Sometimes there are things in life that go without words. There are moments when you just have to be there to experience the seconds passing by to appreciate what is happening around you, to you, because of you. I feel like the Blue Ridge Marathon was one of those moments. I thought about it before I signed up. I asked about it. I questioned other runners if they had run it. No one I knew had. No one I knew really wanted to take on the challenge. After all, it would be an incredible challenge to run 26.2 miles that included 7,430 feet in elevation change over and back on THREE mountains.
I discussed the race with many friends and fellow runners. I finally brought the race up to my coach. He said not to worry about it until after Shamrock was done. He was right. But then when Shamrock was done, all I worried about was what I had gotten myself into. Then I thought about why I had chosen to sign up for this incredibly challenging race that is trademarked “America’s Toughest Road Marathon.” The why became more important than how. It was no a longer a matter of if I could do it, but that I would finish what I started, no matter what it took.
I ran this race for very personal reasons. Some reasons I will continue to hold close to my heart, and only a few will know. My main reason for running this race was to honor my mom, with every step, every heart beat, every breath, and every mile that passed as that clock ticked, and I made relentless forward progress. My mom wrote out the following for my stepdad one day, and he passed it on to me when I was going through an incredibly emotional struggle and significant milestone in my life:
“When faced with a mountain,
I WILL NOT QUIT.
I will keep on striving until I climb over,
Find a pass through, tunnel underneath,
Or simply stay and turn the mountain
Into a gold mine, with God’s help.”
I am not sure where this came from. I don’t know if my mom wrote it herself, or if it was words of wisdom passed on to her. Having it written in her handwriting makes it only that much more special to me, and as I prepared to run the Blue Ridge Marathon, I knew this was no ordinary race. I would face those mountains, and I would not give up until I had conquered them all. NO MATTER WHAT.
Even as I type now, I can’t stop the tears from streaming down my cheeks. Not a day goes by without me wishing my mom was still alive so I could share my experiences, my dreams, my aspirations, my life with her. I’ve encountered so many obstacles in my life, and her words of wisdom on a laminated piece of paper keep me going day to day. I only wish she had been at the finish line with my stepdad.
Life couldn’t have aligned more perfectly for this race to happen, which made it inevitable for me to be there on race day and run my 4th marathon. My break from school turned out to be the week prior, I became an auntie, the weather predictions were calling for a beautiful sunny race day, and my stepdad would be attending a race for the first time ever.
I was nervous for days before the race began, and this did not change as I waited in my corral for the race to start. When the gun went off, it was if my body knew what to do, and I found my happy pace immediately. I know I ran. I know I walked. I know I struggled to breathe in the highest elevations of the course. I made it through the race, and not finishing never crossed my mind.
I’ve never talked, texted, voxed, and taken pictures at a race. EVER. I took in every step of this race with a different perspective. I talked to countless runners and volunteers. I burst into tears when a volunteer hugged me after reading the ink on my legs stating that I was running 26.2 for my mom. That same volunteer went into her home to get me another cup of water with ice. I’ve been grateful before, but I am humbled by the generosity of the volunteers on this course. Some of them weren’t even signed up to volunteer, but were actually prepared to hand out food and drink on tables outside their homes to every runner that passed by on race day. Simply out of the kindness of their hearts.
I can’t imagine having run this race without the support of my family and friends. To hear my brother and his girlfriend, stepsister, and stepdad all say how much they loved me and how proud they were of me for tackling this crazy distance on this insane course was the best sound I’ve ever heard. I can’t imagine life without my family and friends who messaged me constantly telling me to keep going, to keep running, to push through til the end, no matter what.
This race stands for so much, and so many ways. I can’t even begin to describe how it felt to have my stepdad at the finish line, yelling my name. Or how it felt to get the text from my brother, too far away to drive in for the race, after I finished to congratulate me and tell me “I knew you could do it.”
As I struggle to put into words what this race meant to me, I realize that the barriers I pushed past were both physical and emotional. I honored my mom with this race in a city where she taught me how to overcome obstacles. I ran a race that I never imagined myself completing, much less running, years ago. In so many ways, I triumphed, but I did not do it alone.
If you want to know what the Blue Ridge Marathon is like, you need to run it yourself. This wasn’t just a bucket list item for me, it was a sentimental one that I will forever hold close to my heart because my experiences that day showed me the love and compassion of my family, my friends, and the community at large.
“If you are losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon.” ~ Kathrine Switzer