there's a choice. We can gather up the scattered pieces of that puzzle and shove them back into a box and set it on a shelf and forget we ever tackled that stupid puzzle - a strategy I used to employ often when it came to incomplete puzzles. Or, we decide the puzzle is important enough to finish. We know ourselves well enough to know seeing that thing sitting on a shelf will eat at us forever. We'll never sleep if we don't get to see what it looks like when it's finally whole.
My Houston Marathon 2018 was a beautiful experience. You can read my thoughts about it here: (My Plan Was A Second Marathon. God's Plan Was Different). But one puzzle piece turned up missing from that big and beautiful story. In the grand scheme of things, it was a small piece. I know that. Nonetheless, I didn't get to see the whole puzzle. I didn't get to see the picture on the ouside of the puzzle box. I knew I'd never be satisfied until I did.
I knew I needed to cross that Houston Marathon finish line.
I needed to see that piece of the puzzle.
Not long after registration opened for the 2019 Houston Marathon, I registered for it. I ran a lot of miles and races in 2018 after that, and in the back of my mind I always knew those races and those miles were part of the search for that missing puzzle piece.
One of the puzzle pieces that did fit in 2018 was the time my friends and I got to spend with Father Jim Liberatore and Debbie Allensworth. They lead St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Pearland, Texas. As part of my 2018 Houston Marathon experience, we got to partner with them on some Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. So when I returned to Texas last week I couldn't wait to catch up with Jim and Debbie.
I got to have lunch with Jim and Debbie, and then they led me on a tour of some of the relief work they've been doing since I last saw them. I was thrilled to hear they've received considerable grant support to continue their work. It was fulfilling to see that our small donations were part of the hands and feet of Christ wrapping the Pearland community in love and healing.
Two pieces of the Houston Marathon 2018 puzzle returned to join me in 2019. My friends Tracey and Nicole ran a lot of miles with me after Houston last year, so it was appropriate they joined me in Houston as I searched for the puzzle piece that escaped me when we were together in Houston last January. They are reminders of why running is so important to me. Yes, they push me to finish lines. But far more important to me is the friendships I have in them.
We had some fun leading up to race morning. But race morning finally came and we made our way to our race corals. Weaving our way through over 30,000 runners, Tracey and Nicole split off from me and headed toward their race group. They'd planned all along to run together and work on chasing a race goal of their own. I headed toward the back of the pack where I'd start my race.
Standing alone in that group waiting for my race to start, I realized it had been a long time since I'd run a race by myself. Leading up to Houston, I'd run the Oxbow Ultra with Nicole, the Richmond Half Marathon with my buddy Colby and the Marine Corps Marathon with Tracey. I stood there thinking back and couldn't recall the last race I'd run alone. That had been a huge shift in my running journey in 2018; I'd always preferred to run alone. But to be honest, I felt a little insecure standing there.
What I did have, though, was a plan. I knew I needed to focus on it, no matter how alone I was feeling. A couple of weeks prior to the Houston Marathon I did a 16 mile practice run. I managed a 12:45 minute per mile pace over those 16 miles, and when I was done, I felt like I could have finished the final 10 miles at a pace that would get me to the Houston Marathon finish line in under 6 hours - the pace I needed to avoid being evicted from the course once again.
So that became my focus. I turned my music on. Looked at the total pace number on my watch. And I committed then and there to keep it at that 12:45 number through the first 16 miles. No matter how tempted I got to try to speed it up - 12:45 is all I kept telling myself.
And just like my practice run, it worked. I felt good through mile 16. I was at that 12:45 pace, even after taking my first ever on the course bathroom break, and even after stopping twice to remove clothing as the temperatures warmed from the upper 20's to the low 40's.
At this point, I knew I simply needed to average 15 minute miles the rest of the way. That became my focus - one mile at a time. I switched my watch to a mode where I simply tracked each mile I was on. I abandoned the big picture for 10 bite sized snapshots of how the rest of my race would run out. In my mind, at this point, all I needed to do was run 10 consecutive one mile races in under 15 minutes. I was getting tired, the concrete of Houston was taking its toll on my legs, but I knew at this point I could do it. One mile at a time.
When I got to mile 18, it was like hitting a finish line before the finish line. I didn't make it to mile 18 last year. It was just before this mile marker that I got pulled from the course because I couldn't keep up. I was now further than I got the year before. It was a reminder that I was stronger that I'd ever been. I knew the struggle that got me last year hadn't gotten me this year. It gave me faith I could conquer the new struggles I knew were surely coming over the next 8.2 miles.
I could begin to imagine what the missing puzzle piece looked like.
Nicole had messaged me that she and Tracey were done with their races and they were waiting for me at mile 25. In a way, that shortened my race by over a mile. Because I knew if I could get to them on pace, there's no way they would let me come up short that final mile or so.
I checked my phone. I had friends and family tracking. They were all saying the same thing. You're so close. If you can just pick it up the slightest bit, you've got this. I'd obeyed Tracey throughout much of the race. I hadn't used my phone. But reading these messages at just the right time was a boost that made me thankful I didn't leave my phone behind like he suggested. Maybe even demanded.
And then there I was. At mile 25. Tracey and Nicole spotted me and came out on the course and joined me. Tracey was telling me I needed to pick up my pace - he's kind of a recording like that late in my races these days. Pick up your pace and your body will follow, he's fond of chanting. Nicole told him to be quiet - that I knew exactly where I was and what time I needed. They battled this out while I kept an eye on my watch. I think for a moment they forgot I was there.
Then I could see it. The missing puzzle piece. The Houston Marathon finish line. There's something beautiful about seeing something you came once to see but was denied the chance to do so. There's something fulfilling about being able to accomplish something that a year ago you couldn't. And there's something life-giving about doing it with two people who insisted you could do it all along, who believed it so much that they traveled away from their homes and families to share in the moment you proved them right.
I will always treasure the picture of Tracey and Nicole watching me approach the finish line. They have pride and joy written all over their faces. And then to have them ultimately cross that finish line with me. Well, that, more than the finish line itself, that more than redemption, will always be the missing Houston Marathon puzzle piece.
Running for me has become all about taking on things in life I'd never dreamed of taking on. It's about discovering through taking on each of those bold steps we're capable of more than we'd ever thought we were. And it's about finding this puzzle piece I fear too many of us overlook in life: our boldest steps, our grandest discoveries, come when we run and live in connection with the people around us.
We need people in our lives who say I believe in you. People who say I was there when you couldn't do it, and I'll sure be there when I know you will. People who say you need to pick up the pace and people who say I know you know what you're doing. We need people to run alongside us, to overwhelm us with the miraculous power in that. After all, what on earth could inspire us more to run alongside the people who might need us?
I went to Houston to find a missing puzzle piece. It looked a little different than I imagined it would. But I'm sure glad I found it.
