Running for Taylor in 50 States: Tennessee

By Laura Edwards

When I crossed the finish line of Charlotte’s Thunder Road Half Marathon blindfolded last fall, I knew the race would be a tough act to follow. But I didn’t intend to stop running for my sister, Taylor, and our fight against Batten disease and other rare diseases.

On National Running Day, I shared my plan to run a race in all 50 states – a feat not as rare as running 13.1 miles blind but one that I hope will help me spread our story far and wide.

I kicked off my quest at Oregon’s Crater Lake Rim Run on August 9; on Friday, I drove to Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains National Park for race number two.

John and I stayed in Townsend, the host town for the inaugural Great Smoky Mountains Half Marathon. Known as the “peaceful side of the Smokies,” Townsend sits at 1,070 feet, an average of 6,000 feet lower than my August race. Crater Lake is one of the most gorgeous places I’ve ever been, but Townsend’s smoky blue hills are more like the mountains I grew up climbing, and my Achilles tendinopathy and calf tightness gave me a lot of trouble in the week leading up to the race, so I was thankful for East Coast elevation and the “gradual hills” promised in the race guide.

entering the Smokies

Taylor has never been to Tennessee, but the Smokies are a subrange of the Appalachian Mountains, and North Carolina’s Appalachian Mountains have always been one of our favorite places to spend time together. John and I were married in a charming mountain town called Blowing Rock; my sister loved to play on the town park’s swings in the summer and drink hot chocolate at Kojay’s Cafe in the snowy winters. It’s close to impossible for my sister to travel these days (I’d hoped my mom and Taylor could go to the race in the Smokies with me, but it didn’t work out), but the Appalachian Mountains hold a lot of happy memories for my family. You might remember that for the Oregon race, I wore a string of beads Taylor made for me while she recovered from surgery at Oregon Health & Science University. For the Great Smoky Mountains Half Marathon, I packed a purple heart necklace my parents bought for Taylor at Blowing Rock’s Cone Manor.

bib and necklace

On race morning, I awoke early to prepare. You may know that I’m ultra-competitive, but for this race, I’d made a pact with John that I would focus on finishing the race without injuring myself further, sharing Taylor’s story and getting home safely. While John slept in the dim hotel room, I used a foam roller and pleaded with my calves to loosen, and I said a silent prayer over my Achilles. I flipped on a small light and wrote my signature “4TAYLOR” on my arm in purple ink (I won’t let anyone else do it). I filled my purple Camelbak with water and laced my just-broken-in purple Brooks Glycerin shoes. Everything, even down to my Garmin watch, was purple or pink (Taylor’s favorite colors). After I pinned on my bib, I slipped my sister’s necklace over my head.

race outfit

I felt tight through the playing of the national anthem, the sound of the starting gun and the race’s first turn. But as the course opened up, I saw the sunrise flooding the sky behind the mountains, an open field stretching out like a blanket beneath it. It looked like heaven. I felt my sister’s heart against my heart. And suddenly, my legs didn’t hurt anymore. I found my stride, and I kept it.

beginning of race

John surprised me around mile marker three at one of several bridges on the course. It made me so happy to see him; as much as I love to run, distance running can make for a lonely journey, and a rural course doesn’t have the constant crowd support of an urban race. Rather than lines of fans three-deep, the landscape looked like this:


John came to the last bridge at mile eight, and it’s a good thing he did. His support gave me the emotional boost I couldn’t get from my CLIF Shot Bloks, and the next three miles were the toughest of the race. In addition to a steep climb, they were on curvy, severely banked mountain roads that reminded me of the ones I ran at Crater Lake. I felt a huge blood blister forming on my right foot as my right side took a constant pounding. I thought about my left Achilles and thanked God the road wasn’t banked the other way. At mile nine, I couldn’t help it: I speed-walked two of the hills. A year ago, I wouldn’t have dared walk in a race. But I’ve gotten older and wiser (and more injured); I’ve learned that this 50-state quest is a marathon, not a sprint, just like Taylor’s fight against Batten disease and our fight for a better future for the millions suffering from a rare disease. If we give too much too quickly, we won’t have any gas left in the tank for the next mile; we won’t survive to see the finish line.

Eventually, the finish line of the inaugural Great Smoky Mountains Half Marathon came into view. I didn’t sprint for fear of popping my injured Achilles, but I gave it a little extra and ran across the finish line like I hadn’t just run 13.1 miles. Injuries, speed-walking and all, I finished with my second-best half marathon time ever (but still seven minutes off my PR).

