“Sprint the last mile?” — Shelby nodded towards me as we embarked on the final mile of our first half-marathon.
It all started in the summer of 2018 when Sunny Logan, a close tennis friend of mine, began to speak on her experience running the St. Jude’s Half Marathon during another long day of tennis practice.
(Early side note: Sunny is an absolutely incredible person with an amazing story of surviving cancer. I have never met someone whose name describes their personality so well. Please check out her story chronicled by the Today Show here — https://www.today.com/video/today/56495405)
We spent a lot of hours on the tennis court, and I was certain that I could run the distance, at least until I tried the next day. I ran 13 miles with no prior training, and it almost killed me. But that didn’t stop me from my goal.
I rushed home to tell my parents of my new goal, and my dad laughingly said, “There is no way you will run 13 miles!” He was joking, but I wasn’t. I embarked on a 4–5 month training period where I ran almost every single day. I’m totally kidding….I ran for maybe a week following that gigantic proclamation that I was planning on running a half- marathon.
Flash-forward to a week before the half-marathon, and I had not run in almost 3 weeks. I have always been a procrastinator, so I’m not quite sure why I was so angry at myself. I did what could that week : one long run (11 miles) and several short runs (3–4 miles).
I said a prayer in the car on the way to Memphis that Friday before the race. Just let me finish…….please just let me finish. This challenge was almost unlike any other for me, as I had never experienced anything like it and I certainly hadn’t prepared for it.
I only remember one lasting moment from that car ride — the discovery of my new favorite song. It was a song by Ben Howard named “Time is Dancing,” and the song impacted me deeply because of one lyric that says, “I am finally coloring…..inside the lines that I live between.” It was the middle point of my senior year, and it seemed like this simple lyric encompassed my entire life for the exact opposite reason. The weekend I was beginning and the challenge I was embarking on seemed to be a metaphor for the immediate future of my life….I was headed far outside of the lines I lived between with a crayon of a color unknown to me.
However, I have always been one for challenges. There has always been a certain allure to accomplishments for me. Being able to mark down that I had completed something is what drives me to finish everyday. I thought that finishing the marathon would be my memory of the day, but I couldn’t have been more incorrect. A newly-formed friendship and the vivid memory of the kindness shown by that friend will forever inhabit my memory of the race forever.
I initially planned on running the race alone. I have always been a loner when it comes to competitions or achievements. My interest in tennis is a prime indicator of this trait. I have always enjoyed taking the pride, guilt, or failure that comes with achieving missions alone.
However, there was a girl from my high school running as well. We weren’t very close friends, but we knew each other fairly well from growing up together in a small community and school system. Texting back and forth over Snapchat (wow….that will most definitely date this story one day), there was a strong sense of comradery between the two of us. She had never ran a race either, so we both were shooting in the dark. I made the decision that night to embark on this race at the same pace as her. I felt as though it would be more fun that way.
The morning of the race started completely against the plan. Somehow, the complications only added to the allure of the experience. I had never ran a race before, so it was only fair that a wrench would be thrown into the equation.
Rain was in the area, and the race start was pushed back. That meant I was stuck sitting around for over 2 hours, which only added to my anxiety. I swallowed down an overpriced croissant from a Starbucks and paced back and forth until the time came.
I found Shelby at corral G, which was near the back of the pack. We both didn’t think we were very fast when we filled out the registration form, so we had the luxury of being at the very back of the staggered start.
What seemed like an eternity later, the starting pistol fired for our corral…….and it wasn’t very exciting. We spent the first 2 or 3 minutes walking and then slowly got to a jog when the pack started to expand in room.
Shelby kept telling me, “If I am too slow, you can leave me. Don’t feel bad.”
I never even considered doing that for a second. To me, the moment Shelby and I decided to run together, it was a team event. I would literally drag her across the finish line if I had to. No chance I would desert her.
The first two or three miles were the most exciting. It was as if we were running through a maze. “RIGHT! LEFT! LEFT! CENTER!” Shelby would scream at me as we passed through packs of runners. We were dancers, moving to the beat of thousands of footsteps in unison.
Little did I know, the opening number only set the stage for the recital Shelby would perform later in the race.
We started to feel the effects of the opening rush and maze-running near miles 5 and 6. Those were the miles that I felt at my lowest. It seemed as if it was a brief period of loneliness. Spectators were few, and runners were turning into walkers very quickly.
I think it is fair to say at this point Shelby and I were struggling. Struggling for hope. Struggling for air. Struggling through our own inner voices telling us to stop, slow down, or even quit.
It was in those moments of desperation that Shelby saved the both of us through her kindness.
There was one young boy holding a sign that said, “Fist-bump Hulk for energy!” The child almost lost his mind in excitement when Shelby fist bumped his sign, and we both noticed this subconsciously.
I’m not sure if we had passed a ton of these signs previously, but signs of similar variation began appearing everywhere. Tons of signs reading to press them for energy held by tons of kids.
Often, two kids held similar signs on opposite sides of the track. This didn’t stop Shelby. She would literally run in horizontal lines to make sure that she touched every single sign. As amazing as the act was, it isn’t where I found the beauty and wonder of Shelby.
It was the subconsciousness of the act that made it amazing. Shelby never exclaimed to do that. After the race when I mentioned it, she honestly didn’t recall doing it as a major deal.
She showed unbelievable kindness in her lowest moments without even thinking about it. When she was barely making it, struggling from burning legs and a light head, she ran extra to reach everyone. Kindness became her fuel, saving her from darkness and making her unstoppable.
Looking back on it, I can’t help but think a powerful life lesson was unfolding before my eyes. When we are at our darkest, maybe we can find light by lifting others up. The next time you are at the bottom of the roller-coaster, reach out to someone and brighten their day. It might just energize you like it did Shelby that day.
The next few miles went by smoothly. Shelby was on a high, running from side to side to brighten kids’ day. Meanwhile, I was several steps behind, chugging Nuun (terrible energy drink) and trying to keep up.
“Sprint the last mile?” — Shelby nodded towards me as we embarked on the final mile.
It felt like a great idea to finish with a strong sprint. We turned the corner and entered the final mile.
As I was sprinting, I asked one lady, “Where is the finish line?” She replied, “Just over the hill!” Three hills later, there was still no finish line. However, we got excited after every hill in hopes that it was the end. When the final hill approached and the finish line was visible, we didn’t want it to end.
At the time of her statement, I HATED the woman who said the finish line was just over the hill. Now, however, it is clear to me that in her statement another life lesson was revealed.
The finish line to anything in life is never where you expect it to be, and there is no one that can tell you where the finish line is for you. It’s on you to find it, and the exploration brings excitement and fulfillment.
We finished our first half-marathon that day in just a few minutes over 2 hours.
I entered the weekend with a certainty that I would leave most proud of finishing the race, but I left with a different sort of fulfillment. I gained a new best friend that day, and I got to watch her use kindness as a trampoline to accomplish her goal, altering my view on life and brightening the day of hundreds of spectators.