I first saw Hannah at the 14-mile mark, I think. I already had my eyes on the 4-hour pace group. I knew I’d be able to catch up with them within the next mile or so, as I had started out conservatively and had been steadily turning up the pace.
I saw a girl in a turquoise jacket dart out of the port-a-potty at Mile 14, and I noticed right away how strong she looked: she wasn’t melting back into the crowd. She was going for it. I could tell she had her eye on the 4-hour group, too – probably to catch back up with them after her bathroom break. My mind singled her out as someone it might be nice to try to catch.
But when I did catch up to the 4-hour group and eventually the girl in turquoise, I discovered that she was a talker.
She was chatting it up with another runner, and I spent a mile wondering if they knew each other.
Also I was judging her.
She was too chatty, too energetic, too casual, too familiar for this introvert. I wouldn’t want to run with her after all.
Other runners got between us, and I forgot about her for awhile. But after another mile or so, she was near me again, talking with a different runner. But that gal veered off to use the bathroom, too, and soon I found myself running next to the girl in turquoise.
I think she had noticed me, too, that I wasn’t dogging it at this point, fading like a lot of others around us were doing. I was, in fact, picking up my pace -- and she was, too.
So we started running together.
I don’t remember the first words we exchanged, but it wasn’t long before she knew my name and I knew hers. She told me her first marathon was two years ago and she had walked a bit of it with a struggling friend. She was hoping to break four hours today. I told her my first marathon was six weeks ago, and while four hours was my goal, my main indicator that this race went well would be whether I’d have the wherewithal at the end to get the food bag. Last time, I told her, I was so sick and out of it that I staggered past the food bags, and my sister told me later that the orange in her food bag was the best orange she had ever eaten. So I wanted my food bag this time, I told Hannah.
“Six weeks ago? Gosh, Sarah. I’m proud of you for trying again,” she said.
“Thanks,” I said. “I am, too.”
“Panera is doing the food bags this race,” she said.
“Oh believe me, I know,” I laughed.
We talked about what we wanted after the race. “Coffee,” she said.
“No way,” I responded. “Coke for me, please.”
“Look how fast we’re going,” Hannah said later.
“We’re killing it,” I answered.
“Mile 20, whoo hoo!” she said.
“I’m proud of us!” she said.
“You are so awesome,” I said.
“There’s a huge hill in Mile 22, did you know?”
“Ohhhh no, I didn’t. But we’ve got this.”
“Yes,” she said. “We totally do.
“Keep going, you’re doing great!” Hannah called to a runner doubled over on the side of the road.
Halfway up the huge hill she had mentioned (and it really was huge), my lungs and legs were asking to stop, but Hannah wasn’t stopping.
“I’M A BADASS WOMAN, RUNNING UP THIS HILL!” she shouted. And I marveled that she was able to force that much air through her lungs. But I didn’t walk either.
Hannah was the embodiment of hope on that run. She was positivity and sunshine. She was a helpful distraction and a personal cheerleader. She made me laugh and helped me pull the best out of myself that day. I crossed the finish line with her with a smile on my face. (And – yes – I got my food bag.)
In the finisher’s chute, I thanked Hannah, and she thanked me.
We both rang the PR Bell.
I hugged her.
I’ll probably never see her again, but her voice is in my head.
I’m proud of you.
We have a lot of voices in our heads, yes? The loudest one is often the Inner Critic. That’s the one that tells us we’re not enough. But there’s always another voice in there, too. It’s usually quieter. But it’s there. It’s the voice of the Inner Mentor. The one who whispers encouragement. Shouts it sometimes, too, if we’re tuned in. But isn’t it true that we sometimes shut that voice down? Be quiet. You’re wrong. I don’t need you and I’m NOT enough. I’ll do this by myself or I won’t do it at all.
I’ve been working to stay in touch with my Inner Mentor more this year. Maybe I should name her Hannah.