I Had to Keep Running

Julie Cassar after completing the Detroit Free Press Marathon.

By: Julie Cassar

My heart was racing. The sound of footsteps echoed behind me in the dimly lit tunnel. I kept running. I had to get out of there! The slow climb was wearing me out. My breaths quickened as I saw the Border Patrol agents lining the walls. “Keep running,” I thought. Was I in some kind of trouble? No. I was doing my first half marathon, running through the tunnel from Canada to Michigan.

The Starting Line

As we anxiously waited for the race to start, my friend braided my hair on each side, leaving the ends loose. I looked like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. It was fitting, since I felt like I was about to enter into a strange world.

I grew nervous as the race area began to fill. My friends discussed race strategy. I wanted to start with them, but knew I wasn’t fast enough. For me, this race would be my one-year anniversary of running. A year ago, I couldn’t run two blocks. But with help and by losing 50 pounds, I went from non-runner, to running one mile in 13.5 minutes, to running 10 miles in 120 minutes. Today, my goal was simply to run farther than I ever had to finish in 2:35. Sensing nervous energy around me combined with my own anxiety, I felt a year’s worth of emotions well up as I stood shoulder to shoulder with thousands of runners. I didn’t think I could keep up. Embarrassed, I flipped down my sunglasses to hide my eyes that had filled with tears. I didn’t want to look like a sissy! The horn blared and I ran with fierce determination. Then, I smiled. I was running! From that point on, I ran my own race. Sure, I was among 20,000 other runners, but we were all running our own race. I finally let the numbers go. I let the pace go. I was going to give it 110% as I ran to another country and back.

Mile 6

While running through Windsor, I realized I couldn’t run alone anymore. I needed to pull energy form whatever source available. Remembering how energized I felt when I saw my family at the 2 Mile, I ran closer to the spectators. I hooted, hollered, put out my hand for high-fives and pushed onward, anticipating the tunnel to Detroit.

Mile 12

I saw my husband encouraging me as he stood alongside the course. I had no idea he would be there. Then he got up and ran beside me. Chanting words of encouragement, he told me I was doing great. It was as if a floodgate had opened and I let out all of the emotions from the day. “I’m going to cry,” I sputtered. “It’s okay,” he said. I began sobbing, “I hurt!” He told me to keep going. His encouragement seemed to silence the thoughts in my head that screamed, “You’re tired, stop!” Shedding tears, pushing faster and pulling it together, I almost began to laugh at his wheezing breaths. “You can stop running,” I said. “I’m okay.”

My husband peeled away and I took off. I saw the finish line and for those last two minutes, I didn’t feel any pain. I made my legs go faster. I said I would give this 110% and it was time for that extra 10%. I crossed the finish line smiling with my arms in the air. I had just run a half marathon! As I slowed to a walk and got my medal, the day’s emotions finally took their toll. I was afraid to stop walking for fear that I wouldn’t be able to start up again.

Later, I was sad to take out my Dorothy braids. I really did venture to Oz. I followed the road and it led me to wonderful skylines, joyful cheers, energizing feelings of strength and magical moments of gratefulness. It took my one year, two pairs of running shoes and 16 weeks of concentrated training, running 229 miles to get to 13.1. There were no flying monkeys and no ruby slippers, but I’ll gladly go back to that Land of Oz.

From The Keeper (February 2012)

To read Julie’s full story, click here.

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