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Kimberly Dupps Truesdell
Celebrating 13.1 miles with a hug and stretching.

Running the Fort: A journey of 13.1 miles

In a sea of 4,000 people, I was alone.

It was my first time at the start of a Fort4Fitness race where I didn't have my husband and/or son with me. There was no one to talk to or ask for help. There was no one to pump me up or talk race strategy. Just me. Me and my mantra.

Run smart. Run strong. Run with heart.

I lined up in Corral G, where I had seen the 2-hour pacers. My plan was to stick with them in the beginning and, like any nice runner, ditch them after a few miles because I was feeling too good. I jumped around a bit and stretched the best I could before the National Anthem was sung. I listened intently and tried to zero in on the miles ahead.

Run smart. Run strong. Run with heart.

The cannon went off and unlike previous races where there is a slow shuffle to the start line, race participants ran then walked and then ran before crossing the mats. I saw the 2-hour group snag a better position, and I watched them round the corner onto Calhoun. I resisted the urge to speed up and catch them, opting instead to find a position on the outside. My pace read all kinds of crazy things from 8:30 to 9:30, and I repeated my goal.

Run smart. Run strong. Run with heart.

The first few miles were a frenzy -- trying to stay on pace, trying to soak it in. There were spectators lining Calhoun Street and cheer groups encouraging runners. My husband and son were just past the second mile. I handed off my phone and gave a few waves and high fives as I passed. Miles screamed out, "Mama, whatcha doing? Mama!" which gave me a much needed boost. A better boost, maybe? The guy who said, "Mama's kicking butt!"

My cheering squad also earned me a few comments from nearby runners, and I was able to chat with "George" and his friend Nicole. We all agreed that we were running too fast based on training and what we should be, but it was fun. I'm not one for talking to others on the course, but that's what I so enjoy with this race -- most everyone is friendly and amenable to chatting, even just a bit, to pass the miles. George dropped Nicole (and me, by default) as we ran along Tillman Road. He was doing it for himself, he said, and that's the key to racing: Running your own.

Run smart. Run strong. Run with heart.

As we ran into Foster Park, I grabbed a cup of water and told myself that I was just going for a run in the park. It's the park I run through regularly, a park whose curves I know and mileage set in my legs. I wanted this part of the race to feel like just an everyday run -- no pressure, fun and scenic. The tree cover provided nice shade, and I was happy to feel like the path wasn't crowded. Everyone had room to find her own space. Surprisingly, a few spectators had staked out spots and offered some encouragement on a usually quiet part of the course.

Exiting onto Old Mill Road, I knew this part of the race would be challenging. More than halfway done, the legs are starting to fatigue. The mind games can begin. And the hills of the Woodhurst neighborhood welcome you with a climb on Pettit Avenue back onto Old Mill Road. I knew my husband and son would be there to see me again at mile 10, and I made it my focus to get to them.

Run smart. Run strong. Run with heart.

While I'm always a fan of the Williams-Woodland Park Neighborhood cheering squad, Woodhurst and Southwood Park associations are always out with great fan fare. I waved. I high fived - or held out my hand - and tried to use their energy push through. My legs were hurting, and I was feeling tired. I began to walk through the water stops, grabbing up to three cups at a time, so I knew that I was getting enough. I was determined, if only to look strong as I passed the family.

Run smart. Run strong. Run with heart.

I saw our bike trailer before I saw the boys, but there they were, just before mile 10, doing their best to encourage me. I waved, only to feel some pangs of guilt as Miles was not happy to see me forging ahead. I hit another water station and, again, grabbed three cups to keep me going. It was then that I saw the 2-hour pacers pass me. I thought I had been farther ahead, but promised to stick with them as best I could. I might have slowed, but I was not going to lose a 1:5X:XX race in the last 5K.

I would push ahead slightly from the group to get water and then fall behind a bit but they were always in my sights. The women leading the group were doing a fabulous job of keeping the pace in control, the runners informed and anyone nearby entertained. I held onto them, to the goal.

Run smart. Run strong. Run with heart.

The long stretch of Calhoun that begs runners to go fast, the hills in the middle or the temptation of the beer shot on Hoagland Avenue might be difficult sections of the race for runners. As for me, it's veering onto Fairfield Avenue. So close yet so far. Though there are a lot of spectators, the course isn't inspiring, and the fatigue is very real. I could feel my belly start to gurgle, and I entertained the idea of slowing greatly as I was nearly certain that a sub-2 finish was in my near future.

The pacers, though, were not about to let anyone drop. They cheered; they encouraged; they kept you in line. One of them, Gail Gerber, later told me that the three leading the group made sure one girl did not throw in the towel with a half-mile to go. One led her, and the two fell to follow her. She had nowhere to go but forward, to the finish, with a time of sub-2.

Run smart. Run strong. Run with heart.

I am sad to say that I didn't see this. I was so focused on just getting there. The marker for 10K racers said mile 6 as we turned into Parkview Field. I pushed my torso forward, shoulders over hips and enjoyed the ride down. There was still 0.2 mile to go, 2 minutes to get there. So short but so long. It's easy to want to kick early, but I waited till I saw the 13-mile marker. I moved past the pacers and went toward the line, to finish my race.

My watch said 1:58:58, but my official time was 1:58:56. I achieved two of my three goals, but more importantly I lived up to the words I etched into my brain along the run.