Since the time that I first started running the Crazy 8 road race in Kingsport has held a very special place for me. It was there that I saw first saw elite, world class runners in person. The type of runners who show up for the express purpose of trying to set a new World Record; the type who run 4 minute miles for an entire race. Seeing them and the thousands of other runners was what inspired me to want to run. Well not just run but to run THIS race, with the thousands of runners and the huge, supportive crowds.
The next year, 2012, and each since I have circled it on the calendar. Each time I have been blessed to show up with awesome friends and support and each year there is something special about this race. The 2016 addition didn’t fail to live up to this… This year was Daniel’s race.
I can still remember Daniel’s uneasy question in February as I was getting ready to go run, “Can I go with you?” I told him he could and he went off to change clothes. It was about 45 that day, too warm to wear cold gear but still cold enough to feel the bite. He started like a flash, sprinting down the path. I caught up with him about a quarter of a mile later as he was slowing down. Pretty sure that he walked as much as he ran that day and his legs were red from the cold by the time we got back to the parking lot. Still, there was no doubt about it, his excited questions, his face filled with pride at his accomplishment… He was hooked.
Over the next month or so he became a regular with me on my runs when he was with us and as he worked at it he started to improve. Once he figured out not to sprint he started working on endurance and I smiled as he reached each milestone. A half mile without walking, then a mile, then a mile and a half. We signed up for a race together, a small 5 K in tiny Mendota, Virginia. About a week
before he developed a cold and a pretty rough cough but the day before he was determined even though he was no better. I was so proud of him as he ran that race. I knew that time wise he could have done better if he was healthy but still he gritted it out and finished the race with a good sprint.
He heard me talking about the Crazy 8’s and his next race was set. Over the next couple of months he worked hard on his distance, passing 3 miles without walking then 4 and finally 5. He even started running on his own when I was at work. We watched movies and documentaries about running and even the ESPN coverage of past Crazy 8’s. He was focused on getting ready.
The day arrived and we drove as a family to Kingsport, two runners and two cheerers. Pre-Race we met with friends, cut up and even tried on running tutus. I tried to nap in the shade but nobody else seemed to share my desire for rest and I gave up the thought. Finally it was time and as we went to the start we walked past the elite runners who were lining up at the front. We talked about how fast they were and that we probably wouldn’t see them again. With such a large
crowd and being dark we wore glowing bracelets and jewelry so that we could find each other easier. Hey, it is actually pretty easy to lose someone that is just under 5 feet tall in a crowd of several thousand people on candle lit streets.
We found a place in the middle of the field and listened as the Star Spangled Banner was sung and the prayer was said. James 2 found us before the start and stayed with us throughout. Then we were OFF! Well, to be honest it was more of a we were off… While the ones at the front were tearing down the street we started a slow, steady march towards the start line. At some point the crowd en masse started a jog and then broke into a halting run. We had talked about the difficulty of running in a big pack but I think it still got to Daniel a little bit. Soon he started using his small size to his advantage, squeezing through gaps that J2 and I couldn’t, forcing us to go around the big groups to try and keep up.
We made the turn off of Center and then again off of Eastman and Daniel started running the sidewalk through the candle lit section to avoid being knocked around. He pushed harder than he had during any training runs and I cautioned him to save some for later but he was feeling good and kept going. I really can’t say enough about the crowd at this race. It is very seldom that you can run an entire 5 mile course and have people cheering the whole way, especially when you are back in the pack but thousands turn out and keep shouting long after the leaders have passed. Of course J2 kept shouting back at them, urging them to even louder heights. Daniel finally got into the crowd as we turned back onto Center Street and passed the halfway point as he started exchanging high fives with the hands offered as we went by.
Next up was the hill past the mall. It looked very innocent, not really steep, more of a steady but long bump really. But this was the only place I had to walk the first time that I ran it and it is often the place that the elite runners fall off of the world record. Daniel charged up it and even picked up the pace a little towards the top. He was in a zone and cruising along great. We turned onto Warpath and back into candle light for the last time as the hill ended and by now the crowd had broken up enough that we could run side by side. By the time we reached Memorial the pace he had set was starting to catch up to Daniel but thankfully that turn also brought a nice downhill so he could relax a bit before turning back onto Center for one last time, completing the figure eight and bringing the stadium into sight.
I warned him to be careful as he entered the stadium and not to start a sprint until he had gotten onto the field as the transition from pavement to turf can be tricky. I really should have just saved my breath. As we made the turn into the stadium and the finish line came into sight he was GONE! He slipped between two runners and took off so fast that I lost him briefly. I had to go around several runners and sprint as fast as I could just to catch up with him. Just one look at his face as he closed in on the finish line leaves no doubt. This was Daniel’s race. He had prepared for it, worked for it and now he was running it.
In the end he killed it. He ran the race almost a full minute per mile faster than he had ever run anything over 3 miles. As he bent over at the finish line and sucked for air there was no question he had left nothing on the course. He had given it everything he had to give and surprised even himself. I am quite sure that I have never felt prouder of anyone than I did for him. He made the Crazy 8’s his.