This weekend, hundreds of people will stop and remember a woman whose life and death has impacted their lives in powerfully unexpected ways. A majority of them never met her.
It's somewhat alarming to confess that someone I never had a single human interaction with has profoundly changed how I perceive being human. On the other hand, it's opened my eyes to the possibilities we all have as humans. We have miracles within us. We don't need to see or forsee them, we don't have to know their names or where they live, we don't have to know where they came from or where they will go.
We simply have to believe in them.
Meg Cross Menzies has helped me believe in miracles. Not water into wine or walk on water miracles. She's made me believe that simple human kindness - a heart that humbly turns away from self worship and instead runs lovingly outward toward others - can change the world in ways that resembles, well, walking on water.
I have this book I want to write. It's called:
When I Changed My Mind About Running
Running Changed My Mind
And My life
Long title for a book, right?
When I look back on my life since Meg died, though, those words seem inadequate. They seem way too few to describe the miracle that's happened in my life, and the miracles I've seen take place all around me.
After Meg died in 2014, I wrote this in the blog post I wrote at the time (God's Newest Angel, One With Years Of Experience):
By the time I finished my run today, I wasn't much more clear as to why God would take a family's angel before they were ready for her to leave. But one thing was crystal clear. I know what God has done with his newest angel.
Soon after she arrived, God said, Meg, there's a couple of people trying to put together a memorial run for you this Saturday. They have the best of intentions, but they're thinking too small.
I wrote that after I went on my longest run in over a decade. Maybe even two decades. A run I ran in response to a call to run for Meg that day to honor her life. I was but one of 100,000 runners around the world who answered that call. At the time, I thought Meg's miracle was going to be found in the vastness of that unimaginable response.
I thought it would be found in the number of people who would discover Meg's love for running and maybe make it a love of their own. In the number of people who would become more aware of their personal safety when they ran, and that of runners when they drove. It would be found in the number of people who would be reminded no breath is promised, and in turn, would begin to treat with newfound gratitude every breath they have.
Maybe her miracle showed up in those places. It sprayed and sprinkled all over those areas in life. But when Meg insisted to God that we were thinking too small, I don't she wasn't thinking far and wide. I think Meg was thinking deep.
Meg didn't have much interest in her name running famously around the globe. Instead, I think, she had a final wish, a yearning, to humbly take up rest in a quiet corner of each of the hearts that would ultimately encounter her story.
She found a corner in my heart. She found it in an odd way - through running. Not that first day when I ran for Meg. But some run after that. That's where the odd comes in. Because before I ran for Meg, I hated running. My high school football coach once trucked us 13 miles away from the practice field. On a hot summer day, he dropped us off and told us he'd see us back at the field. I walked almost the whole way. With every breath of the route I vowed to hate him and anything to do with running the rest of my life.
I eventually grew to respect that coach. But, oh, how I honored that vow to hate running. I honored it like a religion. Right up until the day Meg found that quiet corner in my heart. The day Meg changed my mind about running.
Through running, Meg led me to an unforseen discovery. This place I'd commited to forever hate - running - became my own quiet corner where I could be at ease in life. All these years I'd hated running based on a memory painted with exhaustion and struggle and impossible. As it turns out, running can be a place of peace and reflection and personal discovery.
Two years into hanging out in this space, I found myself longing to run a marathon. Ok, longing might not be the right word; my mind hadn't changed THAT much about running. But I was feeling pulled to take on what many feel is a pinnacle running accompishment. So in November of 2016, about 35 years after cursing the sport along with every bumper sticker that ever bragged about it, I became a marathoner.
I've come to say about crossing that marathon finish line:
The memory of a marathon finish line is rooted far more in what you CAN DO than it is in what you JUST DID.
That's not exactly what I thought the moment I crossed the finish line. That thought was reserved for "Holy Jesus, I'm not dead." But the discoveries I made in the aftermath of that race have been the biggest reward of tackling a marathon. Some of the biggest rewards of my life, really. I discovered my mind had been hijacked by fear. I discovered that in my years of sitting on the couch, my mind had been lulled into a state of complacency and apathy. As a result, I was living with little concern for myself and others - not surprising when you're afraid of your own life and indifferent to everyone else's.
But running, excellerated by that marathon experience, was changing my mind. I now had the confidence to try things I'd never dreamed of trying. I started a podcast and began running for special causes. I started interacting with people in a way that was opening my eyes to just how many other minds and hearts in this world had been overcome by fear. I made it a point to look more deeply into the eyes of people who were hurting on the other end of the kind of apathy and indifference my life had fallen into.
I never thought the day would come when I would not hate running, but it did. I actually changed my mind about running. And that surprised me.
I never thought the act of running could ever change the way my mind thought. The way it worked. But it did. And I found that mysterious.
But when the change in my mind began filtering into the way my heart beat, and who it was beating for - well, I wondered if I had run across a finish line into the open arms of a miracle of sorts.
In the midst of this miracle I find myself wondering at times if those are Meg's arms. In the quiet space of running, I sometimes find myself speaking into that quiet space of my heart where she lives: hey Meg, this miracle - is that you?
She doesn't answer.
But when I'm with the people she's brought into my life, when I experience the love of their connection, the strength of their encouragement, when I find myself treasuring their success and health and happiness more than I crave my own, I hear her say, "you're no longer thinking too small."
I don't know if running can change the world. But I know this. When I changed my mind about running, running changed my mind, then my heart, and then my life. And I believe somewhere in there is the miraculous path to changing the world.
I'm going to keep running along that path.
moments, three young children lost their mom, a husband lost his wife, and a beautiful family lost their daughter and sister. Understandably, it was impossible for anyone to see a miracle rising from the ashes of that day.
But in the aftermath of Meg's death, someone hung a pair of shoes on the road sign near where she was killed. As the day and week wore on, that single pair of shoes grew into a shoe memorial overflowing with them. Today, nearly five years later, runners from all over the world continue to visit Meg's memorial and add their own shoes. Only today, those shoes don't mourn her death as much as they celebrate the hope and new life Meg's story has inspired in thousands of people. Most of whom never met her.
I am one of the inspired. I am also one of those who never met her.
In 2013, the year before Meg died, I ran less the 20 miles the entire year. In 2018, I ran over 1,200 miles. In addition to running and a renewed focus on my health, I have a rejuvenated appreciation for life, much of which comes from a deepened relationship with God. I hung an old pair of shoes on Meg's memorial as one man. Today I write about that moment as a completely changed one.
And the most beautiful part about my story - I am but one miracle out of hundreds that Meg's life and death has given birth to.
Part of my miracle has been this website and the stories I've been able to share through my writing and podcasting. Earlier this year, I was blessed with an opportunity to share an interview I did with Buddy Teaster, CEO of Soles 4 Souls. I said at the time the interview changed my life. I was certain my miracle was about to grow.
