“Runners – hurry and find your corral, because the race is about to start,” screeched a scruffy, brown-haired man with a lime green volunteer t-shirt on.
My heart started racing, my hands were sweating and my tear ducts were trying their best to stay dry. I jumped up and down trying to loosen up my legs and tried relentlessly, without success, to get rid of the nerves.
For the first time in my racing history, I was standing at the starting line by myself.
As I looked around at the other racers in my corral, I couldn’t help but notice the pairs. Couples were holding hands and giving each other good luck kisses, one girl helped another stretch her arm and various groups were standing together with matching t-shirts.
I couldn’t hold it in anymore. My once proud tear ducts were no longer ashamed and I began to tremble as my eyes rained a torrential downpour in front of thousands of runners.
Great, now my nose is going to be all stuffed up and runny.
As soon as I started to get a hold of myself, a middle-aged woman standing behind me tapped me on the shoulder.
“Are you okay?”
No, lady. I’m not. Leave me alone.
I obviously couldn’t tell her that. My parents raised me better.
“I’ll be fine, thank you. Good luck.”
I wasn’t okay, though. I was missing my older sister – my best friend, secret-teller and running companion. The Cowtown Marathon, my second full marathon, just so happened to land one day shy of seven months since my sister passed away.
Before today, I always stood in the corral line with my sister by my side. She gave me hugs, told me good luck, helped stretch my arm, ran beside me and we always wore matching t-shirts.
“Corral two – move up!”
Out of habit, I looked to my right waiting for a thumbs-up sign from my sister. Instead, I saw a maroon Toyota FJ Cruiser parked right next to where I was standing – the exact same car my sister owned.
Okay, okay. I get it.
I wiped my face, closed my eyes tight, whispered a short speech that I would’ve usually gotten and began listening to my iPod playlist on full-blast. I held my head high and started jogging toward the start line.
The first nine miles or so were a breeze – I wasn’t too cold or too hot and my music was keeping me going. The weather was gorgeous and I couldn’t have asked for a better day to run a marathon.
It wasn’t until the split of half-marathoners and full-marathoners at mile 10 when things started to get a little tough. It was time for the uphill battle – literally. From mile 10 until around mile 20, every half a mile or so included a hill. This wouldn’t have been a problem if I had done my fair share of hill training, but living in a Dallas suburb only allows you to train on flat surfaces.
At mile 20, my legs were throbbing and my left ankle started acting up. Everything in my body told me to stop. Then, suddenly, just when I was about to stop, a girl dressed from head-to-toe in hot pink ran beside me. I couldn’t help but laugh when I saw her each time I felt like stopping.
That color, the same my sister used to run in and wear on a daily basis, reminded me that she was still there – even if she wasn’t physically.
Okay, stop pushing. I get it!
While I was running, I kept trying to think about how I got into this sport in the first place. Why was I here? What brings me back to racing each time?
The simple answer is that anyone who decides to become a runner does it for a different reason. They do it to get in shape, to escape reality for an hour or so, and some, a select few, run for someone else.
When I started running, I initially fell into the category of wanting to get into shape. After my senior year of high school, I no longer played basketball competitively and I needed a fill-in exercise. Throughout my school years, I despised running. I hated how I was always yelled at by coaches to push myself harder, to go faster and to fix my form. It wasn’t until my freshman year of college when I was finally allowed to take the sport into my own hands. I didn’t have anyone blowing a whistle at me – I just had the open road, my iPod blasting Jay-Z and a couple hours to kill before class.
Running soon became an escape from my school-stress. I used it, abused it and couldn’t wait until the next time my feet would hit the pavement. When I moved back home my junior year of college, my passion soon rubbed off on my sister. Before my sister jumped on board, I never had the aspiration to race. I ran recreationally and for myself. I didn’t think racing was a good idea, because I didn’t want my “escape” to turn into something I dreaded doing. Turns out, I was completely wrong. Racing, whether I was slow or fast, changed my view of running.
As I ran next to my sister for our very first half marathon together, I fell in love with the atmosphere of fellow runners. People I had never met in my life were cheering on the sidelines; other racers patted me on the back and encouraged me to keep going.
It was this southern charm that kept me smiling when I felt like crying throughout the Cowtown Marathon.
“Atta girl, keep going!” “Yeah, Sarah!” “You’re doing great, you’re almost done, just keep smiling!”
Six miles out, I was so tired. I was mentally, emotionally and physically exhausted.
I started psyching myself out. My brain was trying its hardest to send a message to my legs that they needed to stop. But, instead of stopping, I remembered a phrase my sister said to me before last year’s race.
“The greatest pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do,” she said. “All it takes is all you’ve got.”
I have never been a quitter and my sister knew that about me. She always knew exactly what to say in order for me to pay attention. She also knew I loved to prove people wrong. For her, I sucked up the pain, pushed through the last six miles and finished the race with my hands up in the air.
At the end of the day, I didn’t run the Cowtown for myself. I didn’t run it to improve my time or to get a personal-best – I could’ve cared less. I ran it for my sister. I ran it with all I had and I knew, somewhere, somehow, she was there at the finish line with open arms and a big smile on her face.