I have never been a runner. In fact, I've never even liked it. I have always dreaded it in fact. Even in high school, when we had to run a mile and a half, I would just do it as fast as I could just to get it over with, but I despised that day in gym class.
When I was pregnant with Elliot back in 2012, I got this sudden urge to run. I'm sure it was just a craving to move my body without a baby kicking my lungs and bladder. Regardless, it planted this little seed in my head. It made me decide that I would run once I wasn't a beached whale anymore.
Right after I gave birth, I signed up for my first 5k. I had a few months to prepare for it and at that point, 5 kilometers seemed like a great obstacle. I knew I'd have to work hard to go from post baby to runner within just a few months. The good news is, I finished that race! I ran my heart out and felt great at the finish line. After that, I knew I would want to do another one.
A lot happened after that first race. Ryan's education was extremely busy and I was home with two babies. We were poor. Like REALLY poor. I had no way to work out unless Ryan was home since I couldn't afford a jogging stroller. Let's just say my running goals got put on hold for a while. Then one day, Ryan graduated. For graduation, I bought myself an ever-so-coveted jogging stroller. Sadly, when I purchased it, we had just moved to Arizona and the temperature outside was a raging inferno. Running was put on hold for a while.
With time, that jogging stroller started getting some use out of it. I loved taking Scarlet to school in the mornings in the stroller. I enjoyed watching my kids be out in nature and enjoy what God has given us. However, it never failed that within five minutes, the kids would start fighting with each other. I began to wonder if it was worth it. Thankfully, it was a quick 15-minute trip. Tops. Just short enough to keep my sanity and make me think I could do it again the next time.
I ended up finding friends in Arizona because they needed a running buddy, and since I wanted to pretend to be a runner, I decided to join them. We became quick friends, best of friends actually. We shared the enjoyment of finishing two races together. Something happens when you do this. It's like you create this unbreakable bond with each other. I've never laughed so hard in my life as when I got to run those two 5k's with my new friends. It was like we were made from the same mold. I felt as though I had known these people for my entire existence, not just a couple of months.
Because running gave me such great experiences, I decided to amp it up a little. I put running a Ragnar race on my bucket list, just for kicks and giggles. I didn't think I'd actually have the opportunity to run one. Ragnar is a 205-mile race. You have 12 people on your team and you each take a turn running legs of the race. Each person runs three legs. This seemed like an unreachable goal. Then one day, it became reachable.
I had the opportunity to sign up for a team and I took it. I knew not one person on my team. I signed up to be with a group of strangers for two days, running in the middle of nowhere. I trained here and there, but nowhere near what I needed to. I could only hope when it came to be my turn to run, that I wouldn't pass out or die from having a heart attack. Or break my leg.
Race day arrived. I jumped in a van with a bunch of strangers who I literally was meeting for the first time as I opened the car door at 2:00 in the morning. We navigated our way to the starting line and again, it was as if I had known these people forever. For some reason, I put all my trust in them. They were there to support me and me them. As my teammates would come running into the exchange to switch runners, I would feel this overwhelming sense of pride. I was so proud that my teammate ran their leg and completed it with epic awesomeness.
It came my turn to run. I was nervous. My first leg was 6.5 miles. I had never, not ever in my life, run that far in one setting. I started running and immediately was overcome with this great emotion. I was beyond grateful that I had a team that believed in me (they didn't know I hadn't ever run that far before). I looked around me and surrounding me was this great, vast desert that God had created. It was beautiful, in a desert-y ugly kind of way. But really, it was beautiful. There were saguaro cactus popping up all over the place and I couldn't help but wonder what they had experienced in their existence. I suddenly felt like it was such a privilege to be in God's world looking at these amazing creations. Tears filled my eyes as I took in the beauty around me.
Before I knew it, I had gone 3.5 miles without stopping. Just three miles to go. I sucked down some GU (nasty stuff, but magic). It was just the kick I needed to finish my 6.5 miles. At my exchange, I saw my teammates standing there cheering for me. I felt weightless as I ran into their cheers. It felt so good to accomplish this distance. Again, tears filled my eyes. I was proud of myself for finishing. The fact that I didn't die or pass out only helped that sense of pride. I was healthy enough to run that distance and feel amazing at the end of it.
My second run was a tough one. It started around 11:45 at night. It was dark, obviously. It was also my longest run, 6.8 miles. I strapped on my safety gear, and off I went. I started out great. The first couple of miles were okay. They were uphill, but okay. Then the next few miles were uphill. My muscles were on fire. I felt like giving up, but knew I couldn't. I wasn't a wuss. I wasn't going to quit. It's not who I am. I just kept going. Just when I thought it couldn't get anymore uphill, it did. I looked ahead of me. There in front of me was a hill. No, a mountain. Straight. Up. My legs were burning, my lungs were burning and my mind was doubting my ability to get over that mound of dirt in front of me.
It was at this point that I felt something, somebody next to me. I don't know if it was delirium or a sweet tender mercy from God. I looked to my side, but nobody was there. I was alone. But I wasn't. I could feel the sweet, tender spirit of my little Kingston running by my side. I forgot about the pain in my legs and my fear of being alone and running in the dark. I knew I had a guardian angel following me, pushing me into the finish line. At one point I even reached my hand out in hopes that he would grab it. Though I did not feel his hand in mine, I knew it was there. My prayers of gratitude were endless as I trudged through those 6.8 miles of what felt like straight up a hill and over rocky paths. I was thankful for my able body. I was thankful that it kept moving. I was beyond grateful for the tender mercy of feeling my son running by my side with me, protecting me, pushing me.
My last leg was my shortest. It was 4.2 miles. I was sleep deprived and in pain. What seemed like an easy run on paper, turned out to be exhausting and frustrating. The first two miles were done somewhat with ease. I once again thanked my heavenly father for giving me my body. I was so grateful for the experience that I was having, even if I was in pain. My pace slowed down as I saw more hills ahead of me. All of a sudden, I heard "you've got this, Ashes." I knew that that didn't come from my mind, but was somebody speaking to me. I felt as though my aunt Linda was by my side, encouraging me to finish, to just keep going. She was with me on this one and cheering for me. I couldn't let her down. I kept putting one foot in front of the other. When I got really tired, I decided to pick up my phone and FaceTime my kids. Their faces lit up as they saw me running my heart out. Scarlet's questions were endless, as they always are. Seeing them, and Ryan, was just what I needed to get in that last mile.
Before I knew it, I was there at the end of my run, crossing my finish line. I had done it. I had gone 17.5 miles in 24 hours. I didn't quit. I didn't die or pass out. I FINISHED! I wanted to cry. I know marathon runners are laughing right now, but honestly, this was a big deal for me. My body ached from head to toe, but I didn't care. The hurt was my trophy for finishing my goal.
Over the next couple of days, my body healed and my mind has kind of forgotten the frustrations of going uphill for miles on end. However, my mind hasn't forgotten the camaraderie and feeling of accomplishment of those days spent with my new friends. We laughed, we mocked, me cheered each other on.
Crossing the finish line with my team at the very end was very emotional for me. We did it. Every single one of us finished. I crossed that line with tears in my eyes. I was proud of my team. I was proud of myself. Together we did it...
And that was the day I accidentally became a runner.