An Empowering Encounter

I have been pretty terrible about updating my blog lately. Since I’ve been back at Emory, I’ve only posted once. Thoughts of new posts constantly come to mind, yet with classes, research, volunteering, extracurricular activities, and of course, running, I just haven’t found the time to write. This weekend, however, was very special- in the midst of stressful schoolwork and homesickness, I had a chance encounter that completely restored my faith in humanity.

It began Friday afternoon when, after picking up my race bib and t-shirt for Saturday’s Winship Win the Fight 5k, I was walking to a lab meeting. Suddenly, an older man approached me and asked about my ankle. I was quite surprised, but he seemed friendly, so I briefly explained the beer bottle incident, which coincidentally happened exactly one year ago (the Friday afternoon before the Winship 5k, which I had been planning on running!) Surprisingly, the man seemed relieved. We continued talking, and it turned out that Jim is a melanoma survivor. His calf was affected by cancer, and the sight of my ankle had worried him. I asked him if he was running the race, which he was, and we began discussing our favorite races and times. As we parted ways, we wished each other luck, and he told me that he hoped to see me on the podium tomorrow. That would have been enough. Sad as it is to say, it’s not everyday that a random stranger strikes up a conversation with you. I thought about Jim for the rest of the day and what a special encounter it had been.

Come race morning, I was warming up with tears in my eyes. I could hear the Winship Cancer Institute speakers, which made me think about my cousin Jimmy, a pediatric oncologist, who passed away a few years ago. I hadn’t realized what an emotional event this race would be, and as I finished my warm up, I heard, “let’s hope there’s no beer bottles on the course this early in the morning.” I turned around, and there was Jim! We entered the start corral together and discussed our families and backgrounds while waiting for the gun to fire. This was the first race I’ve run without knowing anyone- in fact, I’d never run a race without my mom or dad on the course or in the crowds. While the race was held on Emory’s campus and had around 3,000 runners, walkers, and joggers, I did not see any fellow students! It wasn’t really the type of event one typically attends alone- there were teams with hundreds of people in matching t-shirts, groups of cancer survivors, and families running in honor of loved ones. But I did not feel alone at all- I had made a lovely acquaintance, and I was running for a compelling cause.

It was a challenging course (the name of the area, Druid Hills, gives it away) but my endorphins were in full gear. I was the third female to cross the finish line, but rather than analyzing my splits and cooling down, I just wanted to see Jim finish- and he did, in under 26 minutes, and was handed a white flower, indicating he was a cancer survivor. And Jim was right- we did see each other on the podium! We both placed in our age group, and he was elated that both he and “his adopted daughter for the day” had medaled.

I had been on cloud nine the whole day after my encounter with Jim when I received an email from him. Without knowing anything about me but my first name and that I was an Emory student, Jim had found my blog. He deeply touched my life, and it seems I made an impact on him as well. I don’t know what else to say about this weekend. Jim has the spirit of runner- a fighter, an unstoppable machine, a pure human being. We were brought together by chance, and I hope to see him at next year’s race. Jim made me appreciate running, living, and human goodness more than ever before. Miracle moments like these are few and far between, but they truly are empowering.

Jim

Happiest Run of My Life

It’s 4:30 on Saturday morning and my mom steps into my room to wake me up. “Are you sure you want to do this?” she asks. “YES!” I exclaim, still half asleep, but quickly jump out of bed and into my running gear. I have fallen asleep in the car on the way to every race I’ve run this summer, but this one was different. I was a complete chatterbox and could not shut up about how I was going to run the 5k with my running idol, Shalane Flanagan.

 It all started the Tuesday of my Project Linus Blanket-Making Event (post to come soon!) I was scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed on the train home from work and could not believe my eyes when I saw that Shalane would be running the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon Chicago. Just a few minutes later, I got an email that she would be running Saturday’s 5k at an 8:00 pace, designed as a pre-half shakeout run. This was a dream come true- my favorite famous person was coming to my town to run my favorite race in less than two weeks!

