Ladybug’s ball

“Ladybug’s ball” is the eighth post in a series about the human side of dailymile: How We Succeed. As a part of this series, dailymilers write about their experiences as athletes struggling to overcome obstacles and solve problems with the help of their friends on dailymile. Being an athlete makes our bodies stronger, but having the support of a crowd of athletes makes our minds stronger. This series highlights the side of training that requires more than muscle power. To submit your story, email the editor

Today’s story comes from Charlene R.

In December, I decided to register for the Six Tunnels Half Marathon on March 12th (Lake Mead/Hoover Dam). Six Tunnels is a trail race with a combination of hills and turns. It’s not a fast course, by any stretch of the imagination. It was to be my first half marathon in quite a while.

Then, our family was hit by tradgedy; one of our beloved family pets became suddenly, and gravely ill. I spent my days and often sleepless nights taking care of her. Every ounce of my energy was spent taking care of her medical needs.

I knew my body could run a half marathon, but my mind could not. I decided to withdraw from the race. I could tell my kids were disappointed; they love to accompany me on race day, cheering and being my support team. So that I could have a race for my kids to enjoy, I decided to run the shorter course, a 5k. I thought, “I can handle a 5K.”

As the days wore on, the painful decision was made to put our beloved Ladybug to rest. It was the day before the 6 Tunnels race that she quietly passed away in my husband’s arms while I stroked her head and sent her on her eternal journey. One of the worst days of our lives.

Prior to her passing, my kids made me “promise” (to Ladybug) I would still run the 6 Tunnels 5k. Moms know how it is, you’ll promise anything to your kids, right?

On the day she passed away, I couldn’t even comprehend putting on my running shoes, let alone running a race, but my husband reminded me “you promised her.” Therefore, I had no choice but to run. My only intent was to run the race, finish and honor her memory. She fought her disease until the end, I could only hope to be as brave and strong as she was.

I prepared the night before, as I do any other race, but with one exception: I could barely move and I was in constant tears of emotional pain. To even stretch out was painful as the emotions were taking over my body.

I went to bed very early in the hopes I could get a few hours of sleep, something I had been lacking for weeks, as Ladybug needed constant care during the night. When I woke up, my body was so sore. I just threw up my arms and said, “oh well, this is another run. I can only do so much!”

We arrived at the start line and that’s when it hit me, like a slap in the face. Tears started (actually, it was more like sobs).
I thought to myself, “okay babygirl (my name for Ladybug), it’s showtime. This is for you! Run with me, get me to the finish line. I don’t care how long it takes.”

Waiting to cross the start line, I received a few dozen text messages from friends and fellow runners. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I appreciated each and every text, thank you!

As I made my way to the start line, I suddenly felt very alone. I was watching people cheer and holler, and my heart felt so empty. I had just lost the sparkle of my life, less than 24 hours ago and here I was about to run a race, something that everyone around me was celebrating.

What happened next caught me by surprise. The gun went off and my legs started to move. At the half mile mark, I looked at my Garmin and saw the pace: 7:52
I laughed, “oh yea, right! I’ve heard Garmin’s don’t often work correctly, this must be one of those times.”

A few minutes later I started to feel a slight tightness in my chest, I went into my deep breathing. At this point, I was running at a 8:30ish pace (for me, this was still unheard of). I ran through one of the tunnels and made it to the turn around poing. I kept a steady pace through mile 2, and around 2.5 something kicked in. I wasn’t tired, I wasn’t hurting and I focused on the runners infront of me. I turned the corner and saw my boys holding up Ladybug’s favorite ball and rooting me on. That was the best inspiration of them all!

I hardly noticed the finish line as I literally ran right into the arms of my sons. I broke down and cried and said, “I did the best I could do, I am sorry if it isn’t what you expected. I gave it my all!” As I sat in one of our fold out chairs, my youngest reminded me “you finished, and you finished well! I know you did. Remember, all you wanted was to finish well.”

We chatted with other runners, ate some snacks and waited for the results to be posted. I casually walked over and looked at the list. Habitually, I started to look for my name after the 28 minute line. I didn’t see my name anywhere as I scanned through 29 minutes, 30 minutes. When I didn’t see my name there, I started to work back up the list: 27 minutes, not their either. Then, someone who knew me said, “LooK Charlene! You did a 26:35! You broke 27 minutes!” I thought, “What? Huh? Okay, you read that incorrectly!” I found my name and there it was 26:35.

I ran back to my boys and we had a mini-celebration. My previous PR was 27:50 and change on pavement.

As we were packing up to go home, my kids asked me to wait to see if I received an award. I chuckled and said, “not this time, honey. These racers are pretty fast. I PR’d – there is nothing more I can ask for!”

But, they convinced me to stick around and wait. The race officials announced the Women’s Age Division (45-49):
Third Place – not me
Second Place – it was me!

I picked up my plaque and said, “we did it Ladybug, we did it!” And then there were more tears.

What will happen with Ladybug’s tennis ball? It will go with me to every race for the rest of the year. I think we make a good running team. The day taught me a valuable skill that I used during a half marathon a few weeks later: at mile 8, I injured my hip and had to hobble/limp/drag myself 5 miles to Finish. As I limped all the way to the finish line, I knew my race was over, but Ladybug was keeping me company and got me to the end, where my boys were waiting for me, holding Ladybug’s ball.

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