I told John there was no way I’d won an award. My age group (30-34) is usually the toughest, and at this race, it had the most runners by a long shot, with 107. But it was a gorgeous morning, there was a bluegrass band playing, and our hotel had granted us an extended checkout. So we decided to stick around just for the heck of it.

The race gave awards five-deep. Once they’d given out medals for fifth, fourth and third place in my division, I started to walk away. That’s when they called my name for second place. John let out a loud whoop, but I was still in a daze as I walked up to get my silver medal.

silver medal

A lot of people would have taken the rest of the day off, but that’s not my style, maybe partly because Batten disease has shown me how short life can be and how precious each day really is. In any case, after a quick shower and an unhealthy lunch (cheeseburger, French fries, root beer float and chocolate truffles), John and I loaded our packs, drove to another area of the park and hiked one of its steepest trails. After we scrambled up the bare stone face of Chimney Tops like a couple of mountain goats, I pulled out my medals and race bib for one last photo. I knew that when I got back home, I’d return to two distinct battles against Batten disease. In one of those battles, Taylor’s Tale and other advocates are gaining ground every day. I believe that with all of my heart. In the battle that hits closest to home for my family and me, we’re losing — and no medal I win can change that.

But for that moment in time, I was on top of the world.

Chimney Tops

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Running for Taylor in 50 States: Oregon

By Laura Edwards

When I crossed the finish line of Charlotte’s Thunder Road Half Marathon blindfolded last fall, I knew the race would be a tough act to follow. But I didn’t intend to stop running for my sister, Taylor, and our fight against Batten disease and other rare diseases.

On National Running Day, I shared my plan to run a race in all 50 states – a feat not as rare as running 13.1 miles blind but one that I hope will help me spread our story far and wide.

I needed a place to begin.

On Saturday, I kicked off my quest in the only state that ever entered my mind:


In January 2008, Taylor helped give millions hope when she took part in a six-patient, phase one clinical trial in Oregon. The stem cells injected into her brain didn’t save her, but the lessons she shared will help save people suffering from other diseases one day. I started running for my sister because of her courage 1) in the operating room that cold January day and 2) on the 5K race course 11 months later.

Oregon’s Crater Lake, one of our country’s pristine natural wonders, sits about 6,100 feet above sea level. For 38 years, runners have gone to Crater Lake National Park for the Crater Lake Rim Runs, which circle the lake at altitudes of up to 7,850 feet and include breathtaking – literally – elevation gains and losses of up to 1,000 feet at a time.

My parents and Taylor found solace at Crater Lake during Taylor’s time in the trial; of course, my sister couldn’t see the otherworldly blue of the lake’s snowmelt water since Batten disease stole her vision, but then again, Taylor has always found beauty in unexpected ways.


I registered for the 13-mile rim run in January, almost six years to the day after Taylor’s historic surgery.

This past Saturday, August 9, I felt anxious as I stood on a ridge in the park and watched the sun rise over the lake, wondering if a few months of hill training in my hometown of Charlotte (and one morning in the North Carolina mountains) had been enough. I felt the plastic beads on the wire necklace around my neck, a gift from my sister; she and the hospital’s child life specialist made it days after her surgery in Oregon.


When I climbed the first hill of the race, my soul came spilling out on the steeply banked national park road beneath my feet, my tears hot in the chilly air. I cried behind my sunglasses in a sea of people, but I pumped my legs and arms, and I nailed the hill.

The lake changed colors as the sun climbed higher in the sky. I found myself stopping to take photos, wanting to remember certain moments and not trusting my mind, racing with emotion, to capture everything.


Around mile seven, I faced the steepest hill yet. My lungs gasped for thin air, and my leg muscles burned. My competitive nature fought the urge to walk until I realized everyone was walking. I let myself walk for one-tenth of a mile.

It wouldn’t be the last time. The 13-mile race’s most punishing hills are in the last three miles. When my body screamed for mercy, I felt Taylor’s beads against my heart. I walked as fast as my legs would go. When I could run, I ran like hell.


The final three miles of the 13-mile course are the toughest. As I began the ascent to Mt. Scott, the highest peak in the park, I passed a runner on my left; his kind eyes and genuine smile gave me another push, and as I ran by, he said, “Great job.” I ran the final quarter-mile for a 2:14 finish – 27 minutes off my personal record for the half marathon but good for fourth place in my division on Crater Lake’s punishing course.


