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Half Marathon Report: Legs That Can Run

Disclaimer: this is too long. I tried to edit, to take out whole paragraphs, but in the end, I leave the editing to the reader. It is my story, and I could not bring myself to leave any of it out.

My alarm went off at 5:30, and I immediately got up and began my race-day routine, trying to treat this morning like any other long-run morning. As I was getting dressed, brushing teeth, putting in contacts, I paused briefly to check Facebook. I had a  message from my friend Fitz that had me crying like a baby. It was just the kind of inspirational, funny message you'd want to get from a friend on a morning like this.

By 7:15 I was at Lucky Peak, waiting in the windy, 45-degree cold for my race, which wouldn't start until 8:30. If it weren't for the necessity of riding a bus to the starting line (leaving my car at the finish), I would not have gotten there so early, but this 75 minutes in the cold, cold May morning was nearly unavoidable. As race time approached my anticipation and adrenaline began to warm me up, and once the gun went off, I was never consciously cold again. I happen to love running in the cold (and hate running in the heat), so I was more than willing to endure an uncomfortable pre-race hour.

About 15 minutes before race time, people began to line up. This isn't one of those large races with corrals for different projected times. About 1350 people run this, and I was probably two-thirds of the way back from the starting line. As I stood there in the mass of people, I looked directly to my right and there stood a former student--a young lady who was in my class eight years ago. I met her two weeks to the day after my pulmonary embolism. I went to school that day simply to introduce myself to my classes and let them know that I would not be there the rest of the week, because of my recent illness and continuing recovery. Somehow, seeing her here, standing next to her, it felt like I had truly come full circle. I was no longer that frail, frightened teacher she met in 2004. I had recovered and was ready to run. We embraced and I teared up. We talked briefly, and then, just as the gun went off, she reached out to briefly take my hand. My tears flowed--joyful, triumphant tears, and I just knew God had sent her to me.

Almost immediately this race narrows onto a fairly narrow greenbelt path. I hadn't been aggressive with my starting position, knowing that I am definitely not an elite runner. I was trying be realistic about my pace and pick a starting place that would reflect that. (Next year, I'll be a little more aggressive.) I spent much of the first two miles darting off of the trail (definitely a risk, since the area beside the path was often overgrown and had unsure footing).

Somehow, in the midst of all this darting, I managed to miss the first two mile markers. I felt like I was off to a pretty good start, and I hoped I was running around 9:30 miles. My training pace had averaged 9:40, but it wasn't unusual for me to be around 9:30 for the first half of the race. I just didn't want to start too slowly. At the third mile marker I hit my watch and looked down to see 26:33. Yikes! I was running under 9-minute miles. Just to be clear, in 12 weeks of training, I'd only run sub-9-minute miles on one run, and that was a 3-miler when I had been trying to run my fastest (I felt blazing fast at 26:44 that night). I knew I could not maintain this pace; I felt both amazed and a little worried.

It turns out I had reason to be worried. I settled in to a more typical pace for the next six miles, with splits between 9:20 and 9:45. But by the end of 9 miles, I was definitely struggling. In fact, right at the 9-mile marker I thought to myself "I'd really like to stop. I wish this was over." I was a little nauseated, more than a little tired, my hips and legs were hurting, and I knew the last four miles were not going to be easy. My music in my ipod was beginning to annoy me, rather than inspire me, so I pulled off the earphones. And I was starting to count.

Counting is my go-to technique for surviving hard miles. I've been doing it for years. When I need to focus on something besides the pain and fatigue, the counting begins: 1, 2, 3 . . . usually one number for every four steps, as I exhale. Four miles from the end is very early for me to start counting, but I think those early fast miles had probably set me up for this struggle.

Just meters before the 10-mile marker, some unexpected help arrived. Two of my students were sitting on the grassy slope along Park Center Boulevard, and they spotted me as I approached and began to call my name and cheer. They were holding a sign for me, although I only made out the words "Miss Roberts." I started to cry. I shouted "I love you guys," through my tears and I ran on, thinking about how blessed I am and feeling a pleasant, mild frisson of adrenaline.

Still I spent most of the last three miles counting. I visualized Fitz's Facebook post from the morning. For a while I chanted Tammy, Paige, Jesus. (Tammy and Paige were a big inspiration for me, as they completed their first half marathon last year and began training for their second this spring, beating incredible odds. And Jesus, well, He's the strength of my heart, the lover of my soul.)

Finally, the end was in sight. With my contacts in I can't always see my watch very well, but I was pretty sure I was going to beat my goal of 2 hours and 10 minutes. At the last turn, probably 200 meters from the finish, I saw Tammy and Paige. (I mistook them for a couple of random teenagers until I heard them calling my name.) My first thought was minor embarrassment that they weren't seeing me make a stronger finish, but that silly idea passed pretty quickly.

My uncle and pastor, Ralph Lowe, was running this race, too, and it was also his first half marathon. He has been on an amazing and inspirational journey toward fitness for the last 18 months. I had passed him about the 2-mile mark, but I kept expecting him to pass me during the last few miles. I knew this was the longest run of his life and that he was coping with a couple of injuries. Just as I crossed the finish line and hit my watch, he fell into step beside me.

The rest comes to me in flashes. I saw my time--2:06:39! I began to cry. I hugged Ralph. I thought about 8 years of longing to finish this run. I thought of surviving a pulmonary embolism. I was thrilled to see another student waiting for me at the finish line. And I thought: thank you, God, for legs that can run and for lungs that can breathe.


  1. It was a special moment Laur. It makes me teary just thinking about it. I remember Paige saying, "There's a yellow hat." I responded with, "That's her" and I got all teary then too. You ran like the wind in my book.

    1. Thank you, my dear. I wish I could be there for your next race. I'll make it happen one of these days. You girls really did help me make this happen, in so many ways.

    2. You could always take a trip with us to Seattle! :)

  2. I loved being there and being apart of your special moment!

  3. Congrats, Miss Roberts! Your battaling journey of training paired with long runs is completely an inspiration. I hope completing this race has only left you wanting more.

    1. Thank you, Anna my dear. It has definitely left me wanting more. The plan is 5 half marathons by 50 (that gives me about 20 months to do 4 more).


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