In that interview and in Buddy's book: Shoestrings: How Your Donated Shoes and Clothes Help People Pull Themselves Out Of Poverty, I discovered how Soles 4 Souls is using shoes I and you and others don't want to bring miracles to parts of the world that long ago quit believing in them.
In Buddy's book, one of the very first stories he shares is about a group of 150 Hondurans who were kicked out of their community because they weren't a great image for their city - the city of El Progreso - home to about 300,000 people. These people were carried from the bridge they were living under to the center of a palm forest and told to live there. Even though the group had been living under a bridge, the bridge was at least familiar to them. Now, nothing was home. What little they once had was now gone.
The following excerpt from Buddy's book talks about the birth of a miracle in these people's lives:
“The city decided these people, living in hovels, were not a good image for the city. So they picked them up and moved them out into the center of a palm forest, and told them that they could live there,” said Ty Hasty, of Soles 4 Souls partner 147 Million Orphans. Minimal as it was, the bridge had been their home. But now they awakened daily in a strange place all over again, with no clue of how to survive—and no help from the authorities that had put them there. They were out of sight, and would be quickly forgotten.
Ty’s organization was already on the ground providing relief, coordinating its efforts with the help of Sister Teresita Gonzalez, the founder of an El Progreso orphanage. One morning, she took Ty to Monte de los Olivos, the area to which the people had been forcibly relocated. Ty saw destitution at a level difficult to describe. “They had no clean water. There was nothing to eat. And I said to Teresita, ‘All these people are going to die.’ She said, ‘Yeah. I know.’”
Today, Olivos is a different place. Ty’s organization helped residents dig wells—and build twenty-nine homes, a school, and a community center—together with Hearts2Honduras, another Soles 4 Souls partner. “The biggest difference is in the people’s faces,” Ty said. “There’s hope.”
But in spite of the physical security this young community created, one question loomed: could it build an independent, sustainable future? Raul Carrasco, founder of our micro partner, World Compass Foundation, says they’re “at the point of creating that opportunity.” Based in El Progreso, Raul, with Soles4Souls' help, opened a micro-enterprise in 2014, supplying shoes to micro-businesses—which, in turn, helps villagers disrupt the cycle of poverty.
In my conversations with Buddy, he told me story after story about how Soles 4 Souls is transforming lives all over the world with shoes and clothing we no longer want.
While talking to Buddy, I couldn't help but make the connection to how a runner's life is transformed when they get a new pair of shoes - how critical those shoes are to their health and well-being and hope as a runner. I couldn't help but make the connection between the miracle that came from that first pair of shoes I put on Meg's memorial, the miracle in my life and in lives all around me. I began to grasp, maybe even dream about, how truly possible it was for Sole 4 Souls and their partners to use shoes, even old shoes we no longer need or want, to paint hope into lives from which it had long ago vanished.
And I was more reflective than ever on the truth that running had run a miracle into my life, and like a baton handed off, maybe it was my turn now to run with those miracles into someone else's life.
So this year, I'll run with that miracle baton. I'll begin taking steps to direct my running journey toward Soles 4 Soles and all they do. I'll start a running team called Running 4 Soles. I'm still figuring out what that means - exactly - and what that miracle looks like, but I've always been about taking an informed leap first and figuring the rest out as I go.
Some initial goals I have this year that will keep me invested in figuring it out:
There's a lot to be worked out along the way. These are ideas born in early conversations with my friends at Soles 4 Souls. But I know God has put this vision on my heart. I believe He wants to show me miracles so I can share them with others. Miracles that might come in the shapes and sizes and colors of shoes, but look and sound and feel like God.
I need to tell you one final story about God calling me to this place.
Earlier this year, after reading about the displaced Honduran people in Buddy's book, I began hearing about the caravan of people coming up through Mexico and approaching the United States. Obviously, there was a lot of conversation and news and differing opinions around this group. I got to researching this caravan, trying to figure out where they came from, how they got started, and it turns out the caravan started with 160 people leaving Honduras.
I thought back to the story from Buddy's book. One hundred fifty Hondurans expelled from their city. It became clear to me I wasn't in the middle of a coincidence. God was clearly speaking to my heart. And as usual, his conversation had a theme.
One common question I kept hearing people ask when discussing this caravan was "would you let these people in your house?" But God kept saying to me - that's the wrong question, Keith. The right question is: are you willing to go spend time in their house?
God's question worked on me for days. I'm going to tell you - I was once fully committed to never visiting a place like Honduras. I love my safety and security and all the comforts I've inherited as an American. But all of a sudden, inexplicably really, as if driven there by a miracle, I was on the Soles 4 Souls website researching the quickest way possible for me to visit Honduras.
And so now I have to go. I have to answer that question - am I willing to go spend time in their house?
I have to see the miracle of shoes working in their house.
So that's the beginning of my story. I invite you to come along on his journey. Whether it's hearing the stories, collecting some shoes, offering financial support or joining me on a trip to Honduras - I invite you to tag along.
If you want to receive updates via email, or express interest in being a part of Running 4 Soles, please fill out the short form for me below.
It was an unusual place to be the Saturday morning after Thanksgiving. But there I was, standing beside a tiny lake, in a town of about 1000 people, sharing the starting line of an ultra marathon with less than 20 other runners. I'd participated in some small races before, but this one redefined small. And as the camera snapped a picture of all of us at the starting line, I couldn't help but wonder how on earth I'd ended up there.
Who was I kidding? I knew how I got there. I attempted to run the 35-mile Georgia Jewel back in September. And the distance, heat and mountains got the best of me. My pursuit of that Jewel finish line came to an abrupt end at mile 18. I'd driven to Georgia from Virginia writing the story of my first ultra marathon. I drove home thinking of new words to write my latest story about failure.
I never imagined those words would include St. Paul, Virginia. But if running has taught me nothing else, it's taught me our stories are never over. Our race finish lines mean everything but the race is finished.
That failure in Georgia ate at me. It had been a good year of running, but I kept dwelling on the Georgia Jewel. It's our human nature, I suppose, to let our minds wander to where we came up short when there are plenty of spaces available for them to mingle with victory.
So I turned to Google. Did a search of November Ultra races and found myself in the far southwest part of Virginia. About as far southwest as you can get without being in Tennessee or West Virginia. The name of the race was the Oxbow Ultra. It had options for 6, 12 and 24 hour races. I did a little math and decided I could run 35 miles in 12 hours. That's all I wanted - 35 miles.
When I discovered my running partner and friend Nicole would be visiting family in that part of the state that weekend, that's all I needed. It was off to the Oxbow.
lake. On one hand, it was nice. It let you settle into a nice pace. On the other hand, it did little to prepare you for what was ahead.
As that first mile ended, the course abruptly turned and switched back and started a climb up the mountain that had been staring down at us as we made our first trip around the lake. That first easy mile now seemed like a cruel joke. I swear I heard that mountain laughing at us.