When we watched the surgical team wheel my sister back to the operating room on that cold day in Portland in 2008, we didn’t know what would happen. Maybe it was crazy to send a kid at a less advanced disease stage through such a harrowing surgery with no promises.

But that trial was about believing – about having faith in a better future and knowing it gave us a better shot than if we did nothing.

That’s what these runs are about, too. That’s why I started in Oregon. I know running a race won’t save my sister. Who am I kidding? I can’t save a life with a fourth place or even a first place finish, and I don’t have a PhD or a miracle drug or a magic wand.

But sometimes, we have to let go and realize we don’t have control over everything. We have to have faith. When we believe, and when we’re willing to work for what we believe in, good things can happen.

John and I took a boat out to Wizard Island on the lake on Sunday. While there, we met a woman from Oklahoma who ran the full marathon on Saturday. She saw my Taylor’s Tale wristband and recognized the name because she saw John’s shirt during the race. She lost her son to a brain disease. We had a wonderful conversation in the Oregon sunshine. Below the island’s volcanic rim, we met a nice couple from Beaverton who took our picture. She is a nurse at OHSU in Portland, where Taylor had her surgery. In the time it took to snap a few photos, two more people learned about Batten disease.

Just as it took hundreds or even thousands of years to fill Crater Lake, once a massive volcano that erupted and collapsed into the earth, it may take a thousand small steps to get to the finish line of this fight – to build a better future for people like Taylor. But when we do, like the blue of the water that fills one of the purest lakes in the world, it will be more beautiful than you or I can describe.


The Only Race that Matters

By Laura Edwards

Laura and TaylorThis spring, still feeling the high from crossing the finish line of Charlotte’s Thunder Road Half Marathon with a blindfold over my eyes, I decided that while there would never be another Thunder Road, I wasn’t done running for my sister.

On National Running Day, I shared my goal of running a race in all 50 states to honor Taylor’s fight against Batten disease and raise awareness of the millions like her suffering from a rare disease.

I’m almost ready. I put myself through an atypical (for me) training regimen for my first race, and I nearly made it. For the past month, I’ve been dealing with a pesky foot injury that may or may not be a stress fracture. The X-ray came back negative, and I’ve gone on a couple of longish runs without pain, so I’m going to give it a go when the race rolls around. I don’t know that I’ll post a speedy time (then again, sometimes I say that only to turn around and set a PR).

But as Mom and a friend reminded me in two separate conversations in the past 24 hours, my speed doesn’t matter. It never has, and it never should. Taylor wouldn’t care if I came in first or last. If we’re talking about a footrace, all that matters is that I give it my best every single day, even if that means I have to crawl.

In fact, if we’re talking strictly about winning and losing, the only personal race that ever really mattered was the race to save my sister’s life. And every day, I live with the knowledge that I’m losing that race.

But there will always be another Taylor.

That’s why I’ll keep chasing the monster that’s beating us.

Wouldn’t you?

Stay tuned for details about my first race in the challenge to run in all 50 states for the fight against rare diseases! Click here to make a tax-deductible donation in support of Taylor’s Tale, the non-profit organization founded in my sister’s honor.

Help Us Get on the Cover of Runner’s World!

By Laura Edwards

I need your help!

As you likely know, I ran Charlotte’s Thunder Road Half Marathon blindfolded to honor my little sister, Taylor; my next challenge is to compete for her in all 50 states, beginning with an epic race later this summer.

Our story has a chance to be on the cover of Runner’s World magazine. This kind of exposure would be amazing for our fight to save millions suffering from rare diseases. That’s where you come in.

Click here to vote for our story. It takes five seconds, and no app download is required. Vote EVERY DAY between now and Aug. 15. We’re in the top 10 right now, but we won’t win without your support. So, share this with everyone you know, and vote often. Thanks so much!

Here is a copy of my entry:


I’ve been running for most of my life and played competitive soccer through college, but I didn’t start entering races regularly until watching my little sister, Taylor, battling a fatal brain disease that causes blindness, run her first 5K at age 10 in 2008. Running gave Taylor a chance to be a “normal” kid, and I love it for that. At the finish line that day, I made a silent promise to run for Taylor as long as possible, both to honor her incredible courage and to raise awareness of Batten disease, the illness that will take her life.


