Sarah shares her awe inspiring story where she overcame fear and challenges to complete her first marathon. She shares the story between fearlessness and gratitude encouraging us all to make moments in that tension. Share yours at #InAWEtoRISE
Hello friends and if you are listening on publish day, Happy Halloween or the start of Dia De Muertos! Today is one of my favorite holidays, and though that may surprise my regular listeners, what it really comes down to is a family tradition, memories, and honestly an overly effusive love for sugar. Today’s Jolt episode is inspired by this time of year and like this celebration day, juxtaposes itself perfectly between our features on Fearlessness from this month and gratitude for next month. My message today is a retelling of memory from exactly three years ago, one that I have surprisingly never written about in great detail nor have I archived it in any meaningful way. And when the memories popped up once again on Facebook yesterday and today, I knew that it was time to share. As I came to the end of the month in mileage for my run, I found myself needing to complete 7.6 in order to finish my 52nd consecutive month with 100 plus mileage. I didn’t want to do it. With some added yeses in my life lately, it’s been a bit challenging to fit in all the priorities, and the math worked against me each time I got out for a quick one-mile streak keeper this month. There were more than normal with birthday parties, sick children, travel, and the blessing of my husband’s football team making it to playoffs, and now moving into the next round this week. All blessings, mind you.
And this episode isn’t about the fact that I did, in fact, complete those 7.6 miles and pushed it to 8 for an even number, rather I wanted to share about another time. Three years ago. When I faced down countless fears leading up to the starting line of my first marathon. And how even though I am not physically able to run those miles today, that I am insanely grateful for the memory flood that occurred on my run today.
I can remember the exact location on a much-trodden path near my home when I heard a message in one of my favorite voxer groups at the time, “Endurance Educators.” This group had been a go-to for a while, instrumental in getting me to run my first half marathon, sharing resources, encouragement, and shared community in a way that strengthened me. Five of us had already come together to run a half marathon, including my colleague Luke Stordahl, an awesome principal Jay Posick, and my two co-authors (though they weren’t that at the time) Jessica Cabeen and Johnson. In that group was Adam Welcome, and we had been hearing a lot about he and Jay meeting to run a marathon together in DC. Though they had offered it up to the whole group and wanted us all to join, nobody was ready to do a destination marathon with such seasoned marathoners…or maybe not at all. The idea of traveling to Washington DC to run a marathon held no interest for me when they were planning it as I considered the busy time of life with a chaotic work environment, turmoil in my personal life, and two daughters aged 5 and 7. Too much going on to train for a marathon let alone travel to one. I had no problem saying no to that charge.
Except when Jay came into the Voxer group indicating that Adam would not be able to run the Marine Corps Marathon and that the Brooks sponsored bib could be shifted to anyone of us. My heart skipped on that late July day, and I knew I was going to say yes. My husband and I had just been to DC for a conference, and I could feel the yes forming. I just didn’t know how I could pull it off with only 12 weeks to train.
But I did.
And friends, that was no joke. In addition to starting a school year with new challenges, I focused hard on training, waking up at 4:00 a.m. and running along the dark highway, jumping over roadkill to get in my long runs. I trained hard and I trained well. In early October when I completed my 20 mile training run, I was slated to run a 3:45 marathon, and for those of you who understand that number, it was impressive. I could have qualified for Boston with that number. I don’t want to gloss over this training. It was challenging. But I know it was timed well because there was so much going on at school that these extended hours of focus allowed me to reset and focus on what I could control in life, and I was injury-free. The only battles I faced then all tied to my ability to run for hours at a time for several weeks straight after long workdays and nights.
I put in that hard work quietly and relentlessly. I didn’t want to ever complain because I chose it and I felt I had to be really strong given an added challenge at home.
You see, this marathon, in particular, was a destination marathon was in Washington DC the day before Halloween.
Considering Halloween was a big deal in this house, there was no way I would commit to a situation that would keep me from experiencing Halloween with my two young daughters. My flight would have to leave DC after the marathon that same night to get back in time to be present for my kids. Everyone I knew told me this plan was bananas and that I should treat my body better and stay the night in DC. It was too risky. Except for my sister. She knew my goal and committed to help me both complete the marathon and get me back in time for the girls. With her loving support, I booked a flight for my her and me to leave just a couple of hours after my estimated completion of the marathon, and my parents agreed to meet us late when the flight got in to drive me safely the two hours back home so I could sleep and we could all celebrate together.
I had trained hard alone, but I had my crew in place to support this crazy dream. I was intimidated by the marathon itself and the many variables, but I was confident it would all work out.
