By Kimberly Kirby
It was finally race weekend, and I could not wait to join my DRC family in Baltimore. I remember that Friday before the race really, really well. My bags had already been packed for 24 hours due to my excitement about running my first half marathon with my running family. I kept thinking about what it was going to feel like spending a whole weekend with them. I also felt extremely blessed that we would kick off the weekend at the Under Armour Headquarters for a tour and shakeout run.
Before heading to the Under Armour Headquarters, I met the crew at the Marriott hotel. This was also the first time that I saw the other Under Armour-sponsored run crews! They didn’t even treat us like we were a separate run crew — it really felt like one team, one family. I was so very excited after meeting the runners from Harlem Run and Resident Runners, and I could not wait to board the bus with them and go “home” to the UA Headquarters. It really felt like Team UA on the bus!
As soon as the shuttle bus reached the beautiful UA campus, I noticed their photographers snapping photos as soon as we walked off of the bus. It felt really special that they were documenting every single thing from our visit. The next thing that I noticed was a group of runners from Dunbar High school. They were in their practice uniforms, and these young men looked so excited to share their time with everyone. I was extremely proud to have these high school seniors experiencing this moment with us. I knew then that we were there for more than a tour and a shakeout run. We were there to connect with other runners who love to build community through health and fitness. We were there to hear from the UA brand and as to why it was supporting us and our running goals so much. We were there to build a connection, a family, and memories.
During the tour, I specifically remember seeing on the huge touchscreen display, “Under Armour Welcomes Run Crews.” There were a LOT of pictures from DRC, Harlem Run, and Resident Runners on THEIR UA screen. It was unbelievable. I became so overwhelmed with emotion and grateful that they took the energy to put together such a touching and awesome welcoming display. It really added a personal touch to our visit.
The actual shakeout run was amazing! I have only been running since March 2016 and I run at a real beginner’s pace. When we gathered for the run with UA Coach Sandra, I remember saying to myself, “Everybody is a faster runner than you!!!” To me, it felt like they all TOOK OFF at a lightning-speed pace. My beginner’s legs were freaking out during the run, and my mind tried to tell me that I should have stayed back and skipped the run. Nobody made me feel like a beginner runner though. As I struggled to keep up, I met Alison from Harlem Run, and she took the time to get to know me along with some of her other teammates. I didn’t yet know at that moment that she was the “Powered Feet” person that I had been following on Instagram. What I did know during that moment was that I felt included and not excluded during my “struggle run.” Another thing that was powerful during this run was the fact that I met a young man who had never made it to a DRC run on a Wednesday. We ran together on the way back and he asked me a lot of questions about DRC and our run days. I was so excited that I had another opportunity to share my love for DRC with a new person! I could barely breathe, let alone talk, because I was trying to keep up with the group; but somehow I was able to speak to him. I’m pretty sure I talked his ear off because at the end of the run he told me, “I’m going to come to DRC one day.” THIS made me forget about how tired I was, and we both ran back to headquarters together. He thanked me for running with him and for me this was reversed déjà vu. I’m always the one thanking somebody for running with me; I’m not used to anyone thanking me. For me, this is the DRC experience coming full circle. Some days you need the crew to help you run and other days you are helping somebody else run. It’s amazing!!!! I would have NEVER thought I could help anybody else…other than myself. 😀
When we returned to campus from the run, we learned some great stretches from Coach Sandra. I was worried that I wouldn’t even be able to run the half marathon the next day because I was so tired from the shakeout! Once we did some painful, yet amazing stretches, I felt like a brand new person. This part was extra special to me because everybody was feeling some sort of pain during the stretching and we were all recovering together. It felt like a real team! We were all listening and doing the same stretches at the same time. There was something communal and special about this moment. I can’t exactly put it into words; I was just so grateful that I was a part of it.
Fast forwarding to the actual race day!
Under Armour gave us the honor and privilege of “all-access” to their tent for the entire race day. This really made me feel supported as I was about to venture into my very first half marathon. I felt reassured that if I needed anything, it was all in the UA tent. This was a huge relief, and any anxiety that I was feeling went away! The tent had all of the recovery tools that a runner could ever need after a race. I felt so grateful for UA supporting us during our race.
I will never forget what it was like when I finally arrived to my wave group. I was Wave #5, which was the very last one, and I could not have been more proud that I made it to this very moment. As I waited for the half marathon to start, I could see the marathoners run past our wave and I cheered them on. This was the calm before the storm. I was awaiting my chance to run 13.1 miles, and I was wondering if the hills were really as bad as everybody told me they were. As soon as my race started, I learned very quickly that the hills were absolutely terrible! There was a hill right at the very beginning of the race! I became nervous, but I just ran right along with everybody else, praying for the best.