In November 2013, I returned to the event where Taylor ran her first 5K. To honor the fifth anniversary of her brave 3.1-mile run, I wore a blindfold bearing the phrase “4Taylor,” which I’ve inked on my arm for all of my races. With a guide, I ran the half marathon blindfolded in under two hours. I ran portions of the race “untethered,” and my team and I raised money and gained national exposure for Taylor’s Tale, the non-profit organization I co-founded in Taylor’s honor. My next challenge is to run a race in all 50 states for Taylor.


Aside from the fitness benefit, running is a great way to relieve stress, and I do some of my best thinking on the run. Most of all, it helps me feel close to my little sister, who can no longer run because of her disease. During my blindfolded half marathon, I ran untethered several times, and I never felt closer to Taylor than during those stretches. I imagined her next to me, healthy, her legs in sync with mine, her voice dancing on the wind, her eyes drinking in the earth.


Back in the Dark

By Laura Edwards

I find that having an almost naive belief that most everything is possible fuels a mindset that can accelerate movement from the impossible to possible. ~Bradley Davis

start of blind runNearly seven months have passed since I last ran without the gift of sight. Special forces were at work the day I covered 13.1 miles in the dark at Charlotte’s Thunder Road Half Marathon. They were, and will always be, the most important miles of my life.

But while there won’t be another Thunder Road – at least not like that – some small part of me always knew the blindfold hadn’t served its last mission. Today is National Running Day. On this day last year, I took my first steps as a blind runner. Twelve months later, we’re closer to our goal, but Batten disease continues to steal the lives of kids whose voices I’ve heard and hands I’ve held. It’s winning the battle for my sister. That’s why tonight, I met my friend and guide, Andrew Swistak. I pulled down the blindfold, took one end of a short bungee cord and ran into darkness.

For days, I’ve wondered if blind running would be anything like riding a bike. After all this time, would it be like starting from scratch? Would I run into Andrew’s path or sprain my ankle on a manhole cover or speed bump – simple irregularities the sighted world doesn’t notice, but dangerous obstacles to people like my sister?

blind run on trackIt’s not quite like riding a bike, but we fell into an easy rhythm and even had a conversation as we ran. We didn’t take any chances, stopping to walk over the curb that claimed my ankle on this day last year. We headed for the middle school track where I first squeezed my eyes shut and ran forward on a wing and a prayer. There, Andrew took both ends of the bungee cord, and I ran untethered, as I did several times during the race. On the straightaways, we gathered speed, reaching a low to mid-7:00/mile pace. I remember thinking how important it was to have Andrew as my eyes when he gave me the signal to turn. I felt so light – so free – in those moments of running untethered that I would have gone on forever.

We stopped when we reached the 3.1-mile mark, appropriate considering that the 5K was Taylor’s distance. Tonight wasn’t a race, but I still asked Andrew about our splits and overall time. We ran it in 26:50, good for about an 8:38/mile pace despite the stops and walks for safety.

Even throughout our training runs last year, I always had to remind myself that it wasn’t about speed. It was about getting the story out there; it was about finishing the race; it was about something bigger than either of us.

But while none of my runs – blind or sighted – are really about speed – the fight against Batten disease is. Because with every day and week and month, with every year that passes, we have to say goodbye to more kids. I’m not ready to say goodbye to my sister. I’ll never be ready to say goodbye to her. I know that a 6:00/mile won’t get us anywhere more quickly than an 8:00/mile. If I don’t get a great time in my next race, I’ll be okay with that. But I’m not going to let Batten disease kick my ass in the race that matters.

After Thunder Road

By Laura Edwards

635205790014799504 2Almost seven months ago, I ran the biggest race of my life. When I crossed the finish line at Charlotte’s Thunder Road Half Marathon and removed my blindfold to fall into my mom’s waiting arms, I knew I’d never feel that way again.

But that didn’t mean I was ready to quit running or fighting. After all, Batten disease hasn’t quit. It’s still doing its dirty work. My sister still suffers, and children still die. We still don’t have a treatment for Batten disease. We still have 350 million people fighting one of 7,000 rare diseases. We still don’t have an FDA-approved treatment for 95 percent of those diseases.

In the seven months that have passed since I hurdled the timing mats under the giant ‘FINISH’ banner as my guide, Andrew, yelled “Jump!” and then “Jump!” again, I’ve thought long and hard about the answer to one simple question: “What next?” While many of our friends talked about the next blind run before the tears we cried at Thunder Road were dry, I always knew in my heart that there would never be another Thunder Road – at least not like it was on November 16, 2013. That day was its own moment in time. No one can take it away from us, and it can’t be replicated.

