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As the gun sounded and the first corral of racers took off at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Half Marathon, I hugged my thick jacket tightly around my shoulders and looked for a curb to kick up my feet. Scheduled to be the very last runner to cross the start line with more than 20,000 bodies ahead of me in the chute, I knew it would be at least another hour until I took my first step. By the time I was half a mile into the race, the winners would already be crossing the finish, hands raised as they broke the tape.
A few months prior to the half marathon, I was asked to be a Tomorrow Chaser by Transamerica Life Insurance. The brand’s ongoing program selects one runner per event to be a “chaser.” She or he starts dead last; for every person passed, the company donates a dollar to a charity of choice. In Vegas, the recipient would be the Edith Sanford Breast Foundation, an organization whose commitment to breast cancer research I respect deeply. I accepted the offer with glee.
I’ve finished more half marathons than I can remember. Unless I’m pacing a friend, half marathons for me are almost always tied to a performance goal. Until recently, whenever someone would ask me to recount a favorite race memory, I’d describe an experience where I ran at my best. It might seem a little self-centered—but that’s part of running. It’s fun to achieve new time goals or discover you nabbed a podium spot at a local event.
As I waited to start Rock ‘n’ Roll Vegas, it was clear this race would be a very different sort of experience. Instead of elbowing up to get a good spot at the line, I tucked next to the tail vehicles, spinning lights from the police cars and ambulances reflecting off my Tomorrow Chaser shirt as I listened to their hum.
Finally, the horn sounded, releasing the last corral and I darted off, eyes focused on the clearest pathway to navigate the crowds. In the weeks leading up to the race, I had been nursing a knee injury that had prevented me from training. No big deal, I’d thought. I’ll be able to finish 13.1 miles, and even if I don’t run a personal best, I know I can still pass a number of people. But the second I started running, I could feel the seriousness of my position sinking into my gut. The Tomorrow Chaser program wasn’t just about having fun, wearing a cool jersey and finishing wherever I could. It was up to me to raise every dollar possible for Edith Sanford; every minute made a difference, every second mattered.
In my nearly two decades of racing, I have never experienced the sort of adrenaline that shot through my body. My out-of-shape legs found new life as I navigated the crowds. I was so focused, I didn’t even notice the mile markers until I cruised by 6. “Go, Tomorrow Chaser!” I heard people shout. Instead of beating with effort, my heart filled with pride. My normal mid-race grimace was replaced by a big, toothy grin.
The last few miles of even the best race are almost always a slog. You begin the bargaining process. “Do you really want to keep this pace?” your aching body asks, and you do your best to shut out the voice. But this time, there was no internal struggle. The final stretch seemed like the most important mile of my life—the window of winning for Edith was starting to close—I felt like I was sprinting until the very last step.
As I hugged the Edith Sanford team at the finish, we were all smiles. By reframing what it meant to run a half marathon, the distance had completely transformed. The opportunity Transamerica provided allowed me to run for others rather than to race for myself. I felt so grateful to be on their team.
I later found out that I’d passed 14,122 runners over the course of 13.1 miles. I may have started in last place, but I felt like we’d won. At the very least, I had definitely earned a new answer to: What is your favorite race?
Join TeamEdith—The Edith Sanford Breast Foundation has a mission to unlock each woman’s genetic code, advance today’s prevention and treatment, and end breast cancer for future generations. Learn more at edithsanford.org.