My sister and I had an incredible time together the day before, seeing sights, making memories, connecting with Jay’s support team so she could be with them to cheer while we ran together. Though the whole thing was new to us, we were loving the crowds, the anticipation, the excitement. We made our plans for marathon day for me to take the rental car to Marine Corps base where the Brooks sponsored bib said I would have a pass to park there and entrance into the VIP tent. Perfect. My sister would meet Jay’s wife and daughter. I woke insanely early and left in the dark, allowing hours before the start to get to my destination. I left my sister sleeping in the hotel room, my heart pounding as I ventured into this new experience with as much preparation as I felt I could have had at the time.
And then it all fell apart and fear gripped me.
The roads were all closed earlier than had been reported. I had researched ahead enough to know they would close, but I had left at least one hour earlier to account for that fact. Unfortunately, I also planned to rely upon my GPS and the little information I had from Brooks about my VIP parking perk. My GPS couldn’t locate where I was to go, and the roads for main drags were inaccessible.
My original plan to stay outside of DC to save money turned into me driving around side streets, circling closed off exits, reentering freeways, and growing panic for literal hours. As the time kept moving forward and I would be no closer, getting lost on side streets, I envisioned ditching the car and hopping on a bus, but where would I go? I stopped at a gas station to ask a police officer to help. I was lost, and my GPS was not working. He looked at me with great sympathy and said there was no way I was getting there at this time. When he saw my reaction of defeat, he looked around once and offered what he believed to be the last remaining path left open. I thanked him and drove off (too fast) toward where he had been pointing. Military cars all in a line going a direction the GPS did not suggest flew bast a barricade…and I was not allowed past. When I got closer, the person directing traffic motioned me away. I rolled down my window again, ready to beg. There was a line of civilian cars like mine being diverted and they were all turning around. I could see the clock ticking again. Less than an hour and a half to the start. When I got closer, the officer shook her head. I told her I needed to get into the base. I had VIP parking after all! She looked at me and sighed. And waved me on where the rest of the cars were headed. No help.
After turning around again in the dark with no idea where I was anymore, I lost it. Friends. I cried in defeat. Screamed even. It was not a good moment. How could this happen? I had been voxing with Jay all along, and he calmly told me it would be ok. But would it? I was already mentally drained from hours of stress driving around, and now I would have to just give up? Drive back to the hotel and return not even being able to run? My school had thrown an assembly for me. People were planning to track me. My girls were going to watch me on the map. I had spent countless hours training for this marathon only to not be able to get to the start line to prove to myself that I could finish it? For all my preparation for training and getting home, I had failed to properly research this part, and it was going to cost me.
My surroundings were dark, and I was filled with fear and loss. Not smart but I literally put the car in park in the middle of the street, ready to call my sister and give in. I sat in the middle of an empty street. No traffic. No accurate GPS. No help. My throat was raw from the cry I had just let out, and from somewhere inside came a whisper. “God, please help me. I cannot do this alone.”
For those of you who know me now, this seems like nothing. Why had I not mentioned this hours before? Had I not already been asking for help?
But three years ago, I wasn’t. Three years ago, I was leaning into my own power. Three years ago, I thought about all the preparation and training. My will. My perseverance. My strength was enough.
Until that moment where I sat in a strange city. In a strange car. With all my hopes for completing this thing, I had worked so hard for scattering to the wind outside the window.
And I looked up one more time before calling my sister to tell her not to get on the train into town.
And there was a tiny sign–you know the kind. Inconspicuous, green and white. With an arrow pointing left. “Marine Corps Base Entrance.”
For a second I couldn’t breathe. How could it be so small, and how did I notice now?
I turned down the road, barely believing this was possible. It was still very dark, and there was a long line of cars entering into a highly secured area. My heart was already feeling faint, and I pulled in line, watching people get out so men in uniform could check their vehicles. Open the hood, drivers got out, they checked the trunks, every nook, and cranny in the car. I was about six cars back, and there remained one hour to the start. Fear continued to grip my heart added to by the security and guns.
I let Jay know I was on base, and I still had no idea where I was or how I would get to the start line, but I was creeping closer. This might happen.
When I got to the front, I imagine the fear residue still clung to me. The soldier asked me what my business was and if I had my ID. I let him know that I was on the VIP list and had clearance to park here. He looked at me a bit skeptically, and said, “I will check that list ma’am, and if you are not on it, I’ll have to kick you back to civilian land.”
As I watched him walk over to the booth and exchange with another soldier, I closed my eyes and held my breath.
He returned and handed me back my ID with a simple bookmark looking item. “Hatfield Entrance Pass” –” You better get going if you are going to make it on time, ma’am. Please step out of the car.”
While I nervously waited for them to finish the search, I voxed Jay that I was in.
To fast forward the story a bit, it was still dark, and I could not see much around me, nor was anything familiar. I drove to where I hoped I should go based upon clipped instructions when I learned I still needed to take a shuttle to the get off the base. I placed the bookmark looking item on the dash, thinking that was my parking pass to be able to be on base and rushed onto the shuttle.