During my months of training to become a blind runner and far more so in the months following the race, my sister slipped farther down the chasm of Batten disease. It is a deep, dark chasm. There are no footholds for climbing out, and some days, no light reaches her ledge. And yet, each day she teaches me something new about courage; each day, she imparts some great piece of wisdom without having to say anything at all.

Thunder Road finishTaylor with medalSeven weeks before the diagnosis, Taylor and our cousin, Morgan, hung Hawaiian leis around their necks and chased fireflies across the grass, their bare shoulders bathed in the soft moonlight and their laughter in our ears. That night, Taylor told me she wanted to go to Hawaii. We never made it to Hawaii, and in November, my sister couldn’t come to the finish line at Thunder Road. Travel isn’t really in the cards for her now. She won’t see the world or experience all of its wonders. But the world will lose more when it loses Taylor.

Taylor can’t travel, but I can. And I vowed to run – and fight – for her until my body gives out or we beat Batten disease, whichever happens first. So this summer, I’ll begin a quest to run a race for my sister in all 50 states. Everywhere I go, I’ll take her story with me.

I have a pretty good race lined up to kick things off, but I’m not sharing details just yet. Stick with me for a few more (thousand) miles. 4Taylor. We’re going to write the happy ending to this tale.

Today is National Running Day, and I’m inviting you and your friends and family – runners and non-runners – to run for Taylor, too. Run a mile or two or 20; run fast or slow; run wherever you’d like; the how and the where aren’t important. Just remember that once upon a time, my blind sister looked Batten disease in the eye, said, “You can’t stop me,” and ran a 5K race. Twice. That’s how my sister lives her life. That’s how I try to live mine.

If you run for Taylor today, I want to hear about it! Leave a comment here, or share your story with Taylor’s Tale on Facebook or Twitter.

National Running Day, a Nod to the Past, and a Glimpse of the Future

By Laura Edwards

blindfolded run 1National Running Day, held annually on the first Wednesday in June, is a national celebration of running. Since 2009, runners everywhere have marked the day by celebrating their passion for the sport.

In the final hours of National Running Day last year, I jogged to a middle school track under an inky, starless sky. There, on the asphalt oval worn smooth by the pounding of thousands of adolescent-sized shoes, I took one end of a short bungee cord in the palm of my hand and squeezed my eyes shut; led by the voice of my friend and guide, Andrew Swistak, I began my initiation as a blind runner.

I ran in darkness eighteen times prior to taking on the biggest race of my life, Charlotte’s Thunder Road Half Marathon, on November 16, 2013. Nothing about my training or the race ever came easily, but I said then, and still feel today, that the near-two hours I spent on that course embodied the most incredible experience of my entire life, something that can never be repeated or recaptured.

Shortly after the race ended, everyone asked, “What next?” We accomplished almost everything we set out to do. We raised money for the fight against Batten disease. We had one of the largest teams at Charlotte’s biggest race. We achieved local, state and national media coverage including the cover story in North Carolina’s Endurance Magazine and a nod in Runner’s World magazine. In fact, as I reflected on the race in the hours and days after I hurdled the timing mats at the finish line and buried my face in my mom’s shoulder to cry, I realized that I had just one regret: my sister, Taylor – the inspiration for it all – had declined so much during my months of learning to run 13.1 miles without the gift of sight that she wasn’t well enough to come to the finish line.

And so, as the monster called Batten disease continues to rob bits and pieces of my sister and the lives of children like her, whose hearts hold great love and whose lives once held great possibility, I continue to fight. When people asked me when I’d run another race blindfolded, I said there wouldn’t be another blindfolded race. I can’t reproduce the singular magic of what happened that day, and I won’t try.

But this Wednesday, to celebrate National Running Day and my sister’s courage that still shines like the bright beacon in a storm, I’ll don the blindfold one more time; Andrew will lead me as I run into darkness, and the future.

I’m inviting you and your friends and family – runners and non-runners – to run for Taylor, too. Run a mile or two or 20; run fast or slow; run wherever you’d like; the how and the where aren’t important. Just remember that once upon a time, my blind sister looked Batten disease in the eye, said, “You can’t stop me,” and ran a 5K race. Twice. That’s how my sister lives her life. That’s how I try to live mine.

As for the future…I may be running Thunder Road with my own two eyes this fall, but I have some pretty special things in store. Check back later this week to learn about my next challenge. This fight’s not over. Not even close.

