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.

How to Fly

By Laura Edwards

I’ve been an athlete for 20-plus years and still have blue ribbons won for the 50-yard dash at my elementary school’s field day (my house may look spotless at first glance, but behind the closet doors, I’m really a packrat). But I didn’t enter my first road race until the year I turned 24, a few months after Taylor’s Batten disease diagnosis.

As has been my track record of late, I did (almost) everything wrong leading up to this morning’s Charlotte 10 Miler. I strained my calf on a long run on the first Sunday in March, and the injury put me out of commission for almost two weeks. I eased back into running (the only thing I did right), and my longest run leading up to the race was a whopping three miles at a 10:00/mile pace. I got a nasty head cold this week and popped Mucinex D like candy all weekend. I went to bed after 1 a.m. the night before the race and grabbed a solid four hours of sleep before my alarm sounded this morning.

But when I got to the race parking lot, I felt good. The weather couldn’t have been better. The forecast called for rain by mid-morning, but at that early hour, the sky was streaked with fire as the sun stretched and yawned low in the sky. I followed my friend Andrew’s advice to take a few warmup laps in an attempt to break my string of slow starts.

I shot out of the starting area, and for the first mile, I kept up with the race leaders. I felt bad when Théoden Janes, the Charlotte Observer’s pop culture reporter who also writes about running and has a popular Facebook page called Run with Théoden, passed me, but then I reminded myself that he qualified for Boston and has a personal running coach. I kept a steady pace; after three miles, I realized I’d just broken my PR for the 5K distance – and I still had a lot of gas left in the tank.

Andrew, who guided me to the finish line when I ran Charlotte’s Thunder Road Half Marathon blindfolded for Taylor in November, was waiting with a cup of water and a dose of encouragement at the mile four water stop. I coasted through and kept going, my pace still holding steady.

It wasn’t until mile eight that I lost time. I entered a neighborhood with two consecutive hills that, today at least, made the Tar Heel 10 Miler’s famous Laurel Hill feel like a molehill. My legs and my lungs burned. As I rounded the first corner and came to the second hill, I said aloud, “You. Will. Not. Walk.” I envisioned my sister, at home, fighting with every bone in her body. And I didn’t walk.

Charlotte 10 Miler finish

Andrew found me on the last mile. He reminded me how close I was to breaking my PR, but I already knew. I smiled at my friend and guide, and I kept running.

That’s when my little sister jogged up beside me on legs that, once upon a time, ran two 5Ks. She turned to me and said, in a voice lost to Batten disease, “You remember how to fly.”

Less than half a mile later, I sprinted into the final stretch and across the finish line for my best-ever 10-miler time by two full minutes: 1:17:49 (7:46/mile pace), good for 60th overall and second in my age group. Robbed of my regular aerobic capacity by all of the junk in my system from the head cold, I gasped for air as I bent to my knees just past the finish line. My husband and my dad, there to watch me finish, asked if I was okay.

“I’m okay,” I said. “I’ve just never run that fast before.”

As I limped out of the finish area with my first race medal of 2014 around my neck, I thought for a second, maybe that’s as fast as I can go.

end of Charlotte 10 Miler

But I know it’s not. And I know that when I lace up my shoes for the next race in less than a month, I’ll try to beat myself again.

Some days, when our fight against Batten disease gets really tough, I think that maybe we’ll get to a point where we’ve done all we can do.

But deep in my soul, I know that point doesn’t exist.

Because regardless of how our story ends, there will ALWAYS be another Taylor. There will always be another family like ours. So no matter how many hills I have to climb, no matter how much my muscles ache and my lungs burn, and even if I have to finish this race alone, I’ll be damned if I’m going to come this far only to stop short of the finish line.


By Laura Edwards

end of raceBefore Batten disease robbed my little sister of her ability to run, she joined the Girls on the Run team at her school. With the help of a sighted running buddy, she jogged across the finish line of two local 5Ks.

Taylor ran her last race almost four years ago. Around that same time, I ran my first race in her honor.

My sister can’t run anymore, but I’ve logged thousands of miles for her.

In the past five months, I’ve run four races for Taylor – all different distances – and set four new personal records (PRs). Even after making the first page of results and placing second in my division at Charlotte RaceFest on Saturday, I already had my next race on my mind.

