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The Most Important Mile(s) of My Life: Sara Nakai

One year ago the news of a yet another school shooting shattered our hearts, leaving us all mourning the incomprehensible loss of 26 individuals at an elementary school that could have been where our own children spent their days learning. Mother runner Sara Nakai, living across the country in Chandler, AZ, was in the midst of marathon training at that time, gearing up for her longest run yet. Ultimately, this 20-miler a few days after the tragedy in Newtown, Conn. was a way for her to honor the precious young souls lost that day at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Sara first shared this dedication run on her blog My Little Batch of Sky, and she agreed to allow us to share it here.

Names of the children lost, loved and remembered always.
Names of the children lost, loved and remembered always.

I've tried very hard to think of what my most important mile has been. I honestly can't think of one. I can only think of 20.

I've told very few people about this. Not even my mother.

My marathon training plan was 26-weeks long. It started in July for a January race, and the longest distance I was going to have to run prior to the marathon was 20 miles. That 20-miler was scheduled for December 22, and I was dreading it for months with every sense of my being. But what happened a week before that training run changed how I felt about it.

You remember December 14, 2012. Everyone does. It was one of the worst days that ever happened.

I was home, checked the news online, read about a school shooting, then turned on CNN. The horror. Yet I couldn't look away or stop sobbing. Every crying child could have been mine. Every distressed teacher could have been one of my friends.  Every frantic parent could have been me. That's what everyone was thinking. No one was unaffected by this. Everyone knows a child, a parent, a teacher. It was too easy to personalize it.

After you stop personalizing it, you empathize. You wrap your head around the fact that teachers hid their students in cabinets, that some of those teachers gave their lives for their students, that parents lost their children--children who were in their classrooms at school. Twenty kids and six adults were killed by a gunman in an elementary school. Unimaginable. Incomprehensible. Unfathomable. So senseless.

The next few days were dark for all of us as names, ages, and stories of the victims were released. I decided I would dedicate my next long run to the student victims. All twenty of them. In tribute, I would write each of their first names on my forearm and think of one while I ran each mile. So on Friday night, exactly one week after the tragedy, I took a ballpoint pen and started writing on my forearm.

Except there were so many names that the list passed my elbow and went halfway to my shoulder. I cried some more.

The next morning, I woke up and headed out the door. As soon as I started running I said, "Hi, Charlotte. Come run with me." We ran a mile together. I didn't know Charlotte or even what she looked like. I just pictured a happy six year old girl playing and smiling. When my Garmin chimed at a mile I said, "Thank you, Charlotte.  Hi, Daniel.  Come run with me." I did that 20 times over. It wasn't sad. I didn't think about how they died; I imagined joyful children running around on the playground or reading with their parents or playing with Matchbox cars or Barbies. It really was as if each child was running next to me for a mile. They all deserved my best. I took extra care to give as much effort for Avielle at Mile 17 as I did for Josephine at Mile 4. I felt no physical pain during this run. I was completely outside of myself; I was running for those kids.

When my Garmin chimed at Mile 20, I thanked Allison and stopped running. I bent over, hands on my knees, finally feeling the exhaustion from running for three hours and 20 minutes straight and said to myself, That was a lot of miles. That was too many kids.

Those were the most meaningful miles of my life.

Sara and her family.
Sara and her family.

What was (or will be) the most important mile of your life? We want to know.

We’re going to make this an ongoing feature on the website (and potentially include some important miles in our yet-to-be-named third book, out in spring of 2015). Best way to submit is to email us your story with a picture: runmother {at} gmail {dot} com with “Most Important Mile” in the subject line. Please try to keep your mile stories under 300 words. Thank you!

25 responses to “The Most Important Mile(s) of My Life: Sara Nakai

  1. Iwhat a beautiful idea. And I love that you greeted each child and pictured them playing. I have thought several times, how a marathon would be a perfect remembrance. One mile in honor of each life lost. 26. 26 too many.

  2. Thank you for sharing, that is beautiful.

    I live in CT, with friends in Newtown. I was on the treadmill when the local news first broke, I will never forget that moment. Heartbreaking.

  3. I am rarely at a loss for words but sitting here with tears in my eyes, I am. So very beautiful and touching. And what a beautiful, compassionate, strong woman you are. Blessings.

  4. Tears! This is the most beautiful idea I’ve seen! I’m going to do this for my special needs students at my half marathon in the spring!

  5. This makes me cry. The feelings from that day one year ago are closer to the surface than I expected. The images.. The feeling of helplessness.. The horror of it all. I can picture Sara on her run, and each angel that joined her as she called out their name.

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