I’m not an emotional person. However, as my husband broke off from me for the last two miles of the Charlotte half marathon, I found myself starting to tear up. As I crossed the finish line, I cried. I have run a few half marathons. I have even run a marathon. What made this race different? A lot of things. Mostly being the impact my children have had on my life. Being a good mom, a mom my kids are proud of, ensures a different level of love that will always be in my life.
When I saw the Charlotte Marathon was looking for ambassadors to represent the city’s race, I felt a calling. This was something I wanted to be a part of. I have preached that I am someone who keeps a very diverse training plan. I am ready to do all types of things during any given week – ride an indoor bike, do an obstacle course race, crush a 5k or finish the competitive wave of beers and burpees. How could I challenge those who considered themselves “non-runners” to get off a bike, treadmill or out of a crossfit studio to support this event? I kept my same training regimen and showed up week in and week out at several local running races.
I ran some of the fastest races of my life. Will I remember that? Sure. However, what I will remember most about running all these races, rather participating in all of these fitness events, is the community. It gave me inclusion. Access to a new group of inspiring friends that showed me a whole new side of Charlotte.
Let’s talk race day. I had been sick for several days leading up to the Saturday race. I spent most of Thursday and Friday laying on the couch with a low grade fever. I didn’t intend to dwell on it, which is why most people didn’t even know I was feeling under the weather as race day approached. I woke up Saturday with the intention that I would run my half marathon without music, without expectation and with the intention of seeing my city.
I parked in a parking deck that I didn’t plan to park in due to road closures. I wore shorts based on advice from my husband and other ambassadors and I did less than a half mile warm up. Nothing went as planned. I met fellow Flywheel instructor, Abbie Cooper, and the Charlotte Marathon ambassadors at the finish line to take some pre-race pictures.
Whatever nerves I may have had were released through the ambassador’s version of a 90’s boy band photo op and a short jog over to the start line where I met fellow FiA (Females in Action) friends for a group picture. I had every intention of starting with the 8:00 min/mile pacer, until I couldn’t find him. That’s where I was supposed to meet Abbie too. Couldn’t find her either.
I did find Katie Gregory (another Charlotte Marathon Ambassador). We had already talked about trying to run a majority of the race together, so I felt good about having someone who I knew wanted to run an 8:00 min/mile pace near me. As quick as the national anthem was played, the race started. We walked across the start line. There were a TON of people. The first mile was slow. Over the course of the mile, Katie and I picked up Alejandro (another Charlotte Marathon Ambassador). He was running the full marathon, with a goal of sub 3:30. GREAT. Someone else who would pace with us.
The energy at the start of the race was fire. Katie, Alejandro and I chatted, said hello to friends and before we knew it we were done with the first mile (8:10 pace). Shoutout to all my FiAs we touched that first mile (Lindsey, Natalie, Katharine). Katie and I joked about giving and getting high fives. I ran past a group of police officers running down fourth and high fived each one of them. It was after the first mile that we also passed a man who eventually completed the half with crutches. SO inspiring. There truly are no excuses.
Somewhere in between the transition from mile 2-3, we lost Katie. Alejandro and I chatted as we rolled down Randolph at the Colville intersection where I saw Shane. Shane. His smile so big, his arms extended up in the air, his voice echoing from 100m away. He jumped in with us. He documented on Instagram. He entertained us. These are the moments you will never know unless you run without music and technology. Shane followed my pace as we ran with a man wearing American flag running shorts and a camelback. He typically doesn’t do races on the road, but rather on the trails. We made the turn on to Providence in the midst of a huge crowd of runners (the first relay exchange zone).
We talked about how I was now in my home. My neighborhood. The roads that I knew and had trained well on. We crushed the hills. I took my first water. I ran into so many people on this stretch. Mary Merlin and her jogging stroller, a former co-worker Danny Weiland (I know his wife, Allison, was out there running) and the Lululemon crew! (Lynn and Allyson).