If you run for Taylor on National Running Day, I want to hear about it! Leave a comment here, or share your story with Taylor’s Tale on Facebook or Twitter.

Confessions from Laurel Hill

By Laura Edwards

Tar Heel 10 Miler pre-raceToday, I joined 6,200 other runners for the seventh annual Tar Heel 10 Miler in Chapel Hill.

John and I jogged from the Carolina Inn to the bell tower on the campus of my alma mater, the University of North Carolina (UNC); we met Steve Gray, our friend and a UNC gene therapy expert whose work makes me believe, just as the morning light touched the towering pines and the dew-kissed pink and white azaleas.

I’ve battled various injuries since early March, including a mysterious ankle problem for the past week, that have limited my training; I ran just 25 miles in April prior to today’s race, less than an average week for me in 2013. I didn’t know what to expect from this race, my fifth consecutive entry in the Tar Heel 10 Miler. Butterflies wrecked my insides as we waited to begin. But no matter what, I start every race with the intent to run faster than I’ve ever run before. One month ago, I ran the Charlotte 10 Miler in 1:17:49, a 7:46/mile pace. So after Steve and I saw John off for the four-mile run, I wished Steve good luck and found my way to the 7:30/mile pace group.

I got off to a quick start and stayed with my pace group for most of the race. But around mile six, I began to feel winded. I wondered whether I’d started too quickly.

As I hit a long downhill stretch close to mile seven and eased up to save my quads, I thought about my family at home in Charlotte. My parents and Taylor started the 150-mile trek to Chapel Hill on Friday evening, because they wanted to be there for me today. But when you’re fighting Batten disease, a lot can happen in 150 miles.

My family never made it to Chapel Hill last night; Taylor got sick around Greensboro, and they had to turn around and go home.

I hate Batten disease.

I know the Tar Heel 10 Miler course almost as well as my own neighborhood, but Laurel Hill always sneaks up on me. Laurel Hill, the 200-foot vertical gain that spans just under one mile near the end of the race, is a personal record (PR) killer. A lot of people walk it. Though I’ve come close to speed-walking the tough stretch, I always find a way to power through the hill (actually a series of consecutive hills). Last year, I ran Laurel Hill in 7:18.

But as I began the first steep climb, I felt a deep burn in my legs and my chest. I fought through the urge to slow to a crawl.

When I crested the first hill, I came upon a small crowd of supporters clustered at the top. Keep going, they said; keep pushing; you’re almost done. In the middle stood a woman clutching a poster that read, “Don’t stop believing.”

At that moment, it hit me: I’m going to lose my little sister, no matter how fast I run.

I’ll never know what quit on me – my legs or my heart. But there, under a canopy of trees and the bright, blue sky beyond, I walked for the first time ever in a race. And as I took long, deliberate strides toward the finish line, I cried behind my sunglasses.

I didn’t run my best race today, but I finished. The ghost of Laurel Hill behind me, I recovered to run the last mile in 7:18 with wet eyes. I floated through the stadium tunnel before sprinting onto the track for the final stretch, pummeling Batten disease every time my shoes pounded the rubber.

Though she proved too ill to travel to Chapel Hill, I felt my sister’s presence when I crossed that finish line at 1:24:11.

And I still believed.

On Boston and Believing

By Laura Edwards

Yesterday, a nation watched as an American man won the Boston Marathon for the first time since 1983 and an American woman held the lead for 17 miles, finishing seventh. I stood 10 feet from the male winner, Meb Keflezighi, when he served as the official starter for the Tar Heel 10 Miler in Chapel Hill. I was a classmate of the top American female, Shalane Flanagan, as an undergrad at the University of North Carolina.

Meb’s race ended in joy, while Shalane’s ended in heartbreak; in the end, her very best wasn’t quite fast enough to win.

But as I reflected on these runners’ experiences and the bigger picture of yesterday’s race, the 118th edition of the world’s most prestigious marathon, I thought about how the sport of running embodies so much more than getting from one place to the next or attempting to cross the finish line first.

In Boston, it’s a symbol of the ties that bind a city and a nation in the face of a terrible crime, an unspeakable tragedy.

For me, it’s an enduring symbol of my sister’s great courage, even though it’s been nearly five years since she completed her last 5K and she can no longer walk without assistance.

For anyone who has ever run or dared to dream, it’s a symbol of what it means to believe.