The Baltimore Running Festival’s half marathon was an incredible experience. The hills kept coming, one right after the other. I really was starting to feel like this was a cruel joke by mile five. Never in my life have I experienced so many hills during one run, and I couldn’t believe how fast they kept coming. Baltimore has an incredibly supportive running community. It seemed like the whole city was on the sidelines cheering throughout the entire course! Community members were yelling encouragement, blasting music from their cars, giving out treats, you name it! They were there for us as we ran each mile. Around mile six is where my left leg started to give out. I couldn’t feel it! My mind tried to freak out and become scared, but I had to just keep moving. Shortly after realizing that my leg was in so much pain and basically not functioning, I heard “Hey girl!” I then felt a hand on my shoulder and another voice saying, “Hey!!!” I turned and Alison was on my left and Clif (one of our DRC captains) was on my right. I was so happy I forgot all about my leg! They stopped to ask me how I was doing, and I told them I was in pain. Alison asked where, and I showed her. She assured me that I was in pain from all of the hills. For some reason, this soothed my worry. I’m not sure why, but as soon as she said that I felt like I could run the rest of the race. It was simply the hills’ fault and not mine! Clif told me that I was doing well and to keep it up. I was so happy to have some love from my people and to see some familiar faces! As they told me to keep it up and ran to finish their races, I was running with a huge smile on my face. Just that small moment of time spent with some really dope runners made me feel like I was a part of the team. I no longer was the new girl trying to keep up with the group. They easily could have just run by me, but they didn’t. They saw me, noticed me and spoke to me. This made me feel like what we were building were true relationships. Relationships matter and to build relationships through running just takes a bond to a different level.
Somewhere between miles seven and nine is where the pain really became unbearable. My leg was really hurting, and the hills kept coming! I was really about to take a turn on “Doubt Lane” and stop running. Right when I was thinking about stopping, I heard another familiar voice. I looked and it was Ashlee, another one of our DRC captains! At this point, I felt like they were more like my guardian angels. They kept showing up right when I needed somebody! Ashlee walked with me and asked me how I was doing. I told her the same story about how my leg was hurting. She told me to drink more water to try to ease the cramps, so I did just that! She then asked me if I was ready to run or if I wanted to walk. I told her I wanted to try to run with her just to get me going again. So off we went. She ran, and I was right behind her…not for very long though! I was so happy because once I started running with her I never stopped again! I also never thought about “Doubt Lane!” I just couldn’t believe how much that time spent with her really changed my mindset. Knowing that somebody else cared enough about you to ask how you were doing and to run with you at your pace just to motivate you is incredible!
So there I was, wrapping up the last part of my very first half marathon. I was absolutely exhausted. I just couldn’t believe how hard this race was, and all I wanted was a bed! The sun seemed to be getting hotter the longer I ran! That wasn’t very helpful, as I never knew that my body could produce such a large amount of sweat (ewww!). I felt absolutely gross and weak. As I ran my 11th mile, I ran right into the DRC Cheer Squad! I was so happy! They were absolutely LOUD, HAPPY, and AMAZING! I forgot all about my leg, and I ran to them as if they were my long-lost family members. I wanted to give them high fives and hugs all at the same time. A few of them actually ran with me just to get my spirits up. I just couldn’t believe it. Seeing their energy gave me energy. A confetti bomb went off, and my hands were up! I was so happy!!! They gave me life, and I absolutely love confetti! This is when I officially knew that I was not in this race by myself. The support from DRC is just overwhelming. I wanted to cry happy tears, but I didn’t have any energy left to do so. For once, I felt like I belonged in a community that supported me no matter what. I really cannot get over the fact that this is a group of real people who literally love to run and support other runners. As I crossed the finish line, I felt so very proud of myself. Yes I was in a lot of pain, but it was all worth it. As I walked to receive my medal, I saw another DRC captain…Carlos! This was special to me because he is the captain of my pace group on Wednesdays….Go Cruisers!!! So, there I was with another familiar face receiving my very first medal for 13.1 miles. I remember that I was in so much pain walking back to the UA tent, and he was right there to make sure that I was okay just like Ashlee, Clif and Alison did. It’s automatic…If you are a part of a run crew, the run crew has your back! We ran that race together, and we fought together. We recovered together, and we will get back out there and do this all over again someday…together. Under Armour has a popular mantra that is very encouraging. The mantra simply states, “I Will.” Because I had so much love and support from Team UA (DRC, Harlem Run and Resident Runners) this weekend, I completely feel that it’s fitting that my mantra is now “We Will.”
I joined DRC in March 2016 and it was really “love at first run”. I actually quit running four years prior after a really hard race in Cape Cod. DRC allowed me to heal a wound I never wanted to heal. I never thought I would run again, and DRC has made me believe that I’ll never think about quitting anything else ever again in life. I’ll just keep trying harder to achieve my goals in all areas of my life. I feel blessed that my faith led me to a church where I met a friend who then led me to DRC. Life is good!