Runners help each other breathe

  • This was printed in February of 2015 in The Madera Tribune, a newspaper in Madera, California. I believe this was my 91st installment of my weekly column, Mind Over Miles. (I can’t find the 90th one, but according to the dates there should’ve been one in the first week of February…)

“Encouragement is like oxygen to the human spirit. Don’t forget you’re carrying

someone else’s air. Encourage them; help them breathe.” — Unknown

Runners and cyclists descended upon Hensley Lake on Sunday morning for the annual

Hensley Off Road Races. A 10K (6.2-mile) trail race was followed by a series of

mountain bike races of various distances.

I have never felt the above quote hit home like it did on Sunday.

My good friend Jennifer O’Riley told me an uplifting story after the race. She ran the

Two Cities Marathon in Fresno in November and during the last miles of the 26.2-mile

race came upon Maia Pucay, a 52-year-old who specializes in trail running. Jennifer

uttered a few words of encouragement, something like, “Looking good Maia, we’re

almost there. We’ve got this.”

As a tight-knit running community, we say these kinds of things to each other all the

time. But this time, Maia said, those words alone helped her to refocus and push — she

ended up qualifying for the Boston Marathon by two minutes.

At the Hensley 10K, Maia was the one who caught up to Jennifer. “Jen, just keep

moving,” she said. When they attacked the last, brutally steep hill, Maia again offered

positive words. “Jen, the hills are what separate the strong from the weak.”

Those words pushed Jennifer to a finish time of 1:05:47, good for first place in her

division (women 40-49).

These women’s story proves that we get back what we give out. If you spread positivity

and encouragement, an equal amount of support will come back to you when you need it

the most. We all have to help each other breathe.

Before the race on Sunday, I was fortunate enough to meet a Madera Tribune reader who

complimented me on my column.

“I subscribed to Runner’s World for 20 years, but your articles have helped me more than

those magazines ever did,” she said.

There is no way this woman could’ve known that I was getting burned out on writing

Mind Over Miles. I have struggled for some weeks to come up with interesting or helpful

topics that I haven’t already written about.

She (and I’m very sorry I didn’t ask her name) just happened to park next to the van I was

riding in and we happened to begin a conversation and she happened to recognize me and

miraculously gave me these words of encouragement that I desperately needed. She

singlehandedly renewed my vigor for writing this column, and for that I’m deeply


I’m also indebted to one of the Madera running community’s most supportive couples,

Sam and Lena Cortez. Sam was at the top of the last hill at the Hensley 10K and I

probably would have walked that steep ol’ thing if it hadn’t been for him cheering me on.

I shortened my stride, pumped my arms and ran as hard as I could — to the point of

nausea — just so that I wouldn’t disappoint him or Lena, who I knew was waiting at the

finish line. I ended up coming in 14th overall and winning the women’s division. The

Cortezes gave me my air that day.


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