After graduating with my B.S. in chemical engineering from Louisiana Tech University, I journeyed back to Clemson, South Carolina to pursue a graduate degree. My last year at LA Tech consisted solely of music and finishing school, so my running adventures took quite a break. When I settled in to Clemson, I picked running back up as that prayer and meditation time I loved. It became one of the few ways I could escape the high stress levels of graduate courses. I was still venturing out into the mountains as much as I could for hikes to waterfalls and gorgeous overlooks. As the laboratory research began to make its presence in my life, I began to run even more. I would set up a reaction that would last for 8+ hours, which gave me the time to solidify running as a part of my daily routine. During my second year of graduate school, my roommate encouraged me to start working out. In addition to increasing my running distances, I was in the gym for about an hour and half or more a day. I began to see the results of this routine very quickly. I would wake up and be in the gym working out by 6am, then head to the lab to get a reaction started or sit in a class, go for a run, and come back to finish the rest of my scholastic duties. I never tried to run with a group because running was still my reflection time. I had built up to running 7 miles almost every day. I never really tried to go further because of time restraints, but mainly because I had no need to.
One day in the fall of 2007, shortly after purchasing some new running shoes, another guy from the gym that I knew fairly well commented on my new ‘kicks.’ From our conversation, we discovered that we loved to run, and he invited me to run with his group of about 6 guys who were training for their first marathon. They were planning on running the Miami marathon in December 2007. I was excited about this opportunity; I had never even thought about running a marathon, or running with a group. Until very recently, I have never run with any sort of pacing equipment so I had no idea if my pace would match theirs. I became nervous about running with these guys when I found out I would be joining them for a 13 mile run. Thinking about running almost twice what I normally do and hoping I could keep up with them was a little stressful. I remember meeting them at their apartment on campus, listening to how they had prepared for the training run: eating some carbs the night before, taking anti-inflammatories, vaseline, etc. It was at this point that I realized I had no idea what I was doing. I was wearing basketball shorts and a cotton t-shirt, which I later realized was a huge mistake. We set off running, at a faster pace that I normally ran. I was trying to focus the whole time on how I would be able to keep up with them for the entire run. What astounded me was how they talked the whole time, seemingly with ease, while I struggled to push out one word answers to their questions.
A little bit past the half-way point, I was beginning to think running with them was a bad idea. My feet hurt, my legs were tired, and the sweat-soaked cotton shirt had rubbed my nipples completely raw. Any sort of movement felt like I was on fire. I pressed on, at a slower pace than the rest of them, but still keeping them in eyesight so I would at least know how to get back to a road I recognized. As I rounded a corner that revealed the road back, I had a sudden burst of energy course through my veins. I had never experienced anything like it. I think that was the moment running became the addiction for me that it is now. I was surprised that not only was I still running, but I was gaining on the rest of the crew. I could not believe my eyes when I was right behind them again. Had I really just caught up?! After encouraging everyone on a job well done, I returned to my car, fatigued but completely energized. I had just run a half marathon!
I could not wait to get back, take a shower, and lay down, soaking in what little feat I had just accomplished. The shower was one of the most excruciating moments of my life. The only thing that I can think of to compare is the time I opened a door and bent back the toenail on my big toe. When the water hit my nipples, I let out a scream so loud I am surprised the neighbors did not come over to check on me. The rest of the day I was having what I learned is called the ‘runner’s high.’ I felt amazing. Tired, but amazing. I wanted to do it again, the very next day. I did not, but I did continue running with that crew a few more times, loving it more and more. I think I only made it to about a total distance of 16 miles with them. On one of my last runs with them, I one of the guys mentioned that some people do ultramarathons. Say what? Having no idea what that was, I was floored to find out that some crazy people run essentially two marathons back to back. My idea of what crazy could be was just expanded exponentially.
They went on to finish the Miami marathon and I remember thinking, “I could totally do a marathon if I kept up with the training.” Unfortunately, I was not able to keep up a marathon training regimen. I fell victim to food poisoning and then the flu shortly thereafter. I had not the strength to run much, especially longer distances. Then came the time to really focus on finishing my research, thesis, and prepare for my defense.