Have you ever set a goal that you then cowered away from because it scared you too much?
On Saturday, Nov. 20, more than 1,000 runners lined up at the starting line of the JFK 50-miler in downtown Boonsboro, Maryland.
Each of them spent months training, dreaming, fearing, anticipating this race, knowing that the reality of endurance running is that there is no predicting what will happen on race day.
The JFK 50-miler is one of those goals that has been too scary for me to set. It’s also one of those goals that sits on my bucket list and finds its way into my mind on a regular basis.
For the past two years, I have been lucky enough to volunteer at water stations on the course with the Waynesboro Middle School and WASHS cross country teams.
This year, we were given the responsibility of the water station at mile 3.8 – which is the first aid station the runners come to.
Not only did we help athletes get water, shed extra clothing, and grab a few potato chips, we also took the opportunity to be their first cheerleaders – appropriately equipped with a motivational playlist, homemade signs, and high-fives for anyone who needed one.
The runners were still fresh on their 50-mile journey and were very appreciative of the added enthusiasm we doled out. As we watched them run back onto the trail, I couldn’t help but think about the portion of the race we witnessed last year.
In 2020, we were assigned to the Mile 39 aid station. As you can imagine, this is a much different experience than seeing the runners when they are just starting out.
By the time they had gotten to mile 39, they had conquered the initial 2.3 miles on road, 13 miles on the Appalachian Trail, and about 24 miles on the C&O canal. They came to that aid station beaten, exhausted, and aching.
Here, the runners needed more than high-fives (although those were also handy). They were raw with emotion across the spectrum. They needed food, hydration, band-aids, and more than anything words of encouragement and reminders of why they started the journey in the first place.
I have also been fortunate enough to witness the finish of the race cheering some of my closest friends in as they complete the ultramarathon. Watching the elation on their faces is nothing less than enviable. The relief at finally completing the goal they were brave enough to begin is inspiring to say the least. I am truly in awe of every runner I have ever seen or known that has finished the JFK.
As a marathon runner, I know the rollercoaster of race emotions very well: the giddiness and uncertainty at the beginning of the race, the doubt and physical anguish in the middle of the race, and the disbelief and exhilaration at the end of the race. The idea that I’ll “never do this again” that quickly turns into looking obsessively for the next race. This is the beauty of running.
It’s also the beauty of life.
While it’s true that less than 1% of the population has completed a marathon and less than .03% has participated in an ultra event, according to Run Repeat and Running Insight, it’s also true that every single one of us is running the race that is set before us in this lifetime.
Not every day is going to be easy or filled with cheers of encouragement – some days will be full of frustrations, doubts, and uncertainty – but I can promise you that believing in yourself and helping one another along the way will certainly have all of us crossing that finish line with a smile and a feeling of satisfaction.
Emily Dickey is a Waynesboro native who run for fun and always looks for an opportunity to spread the sunshine.