Why Jacksonville Half Was So Great

It started with a Facebook message on September 23rd. Richard Fannin had messaged me, as he is wont to do, and asked for a favor for his friend whose son is interested in running at App State. And when a person like Richard Fannin asks for a favor, you always try to help him out.

Things were insane that week. Cole’s and my former teammate at ZAP, Cameron Bean, had been critically injured by a swerving car on a run the Saturday evening before and died two days later. And another little thing… Cole and I were getting married that coming Saturday.

But I got back to him as soon as I could and had a quick conversation with him the next morning. After talking about his friend, I told him I’d be running the Jacksonville Half as a tuneup for the 2016 Olympic Marathon Trials, just as I had before the 2012 Trials in Houston. As always, he was very excited and supportive and promised to help me find a host and/or company to run with during the race.

I had NO idea what would come of that harmless phone call. But… to be fair, I guess I should have known, since I had opted to involve Richard. Soon after we talked, Fannin went into full swing organizing one of the most unique and incredible elite fields in US road racing history.

He took a relatively no-name, low-key race in his home town and made it into a destination for sub-elite and elite runners across the country. He invited hundreds of runners who had either already achieved the Olympic Trials standard or were on the cusp of achieving it. He provided housing to the hundred of us who RSVPed with a “yes please.” He drew the line at covering travel but offered us every other luxury that any elite field would have.

Richard made every one of us feel special and welcome, announcing each entrant on his Facebook page with a flattering photo and brief but thoughtful bio. He posted throughout the holidays, not leaving anyone out. (God bless his loving wife and kids for allowing him to take the time for this incredibly kind and consuming hobby of his.)

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Over 3 months after our initial talk, the day was finally here. Nearly 100 runners from across the country descended upon an extended stay hotel in Jacksonville to take part in a race offering $500 to the first place finisher. We were met with a warm welcome and there was a palpable sense of camaraderie in the air.

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This race was different. Instead of racing against one another, we were racing together, with one another. We all had one common goal – to qualify as many individuals for the Olympic Marathon Trials as we possibly could.

Those of you who read the article from UAA News published a month ago know that this is something I quickly learned to love about long distance running.

“I changed my thinking by seeing my opponents as teammates instead of competitors. I was working with my competition, not against them.”

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I loved the entire experience of this race for so many reasons.

  1. Everyone there came out of love for the sport and in pursuit of their dreams. This race exposed the true motivation behind most of us elite runners. We are not in it for the money. Most of us have fairly expensive college degrees, and could certainly make a lot more money by increasing our work hours than we ever can by running. Most of us aren’t even in it for the glory. We just want to push our own limits and find out how good we can be.
  2. Personally, I always achieve the most when I know I am helping others to achieve their best. It’s almost like the strain of the effort becomes totally inconsequential as long as I know that someone else is getting what they need in order to achieve their goal. This phenomenon brought me to my Marathon PR in Boston where I led a pack of 6 or so through half way, and again to my Half Marathon PR yesterday.
  3. The buzz around this race was incredible. Richard Fannin proved that it doesn’t take a huge prize purse or travel reimbursement to pull in tons of talent, which will also bring more attention to the event itself. I’ve received comments on social media from people who said that they weren’t planning on running, but they signed up for the event last-minute just because they wanted to be a part of something so special. I sincerely hope that race directors across the country will see what Richard did here at this very low-key race and recognize the benefit in not only bringing in elite runners, but also hiring someone to do even a quarter of the job that Richard did at the Jacksonville Half for free.

Last December I rewarded myself for my win at Twin Cities with a tattoo. On the inside of my left wrist are written the words “aus Liebe.” These two words begin the text from a soprano aria in Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion. They mean “out of love” and although I have yet to live up to this mantra, I aspire every day to do everything with that motive – out of love.

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That’s why Jacksonville was so special. Richard went on his mission out of love. We all accepted his invitation and came from far and wide out of love. We woke up at 4am to a cold, rainy morning out of love. Spectators and supporters came out in that cold rain to watch us out of love. We helped each other and ran together out of love.

Richard choked up out of love as he watched his dream for us come true when the first swarm of men’s qualifiers entered the track to round towards the finish line. And as I came across the line, I threw my hands over my head in the shape of a heart out of love. Out of love for the sport and everything that yesterday meant to all of us who were lucky enough to witness it and be a part of something so special.

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If the magic that was yesterday had never come to be, I likely would have won $500 for first place female very easily. But what I got instead was an experience of a lifetime, one worth so much more than money.

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Let’s keep doing this. Out of love.

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5 Comments

  1. 1

    I was one of those folks that randomly decided to jump into this race last minute because of the chance to be close to something so amazing. I had been in a total running funk and the excitement and magic behind this race landed me a 1:26 half from my previous 1:28. Seeing the pack of women go by together, was something I’ll never forget. Normally in a race stacked with so much talent, we’d never get to be a part of it, but there you all were. Post race when all the elites were huddled into the same infield in the same crumby weather it hit home that this is a sport you do out of love. Thank you for bringing that magic to a local level.

    • 2

      Thanks so much, Keara! First of all, congratulations on your big improvement in your half marathon, and secondly thank you so much for your kind words and support of the sport. I’m so glad that our performance could be as impactful on you as it was on us. It was a great day and I’m so glad you chose to be a part of it!

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