by. Beth Gillespie
Charleston, IL

Beth started running 9 years ago and is currently training for the Illinois full or half marathon in April. Her favorite race distance is the marathon and her pre-race meal of choice is a deep dish cheese pizza.

Running and I did not experience love-at-first-sight when we first met in 1995 at the track outside my high school. We started with 3 quick dates and then bid each other farewell for ten years.


As a junior in high school, we were required to run a mile, and for the girls, I believe it had to be done in ten minutes or less in order to pass. I was not an athlete. I was in the orchestra. I was part of the chorus for the school musicals. I played zero sports, unless you count playing Ms. Pac-Man on my Atari 2600. So the idea of running one full mile felt rather daunting to put it mildly. 

As I walked to the track with my class, I remember my fear of running felt as big as the crisp spring sky. I was not an athlete. I was not a runner. And I wasn’t sure I could complete 4 laps around the track without dying.  Mr. Schafer, our gym teacher, yelled GO! And the entire class took off. I ran with two other girls in my class, at a painfully slow pace, and while we were able to run the entire mile, it wasn’t within the time constraints. Mr. Schafer shared that we would try again and on day two of the mile, it was just the three of us girls. Off we went. I remember being grateful for the company and feeling bonded with the other girls while we covered the distance together.

While we ran faster, I was the only one who didn’t hit the time goal. Day three dawned another perfect spring morning. Mr. Schafer, and I were standing on the track. And for the third time, I missed the goal.  As we walked back to the school he told me “sometimes what is more important than meeting your goals Beth, is the fact that you were willing to try.” It wasn’t until I crossed my first finish line 10 years later that I understood exactly what he meant.


In 2004 I decided to make a major change in my health. I looked in the mirror one day and saw with blinding clarity what the years of Thai Food, Whoppers, Bud Light, pizza, and absolutely zero exercise had done to my body, to my spirit, and what it was doing to my life. The sadness in my eyes and heaviness in my spirit were unbearable to ignore once I recognized they were there.

Nearly 7 months into changing my journey, I had lost nearly 70 lbs, and was starting to enjoy my daily exercise. Then I was asked to attend an out-of-town conference for work. I even packed workout clothes, which proved to myself just how committed I was to this new lifestyle. I opened the door to the hotel fitness room and was immediately filled with dread. There, staring back at me, were two treadmills. I think I might have even heard in my head the theme music from the movie 'Jaws'. I had flashbacks to the high school track.

The feelings of failure and of not being strong enough to meet my goals filled my stomach. Out loud I said “STOP. Think of all the new things you have done in the past 7 months.” I took a really deep breath, stepped onto that treadmill, hit start, and ran exactly one mile. I was on cloud nine! I felt strong. I felt powerful. I felt like the biggest badass on the planet. That random Tuesday was the day that running showed me a different side, and opened the door to a different life for me. And I walked out of that gym with the biggest crush on running.


My love affair with running continued and by the fall of 2006 I had joyfully completed a handful of 5k and 10k events.  I also firmly declared, despite these accomplishments, “running more than 6 miles is just stupid.” And then the universe gave me the gift of Nikki. She was an avid runner, a lover of the marathon distance, she lived across the street from me, and we just so happened to run the exact same pace. For six weeks we ran side by side, a blonde and a brunette, adding up miles, building a lifelong friendship, and exploring our town together.


One Sunday afternoon at mile 5 of our standard 6 mile run, Nikki turned to me and said, “let’s run 7 miles today.” We spent the next mile debating it. I was filled with fear, and was confident that my body wasn’t capable of running 7 miles. Nikki smiled at me “let’s just give it a try.” Mr. Schafer’s words ran in my memory. Together, on that perfect fall afternoon with the sun setting behind us, we ran 7 miles. And during that extra mile I fell head over heels in love with running.

And 13 marathons and 3 ultra-marathons later, I haven’t looked back.

Atsuko Tamara