Editor’s note: The Virus Diaries is a series in which Mainers talk about how they are affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

Nicole Vojnovic was the last runner to cross the finish line at a 2015 marathon after a series of mishaps that left her embarrassed and ashamed for years. Now she has a new view of that episode and hopes that it can help others during difficult times caused by the pandemic. Photo courtesy of Nicole Vojnovic

One by one, Nicole Vojnovic’s favorite road races in Maine – the Kerryman 5K, the Shipyard Maine Coast, the Back Cove racing series, the TD Beach to Beacon 10K – were canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

This left a huge void in Vojnovic’s life.

“I miss seeing my fellow runners,” said the South Portland resident. “The cancellation of spring and summer races have made me realize all I took for granted, like the times where I could run with my community.”

Although she took up running just over five years ago, Vojnovic has become part of what she calls “a huge running community” in Portland. And, she added, “That community is gone.”

But Vojnovic has a message for her fellow runners, or anyone who might be struggling during the pandemic, and it all began with her first attempt at a marathon.

“This is a story I tried to hide,” she said. “I was embarrassed as a person and as a runner. I was ashamed. Over the years, I have seen this story in a new light. It is not a story to be embarrassed or ashamed of but rather a story about strength and perseverance.”

It took her three years to tell the story out loud to strangers, something she did in her graduate public speaking course at Husson University. Now, a couple of years later, she feels this story resonates in light of the pandemic.

She had signed up for the Shipyard Maine Coast 39.3 Challenge in 2015 in Biddeford. It consisted of a half-marathon on Saturday followed by a marathon on Sunday. “I trained for weeks and weeks to be ready for that weekend,” she said.

Nicole Vojnovic says, “I want people during this time to realize it’s OK to try something new and different and they might be surprised to see what comes out of it.” Photo courtesy of Nicole Vojnovic

She ran the half-marathon with no problems on Saturday. But on Sunday she drove to the same starting line at the same time, only to discover not only was she in the wrong place – but that the marathon had begun 30 minutes earlier. She drove to the new starting line and arrived as volunteers were beginning to take it down.

Still she ran, following the signs. After several miles she realized she was not on the course. Still she ran, retracing her steps until she was back on course. At mile 18, she caught up with another runner – “I could not believe it,” she said – who would drop out of the race about a mile later.

Still, she ran. She would be the last runner to cross the finish line that day. She ran about 30 miles.

Vojnovic, now 30, is married to Dejan Vojnovic with a 13-month-old son, Luka. “I want people during this time to realize it’s OK to try something new and different and they might be surprised to see what comes out of it. To know that they aren’t alone. Maybe someone was just starting to run and now everything is canceled. Don’t get discouraged, because you’re not alone.

“Some people, all they have is the running community in Portland and now they might feel isolated. Don’t give up. Some people might find my marathon experience funny. And at first I was embarrassed to share the story. … It can be embarrassing. I was late, I went the wrong way. But the way I see it now is, ‘Wow, I never gave up and I did get there.'”

She remembers everything about that day: the worst sunburn she’s ever had, the ice cubes her dad delivered to her as he drove by in his car, offering a ride, which she refused. “I didn’t want to stop,” she said.

And she doesn’t want anyone else – whether it’s a runner or simply someone who is having a rough time – to stop now.

“When things go wrong from the start, don’t give up, don’t dwell on what went wrong,” she said. “Remind yourself what the end goal is and keep working towards that.”

Do you have a story to share about how you are affected by the coronavirus outbreak? Email us at [email protected]

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