This was my fourth Hogeye.
In 2012, it was my first marathon. The course and the hometown location were the familiarity I needed for my first go.
In 2014, it was a comeback of sorts. After the Little Rock Marathon cancellation mess, the guys and I planned to get our 5-hour race at Hogeye instead. But foot pain and the possibility of a more serious injury made me downgrade from the full as race day approached and I ran the half so strongly I surprised myself.
And this year. It all came full circle.
It was an event.
The 1LT Tom Martin Memorial Foundation and the extended Martin Family were part of the weekend, and we were able to share Tom’s story and the mission of the Foundation with many, many new people. Sometimes the most impactful events just – come together. And this one did. The Foundation had a booth at the vendor expo on Saturday — sharing Tom and Project Keeping TIME with runners as they picked up their race packets for the next morning. We met new friends and saw old ones, and dozens of runners bought shirts and picked up wristbands with plans to carry Tom’s NEVER QUIT with them during the race.
I smile and sigh to think about how it all started — AT The Hogeye.
Back in 2012, my friend Jennifer and I made two shirts as we prepared to run The Hogeye Marathon – my first full. We wanted to bring Tom with us so we designed simple shirts — the Foundation logo on the back and NEVER QUIT across the chest, inspired by the way Tom always talked about Army Ranger School. “Make them carry you out.” The race was just as tough as you’d expect a marathon to be plus the weather turned and we finished the last half in a roaring thunderstorm — but we had people cheering NEVER QUIT at us until the finish line. It was perfect.
After the race, people started asking how to get their own shirts. And the rest is history. It’s now an ongoing project for the Foundation with hundreds of shirts — and stories and memories and challenges and adventures to go with them — around the world.
It started at The Hogeye. And this year — it was BACK. When we volunteered to do an aid station for the race, we requested the last one before the finish line. We wanted the spot on the course that marathoners would really need us. We wanted to be the NEVER QUIT during the last mile of a tough, hilly, gritty race.
Before the race, we took the first of what I hope will be an annual photo tradition. Keeping TIME at the Hogeye!
I ran with David, Jeff, Amy (her first half!), and Jeff’s friend Denise — and we had more than one group of spectators call out, “look! It’s the NEVER QUIT brigade!”
We separated from Denise and the boys in the last two miles. Amy’s knee was bothering her and we walked a bit to loosen it up — I want her to do another one with me someday, I gotta get her to the finish line!
Rounding the corner and seeing the NEVER QUIT aid station was somethin’ else. Our church partnered with the Foundation and there were kids and signs and cheering and music and banners and AWESOMENESS.
I may never be a celebrity, but running through that tunnel of people made me feel like a rockstar. High fives! Go Sarah! Go Amy! We were ready for the last big hill, and the downhill into the finish line!
We finished and drank all the chocolate milk we could stand before finding our way to the car, medals around our necks. Jeff and I were headed back to the aid station for an afternoon of more. We spent the rest of the day cheering runners, accompanying friends up that final hill, and Keeping TIME in the sunshine.
Tom’s story had a whole new audience this weekend, and NEVER QUIT was back at The Hogeye where it all began. So a special weekend for the Foundation, and my running buddies and I are still talking about how FUN that race was. Beautiful weather, good friends, a solid run.
What a weekend. WHAT a weekend.