 I literally ran off the train to tell my mom the exciting news. I was going to run with Shalane. Of course, my mom had her worries- surely I should not run a 5k the day before a half marathon. There would be tons of people at this race- what made me think I would be able to run with her? When I would not shut up about this, my parents agreed to sign me up but did not let me forget that running this race might hinder my performance on Saturday.

We arrived downtown at 6:30, just as packet pickup was beginning. The race did not start until 8:00, but I was unable to attend Friday’s expo and expected it to be very crowded. Luckily, I was wrong, and it felt more like a neighborhood race than a major running event. All of a sudden, about a half hour before start time, my mom yelled out “Is that her?” Shalane and her husband were casually chatting, and no one was around them. I literally jumped up and down before running over.

As I neared America’s fastest marathoner and three time Olympian, however, I began to freak out. What was I going to say to her- I came down here to run with you?!- without sounding like a total stalker? I felt like a preteen approaching Justin Beiber. I introduced myself, told her how excited I was to meet her, and asked to take a photo together. She was friendly and polite, but I felt extremely awkward and now saw no chance at running with her. Boy was I in for a treat!

before the  race
before the race

I could tell by the size of the start corral, number of costumed runners, and number of individuals wearing the race shirt (or even worse- wearing the following day’s half marathon shirt!) that this was not going to be a fast 5k. I normally wouldn’t want to start a 5k at the very front the day before a half marathon, but Shalane was there- this was a once in a lifetime opportunity! I ran closely behind Shalane and the RunWestin concierge for the first mile. Although my hopes for chatting on a run with her were now lost, I figured that running near her was the best alternative.

We clocked in the first mile at under 7:30, so Shalane told the RunWestin guy to go ahead while she slowed down a bit. I could not believe what happened next! She turned around, waved to me, and said “Oh hi, how’s your run going?” I cannot put the next 2.1 miles into words. A shakeout run with my running role model- they were simply the best 2.1 miles of my life. We discussed Park City (where she just spent time altitude training and where my family always skied until Daniel broke his leg), the new Nike Lunarglide 6, our favorite distances, Runner’s World magazine, and even some of my medical conditions. This conversation felt personal- while there were a few other folks around us running and listening, it was really only the two of us chatting!

As we neared the finish I could see my mom laughing! When I asked her about it later, she explained that I had done exactly what I had said- run the race with Shalane. “Are you surprised?” I asked. “No, not really…not at all” she said. As we crossed the line, Shalane instructed me to throw my hands up in the air with her- that’s where my favorite picture comes in! She high-fived me, thanked me for running with her (I think I should be thanking her!) and went off to run with her husband before the photo opportunity.

774493-1002-0005s

throwing my hands up in the air with Shalane!
throwing my hands up in the air with Shalane!
"the crew"
“the crew”
never expected this!
never expected this!

Just when I thought my morning couldn’t get any better, I met some great running gurus in line to take a photo with Shalane! It all started when Melissa apologized to my mom for bumping into her, and her friend Caroline recognized me as the girl who had run with Shalane! Then we met Dave, a hilarious marathon maniac who seems to know absolutely everyone. He took this selfie during the race- how lucky to meet him (I later met The Pavement Runner as well!) As we waited in line, we all had an interesting discussion about race experiences and took some fun photos. These were the people that helped prompt me to start this blog, and they made me appreciate the friendly running community more than ever before!

Dave's amazing selfie
Dave’s amazing selfie
1538820_10202562677288790_4145870468553273921_n
fun with new friends

 

“It’s my running buddy,” exclaimed Shalane, with a smile on her face as I approached her. Her words were magic to my ears. We got some great photos (the candids are my favorite) and she signed my race bib, encouraging me to go for a PR on Sunday- which I did! I was at a loss for words- this morning had been a dream come true- and I tried to express to her how happy she had made me. After I said goodbye to my new runner friends, my mom and I spent some time in Millennium Park before meeting my dad at the hotel and heading over to the expo. It had been, without question, one of the best weekends of my life, and it was only 10:00!

IMG_1682
dream come true
happiest race photo!
happiest race photo!