If the uphill climb wasn't challenging enough, the trail was covered with wet and mounded leaves that mixed in with and at other times hid the frequent pools of soupy mud. I spent a lot of time not just wondering how to take that next step up, legs burning from exhaustion, but how do I keep the next step from slipping me over the edge of the mountain and down into the ravine below.
I didn't think about it climbing up that first time, but the leaves would only get slipperier and the mud soupier as runners continued to traipse over and through them collecting their laps.
After a mile of climbing nearly 600 feet up, we emerged from the covered trail into an open highland. Not only was it flat and dry and empty of leaves and puddles, it was beautiful. It was the prize at the end of a fight. Rest for weary legs. It was the reassurance I needed that I hadn't signed up for 12 hours of death defying slip and slide experiences.
new venture, a relationship, a project, a hobby or a dream. We get a vision, it looks and sounds flat and doable and worth it and fills us with a spirit of "I can do this!!"And then we run around the lake and come to the end of the flat part of that vision and hit the mountain.
And we stop. And we stare. And we turn around.......
What would happen if we just took a chance and climbed the challenges in our life. Maybe, just maybe, we'd discover there is something beautiful on the other side. And maybe - maybe that beauty would motivate us to take just one more lap.
And then another.
Until we're accomplishing things and bringing beauty into the world we never imagined we could.
As we ran down off that plateau things got trickier. It's actually easier to navigate wet leaves and mud going up than it is down. I've never spent as much time in a race trying to keep my balance as I did through the downhill sections of this course. In fact, I consider it one of my greatest running accomplishments that I didn't fall this day. My arms and legs flailed in all directions at times to make sure of it, which led to soreness in muscles usually not involved in my running motions, but my body remained in one piece throughout.
The final 2 miles of each lap were along the Clinch River. After the heavy rains the river was high and rolling. Just like I was reminded at the top of the mountain we sometimes need to go exploring to discover beauty in this world and within ourselves, the river reminded me just how many sounds we don't hear each day. We get used to the sounds of traffic and keyboards and YouTube videos, but out there somewhere and always are rivers rolling. Each with their own sound. All of them calling us to hear them.
At the end of that river was the finish line. Once every 5 miles we got to cross a finish line. Each time we did another 5 miles were added to our collection and we were one lap closer to 35 miles. Just beyond that finish line we could step into an aid station and eat pasta and drink coca cola. And discover new treats like Lay's Poppables. (A treat my entire family is now addicted to).
my recipe for ultra success. (And Poppables - forevermore running success includes Poppables).
I want to add another component of this race that helped me. It was the 5 mile laps. Mentally, knowing every 5 miles I could hit a bit of a reset button was powerful. When it comes to tackling longer distances, I need the capacity to break the race down into bite sized nuggets. Well, this race was staged in those nuggets. Never once did my mind drift ahead to the 35 mile finish line - it was always focused on the end of that current 5-mile lap.
I told Nicole it was likely we were only going to get 30 miles today. I think she'd already done the math herself. She reminded me it would be my longest distance ever. My longest timed run ever. That there was still a lot left to run for. So we kept going. Another lap. And then another.
I experienced something in those next laps I'd never experienced before. The transition from day to night in the middle of a run. And on this day, that also meant going from whatever warmth the elusive sunshine had offered to the cold blanket of darkness.
Those slippery leaves, the ever widening and sloppy puddles, they now became trail landmines waiting to trip us up with each stride. The only protection we had was our headlamps. More often than not, though, we had those lights pointed in the distance to spot oncoming coyotes.
It's odd, really. It was probably the longest 5 miles of my life. Each step hurt. Whether going up or down. My legs were cold and stiff and at times I felt like I needed to reach down and manually lift each step into place. But out there in the stillness of the night, in a world far removed from the chatter and soul conflicting tugs of the real world, there was uncommon peace. Peace a part of me dreaded seeing fade back into reality.
In the end, the longing for warmth overcame the desire for peace, and we marched ahead with every ounce of speed we had left in the tank. At this point, it was a very small tank.
you conquer it, and sometimes maybe you come up a little short. Standing there holding that medal, I felt like we experienced a little of both that day. A little conquer. A little coming up short. But I think all of our lives should be in the business of taking on the job of fear and discomfort. It's in the taking the job on at all that is great. So I couldn't help but agree, we did do a great job.
We were making our way up the steps. Headed to the car and then back to our rooms where we could finally escape the chill that had fully invaded both of us now. We heard a voice shouting "Nicole, Nicole," as we struggled up the steps. We stopped. A young man was holding a large growler from a local brewery. He presented it to Nicole along with a certificate and let her know she'd won the women's division of the 12-hour group.
Nicole will tell you the number of runners in that division was quite small. (We won't say how small). But I will say no matter how many runners were in that group, she earned her award. And it was the exact perfect way to put a cap on our day. Standing at the top of those steps, in the dark and chill of a tiny town park, no one else around, it was the most ceremoniously beautiful way to say - great job - great day!
Only a few weeks before the 2018 Richmond Half Marathon I had no plans of running it. I was registered for the full marathon. I was excited about it. I couldn't wait to relive memories of the 2016 Richmond Marathon - my first marathon ever.
But a year of heavy miles started catching up with me. I knew I had one more goal I wanted to tackle before the year ended, and another marathon might steal what legs I had left. So I decided the wise decision was to drop down to the half marathon.
Soon after I made the switch to the half marathon, my friend Melissa Whisnant posted on social media that she and her 14 year old son Colby had been training for the full marathon. But after tackling an 18 mile training run together, Colby decided he'd better stick to the half marathon distance.
Melissa put a call out to her social media friends looking for someone who might be running the half marathon and would be willing to run with Colby. He didn't want to run it alone. I thought maybe there's a bigger plan behind me dropping to the half - God has a way of using my race experiences to paint his bigger pictures - so I said sure.
Melissa told me she and Colby had been using a run/walk method to train for their races. She said Colby had a 2:45 half marathon goal in mind, which would be his fastest. That sounded great to me, like a Saturday walk in the park compared to some of my recent races. This drop from the full to the half suddenly sounded like fun.
And no race EVER sounds like fun to me. Surely there was a catch.
Colby achieve his goal.
We met at the starting line Saturday morning. The temperatures were perfect. There was a chill in the air I knew would only disappear when the running started. So I was ready to run. And after a few minutes of hanging out with Colby, I could tell he was excited to get going too.
Two guys ready for a leisurely stroll through the streets of Richmond
We were near the back, so once the first runners took off we slowly marched our way to our turn to take off. We chatted. Colby told me how quickly he came to discover on that 18-mile run with his mom that the marathon just wasn't his deal this year. I quickly applauded him for that discovery. In running it's always helpful to know the right deal. I haven't always been great at figuring that one out.
