Today is Global Running Day. And in about four weeks, I’ll run my 20th half marathon in Missoula, Montana, where I’ll aim to break 1:40 for the first time.
I’ve only run sub-1:45 three times while battling injuries for the past seven years. But the Missoula Half Marathon is a flat, fast course, and I might be in the best shape of my life. When I entered my first 13.1-mile race on a cold December day in 2009, I could outrun almost anyone on a soccer field, but I didn’t know the first thing about training or pacing. And when I crossed the finish line in Charlotte at the 2:37 mark, I was gasping for air.
Now, I’ll try to run the same distance almost a full hour more quickly, even though I’m eight years older and have picked up more than a few new battle scars.
I’m calling it Project 140.
I’ve always been a good athlete and played soccer for more than 20 years, but I’d never run a race when my little sister, Taylor, crossed the finish line of her first 5K in December 2008. She was already blind and in the early stages of a fatal brain disorder called Batten disease. She fell and skinned her knees a couple of times, and she and her guide took more than an hour to finish. But she finished. And when she did, she was smiling.
I’m an ordinary runner, so much like my sister’s on that 5K course a lifetime ago, my athletic performance on race day doesn’t mean anything to anyone else. But Taylor taught me that it’s important to push your own limits. And while running a sub-1:40 half marathon might not have a major impact on my own life or anyone else’s, the work I put in to get there will.
This isn’t the first time I’ve celebrated Global Running Day with a commitment to an audacious running goal. In 2013, I ran blind for the first time (to be fair, I wasn’t actually blind; I squeezed my eyes shut and, with my friend Andrew on the other end of a short bungee cord, got to know what it’s like to run in a dark world).
Running in all 50 States
In 2014, I kicked off another running goal – to run a race in all 50 states for my sister.
I started with the 13-mile Crater Lake Rim Run in a remote part of Oregon two months later. Oregon marked the first of 50 states, but it was also the most beautiful, even more than Hawaii (my eighth). I still remember the smell of the coniferous forest and high-altitude Oregon air, and how the famous caldera lake changed colors as the sun climbed higher in the sky. I kept stopping to take pictures; I found myself wanting to remember certain moments of the race and scenes on the course. I took pictures because I didn’t trust my mind, racing with emotion, to capture it all. My time in that race – 2:17 – was by far my slowest since I’d started running half marathons. And I didn’t care.
Running blind in 2013 changed my life forever. Running in all 50 states is life-changing, too. For normal humans, running a marathon isn’t really about speed. For most of us, running a long race is about physical and mental endurance and strategy and attitude. It’s about the experiences we have and the people we share them with along the way.
This journey is like a marathon, too. When I cross the finish line in Missoula next month, I’ll still have 32 states to go. And if I sprint the first 10K of this figurative race to 50, I won’t make it to the end.
I might not beat 1:40 on July 9. But until then, I’ll put in the miles on the track and the road and the trails and the stadium stairs. Each week, I’ll log an average of 29 miles in speed work and long runs and easy runs and tempo runs. I’ll pay my runner dues in time and blood and sweat and tears.
I might not be able to make myself four minutes faster in four weeks. While my Project 140 is designed for speed, it’s not magical, and I’m still a mortal runner. But I’ll channel my sister’s courage the whole way. And for that, I’ll be stronger.