By Shannon Sawtell
Running has been an integral part of my life's journey, a path that started back in elementary school. My initial foray into the world of running was a humble beginning. Little did I know that this modest start would eventually lead me to accomplish a half marathon, despite the odds, challenges, and a fair share of doubts.
Elementary School - The Start of My Running Journey
I vividly recall my early days in elementary school when I first took those tentative steps into the world of running. It was a pastime, a simple activity that provided a breath of fresh air and a sense of freedom.
Middle School - The Children's Fun Run
My journey took an exciting turn during middle school when I made the decision to participate in the annual Run For the Turtles race in Jupiter, Florida. I competed in the children's fun run at the tender age of 14. I found myself amidst a group of 5-year-olds, embarking on a one-mile run. At that time, it never crossed my mind that I was capable of more. However, this experience sowed the seeds of what would blossom into a positive relationship with running.
Finding My Zen through Running
As I continued to run, I discovered it offered me a form of meditation. The rhythmic pounding of my feet against the pavement became a source of happiness, and I began chasing that elusive "runner's high." This newfound happiness inspired me to run my first 5k at the age of 15. I made it a tradition to run one 5k every year throughout high school.
Life's Twists and Turns
As life unfolded and priorities shifted, my annual 5k tradition took a backseat. It wasn't until I entered college at the University of Florida that running made a triumphant return to my life. The stress of college life was overwhelming, and I turned to running as a means of #UNLITTERing my mind. The realization that I could complete a fulfilling workout in just 20 minutes was a game-changer. I started to believe that anyone could slowly build toward their running goals, whether it be clearing the mind, improving fitness, or building on past achievements.
This summer I was hiking Mt. Rose near Lake Tahoe, California. There was an older man that ran past us in full trail running gear. I mentioned out loud that he was a badass. After the hike my friend and I were making peanut butter sandwiches in the parking lot and the man invited us for a post run parking lot beer. He was one of the first people that introduced me to the ultra running community. He talked about how all of his friends meet up at insanely beautiful places with their running shoes, ready to go. He has done over 10 races at 100 miles each and travels the world vacationing with his family - all planned around these races. I knew that was the last sign I needed to do something big.
The Half Marathon
Fast forward to this past month, where I faced my most significant running challenge yet - my first half marathon. The race was the Battle of the Terrain in Paris Mountain State Park just outside of Greenville, South Carolina. The most challenging part of this half marathon is the 2400 ft of elevation gain that the trail provides. I embarked on this adventure, despite feeling underprepared, nursing injuries, and having limited experience running on trails. Well I trail run quite a bit, but in Florida, so not so much elevation. The best part? I got super lost and actually ran almost 15 miles!! The task at hand was monumental - almost 15 miles of endurance and willpower were required to complete the race.
The Moment of Doubt
During the half marathon, there were moments I wanted to quit. The pain was relentless, my body ached, and my mind was filled with doubts, but I remembered the lessons I'd learned throughout my running journey. I knew that if I set my mind to it, I could accomplish anything. And of course I couldn’t just quit cause I was in the middle of the woods. My buddy Dale (around the age of 60) and I ran together, alone, for quite some time. We randomly met at mile 3 and continued running/walking and taking turns passing each other. Dale tagged me on Strava and that is the only reason that I know his name. Dale had done many trail races in his lifetime, this being my first.
Through sheer determination and perseverance, I pressed on– one step at a time. The miles stretched on, and the end grew nearer. I had to go into the meditative running state that I love. I had to think about the task at hand (not tripping on tree branches), but finding the silence in the trees matched with just my footsteps is really how I find the space. I continued cranking along, waiting to hear the screams of those around the finish line. I went miles without seeing anyone, worried that I went too far off course. Finally, as I crossed the finish line, I experienced an overwhelming sense of accomplishment, a sweet taste of victory, and the knowledge that I had achieved something remarkable. I even finished #2 in my age group (20 to 29)!
My journey from the modest beginnings of running in elementary school to completing my first half marathon has been a testament to the power of determination and the human spirit. It's a journey of self-discovery, growth, and pushing one's limits. As I continue to run, I am reminded that every step forward is a step toward better physical and mental well-being. Whether it's #UNLITTERing the mind, improving fitness, or simply building on past achievements, running has been my steadfast companion in this adventure called life. So, no matter what your goals may be, remember with the right mindset, you can achieve anything.