On this day, though, I think we both sensed we were in the middle of the right deal.
And then we took off.
We settled into a 11:30 pace. A pace I knew was quicker than Colby's 2:45 goal. I also figured he'd be wanting to walk soon so that pace would even out. Only we were 4 miles in and we still hadn't walked. Then 5 miles and still running. As we neared Bryan Park Colby told me he'd need to take a walk break at the 10k mark.
Really kid - this is your idea of run/walk - run 6 miles then take a walk break?!?!
We were still holding steady to our 11:30 pace. We hit the halfway mark in under 1 1/2 hours. I think that's the first time I heard Colby say the dreaded words:
I think we can break 2:30.
I wanted to remind him that 2:30 was no longer a leisurely stroll through the streets of Richmond. Then I realized I never let him in on my plan for a leisurely stroll. In his mind my plan was to help him reach his goal. Even if it meant halfway through the goal the goal changed from stroll to roll.
I suddenly felt my job shifting from leading the way to keeping up with a kid 40 years younger than me. God, what kind of a crazy bigger picture are you painting here?
As we left the park Colby asked me if I liked my hat. I was wearing the one he gave me at the dinner the night before. I told him I did. I asked him what Coastal Sole was. He told me it was his dad's footwear store. Colby talked about the store, about how his dad came to own it. You could tell how proud he was of his dad.
Then he said something - he didn't know it then - I didn't tell him - but he said something that revealed the bigger picture God was painting through my time with Colby. He told me his dad's store had donated shoes to school children and hurricane victims. Colby's heart was on full display as he told me this.
Maybe God had put me out there to help Colby run. But in that conversation about shoes, God was talking to me. I knew it. Something has been stirring in my heart lately, it has everything to do with shoes. If you listen to my next podcast you'll understand it more, but in that one moment God said to me quit stirring and start moving.
Colby, however, must have heard a whole different kind of start moving message. Because the kid wasn't slowing down. In fact he sped up. He told me he wanted to get ahead of the 2:30 pace a bit so he could walk later. Walk later, I'm ready to crawl now. What have I gotten myself into, I wondered, as I was now battling to keep up, let alone try to lead my young friend anywhere.
With 3 miles to go I knew breaking 2:30 was going to be tough. Colby was looking tired. I was feeling rough. We were walking more. But Colby insisted we were going to do it. I just kept saying we've got this buddy. It was much easier to say than believe in that moment.
But it's funny - with 3 miles to go - chasing my own race goals, I can easily let myself down when I don't believe it. Running with Colby, though, I just kept telling myself I will NOT be the reason he doesn't break 2:30 today. There's a different mindset you have when you hold yourself responsible for someone else's goals than you have when you're chasing down your own.
We ran a 10:14 mile on mile 11. One of my fastest race miles ever. This kid means business. We slowed it up a bit and ran an 11:30 12th mile. With a mile to go I knew we needed to go faster than that 11:30 or we weren't breaking 2:30. I just kept telling Colby that final mile we've got this buddy. We've got this.
As we made the final turn down the hill to the finish, we were flying. I knew we had it. I held out a fist to him, bumped his, and said let's go finish this thing. You've earned it. He looked at me with the sincerity of someone much older than 14 and said, thank you, I couldn't have done it without you.
He nearly saw an old man cry. That hit me hard. One, because it's beautiful to see our younger generation show gratitude. And two, because I've been there 3 times this year. Three times I've run to my fastest times in 2018 because of the people I was running with. Each time I was overwhelmed with gratitude for what they'd poured into my life over those race miles. Colby's gratitude meant more to me than our race time.
But we poured it on to the finish line. And then stopped the clock.
Stride for Stride Down the Stretch
Colby stopped the clock well under his goal - or should I say - his amended and speedier goal of the day. I guess I should add I stopped the clock at 2:28:50 - so in the end I really couldn't keep up with the kid.
Colby rushed back to his hotel with his dad and got a shower and then came back and ran down the stretch with his mom as she completed her marathon dream. Colby talked about her a lot during our run. I could tell he really wanted her to get this marathon finish, so I'm sure he was more proud of her down that stretch than he was of himself.
In that same regard, I was more proud of Colby Whisnant than I've been of myself at any race this year. And this has been my best running year ever in terms of miles and the clock. But the determination I witnessed in this kid, his love for his family, the gratitude he expressed over and over - Colby gave me two hours and twenty eight minutes of hope that's hard to find anywhere else these days. The world that makes me cringe at times is still shaping young men like Colby Whisnant.
That made for one of the best race experiences ever.
So Colby, I had one marathon on my calendar next year. I have unfinished business in Houston in January, and then my plan was to call it a year for marathons. But it would be my honor - my pleasure - to run alongside you as you tackle your first marathon next November right back here at Richmond. If that's the right deal.
And I promise, you won't fool me with this whole run/walk thing. I'll do a much better job keeping up this time my friend.
A medal well earned my friend.
Medals are hung and they become a collection of stories. I'll treasure this latest story.
I should have seen it coming. As easy as I see my boys running at me when the ice cream comes out of the freezer, I should have seen myself running the Marine Corps Marathon. I didn't, though. I'd been in DC last year watching friends run this race. I'd navigated hours of dizzying metro rides. Dodged what felt like a zillion spectators crisscrossing the city in search of a zillion different runners. I was so lost when I left the city that day I swore I'd never run that race.
That's why I should have seen it coming. In my running life, the translation for never is almost always "see you at the starting line."
The morning started with traquility. Just my friends and I nibbling on some breakfast in the hotel lobby before we headed to the metro.
But tranquility was short lived. When we left the lobby we had 1 1/2 hours to get to the starting line of our race just 4 miles away. Yet, we barely got to the starting line as the first runners were taking off.
Those dizzying metro rides. Those crowds. They were back. And they were not tranquil.
All I could think was - when will I learn to let my nevers stay nevers.
I also knew it wasn't my thinking that got me there. It was my heart. Specifically my heart for a man I've come to love. Earlier in the year my friend Sid asked me to run this race since he couldn't. Sid is a Navy veteran. He's devoted the last 25 years of his life to running marathons for fallen military heroes - over 200 marathons to be exact. But he reached a point, at 72 years old, where his body wouldn't cooperate with him over the marathon distance.
So he asked me to tackle this one for him.
When considering my answer, my mind saw those crowds, remembered the logistical nightmare of it all. I remembered thinking I might need the Marines to clear a path for me out of the city when I left to go home.
But my heart - it saw Sid. It saw Sid marching 26.2 miles through the streets of Little Rock Arkansas, for 8 hours, carrying the American flag. (The Little Rock Marathon was where I first met Sid in person.)
It was my heart that told my mind to shut up and run. That's how I found myself standing at the starting line of the Marine Corps Marathon.
