I was in the final stretch of a five mile off road race called the Living History Farms Turkey Trot. How’s that for that for a name, right? Love that. It was November 2010, and for the past half an hour or so I had been happily running through the woods, splashing through the streams, and dodging trees and rocks. Just trotting along, having a great time, running my very first off road race.
I could see the little main street of the old fashioned town in the distance, and the finish line was near, I could feel it. I was so excited. Like, if you’ve ever run a race or done an off road race, the adrenaline and the atmosphere is just amazing. I love it.
But before I could cross the finish line, I had to finish the final stretch. And after crossing one last stream and pulling myself up and out of the muddy ditch on the other side, I looked up and up and to see a long incline stretched down from me, and my heart dropped.
Months earlier, out of the blue, I had suddenly decided I wanted to start running. That’s not totally true. I decided I wanted to become a runner. Why? Well, for the past two years, my brother and his wife had been living and working in Afghanistan as community developers. They were scheduled to be home later that year, and we were all counting down the months. My brother had been an All-American cross country runner, and wouldn’t it be fun if he and I could do something like that together while they were home on furlough? I decided that yes, yes, it would.
So for the next eight months, I trained hard. I ran five days out of the week and I was all ready, or so I thought. Now I’ve been warned about the final stretch of the race, but nothing quite prepares you for how discouraging the site of a long, steep incline is for a pretty new runner. And after four and a half miles of water, mud, and sweat, I hadn’t broken stride a single moment up to that point. So, automatically I just pressed on and I just kept going. I’m just gonna power through. I was going to make it up that 150 yard gradual ascent.
Halfway up, lungs burning, I started sucking air like an asthmatic without an inhaler. And I slowed to a walk as I gasped for breath. It felt horrible. And I was so, so disappointed with myself. I was heartbroken. I was so close, and now I was imagining myself barely crawling across the finish line.
And that’s when I saw him. My brother Andy was running back down the hill towards me.
“You’re almost there! You’ve got this, come on, let’s go!”
I knew that he would finish before me, there was never any doubt of that. I was not in it to win it, I was in it to finish. But I never ever expected that after crossing the finish line he wouldn’t just join the other runners in line for a donut and a banana. Right? It never occurred to me that he would immediately do a U turn and come back to run with me through the finish line.
It still chokes me up just thinking about it. And in that instant, seeing him come back towards me down that hill, my whole attitude changed. I didn’t want to disappoint him, for one thing. I didn’t want him to see me walking. I picked up the pace again, no matter how hard it hurt, and put one foot in front of the other in the slowest jog ever, but it was still a jog.
We crested the hill together and the ground leveled out and somehow I found a last bit of energy to cross the finish line at a respectable speed. I am 100% certain that if my brother had not come down that hill back for me, I would have never picked up the pace again. I would have walked across the finish line feeling defeated and alone. I learned a really important lesson that day. Even when I was at rock bottom, I can keep going and finish strong if I knew that I had help and support.