As most stories start, I was talked into joining the high school cross country team by a friend. I will never forget my first day of practice when my coach said we were going to run a mile. You've got to be kidding me. A MILE?! I was already chalking up cross country as another sport that I was going to be mediocre at. But then... Hey, that was a mile? That wasn't so bad... I became determined to get the hang of this whole running thing. I ran my first sub-20 min 5k as a junior in high school and will never forget that race. 

I came to JCU with high expectations and a coach telling me I had a future and the potential of being the best runner on the team. The weekend before we left for Cross Country camp as a freshman, I was running with some future teammates and popped my knee out. No, I am not exaggerating. My knee was on the other side of my leg. I moved into Murphy a week later with a full leg brace and crutches, and sometimes still get referred to as "the girl who had that leg brace." My freshman season was nonexistent. 

When I began to run again I didn't feel like the runner I once was. There was a lot of pressure on me, from both the coaches and myself, and a lot of disappointment. Then a high school friend committed suicide. I found refuge in running, it was the only time I could completely clear my mind. The physical pain of a hard run eased the emotional pain I was experiencing. In a way I became dependant on running and knew that I needed it in my life for my mental health.

Junior year I had a horrible cross country season. I started training on my own and remembering why I run, how much I love the pure simplicity of it. I went on the Guidance retreat and met Jimmy, who told me about the Rock CF race. Between Jimmy and the race, I was reminded of how much of a blessing running is. I was so inspired by Jimmy and the other race participants that I began to appreciate my body's ability to run that much more. The race reminded me of the spiritual aspect of running, as did the Living Person Challenge. I ran the half marathon and had an amazing time. 

 The Cleveland Marathon was the first marathon I have ever run, and it was by far the hardest thing I have ever done, both physically and mentally. I had 3 hours and 40 minutes in my own head, fighting my own demons and my own self-doubt. My goal was to run it in under four hours. I crossed the finish line in 3:40 completely drained and completely exhausted, collapsing on the ground, and knowing I was hooked.

The Rock CF race is so important to me because it's my friendly reminder of how lucky I am to be a runner, and the power that runners have to gather around a cause and make a difference. This half marathon also reminds me of the spiritual aspect and how much I see God through running. Be it the strength of your own mind and body, seeing those around you experiencing their first runner's high, the enthusiasm and support from other participants, and the CF survivors out there running the race against all odds, there are so many ways to see God through running. Running has been such a gift and joy for me, and I hope you see God and experience such an extreme joy in the same way through your training.

Run free. 

-Rachael

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