The Most Important Mile of My Life: Kristin Neal

marathon runners
Family first: Kristin, holding onto both her daughters, Kristin's parents, Katie, and Katie's roommate, Beth.

I desperately searched the sidewalks for the big white sign that said Mile 25, only to discover it was nowhere to be seen. Discouraged, I trudged on. It was (the impossibly long) Mile 24 of my first marathon. I had lost the 3:35 pace group at a crowded water stop around Mile 8, and for the past 16 miles, it had been just me and my inner demons. My parents and sister were running the half-marathon, and my husband and kids were waiting for me at the finish. I was desperate to be done and reunited with them.

Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a petite, perky blonde in a neon green T-shirt casually pass me. I did a double take, realizing it was my sister. "Katie!" I yelled. "I'm dying, please don't leave me!" and reached out my hand as if to keep her from running away. Apparently 24.5 miles brings out my inner diva.
My sister and I were very close growing up, but life and miles had separated us. I got married and moved to Texas seven years ago, and she lives in Virginia with her roommate, Beth, who was also running with her. I was excited to spend time at the race with them, and beyond ecstatic to see them in that very desperate mile.
"Kris!" she yelled back, and reached for my hand. I tried, amidst very heavy breaths, to fill her in on the past almost-25 miles. Katie and Beth chatted away with me, as they are in amazing shape, and I groaned dying-water-buffalo noises back at them. She pointed out the Mile 25 sign ahead. I decided that I was not, in fact, dying, and could probably make it to the finish without further hysterics.
The girls were my total saviors, handing me Gatorade at the water station and offering me a Dixie cup of beer from a spectator (ew!). When we saw Camden Yards, the iconic finish area of the Baltimore Running Festival, they encouraged me to pick up the pace and finish strong. We crossed the parallel finish lines at the same time, them in 1:44 for the half and me in 3:35.
I will always remember my first marathon. The hours of training in swamp-like Texas summers, bursting into tears at the start because I was so nervous, narrowly missing a Boston qualifier (43 seconds off), but most of all, the very sweet mile I spent with my sister.

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