An incredible journey creates a new family.

For me, one of the best parts of any journey is the people I meet and the things I learn.  That was never more true than when I ran the Flying Pig marathon this year as part of the Runner’s World Challenge.

One of the many benefits of the Challenge was a special forum that only Challengers could access.  In this forum, Challengers could exchange information, ask questions of the Runner’s World experts and other Challengers.  Over the training period of 16 weeks, we got to know one another very well.  We learned about each other’s personal stories…our families, work lives and running history.  We also learned about our goals for the race and why those goals were important to us.

Race goals varied, including setting a personal record (PR), running a negative split (running a faster second half than first half of a race) and not hitting the wall.  The wall is this crazy thing that many marathoners hit between miles 16 and 22 where their body basically starts to shut down (a little or a lot) and it can be very painful.  Marathoners have to work through this experience to get themselves to the finish line.  Once you hit the wall, the journey to the finish is as much mental as physical, if not more mental.

Prior to the race, Runner’s World had a number of events for Challengers to meet the editors and fellow Challengers.  This was amazing.  It was so great to be able to meet the people I’d grown to know and feel had become part of my family.

Family is an interesting thing.  Family can be genetic or by marriage.  But families can also be made up of people who share common bonds, passions and experiences.  And the Runner’s World Challenge helped me build a whole new family.

On race day, I got to run with some of my new family members.  Pam was running with her husband Tony.  They’re a married couple from Illinois who trained together.  Now that’s family!  Pam was running the half marathon and Tony was running the full marathon…his first marathon.  I had noticed in the forum that Tony and I had similar finishing time goals.  So when we were at one of the pre-race events, I asked him if he’d like to run together.  He thought that was a great idea.  Our finishing time would help Pam pace for her finishing time until she had to split off from us, so we all agreed this would be fun and a good strategy.

On race morning, the gun goes off and it’s lightning, thundering and rain is pouring down on us.  But we’re family.  We stick together and support each other.  We know this is not going to deter us from our goal.

Since Pam and Tony were from out of town, I felt my job in the family was two-fold.  First, to be a good tour guide and point out some of the beautiful aspects of the course.  Second, since I was the most experienced of the three of us, I was also the pacer.  My job as pacer was to make sure we didn’t start out too fast and kept an even effort so our pace would average out to what we needed to finish in our goal time.

Pam and Tony’s job in the family was to keep us all focused on something other than the race and how our bodies were feeling.  They kept the conversation lively and constant.  When you’re running 26.2 miles, this is a luxury and a joy.  I’d run three other marathons prior to this one.  The most recent one, I ran 19 of those miles all alone.  There wasn’t a single person running my pace and there was no crowd support on that course.  So, having the support of our new family on this race course really made a difference for all of us.

Pam left the family and went out on her own about mile 8, which is where the half marathon and the full marathon split off.  Tony and I continued on together.  We talked about all kinds of things…our common weight losses, our families and friends, life…you name it, we talked about it.  The miles flew by.  About mile 15, one of our other family members, John, joined us.  He brought a whole new dynamic to our family journey.  John’s job was to get the crowd excited.  The Flying Pig is known for it’s outstanding crowd support.  But John made it even more outstanding.  As we’d run by crowds of supporters, John would yell out, “We can’t hear you!” and the supporters would go wild.  It was incredible and quite inspiring.

About mile 20, Tony was starting to fatigue a little.  He told John and I to continue on and he’d see us at the finish line and the after party.  We knew he’d be fine because Tony and I had talked about this prior to the race that if anyone needed to drop back a bit, the others would go on ahead.  So, John and I continued on knowing Tony wouldn’t be far behind us.  About mile 22, John was ready to kick it into high gear.  I wasn’t ready for that quite yet.  So, I told John to go ahead and I’d see him at the finish line.  He took off, and I could see him ahead of me for part of the remaining 4 miles.

The last four miles I ran without any family members, but that was okay.  Because the spirit of our bond filled my heart and gave me the energy I needed for that final, fast push to the finish.  As I crossed the finish line, I was overwhelmed with a sense of joy for all of us and what each of us was about to accomplish.

After the race, we all celebrated at the Runner’s World post-race celebration.  We exchanged stories and experiences and rejoiced in each others journeys.

So, how did it all end up for my family members?  Pam set a PR.  Tony achieved his goal finishing time and his first marathon PR, John is one step closer to running a marathon in all 50 states and I set a PR.  Some of our other family members we didn’t run with, Vanessa, finished her first marathon in an impressive time.  Tammie ran an impressive marathon and pushed herself hard.  And Steve, not only ran an impressive marathon, he did something he had never done before…avoided hitting the wall to run a strong, very fast race.

But those accomplishments, while exciting, aren’t what all of us remember and can’t stop talking about.  What is most important, is how we each played a key role in helping the other achieve their goals.  We formed a bond that cannot be broken and now have a new, extended family.  We shared a very special, remarkable experience together that ties us to one another.  And we hope we will all have the chance to run together again in the future, as a family.

When I started the Runner’s World Challenge journey, my goal was to utilize the tools of this program to improve my running and hopefully set a PR.  But what I got in return far exceeded that.  I met incredible, inspiring people who challenged me and I challenged them.  We formed a common bond through a unique experience that we shared for 16 weeks and will continue to share for a lifetime.  And that was the best part of the journey and something we will all treasure forever.

2 Responses to “An incredible journey creates a new family.”

  1. Elio Says:

    Lauren,
    You have no idea how much you inspire others. Reading your blog post today, I smiled and thought, she needs to know how moving her words are, (hence my reply today).
    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Heidi Says:

    Lauren,
    Your athletic pursuits have been a ‘religious’ experience for you! What an inspiration. Thanks for sharing.

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