So my buddy Tracey and I decided we were going to run this one together. Every television station in the country should have interrupted their regularly scheduled programming for that breaking news. It's pretty common knowledge Tracey and I ran together several years ago on a hilly half marathon course in Lexington. Tracey tried to give me advice about running tangents when the only advice I wanted was how to survive a half marathon when you're only a few non-tangent strides from death.
I snapped at Tracey a couple of times. I think he didn't like it much. He never ran with me again.
We were two miles into our reunited race when he said, "Can you believe we've already gone two miles. The miles are just flying by." I think that was his way of saying look, two miles and we haven't killed each other yet.
The truth is the first ten miles flew by. I was running a nice steady pace. All along my goal was to get to the bridge at mile 21 without getting pulled off the course. That required a pace better than 14 minute miles. We were better than a minute per mile faster than that. And feeling good.
Before the bridge I knew I'd have to tackle mile 12. The Blue Mile. The one mile section of the course lined with pictures of fallen service members. Sid was going to be standing along the Blue Mile holding an American flag. More than the finish line, I was anticipating seeing Sid.
We weren't far into the mile when we came across a young woman bent down in front of one of the pictures of a deceased service member. She was crying uncontrollably while holding the picture. It was clearly someone dear to her. Someone she missed. Someone gone way too soon.
It occurred to me for every one of those pictures we were passing, many people had probably cried for them like she was crying. Many people are probably still crying for them - parents, spouses, children - lives never the same. I was barely into the mile and it was already emotional.
But I still hadn't found the man I was looking for.
Then I heard him shouting out. I heard Sid. There he was, standing as proud as ever with the American flag. It's like looking at soulmates when you see Sid and that flag together. For a man who has honored hundreds of fallen soldiers through his running journey over the years, there seemed in that moment to be no more perfect setting. Ever. And as I ran toward Sid, I felt incredibly blessed to share in it.
On this day, I ran to honor Sid because Sid honors them.
After spending some time with Sid he pushed us on. He literally pushed me I think. He probably sensed I was more comfortable hanging out there with him than tackling the final 14 miles of the marathon. But I'd come to see that finish line, to cross it in Sid's place and honor, so we pressed on.
We made it to the half marathon mark in 2:50. I'd never felt so strong after a half marathon. We were on target for the 6-hour finish I was shooting for. All was good.
Until it wasn't.
At about mile 15 things started getting tough. I felt good breathing wise. I didn't feel drained thanks to cool temperatures. But every muscle in my body was sore. Not to mention a few bones. Feet. Calves. Thighs. Hips. Even my shoulders were sore. The good news about soreness is, unlike the Georgia Jewel when I was trying to battle through nausea and dizziness, I knew my mind could overcome pain. Not once, even as the pain grew, did I consider I wouldn't beat the bridge. Not once did I consider I wouldn't see the finish line.
I knew we had friends waiting at mile 18. That became my target. As hard as my race was starting to get, I knew seeing friends would be a boost of energy. In a city overrun with unfamiliarity, thousands of people I didn't know, roads I'd never traveled, a place full of enormity and overwhelming, I knew seeing smiles and hearing cheers from within the world I treasure - I knew that would prove to be a pit stop that would go a long way towards getting me home.
And I was right.
The greatest cheer squad ever!!
As we left the cheer squad not all was cheery with me and my running partner Tracey. We'd done so good for 18 miles. We'd buried the nightmare of that first race to the finish line together many years ago. Now, I confess, most of this falls on me. The homestretch is always a grumpy stretch in my running journey. If it's a half marathon grumpy visits at about mile 10. If it's a full marathon you might want to avoid me after about - well - mile 18.
Tracey was pretty focused on us breaking the 6-hour mark. But I knew at this point that goal wasn't happening. Tracey was using all sorts of coaching strategies to get me to speed up. The one that sent me over the edge was when he told me if I "picked up my pace a little bit my body would follow suit."
There was something about that statement at mile 18 - in the midst of my misery - in the midst of me grappling with the reality I had to lug my body another 8 miles to the finish line - that didn't sit well with me. Maybe it was how I interpreted that statement as Tracey believing I wasn't smart enough to know my body was going to follow me where I went no matter how fast I went. Like who does not know that? Maybe it was me interpreting that statement as him insinuating the only reason I had slowed my pace was because I didn't know my body was sort of married to my pace - and not that I was dying. Or, maybe it was how I suddenly realized this guy ignored the memo I sent out long ago that as loudly as I could proclaim it proclaimed:
I AM NOT COACHABLE!
So I politely as I could told Tracey to shut up. I tell my kids to never say those two words - that there is never a helpful or loving way to say shut up. So I hope they never read this article. Because in that moment, shut up was the most helpful and loving sentiment a human could possibly express.
Do as I say boys - not as I run marathons with Uncle Tracey.
The truth is, though, and don't tell Tracey, but some coaching did sink in. I did dig in toward that finish line. I did celebrate within when we beat the bridge - one of my primary goals in this race. I knew beating 6 hours wasn't possible, but I doubled down on a new goal to beat my previous marathon time.
As I was doubling down additional reinforcements showed up. Not coaches, just beautiful souls tackling their own races. Charlotte Powers and her dad Papa Powers came along. My buddy Cliff joined us for the last few miles. There is inexplicable power and strength that comes from friendship, from a shared journey. Especially when that journey is one as challenging as the Marine Corps Marathon. I think it's because our friends, who know us best, remind us - like they did at mile 18 and again down this homestretch - that we do have it within us to do far more than we imagine.
That's what I did. Over the last 8 miles I discovered what I often know but let doubt stand in my way of discovering: I am capable of more than I'm doing. Every single day, every one of them, I have more in me. If I choose to hide from it or run from it - that doesn't mean it's not there. It just means I leaned into comfort and not the challenge of embracing the finish line of progress in life.
When the clock stopped I'd run my fastest marathon by 21 minutes. That's progress. It wasn't a world record. No timer in the world could possibly be impressed by a 6 hour and 20 minutes marathon. But I long ago realized if I'm in running for records or impressing timers, I'm in for a discouraging journey.
This running journey has been far from discouraging, though. This journey has filled me with confidence. It's overwhelmed me with the hope I've always found running toward a new horizon.
Every run. Every race. I am always running toward unchartered territory, an uncomfortable new horizon where I find God there waiting, reminding me: I'm glad you brought your fears and doubts with you. Now once again bury them. You surely won't need them as you head on toward your next new horizon.
Grateful for this guy's friendship. Grateful for his loving acceptance of my mile 18 grumpies.
You know that look when you see it.
I'll never forget seeing it on my friend Robyn's face. She'd been in the middle of a lengthy phone conversation. The call ended. Robyn tucked her phone away. And then that look took over. Where there'd been peace and contentment. Where at one moment there had been excitement, anticipation of a weekend of fun with friends, there was now concern.
