“What? It’s the toughest 15k in the South?” I asked myself for the second time. Initially, I signed up for the Statue 2 Statue race because it was one of the most popular races in Birmingham. As a runner and only a recent resident of Birmingham, I felt both honored and called to run from the world’s largest cast iron statue to one of the biggest Miss Liberty replicas in the world.
Caught in-between my adoration for a challenge and a disdain for wasting money, I knew this race had to be run. My only options were to train hard, do my best and just have fun.
I pulled up to Samford’s campus groaning. It was 6:05 a.m. on a Saturday, I was running late, sleep-deprived, and since the sun had barely risen, the air was cold enough to see my breath. Despite it all, there they were: Jake, Matt and Katherine, my running buddies. I quickly hopped from my car to Katherine’s to defrost.
We arrived at Katherine’s house warm and wide-eyed. Her parents welcomed us with a tasty pre-race breakfast. The six of us chatted about the big day ahead and Katherine’s father, a Statue 2 Statue veteran, gave us newbies a pre-race pep talk. He told us about the course and made special note of the monstrous hill at mile six. He explained how common it was to see people walking up it and not to worry.
As a naturally competitive gal, I was rather taken back by the idea of ever walking in a race. “There’s no way I’m walking,” I told myself.
We quickly finished breakfast, got back in the car and headed to Liberty Park.
The bus ride from Liberty Park to Vulcan was quite full, and not with your typical school bus crowd. This was a caravan of runners; dedicated runners of all ages. Over the hum of vehicle’s engine I could hear endless conversations about training (or lack thereof), old racing stories, target time goals and music blaring from headphones. There was an unmistakable sense of excitement mixed with nerves, yet overshadowed by pride — sweet running pride.
The bus doors squealed open. As I made my way off the bus I realized I wouldn’t be sitting again for a long time.
The sun finally made its debut and our goosebumps quickly faded. We made it to the start line with just 15 minutes to spare. We took photos, stretched and simultaneously started the minimix Matt — AKA DJ Roomba — had made for us.
The countdown began. The horn sounded, my swirling thoughts froze, and we were off!
I typically find the start of any race to be the most difficult. I don’t want go out too fast, but I also don’t want to get caught in the sea of racers around me either. It’s all about finding the right pace — a balancing act.
When I take my first stride I immediately step into the point of no return. Everything leading up to that moment no longer matters. It doesn’t matter how hard I’ve trained or how much I’ve slept, what I ate the night before or how nervous I may be. All that matters now is how I handle it.
Statue 2 Statue was unlike any other race I’ve run. Aside from the longer distance and difficult course, running in this race was a rather emotional experience for me for a couple reasons. First and foremost, the timing of the race had such significance. It goes without saying that the Boston Marathon explosions were on my mind Saturday. It was a privilege to run in a race dedicated to the victims and it gave the challenge ahead a new meaning for me.
In the weeks leading up this 15K I was in my own running world. I was training the best way I knew how, eating well and setting high standards for myself. I was focused, I was driven, and I was ready to prove myself to myself.
I was only four miles in, my body yawned with exhaustion and my legs screamed in pain but I pushed hard. I had set personal goals and in order to reach them, I had to press on.
There came a point about half way through the race when my focus suddenly shifted and I remembered April 16. I decided I was not going to run this race solely for me anymore; I would also run it for them. I would run for those who didn’t get to finish the historic Boston Marathon and for those who didn’t have a chance to accomplish their personal goals. I would run for those no longer with us.
I also contemplated stopping — right there — in the middle of the race. I would simply stop, sit down in someone’s yard and catch my fleeting breath. After all, that’s what happened to many racers at Boston. They had to stop running. And not in the lawn of some beautiful Mountain Brook home. They were forced to put their dreams on hold and forego finishing something they worked so hard for.
So, what was the best way for me, as a fellow runner, to support Boston? I had a decision to make.
I was given the ability to run and the opportunity to race. I had a choice that so many at Boston did not.
So I ran. I ran because I could. I was going to do my best because they did their best.
After passing the six-mile marker and my kind friend Kaleigh holding a cup of my favorite Gatorade I caught sight of the hill. The incline was insane! And Mr. Thomas was right; I didn’t see a single soul running up it. Instantly, my proud thoughts came flooding back: “There’s no way I’m walking…”
Who did I think I was? I’m not better than anyone else on that race course. Walking didn’t make me any less of a runner or athlete. Walking didn’t mean I was giving up. Once again, I had a decision to make.
So I walked. I swallowed my pride and walked, cheering on every person I passed and every person who passed me. We were in this together.
The last bit of the race was a complete downhill. While this may sound appealing in theory after running up so many hills, it’s quite the opposite in practice. My feet slapped hard on the pavement, shooting pain through my shins. Each step meant pain rippling in my lower back.
Despite it all, I couldn’t help but smile at the sight of Jake. He had already crossed the finish line, but came back up the hill to cheer me on to the finish. The downhill evened out, I took the last turn and sprinted to the finish — what a rush!
Crossing the finish line of a race is an overwhelming moment. Regardless of the distance, the course terrain or even size of the race, it’s such a sense of accomplishment for any runner.
I quickly passed through the chute, grabbed some water and met up with Jake. We cheered every runner coming down the hill, offering words of encouragement as they grew closer to their own moment of accomplishment.
Then we saw them — Matt and Katherine, side by side, fighting the good fight.
By the time they reached us Jake and I decided to hop back in the race to finish with them. It was a home stretch unlike any other.