I get stuck on my times, because I’m a perfectionist. I like to challenge myself, both mentally and physically. Whereas some runners hate hills, I say, bring them on. They help me keep things in perspective; my sister’s battle against Batten disease is tougher than any hill I’ll ever face, even if I had two broken legs.

But the senseless acts of hatred that took place at the Boston Marathon this afternoon reminded me that it’s not all about when you cross the finish line.

It’s also about the people you love who staked out a spot along the course to wave handmade signs – the people who will give you a hug at the end, no matter how sweaty you are.

It’s about being healthy enough to finish a race – first or last.

It’s about having this day to stage a race, any race – because each day we receive is a gift from God.

My heart goes out to all those affected by the tragedy in Boston today.

And for as long as my legs will carry me, I’ll keep on running for Taylor.

Mind over Body

By Laura Edwards

When my alarm went off at 6:15 this morning, the outdoor temp hovered in the mid-30s, and a steady, cold rain sounded like a waterfall in my backyard. Of the 619 runners registered for the Charlotte 10 Miler and 4 Mile Run, 164 stayed home.

But I pulled on my wicking socks, UnderArmour tights, three layers of tech t-shirts – purple on top for Taylor – water-repellent jacket and wicking baseball cap.

I ate a Honey Stinger waffle and Gala apple and drank a glass of water.

I laced up my Brooks Glycerin 9s – shoes that served me well for 500+ miles in 2012 but that are balder than a tire on a junkyard car.

I posed for the requisite pre-race, pre-soaking photo.

pre-Charlotte 10 Miler 2013

I climbed in the car with my husband, drove three miles to the starting line and shivered in the rain for 20 minutes until the horn for the 10-mile race sounded. When it did, I discovered that in an effort to steal a few dry square inches beneath the starter’s tent, I’d found a puddle at least a couple of inches deep. Needless to say, my nice, warm, cushioned socks were soaked through.

I didn’t have time to worry about it, though – I had a race to run! I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so whenever I run a race, I want to set a new personal record (PR). My PR for any 10-miler is 1:25:27; my PR for the Charlotte 10 Miler, in only its second year of existence, is 1:26:10.

I’m a pretty consistent runner, which means that if I have any notion of setting a PR, I have no margin for error. I stuffed my iPhone in its double-Ziploc-bag fortress, stuffed that into my jacket pocket, pulled on my gloves, kicked up my water-logged, no-tread shoes and kicked it into high gear.

Two miles in, I entered one of south Charlotte’s greenways and met up with a friend who’d offered to run with me throughout a good portion of the race. Andrew competes in ultramarathons, so my rainy 10-mile race probably felt like a walk in the water park to him.

I usually run with an app that keeps me informed re: my distance and average pace, but today, I traded in my headphones for my running buddy. Andrew paced me, watched out for the wannabe lake-puddles on the greenway’s boardwalks and helped me stay motivated. He talked me through the killer hill on mile eight. I wanted to walk that hill last year, but I jogged it; this year, I RAN it. A few times, he coached me on when to pass people. In the last mile, he scoped out a runner who most likely fell into my age group; I smoked her.

Somewhere on the course, Andrew told me that running’s mostly a mind game.

I believe that.

When I heard that horn sound at the start line and saw the Boston Marathon jacket on the runner next to me – a runner probably in the 30-34 females group just like me – I thought about how I ran my first organized race of ANY distance barely five years ago, and how soccer chewed up my joints and spit them out, and how those joints probably belong in a trash can, not on a race course. I thought about the rain and the bald tires on my feet. And I figured I wouldn’t be setting a new PR. Not today.

Charlotte 10 Miler 2013 finish

But I did.

And out of the 179 runners – male or female – who actually braved the rain to run the 10-miler, I finished 27th.

I don’t know why my sister has to have Batten disease. I wish she could will her broken body to fight off the monster the way I can will my broken body to run long races, rain or shine.

But I do know this: we know how to dance in the rain. And after a good rain, the sun always comes out to play. There’s a monster called Batten disease in our midst, but good things are coming just the same. I can feel it.

I believe.