Before we knew it, we were on to mile 6. A steady downhill in which I saw my husband all geared up on the side of the road. I yelled, “HUBS” and the man beside me looked over and said “huh?”. I said again, “HUBS”. He jumped in with Shane and I. It was at that point that we made one of the most important turns of the day. Queen Road West. I knew I would see my kids. The most important people out on the course that day.
Y’all Queens Road West was MAGIC. There were people lining both sides of the street. Cow bells. Posters. Cheers. I saw my girls and ran by giving high fives and smiles. I was proud of them as I hoped they were proud of me. Thank you to all my friends and neighbors that we passed through this stretch. Kelsey, Shelby, Cody. The FiA station at the bottom of the hill. If I didn’t say something or wave, it’s because I didn’t see you. For that I apologize. I am truly grateful for the warm showing of people out to support the every day runner. Shane dropped us at this point, and the hubs (Jeff) took the task of leading me to the 10 mile marker.
I took my first Gu pack as we cruised down Queens. I actually stopped to walk to make sure I got everything in and drank enough water too. We picked things back up at a quicker pace as such I wouldn’t lose time. That’s when we got in a fight. As we cruised down Kings Drive, I told my husband I wanted to slow down to conserve energy for the big hill coming (Morehead). He offered his advice, which I did not agree with and we stopped talking. Sometimes big mama needs a time out.
So I took one. As I ran straight up Morehead with a chip on my shoulder, I saw one person standing at the top of the hill out cheering people on. Allison. She has been riding with me for over four years at Flywheel. Allison has been through so much in the past year. I can’t begin to explain to you how special it was for me to hear her yell, “Let’s go Jen” as I pushed to the top. Just months ago this girl was admitted to the ER for blood clots in her lungs (from birth control, nonetheless). She and her doctors attribute her ability to survive at her state to her level of fitness. Read that again. Her ability to survive. Allison, thank you for being my inspiration.
We hit Latta park and found the people. Charlotte Running Company had a set up. We ran by the Fillnows. As we passed the Charlotte Hornets painted basketball court in the park, we ran by Jeff’s friend, Scott Williams and his two boys. He was as surprised to see us as we were to see him. I walked through yet another water station before I headed to the home stretch.
As we approached the point of the race that I knew Jeff would drop me to meet me at the finish line, he said to me “Jennifer, your girls were so excited to come cheer for you this morning. They are proud of you.” Mind you, we hadn’t said much since I got mad at him on Kings. I didn’t say much, but I heard him. I told him that. I was listening. So he kept talking to me. This is why I love this man so much.
We split as I headed to SouthEnd and he headed uptown. By myself. I had run the entire race with someone else. I was finally alone. Fatigue was setting in. I was no longer distracted by someone or something else. I got sad. Ha. Weird. I felt like I was going to cry. People say running is mental. I kept trying to figure out why I was getting sad. I was so close to the finish line. I saw Scott Williams and his two boys again and I was reminded to embrace the experience and just have fun.
I cruised by the turn into Panthers stadium fulfilled and slow moving, also alone. I felt emotional again. This whole season. This whole experience. It was almost over. I wasn’t ready for it. It was in these last moments that everything came full circle. Abbie pulled up beside me and said, “Let’s go girl. WE got this.” WE. She didn’t say you. She said we. We, two moms, would finish together. Not out to beat each other. Not worried about time. Just there to support each other as we finished. This amazing feeling swept over me. The end. End of an incredible season. End of this race I had been training for for what seemed like forever. Regardless of time, I felt so loved as I crossed the finish line. No matter how fast or slow I ran, I felt loved. What a feeling. Running gave me that.
Don’t get me wrong, I feel loved by the ones who love me, but being a mom is hard. There are a lot of days that go by unappreciated (especially with kids my age). At my job in corporate America it was often that I was rewarded and recognized for my hard work. The days are few and far between in my line of work these days. My kids (and most people) don’t see me working during the hours they are sleeping. Moving my whole day around to spend a little bit of extra time doing something for someone else. Working out on a full stomach, when I’m run down or when I really just don’t feel like it.
To Abbie. To my moms and dads that work day in and day out. To my friends and family who made me feel loved on this day. I’m proud. Proud of you. Aim High. Dream Big. Never settle.