It was the kind of concern that runs deeper than the bank calling you about fraudulent activity on your account or a friend cancelling an upcoming coffee date. It was the look of concern that said life would never be the same.
A short time after that call the results came back. My friend Robyn's mom Rose had Gioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer. A month earlier I'd picked Robyn up at the airport for her annual trip to visit us and run the Richmond Marathon. Now she was processing how to tell her mom goodbye.
Life isn't always a marathon. When you know you're losing your mom, life suddenly feels much more like a 40 yard dash than a marathon. A lifetime to tell someone what they mean to you suddenly seems reduced to minutes.
Soon after this news I was with Robyn on Kiawah Island in South Carolina. We were there to run a half marathon. Life had changed for her, but she was committed to running the race that had been on her calendar for months. Running had been one of Robyn's passions for a long time. Now maybe it was a form of therapy.
Several of us were there running with Robyn. We committed to run this race for her mom. This one's for Rose. It was a prayer. It was a ray to run and honor Rose's fight against a disease that refuses to lose.
Running has always been a struggle for me. It's hard. The finish line always feels like a zillion painful miles away. But out there running that Kiawah half, I realized I was fortunate. Even though I knew logically my life would end one day, out there running - without a doctor's prognosis that my days were numbered - I could at least feel like I'd be able to run forever.
I was suddenly grateful for that: the hope that I'd be able to run forever.
What a gift it is - those moments- when we can innocently believe we'll be able to do anything at all forever.
After that race I wanted to do something to let Rose know I appreciated her strength. Strength that, without her knowing or intending, became a gift of gratitude for me. I could only think of one way to express that appreciation to Rose. I sent her my Kiawah Island Half Marathon finishers medal.
It wasn't a medal that represented victory. I've never had one that did. But every race medal I've earned represents a struggle. Taking on something that doesn't come easy. A willingness to fight all the way to the end. Whenever Robyn talked about Rose, that's what I heard. I heard about a mom in a hell of a fight, but a mom who wasn't going to go down with anything less than offering a hell of a fight in return.
Rose lost that fight last month. But all the way to the finish line she gave it her all. Cancer is once again the vicious victor. It's robbed the world of a beautiful mom and friend. I hope we'll one day find the weaknesses in cancer's attack and come up with a gameplan that stifles it once and for all.
But I also hope this. I hope we'll continue to rob cancer of some of it's evil glory. I hope people like Rose will continue to say to cancer: you can steal my life, but in doing so I'm going to reveal a strength in this life that makes the world stronger. Out of the depths of the ugliest places of cancer, I will rise with a beauty the world might have never got to see. So in some ways - you lose cancer.
I regret I never got to meet Rose in person. I'm sorry that it was cancer that introduced me to her beauty. But know this cancer - as you celebrate another ruthless attack on the innocent - many of us discovered a beautiful human being in spite of you. You come to weaken us, but people like Rose remind us we're stronger than we think. People like Rose embolden us to fight you back like never before.
Last week my friend Robyn mailed me the medal I'd sent Rose last December. She said he mom had hung it up where she could see it every day. As I write this, that medal now hangs where I can see it every day. A medal that once honored my capacity to take on a challenge and conquer it now hangs in honor of a woman who did some conquering of her own. Rose stood toe to toe with a disease that wanted to impose darkness, and in doing so she revealed light to us all.
That Kiawah Island Half Marathon medal has far more value and meaning today than it did the day I crossed that finish line. That's often how these medals go.
In running, the finish line is often viewed as the big moment. After months of training and miles of racing, the clock stops. A goal is achieved - or not - but this race story is over. The runner moves on to the next race, the next story, the next finish line.
Running builds into us this idea of speeding ahead. Keep your eye on the prize, no looking back. As a result of that, if we're not careful, we can miss the much bigger stories that are often as central to our race as the training miles are. We can miss the life story often buried in the race story.
That's why I want to take a look back at my Georgia Jewel story. On the surface, it's a story of running my first ultra marathon. It's a story of tackling the most daunting physical challenge of my life. But in looking back, I discover a richer story. One that is pointing me toward a more meaningful finish line. Frankly, one I never saw coming when I registered for this race.
My Road to the Georgia Jewel
Back in August of 2017, I interviewed ultra runner Harvey Lewis on my podcast (Listen Here). Harvey has tackled some incredible distance challenges over the years. He's a former Badwater 135 champion. More recently he ran the 2,200 mile Appalachian Trail in the 8th fastest time known to man. But during this particular episode, I became more interested in Harvey's diet. He'd been a vegetarian for many years, and he gave his diet a lot of credit for his running success.
Later in 2017, Harvey did a series on Facebook featuring athlete friends who also adhered to vegan or vegetarian lifestyles. One of those athletes was Jenny Baker. I reached out to Jenny and asked her to be a guest on my podcast. She agreed to, and in December of 2017, I interviewed her. You can listen here.
During that interview Jenny mentioned she was the race director for an ultra marathon in Georgia called the Georgia Jewel. Jenny said she took on this role as a way of giving back to the community. She said that's what she wants her race to be about - giving back.
In February of 2018, I interviewed JP Caudill on my podcast. JP had recently completed the World Marathon Challenge. In the challenge, JP ran 7 marathons in 7 different days on all 7 continents. I was awed by his accomplishment, fascinated by every word he shared during our conversation. You can listen here.
That interview with JP sparked intrigue in me. It sparked a serious wondering of just how far I could push my own running limits.
A few weeks after that interview I ran the Little Rock Marathon with some friends. I joked with one of those friends, Nicole Williams, about running 7 marathons in 7 days. She suggested I was crazy. I think I believed her and started thinking about an alternative form of crazy. That's when I recalled my conversation with Jenny Baker and the Georgia Jewel.
A few weeks later Nicole and I were officially registered for the 35 mile Georgia Jewel.
Soon after that, I interviewed Kate Fletcher. Kate had recently run 100 miles at a local high school to raise money for scholarships for students who might not otherwise have the opportunity to attend college. I was moved by Kate's heart. So was GoFundMe - they came to her school to make a short movie about her fundraiser. Listen to my conversation with Kate here.
To be honest, when I first reached out to Kate it was because she'd run 100 miles. Since signing up for the Georgia Jewel I'd become more fascinated by longer running distances. I'd begun imagining just how far I really could run. But after interviewing Kate, I was much more captivated by her heart than by her running.
My friend Eddie Brown was captivated by both. He reached out to me shortly after my interview with Kate and said he'd taken up running. It had been years since he hit the road, but he was back at it. He also told me about his non-profit, Giving Words. Giving words supports single moms in central Virginia. He went on to tell me that Kate is a single mom and he'd discovered she could use some help.
