In July 2007, one year after T’s diagnosis, I began training for my first marathon, which I planned to run in her honor. That September, I set a new personal record for distance with a 17-mile training run. Two weeks later, I pulled out of December’s Thunder Road Marathon with a foot injury.
One year later, I took it down a notch and registered for the half marathon. A series of family crises that fall affected my training; a month before the race, another injury led me to pull out of the half. On the morning of the Thunder Road events, I instead started the Jingle Jog 5K with my sister and her Girls on the Run team. Twenty-odd minutes later, I arrived at the finish line; 30 minutes after that, a triumphant Taylor crossed the finish line carrying the Fletcher School team sign with her coach, a few teammates and her running buddy, Mary-Kate.
This year, I again registered for the half marathon, but nagging pain in both feet, chronically weak ankles and a hectic autumn prevented me from training the way I would have liked. This time, though, I was determined to stay the course, even when a podiatrist plainly told me the morning prior to the race that my feet and ankles were a train wreck, and he didn’t want to tell me not to run, but…
And so it was that I found myself giddy in the crowd of 9,000 runners at 7:50 a.m. this past Saturday.
I started out at a moderate pace, as I always do. God didn’t build me like a long-distance runner – I’m a more natural sprinter – and I have to constantly remind myself to conserve energy. After the first few miles, though, my happy little endorphins took over, and I coasted for awhile. Then, at around mile five, the pain set in – throbbing pain and a fire burning in the balls of my feet (which take constant punishment, as I run on my toes) and tightness in my arches. By mile eight, I was the runner the onlookers lining the streets of Charlotte had to encourage to grind it out.
At mile 12, I split off from the marathoners to run the last 1.1 miles of the half course. It helped me to think about that last mile in terms of laps around a track. I told myself I only had four laps to go – easy. After what felt like two laps, my eyes began searching in vain for Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd., where I knew the race ended.
The mile 13 marker was within sight when I first considered walking. Then, I remember, a woman – no, an angel – standing on the sidewalk told me, “Once you turn the corner, you’ll be able to see the finish line.” And at that very moment, I remembered what Mary-Kate, Taylor’s running buddy, had said to me one year prior at the Jingle Jog finish line. When my blind sister fell and scraped her knees on the city streets, Mary-Kate told me, she asked her if she wanted to walk for a bit. Taylor, though, just shook her head, pulled herself up off the ground and started to run again. She didn’t set any records that day, but when my sister crossed the finish line, she was running – just as she was at the completion of the Girls on the Run 5K this past May.
As those visions of Taylor running flickered through my mind, I turned that corner and, just as the woman had said I would, I saw the white banner stretched out above the finish line.
Even as my body begged me to stop, I shook off its pleas and, feeling Taylor’s courageous spirit coursing through me, I sprinted the last .1 mile to the finish.
Like T that day at the Jingle Jog, I didn’t set any records in the running of my first half marathon – my fourth road race ever and, by eight miles, the longest. But that feeling I got over the past .1 mile was something I’ll have for the rest of my life.