Last weekend I ate my words and finished a race I had said repeatedly I would never run (and I still haven’t run it-ha!). Though our family in Corning, NY had asked us to combine a visit and a race, we had told them no several times. First, I hate the name. I could spend hours telling you about how much I hate alcohol for all it has done to people I love(d), but I won’t. So running the Wineglass Half, even though there was no real connection between the name and the race, wasn’t high on my list– even though I had heard such amazing things about the course (fast and net downhill), the setting (hi Upstate New York in peak leaf season) and the medal (pretty pretty Corning glass). Secondly, as a Sunday race it was off the boards for us because we have been pretty staunch about not doing races that interfere with worship. But way back in February, when my friend Miriam in nearby Elmira had mentioned that the congregation with which she worships doesn’t meet on Sundays until 3:30, it suddenly made the half—even the full– completely doable.
So we signed up and planned a family vacation around the race. We got excited. We trained. And then some pesky vertebrae in my back decided to clamp down on a nerve in my neck and lay me out for the 8 weeks prior to the race. There’s no problem with my legs, but the tightening muscles in my back and the tingling in my arm are being “stubborn,” as one provider has put it. More on that in a different post, but after weeks of resting, intensive chiropractic care, Graston and Active Release therapies, it was clear I could not run, I could not run-walk, I could not power walk this race. I left for the trip with a somewhat heavy heart, not knowing if I’d end up with a medal or not, or if I should even try.
But I did know this: it was a great race for a slow finish. The marathon starts 13.1 miles west of the half-marathon course, and a half-hour later, meaning that if I could just stay ahead of the slowest marathoners, I wouldn’t get swept off the course or DNF’d. I knew from an experimental walk that power walking would make the muscles in my upper back angry, and I didn’t want to walk 13.1 at the cost of not being able to run for an even longer period of time. However, I knew from just living life, that I could be mobile and not disturb things. I have strolled with my kids, I have done what needs doing around my house and community without making things worse. So, I wondered, what could be the harm in trying to stroll this race? My husband’s brother and sister-in-law both assured me that they would come get me if I couldn’t make it. So if I could knuckle down mentally and prepare my mind to walk for 4.5 hours (I was toying with 20-minute miles), could I see the course, experience the race, and finish? Could there be any harm in trying? I mean, there are worse ways to spend a morning than walking for multiple hours. At the very least, my husband would have company on the bus to Campbell-Savona High (pro tip: It’s pronounced Camp-Bell and they are very serious about that) and at the start.
And so I bundled up for the 37-degree start in literally every piece of warm workout-ish clothing I’d brought. Four shirts, two pairs of pants, a beanie, and some borrowed gloves. We got to the high school where they allowed us in to stay warm before the start. This was not communicated well, but it’s important to know: due to the location of the school to the start line, in order to get everyone behind the timing mats, you need to be out there 15 minutes before the start. We didn’t understand that until we were out there, but if you ever do Wineglass, don’t try to stay inside until 5 minutes before the race, or you’ll be hosed.
I hovered on the side of the cornfield near the start and waited to begin with the last runners. The race started and I watched the fasties go by. Then the not-as-fasties. Then the run-walkers. Then the walkers and I crossed the mats. I was a little concerned over the fact that we were in the middle of nowhere and my phone was losing battery fast. No podcasts for me, as I had planned. This could be a long few hours. And that’s when I spotted a woman whose hat had caught my eye earlier. Way up here, in the Finger Lakes region of New York, she was wearing an Atlanta Track Club member cap. I commented on it, and we got to talking.
And that was the game changer for this experience for me. Her name is Camille, and as we got passed by every other half-marathoner and all but the slowest marathoners behind them, we both found support for the nearly five hours we were together. She has an incredible story—she and her cousin are pursuing half-marathon finishes in all 50 states (this was state 11). Michelle runs, Camille walks. But just eight weeks prior to Wineglass, Camille was in the hospital with massive blood clots in both lungs. Though she had her doctors’ clearance to walk the race, she was rightfully nervous and taking it way slower than usual. Just like me. She is from Kentucky but has lived in Atlanta. Just like me. And she had made a goal and wanted to try and see it through, even though it was going to be such a different and potentially defeating experience. Just like me.
So for four hours and 52 minutes (I think? I heard Bart Yasso announce my name at the finish so my chip fired, but my official results aren’t on the website, and I haven’t emailed the race yet because really, what does it matter?), we became just who the other one needed us to be. I was there in case she had any medical issues. She was there to help keep me from pushing and trying to prove something that didn’t need proven that day. We talked about Kentucky, Atlanta, being at the back of the pack, the cows by the side of the road, the horses by the side of the road, the sweepers coming through to pick up the discarded clothes, and the marathoners as they came up by us (so many of them were so encouraging, and as Camille sweetly pointed out, it takes a lot of character to encourage a walker when you yourself are at mile 20 of a marathon). The weather warmed, the landscape changed, and we slowly, slowly got closer to Corning. Her cousin Michelle, long finished, showered, and chipper, came to meet Camille at mile 11.5 and gave us a full finish line report. We rounded the corner on to Market Street and I had to put down the shame that comes so naturally when I am slower than I want to be—the people there don’t know my story, or Camille’s. They don’t know and they frankly don’t care, so why should I? As StoryBrand’s J.J. Peterson says, “WWNSTPA:” We will never see these people again.
Speaking of possibly never seeing someone again, Camille and I finished together and quickly got separated as my family hovered happily nearby and as Michelle waited to wisk her away to a much deserved day of belated-birthday celebrating. But though our paths may never cross again, she leaned thoughtfully over to me before that and said, “I believe God puts in your path the people that you need. Thank you.” And she is exactly right. The support that we need, the people that we need are there, if we only seek them out and accept what they have to offer us. I know with certainty that I could have finished that race on my own, but at what price? I would have spent nearly five hours entirely in my head, going to the dark places: convincing myself that every twinge was another setback, that I would never run again, and that this was my sad last hurrah, somewhere by a cow field in New York. Instead I got to enjoy lovely company and a five-hour stroll through one of the most scenic areas I’ve run in.
“Two are better than one, for they have a greater reward for their labor.” (Ecc. 4:9)
Take your support, friends. Even when it comes in the most unlikely of places, be open to it. You are not alone, and when you have a companion, it makes an arduous journey so much less frightening, and even enjoyable. God designed us for the ultimate relationship with Him, but give us supportive relationships and friendships along the way, and we need to embrace how much more we can do when we don’t go this life alone. Thank you, Camille, for keeping me from the dark places of my head during this race. May God bless your health and may you make your 50-state goal!
(Side note on the race itself: though I hate the name and wish it was run on a Saturday, every reason that it makes a list of great races is true. It was gorgeous even without any noticeable leaf change yet this year. It’s well-organized and has great support. You’ll read race recaps that disdainfully mention that it runs next to an interstate in some parts. That’s true, but the cars honk cheerfully at the runners, and you know what’s surrounding the interstate? Some really, really gorgeous scenery. Be aware of the fact that you need to get out to the start line early, even if you are a back-of-the-packer, and you’ll be just fine.)