Running Sarah Strong 2017

In just under a week, the forecast had turned from sunny days running in shorts with high 50’s to the snowy return of winter with cold blasts of wind in mid-20 degree weather. I hate to admit it, but I was not looking forward to racing a 10K in that kind of cold. I trusted my training with Coach Jake and knew that I had put in the hard work; but when I laid out my layers of race clothes the night before, I just wasn’t feeling it. Too many times I have felt like I was doing really well with my training schedule and then mentally bombed on race-day. I didn’t want one of my favorite annual races to repeat the same pattern.

My pre-race strategy was to ease into the first three miles with a 9:15 average pace and then hopefully move into a 9:00 min pace for the last three. I hadn’t raced a 10K since July 2016 at Logan’s Run where I had an average 9:03 pace for 6.2 miles so I didn’t know what to expect. With the cold weather, I thought this would be a good goal to complete.

Despite my reluctance, I had a few things going for me with this race. Derek had just flown in the night before from his business trip in Florida so it would be exciting to have him home for the weekend at the race. Sarah Strong is also a goal race for the Two Rivers Running Club race series so I would know many of the runners there and we would cheer each other on. Furthermore, this would be the first race of the year that I would represent the Ambassadors of Fleet Feet Sports Mishawaka with my  fellow teammates. I bundled up and put on my race jersey with pride ready to face the day.

The Sarah Strong race has always been sentimental to me. In my first year of teaching in Elkhart, Sarah Crane was a freshman at Memorial High School fighting stage-4 colon cancer. I taught my 8th graders how to fold origami cranes and we sold them as Christmas ornaments at basketball games to donate to Sarah’s (3)

When Sarah lost her battle to cancer, I had my second semester students collaborate on an installation project by folding 1,000 cranes as a gift to the Crane family which was displayed at the first annual Sarah Strong Memorial Run.  It was a rewarding experience for my students to give back to a family who had lost a child who was only one year older than them at the time. The significance of folding 1,000 cranes is a Japanese tradition of good luck or a wish granted to the person receiving them. #Sarah Strong became a movement that the community got behind to support the Crane family and establish the Passionately Purple- Sarah Crane Foundation. All proceeds from the run go towards the foundation which assists other local families whose children have cancer. download (4)download (7)

The Sarah Strong  Run was also the first 10K race I ever completed when I first started running in 2015 and became a tradition for us to race each year. The race directors, Mark and Tina Davidhizar, are also good friends of ours so we like to support this (6)

On your marks, get set, go! The 10K crowd took off from the starting line-up and I waved as I ran by a couple running friends competing in the 5K after us. As we approached the first half mile, a runner beside me noticed my Fleet Feet shirt and asked about the ambassador team. He then asked what pace I was planning on running and if he could run with me. I thought that sounded like a good idea and we made our introductions. At one mile, we were right on pace with an 8:57 at the first mile and I started to warm up while running in the chilly breeze.

We got to chatting and my new running buddy, Scott, told me that he leads a running group with his company on this same route along the river every Friday before work. We both shared common bonds of training for our first marathon, competing in triathlons, and running with our spouses who normally have different paces than our own. The miles ticked away at 8:58, 9:07, 8:56…as we carried on in conversation enjoying the sunshine that had just begun to poke through the clouds.

After mile 4, we started to intensify our pace and I felt great as our speed dropped into the 8:30’s. By keeping my mind in a positive mentality, I hadn’t noticed the slight discomforts of racing and I still had energy left in the tank to really push the last two miles with an 8:54 and 8:36. I used my hill strategy to run hard up a bridge into Island Park for the final lap and sprint to the finish line.  We crossed the line together at 54:25 with an 8:47 average pace per mile for 6.11 miles. (Estimated 55:00 min for 6.2 miles)

Scott and I high-fived and took a selfie while reflecting on what a great race we both had. He was grateful for the company and keeping an even pace for his marathon training and I had just raced a Personal Record while talking which I had never tried to do before! I was completely flabbergasted by the results in the cold weather and that I had hoped to just finish with a 9:15 pace. It got me thinking what my time could potentially be if I ran a 10K race breathlessly like a 5K , how fast my time might become.

sarah strong stats

The post-race atmosphere is one of my favorite times to reconnect with running friends and share running stories. Derek ended up placing 2nd in his Age Group at 45:54 with a 7:24 pace. He shivered while waiting for the awards wishing that he had brought some of the Florida weather back home with him. We got to meet more members of the Fleet Feet Ambassador Team who came out on a very cold day to support the running community. Fleet Feet Sports Mishawaka is my go-to store for all my running gear…(Below: New running shoes for the season!)File_000

… but I love how Brett and Kristin at Fleet Feet really get involved in the local running community and want to spread the joy of running.


The next day, I completed an 8 mile post-race training run at an easy 9:58 pace per mile. My legs were feeling it but I knew that it would only make my endurance stronger in training for my marathon. Derek wanted to participate in my training experience so I ran 2 mile loops around OxBow Park and would stop at the warming house for fuel at my own personal water station. Derek got a kick out of being my #1 fan for the day and cheering me on each lap.

My training has been nothing but fun these past few months as I approach each workout with excitement for the end goal of completing a marathon at the Holland Haven in Holland, Michigan on September 10th, 2017. I started the new year in such a slump but gradually regained my confidence as I completed the workouts and saw progress in my fitness. As I look towards this weekend for running 10 miles on Saturday and 10 miles on Sunday, I’ll need that motivation to keep me going. The Sarah Strong Run was a positive milestone for me this year in putting me on the path to achieving my running goals.


Ashley Jager

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