When we got to the destination on the base, I piled out with about a dozen runners and made sure all items were with me. As we walked for a while, I saw we were coming up to a gate, and it was light enough for me to see now “Hatfield Gate”, I froze. I watched others walk confidently out and my blood ran cold. As one foot stepped out the gate, I turned back before my body got out and approached the marine with an automatic weapon at the gate.
“Um…excuse me, but I think I might have left what I need to get back in here to get my rental car in the car.”
He stared at me a moment, “Ma’am, are you saying you do not have one of these?” And he held up the bookmark that I had left in the car thinking it was my parking pass.
I wanted to cry. So close. Getting so close and another obstacle.
“Yes, I thought I was supposed to leave it in my vehicle.” I felt like such a naive idiot supplicating to this man with a visible weapon in his hand. Nothing about this scenario was normal to me, and I was feeling utterly depleted of resilience.
“Ma’am, you will not be allowed back onto the base without this pass.”
He looked around, slipped one off the top of his stack and handed it to me. “Good luck ma’am.”
I almost hugged him and thought better of it, slinking away and out the gate. Less than an hour to start, and I needed to find Jay. I walked way too fast to enjoy the fact that I had just been launched out and walking next to Arlington National Cemetery. It was surreal.
It turns out that Jay was near the start line, and I still needed to drop my bag off. To speed up my story, you should know that my sad lack of understanding of direction and time continued to curtail my ability to be to the start line at any reasonable time. Dropping my rental car keys and my overshirt in a bag I had labeled, meant I was clipping toward the Pentagon in the opposite direction of hundreds smarter and better-prepared runners who were headed to the start line. Once I got the bag dropped off, I was relieved to know that I had 20 minutes until the start.
Jay was waiting for me. I may have alleviated my bladder in bushes where I only saw males doing such, but we had minutes to spare before the gunshot would signal the start. Don’t judge. I had driven around for hours trying to get to this spot, I wasn’t about to have this race start while I stood in line 30 people deep at a porta-potty.
Jay and I got lined up in the nearest corral. With 10,000 people participating in a marathon this size, you corral based upon estimated times, and we didn’t get in our optimal time corral.
Honestly, this impacted our entire run. We were never able to get caught up throughout the morning, and I will forever be grateful for a partner to run the first marathon that continuously reminded me we were there to finish together. When we stopped for a restroom break, the time didn’t matter. When we ran by our cheering section and stopped to give hugs. The time didn’t matter. When we came past mile 17 and I thought I was going to die, time didn’t matter. And when I encouraged him through the final five miles, time didn’t matter. When I sang at the end, time didn’t matter. It was a challenging and glorious experience. And I technically PRd with 30 extra minutes than planned because I had never done a marathon before. But I was so grateful that after all that challenge, I was able to START and complete that one.
And the challenges were not over. After finishing the longest run of my life, and experiencing what Marathon Brain felt like, taking pictures I barely remember at the incredible Iwo Jima Memorial, more obstacles came.
The bag I had checked with my rental car keys meant an extra mile after completing 26.2 to get to at the festival. The extra time meant I may not be able to shower to catch the flight. The traffic getting to our hotel meant no time to eat after running for over 4 hours.
But my sister was there with me, keeping me strong, reminding me we would make it together. When we got on the shuttle to get the car on the base over one hour passed our original plan, we agreed worst-case scenario was missing the flight. So, we may go with no food and no shower, but we would not miss that flight. We put our heads down, our hearts together, and plowed through the challenges all the way to the gate.
By the time we settled into the airport with the most delicious meatball and avocado sub sandwich I have ever consumed, I had showered, and we had ten minutes before boarding, I had never been so grateful that God gave me a sister to support me the whole way.
When we got into Minneapolis, she continued to bolster me through laughter and story through my eyelids wanted to shut, and when we got to my parents’ those buffalo wings and margarita hit the spot as we recounted our shared stories from the day. None of us could believe I had run 26.2 miles and made it back in time.
My parents drove me the two hours home that night, and I slept hard the whole way, basking in the warmth and security of their service, love, and support. When the girls woke up in the morning, we were all joyous to be together on Halloween, and I had a sweet story to tell. They now had a mom who was also a marathon runner, and I had a host of obstacles that I had overcome to be grateful and share.
These moments remain so vivid three years later, and though I would be tempted to let them wash away on the shore of flawed human memory, I am grateful to share them all with you today. There were so many moments I could have given up before the start line, plenty during. I faced down real and imagined fears to complete that insane goal of running a marathon and making it home for my family. And I am forever grateful for the reminder of what it feels like to overcome those fears, leaning into the support of those around me, and relishing the accomplishment.
I hope this story jolts you as it reminded me. Through that fear and in deep gratitude, we are capable of more than we could ask or imagine. We all live in the space between fear and gratitude in our lives. What matters is what we make out of that tension. Let’s choose to make moments we will never forget.