I've since learned more about Eddie and Giving Words and Kate's needs. It's struck me how in my interview with Kate all you heard was a heart for giving to others. Nowhere in her did you hear a need for others to give to her. But Eddie said he wanted Giving Words to not only help Kate, but to honor her heart for giving to others. Eddie said he wanted to give back.
Why does that sound familiar? Give back? Isn't that what Jenny Baker said the Georgia Jewel is all about - giving back? She did. So that's what I intend to do with this race. I want to help Eddie give back to Kate.
I also want to honor Jenny's vision for the Georgia Jewel. When I cross the finish line, when I run my longest distance ever, when I check "ultra marathon" off my bucket list, I don't want that to be the end of this Georgia Jewel running story. I want that story to live on. What better way to make that happen than helping Eddie and Giving Words help Kate, and help breathe life into the lives of some single moms just looking for a break. Looking for their own finish line in life.
I encourage you to listen to my conversation with Eddie below. Since I'm running the 35 mile Georgia Jewel, I'm looking for as many people as possible to help me give back with a $35 contribution to Giving Words. A contribution that will go directly to helping them help Kate.
When you donate to Giving Words, you'll find a place to "add special instructions to the seller." In that box, please write "Georgia Jewel." Thank you so much for supporting and for giving back.
Click on the Giving Words logo below to donate.
The first time I went for a run, at least the run that ignited what I've come to call my "running journey," there were very few expectations. It had been years since I'd tackled a run of any distance. All the possibilities I imagined in that run were rooted in survival.
Something happened along the road of this journey, though. In the stillness of miles that seemed to go on forever, out of boredom if nothing else I suppose, I started listening to God. At first I was shocked that he still wanted to talk to me. After all, I'd spent years holding my hands over my ears every time he tried to tell me anything. But there he was. Talking. Overlooking years of a back turned against his voice. And there I was. Listening. And in an instant my life filled with possibilities.
Since then God's built a mission out of my running. I set my sights on the next finish line, he defines what I'm actually running toward. More often than not the finish line pales in comparison.
As I look toward my next big finish line, the 35 mile Georgia Jewel, God has put another mission on my heart. I can't wait to share that with you tomorrow. But once again, it's a mission born in listening. It's responding to God's whispers and being astonished at how he uses the wildly different miles of my running journey to weave into being one beautiful destination.
With my limited imagination I can only see a few hundred yards in front of me. I can imagine the finish lines and the medals and the ice cold coca cola to celebrate with. But my faith in God has put a magnifying glass on possibilities. It's turned footsteps into opportunities to serve, hard work into change that goes well beyond me.
The reality is, we are God's tools for changing the world. He's just blessed me with the chance to make running my tool.
Come back tomorrow to hear more about the possibilities God's revealed through my Georgia Jewel journey.
When your best effort reveals what you're capable of, you walk away proud. But when your best effort misrepresents you, it haunts you. It leaves you doubting whether your best effort showed up at all. It leaves you craving to set the record straight.
I guess that best explains why I found myself at the starting line of the 2018 Patrick Henry Half Marathon.
Saturday, for the third time, there I was. Being there defied logic. I ran this race in 2016 in extreme heat and I wasn't up to the task. I got pulled from the course at mile 10 by a Hanover County Sheriff Deputy for running too slow. I assure you the law has never before or since cited me for going to slow.
I don't handle defeat well, so I signed up again in 2017. Two days before the race I got food poisoning. I desperately needed that 2016 race behind me, so I ran anyways. Well, I finished. I got my redemption. Sort of, because I left there just certain I could do better.
I started believing I should give up on ever having a meaningful relationship with the Patrick Henry. It just didn't seem to like me as much as I was trying with everything I had to like it.
That cravining to set the record straight, though. It just wouldn't go away.
As the race started, I found myself next to my friend Solomon (Mo). He asked me if I had any goals for the race. I told him I just wanted wanted to have a solid run. I'd had a tough run the weekend before at the Georgia Jewel training run (a prep run for my first ultra in 5 weeks), so I needed a confidence booster. I told him my Patrick Henry time last year was 2:45, and at the very least, I wanted to beat that.
I also hinted I knew the weather was working for me. In the back of my mind I knew my fastest half marathon was 2:25 back in April at the Run the Bluegrass. I'd increased my miles since that race, and I knew if everything came together today, something bigger than a solid run was possible. I hadn't thought about it much the past week, mainly because this race had always been a disaster maker not a record breaker, but in that moment the possibilities seemed greater.
Mo and I didn't make a plan to run together. We simply took off that way. We settled into a rhythm over the first three miles. Our pace wasn't blazing, but it was steady. It was slow enough to carry on a conversation that really made those first 3 miles fly by in my mind.
We picked up the pace ever so slightly the next 3 miles. We approached the first cutoff mark just beyond mile 6. I told Mo this is where I knew I was in trouble in 2016. Back then I'd only been a couple of minutes ahead of the cutoff. I had 4 miles to get to the next cutoff at mile 10. And in my mind I knew my pace would only slow.
But here we were today, over a half hour ahead of that 2016 pace.
I didn't say anything to Mo, but this is where I made the decision to go for it. I knew my record was possible. I hadn't walked once the first 6 miles, which is unusual for me during any run, let alone a race day run. I felt strong. But I also knew there was "that hill" coming at mile 11 and I'd better put some time in the bank to allow that monster to slow me down like it always does.
Miles 7 and 8 ended up being our fastest of the day. There was no look. No head nod. I just slowly picked it up and my buddy just stayed right beside me. I knew he knew what I was up to by this point.
I told my mind to shut up and I battled on. We passed the 10 mile cutoff mark where two years earlier I'd been ushered to the backseat of a small car and driven back home. That memory alone was fuel for the stretch.
Just in time. Because along came mile 11 - THAT HILL.
The hill was tough, but in some ways it never seemed easier. We definitely took some walk breaks as we climbed. But I knew it wasn't robbing from me what I needed to get home, to break my record. In some weird way I didn't feel like the hill wanted to do that at all. The hill, like the weather, and my buddy Mo - they all seemed to be on my side this day.
Up until this point, Mo remained a silent partner in my chase for the record. He knew what I was up to at some point I'm sure, but he never mentioned it. Likely because early in our run I told him I wasn't coachable. I told him how my relationship with Tracey Outlaw nearly ended early in my career when Tracey made the mistake of trying to coach me in a race.
This is when Mo simply told me, "let's go ahead and get this thing done." The hill was behind us, the finish line just over a mile ahead. We walked a bit this final mile, monitoring the time the whole way, but with just over a third of a mile to go, it was an all out run to the end.
It's ironic. Running is such an individual gig. I spend a lot of time on the road in solitude - running. But this day revealed the true beauty in running is the teamwork, the relationships, that work with each and every stride to bring home the fulfillment I so easily find in this sport. God has used running to plant some of the best people I know in my life. With their help, more often than not my best efforts reflect the me I want to be.
Life is like running.