure I’m going to make it to the end of this.’ But somehow I did. It wasn’t pretty.”

Afterward, Cawiezel declared that she would never participate in another full marathon.

“I just thought, ‘OK, I’ve checked that one off my bucket list, so now I’m done with it,’” she said.

But while Cawiezel’s first marathon was a painful experience for her, her running career didn’t stop there. A few years later, she decided to get back into running, mostly as a way to stay in shape. She liked how running made her feel both physically and mentally.

It wasn’t too long after she started getting into the habit of waking up early in the mornings to go for a run that she developed an itch to try another marathon – not a full marathon, but a half marathon (13.1 miles).

“I started thinking, ‘Well, a half marathon isn’t as painful as a full marathon,’” she said. “So, I started doing half marathons on and off. I would say in the last four or five years, I’ve become more serious and more consistent in my running.”

Cawiezel, who’s been a psychology instructor at Western Nebraska Community College for the last five years, has competed in a number of half marathons over the years, including participating in the Platte Valley Companies Monument Half Marathon the last three years.

“It’s definitely my favorite race for a lot of reasons,” she said. “It’s nice because I get to sleep at home both the night before the race and the night of the race day, which is awesome. Plus, it’s a really beautiful course, and the volunteers are great. It’s a great atmosphere, and it’s always well organized.”

Another reason the Monument Marathon gets her so excited is that it benefits students at WNCC.

“It’s a fundraiser for students that I get to teach at the college, so that’s fantastic,” she said. “Not only is it a fun event, but it’s also for such a great purpose.”

Although Cawiezel has competed in the Monument Marathon each of the last three years, this year will be the first time that she runs in the full marathon. Yes, the full marathon, something she hasn’t done since her painful experience in the full marathon in Alaska nearly 15 years ago.

“After that first one, it was so painful that I really did kind of swear off running that distance ever again,” she said. “But in the last couple years, I’ve been thinking, ‘Maybe someday I’ll do a full marathon again.’ Runners always do this – they always sort of compete with themselves in their mind. So, this summer I ran in the Deadwood Mickelson Trail Half Marathon, and I told myself that if I came in under two hours, which is a big half marathon goal for a lot of runners, I’ll sign up for the full marathon for the Monument Marathon. I barely made it under that two-hour mark at Deadwood in June, so I decided to sign up for the full marathon.”

Cawiezel isn’t worried about how she’ll perform in the seventh annual Monument Marathon, which is Saturday in Gering/Scottsbluff. The event features full marathon, half marathon and 5K courses. More information about the event can be found at monumentmarathon.com.

Cawiezel said she’s much more prepared to run in this week’s full marathon than she was for her first full marathon in Alaska.

“It’s kind of funny that I’m almost 37 now, and I’m a way better runner now than I was in my early 20s,” she said. “That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. But I think I’m a lot smarter about running now. I understand a little more about the dedication that it takes to train and all of the things outside of running that you have to do, including nutrition and strength training.”

While Cawiezel has been running regularly each week, she increased her training after the Deadwood Half Marathon in order to get prepared to run in this week’s full marathon. Starting in June, she gradually increased the number of miles she ran each week, and there was one day each week that she called her “really long run.” Back in June, her really long run was 8 miles, and she increased her really long run one or two miles each week. A couple weeks ago she went on her longest run of the year – 21 miles.

She’s cut down on her mileage the last couple weeks in order to give her body a chance to get more rest and fully heal so she can be at her best running ability on Saturday.

She’s hoping to complete the 26.2-mile course between 4 hours, 15 minutes and 4 hours, 30 minutes.

“Anything after that and I’ll be like, ‘Just don’t die,’” she said, laughing.

But while times are important to Cawiezel, it’s not the main reason she has developed such a passion for running. More than anything, she likes how running makes her feel both physically and mentally.

“Running is something that I think boosts everybody’s confidence, and it gives you great endorphins,” she said. “I pop into my 9 o’clock class, and I’m ready to go. My students always say, ‘Oh, my gosh, how much coffee have you been drinking?’ I’m like, ‘I haven’t been drinking any coffee. I’ve been up since 5, and I had a really good 5-mile run.’ They’re like, ‘Oh, wow, you ran five miles this morning? How are you so energetic all the time?’ The truth is that you just feel good when you get up and get moving in the morning. It gives me a better outlook on the whole day.”

Cawiezel said she likes setting a good example for her students.

“My students are like, ‘Why are you always trying to turn us into runners?’ I’m like, ‘Because it’s so good for you. It’s so good for your brain,’” she said.

Her love for running has rubbed off on her two children – Erin, 9, and Allie, 6.

“They think that running is really fantastic,” she said. “That gives me my most special point of pride, setting an example for them that life is hard sometimes but you just need to keep picking your feet up and keep putting them down and keep moving forward. Things are hard in life sometimes, but that’s OK. I like showing them that you can be strong and that you can be proud of your body at any age. One of my favorite things to hear is when they say, ‘Mom, can we come run with you?’ They love it, and I love it. It’s a special thing for me, for sure.”

As for her husband, Justin, he fully supports Cawiezel’s passion for running, too.

“He’s a saint. He puts up with all of my crazy running shenanigans, like the alarm clock going off at 4:30 in the morning so I can wake up and go for a run,” she said. “He always has my coffee waiting for me, and when I go for my long runs, he holds down the fort with the kids. He’s been super supportive.”

It was actually Justin, in fact, who devised a way for his wife to enjoy running during inclement weather.

“I do run year-round, but I call myself a fair weather runner,” she said. “If it’s too cold or too windy outside, I run in our basement on our treadmill. A few years ago for Mother’s Day, my husband installed a TV in front of my treadmill, so that’s made it less of a dreadmill. It’s something that I don’t mind doing now.”

Cawiezel said she plans to run in more marathons after this weekend, although she’s not sure when or where. She’ll likely jump back into doing half marathons after this weekend.

“I’ve been focused more on half marathons because it’s such a good distance,” she said. “It’s really challenging, but the training is so much more doable than a full marathon. I would say that’s the biggest thing between the full and the half marathons – the training. The training for a full marathon is sort of like having another part-time job. It’s a couple hours every day and then most of a Saturday or most of a Sunday, whichever day you do your really long run.”

Cawiezel, though, does see herself competing in another full marathon at some point.

“Next summer or maybe next fall I’ll do another full marathon, and if I do, I’ll try to beat whatever time I accomplish on Saturday,” she said.

Cawiezel encourages people to give running a try, whether it’s to train for a 5K, a half marathon, a full marathon, or just for the enjoyment and health benefits of running.

“Everybody can be a runner,” she said. “I know some people are like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I could never do that.’ But, really, you can do it. Just pick out a distance that’s a realistic goal for you and work to achieve that goal. You’ll feel amazing.”

She added, “If I can do it, anybody can do it. I’m so glad that I got into running and that I didn’t stop after that experience in Alaska. I’m in the best shape that I’ve ever been in. It’s an awesome feeling.”

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