Welcome to the latest post from MRG contributor Heather Quinlan, who is sharing her journey of training for four half-marathons this year. Read her first post here » 

I knew going into my journey with running that the supportive spirit from other runners was pretty rad, but I guess it takes traveling the journey to understand what that spirit truly means …

It’s hard to believe that it has been a year since the tragic bombings at the Boston Marathon. I remember being in my classroom when I heard about it. As I read the details in my newsfeed, a sudden feeling of violation overcame me even though I was nearly 720 miles away from the famous Boston finish line. Like so many others, I repeatedly asked myself, “Why?”

After work that day, my plan was to hit the gym and get in a good two to three miles. But after the events of the day and the pain I felt for the way the runners–MY running family–had their freedoms violated, I ran more without even realizing it. That evening at the gym, I ran four miles but the real victory, for me, was that I did so without stopping to walk. Granted, my pace may have resembled that of a car running out of gas as it gradually rolls to a stop along the side of the freeway … but I wasn’t walking. I was running. Running for me…running for Boston. Running for everyone who has ever laced up his or her shoes and set out to discover what is on the road less traveled. This was an epic moment. This moment was for Boston.

IMG_0410For days, weeks, and even months following that tragic event, we heard stories of hope, promise, and solidarity. It would have been so simple to find a million reasons to focus on the “negative,” yet the resiliency of the running community took center stage and reminded us of all the hope and promise that existed before April 15, 2013 and continues to flourish well afterwards. Although I could cite many instances from the past year where I’ve personally felt uplifted, appreciated, and loved by those within the running community, I think the following “letter” will sum it up best, because it happened to me this past weekend.

Dear Mystery Runner,

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of running nine miles as I continue to prepare for the Traverse City Bayshore Half Marathon. It was an absolutely perfect morning for a run, wasn’t it? Sunny skies and temperatures in the high 50s – after the winter we’ve had, the word “perfect” applied to this day is by no means an exaggeration. Sadly, however, my mind and body weren’t aligned with the weather. Although the first four miles felt decently enough, the struggle set in quickly thereafter. “When is this going to be over?” “Hey, is my Polar working?” It reads I’ve only gone .18 miles since the last time I looked.” “I could have sworn I just went at least a half mile!” “Owwww! My right foot hurts!” “Ugh, I’m so thirsty!” “Let me check my watch, I bet I’ve gone another mile by now.” “Remind me… why am I training to run half-marathons again?” “Am I sure I’m cut out for this?” “YES!!!!!…. a walking interval!” “Finally, two minutes of bliss.” “Start running again already?!?!?!” “That was so not two minutes!” “Is this thing on?!” “Oh great, I have to pass two geese up ahead.” “They’re staring at me.” “I don’t want any trouble!” “I’ll speed up.” “Please don’t bite me, please don’t bite me……..” “OK, I passed them.” “Please don’t chase me, please don’t chase me.” “Hold on…let me just check my watch again…I still have four more miles?!” “Seriously… WHYYYYYYY MEEEEEE?!?!?!?………..”

And just when I thought about heading for the nearest exit and calling my long training run a wrap for the day, I saw you. You were running in the opposite direction and as you approached, you gave me a knowing smile and a courtesy wave. It was so simple, yet in a moment when I questioned my every reason for running, you reminded me that this was indeed right where I belonged. So I kept going. Then those nasty thoughts began to creep back into my mind, multiple times over, and as soon as they did, you passed me again, this time with another encouraging smile. This pattern repeated itself two more times, each time giving me that extra push to keep going when I felt I had nothing left to give. But then there was the final time you passed me. What you didn’t know was at that very moment, I was on the verge of tears. The pain in my right foot was pure agony, I felt as though I had absolutely nothing left to give, and I doubted so much about myself as a runner. My decision was made. I planned to stop at seven miles and walk the rest of the way home. But as surely as a good friend is there in a time of need, there you were, with a smile on your face even brighter than the first time our paths crossed. As you passed, you enthusiastically said to me, “Just keep going, you’ve got this!” After that moment, after those words, how could I stop? I had to finish what I started. And I did. Because of you.

I don’t know where you came from, why you were placed in my path, and exactly how you passed me so many times (whether it was because you are just that fast, divine intervention at its finest, or both), but thank you. Our paths may never cross again, and for all I know you may have been an angel placed along my path because He knew in that moment, I needed you, but I’m certainly thankful that our paths crossed when they did.

With gratitude,
Heather, a fellow runner

At a moment in my journey when I doubted myself completely, a perfect stranger had complete faith in me. If that doesn’t epitomize the true spirit of the running community and how good can continue to blossom from tragedy, I’m not certain what does. Although this “mystery runner” clearly had the most impact on my run that day, he wasn’t the only runner I encountered. I crossed paths with almost 10 runners and every one exchanged a small gesture of “runners’ solidarity” when we passed. No judgments of size, pace, or running apparel, only encouragement and appreciation for a fellow journeywoman on the road less traveled. It’s a pretty awesome “family” to be a part of. I’m so blessed to have found it.

Just keep going…we’ve got this.


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