By: Diana Dennee
My hands trembled as I carefully pinned my first Fox Cities Half Marathon bib onto my t-shirt. My heart raced as I weaved the timing chip into my shoelace. I couldn’t believe I was here to run 13.1 miles. What if I couldn’t? What if I was the LAST one to finish?! What if I bit off more than I could chew? Was I even ready for this? Am I really a runner?
It wasn’t but a year prior to that moment the idea of me running even a single mile was beyond far-fetched. I had recently become a mother at only 18-years-old and had gained over 100 pounds through my pregnancy. Running was not something I’d ever done, not even when my high school gym teacher tried to convince me to run “the mile test.” But I knew I had to make some big changes in my life in order to be a healthy mother for my little girl. I was only 19-years-old, and I was embarrassed of my physical condition. Running seemed like a good method for me since it didn’t require a whole lot: a pair of sneakers, a running bra and a road to run on.
I laced up every day and simply tried to make it one mailbox further each time I ran. I pushed my daughter in a stroller and she would cheer and push me to keep going! The first couple weeks, I was sure I had asthma or altogether bum lungs. They burned and screamed for me to stop. But I never quit. Every morning I ran just a little further without stopping. It was the best feeling – one small victory after the next. I couldn’t wait to see how far I could go! After months of this, I realized I was running for half an hour straight without any trouble, then an hour and gradually longer and longer. My body was shrinking rapidly and I was stronger! This was AWESOME!
Then it happened. I got my first copy of Runner’s World Magazine and there it was: an ad for the Community First Fox Cities Marathon. I didn’t know this was even a thing. People pay money to run? Something inside of me told me this was MY thing. I called the race office that day and explained my situation and asked if they thought I could run a half marathon. The girl said YES YOU CAN and so I signed up.
Unbelievably, it will be 15 years ago, this fall, since I lined up for my first Fox Cities Half Marathon. There I stood with about 4,000 other runners at Riverside Park in Neenah, praying for two things: 1) That I could finish, and 2) Not to come in last place. As my heart and mind raced, I added a third prayer: that God would allow me to continue running throughout my life for as long as I was physically able. I stood in a sea of runners surrounded by balloons and cheers with great pump up music blasting in the air and a final prayer came into my heart, God please help me commit to run THIS RACE every year until my legs stop working. These are my people.
The Community First Fox Cities Marathon starting gun rang out, and off I went through the canopy of the balloon arch! The course wound through so many of my childhood memories and the many volunteers and spectators cheering for me by name distracted my mind of any doubts I felt in my ability to finish. Despite the fact that this was my first half marathon, I knew this race was something very special. There were so many small and large details that were in place, making it an incredible experience for all the runners. I completed my first Fox Cities Half Marathon that day in two hours and seven minutes and I’ve gone on to complete the Fox Cities Half Marathon eleven more times (once as an Angel for My Team Triumph), the Full Marathon twice, and the Relay once, only missing one year (2013) when I became pregnant with twin girls, who have now also come to love running with Mom.
Running has been there for me throughout the last 15 years of my life’s trials and tribulations. It’s been my constant, the source of countless blessings, new friends, an amazing running club (Moms Run This Town) and so many other priceless memories. It’s made me a better mother and wife. No matter what life throws my way, you will find me at the starting line of the Community First Fox Cities Marathon presented by Miron Construction every year until my legs no longer work (at which time my girls can push me in a wheelchair). This is where my love for running really became a part of my identity and I really hope to see YOU there with me this year … because YES YOU CAN DO IT!