During the winter of my freshmen year I watched my friend Emma train for the Holy Half Marathon. She persevered from January to April, running through snow, cold, and anything else South Bend tried to throw at her. I was in complete awe of her discipline and commitment to running such an impossibly long race. I could barely fathom running for 30 seconds let alone 13.1 miles.
On the morning of the race (winter 2022) all of our friends tracked her as she ran around Notre Dame mile after mile. The entire campus seemed to stop to cheer on all of the runners. Friends lined the quads with hilarious signs and shouted encouragement. And, many more cheered excitedly as their runners crossed the finish. Afterwards in celebration we ate at the newly opened Chick-Fil-A proud of her amazing accomplishment. I even remember thinking to myself “I wish I could be that cool. Too bad I’m not a runner.”
All my life I had been a theater kid without any interest in ever running. I can even look back on my middle school years and remember completely dreading the horrible “mile-run” that our school mandated each trimester. Anything longer than that seemed absolutely impossible…Well plot twist! A year later I too participated in a celebratory post-Holy Half Chick-Fil-A lunch.
My story began during Christmas break. Emma gave several of our friends her Holy Half training plan, encouraging us to give it a try. I remember calling to tell her I just could not do it but that I would happily cheer her on again this year. Looking back, I’m incredibly grateful that I changed my mind.
My Holy Half adventure began when I asked for a fitbit for Christmas. I had no intention of running but instead just liked the numbers it recorded. I am a business analytics major so I’m a complete sucker for any data…steps, heart rate, active zone minutes, literally anything. Fast forward about a week later and I realized I wanted to test how it tracked physical activity. So I agreed to casually try the first day of Emma’s running plan – just for research purposes obviously. The weather that day was gorgeous and the run wasn’t too hard. Again for the sake of research I ran on that Thursday as well. As the days grew closer to the start of second semester, I kept going slowly adding .25ths of miles. Once back on campus I kept going. January was cold but with gloves, a hat, and a heavy pullover I felt great.
I remember telling Emma about the results of following her plan. After each run I tracked my steps, the distance, the pace, and more. It was an exciting new project and an easy way to stay fit. However, I had no intention of ever making it past 3 miles…definitely not. Yet for whatever reason I thought I might give it a shot. After running my first 1.5 mile run the registration for the Holy Half was officially announced to be January 23rd. The race fills up relatively fast so I knew I would have to sign up as soon as it opened to be eligible. I very much doubted I’d be able to participate but thought $40 to charity is never a bad deal. So I signed up for the half marathon.
By February I was very much committed to the plan. The 3 and 4 mile runs no longer felt so scary to me. In fact, I looked forward to my slower-paced long runs each Saturday. Additionally, I was starting to feel a difference in how I managed my time and stress. The previous winter in South Bend had been tough for me due to the cold and snow.
With my running I was able to still get outside and appreciate days with blue skies. Also, some of my friends began running with me from time to time making the longer runs a little bit easier. I was surprised how possible it is to talk and run! I explored more of campus too. I ran around the lakes, up to St. Mary’s, through the woods, and down Notre Dame Avenue. However, I still maintained that I would likely only run the 10K terrified of actually admitting to training for the Holy Half. Taking the runs day by day became my motto. I was obviously cheering for myself but 13.1 miles felt so far.
In March the runs continued to add on miles beyond what I ever thought possible for myself. I was gaining confidence and endurance every day. One of my favorite memories was going to LA for Spring break. My run that week was eight miles. I was able to run all the way from my aunt's apartment to the ocean and back without a problem. I could finally admit that I was in fact going to run the Holy Half!
As the days went on, South Bend became warmer and warmer. I no longer ever needed gloves, a hat, or even much of a jacket. I remember the first day I could actually feel the sun on my back. I even started to tan! At this point the runs were long enough that I began listening to podcasts and inviting friends to the second half to keep me going. I was so close.
The final two weeks in April were maybe the toughest. The runs were long and the mileage was definitely starting to add up. Yet, I kept going. The night before the race I celebrated with sushi (a surprisingly great pre-race food assuming one doesn’t get food poisoning). Luckily for me, I didn’t get sick.
The morning of the run was so much fun! My roommate and I woke up super early and put on our favorite playlist. The morning was sunny and warm. I pinned my running bib, stretched, and made my way to the start. Runners young and old waited for the start. I saw everyone from my friends, my professors to even one of the leprechauns. Although I was obviously very nervous for my first race, the energy of the campus was absolutely amazing.
The run itself was fantastic as well. At each turn, students waited with signs to cheer on their friends. With every mile I waved to someone else I knew. Some of my friends worked at the water stations. Another worked the race as an EMT. Others ran next to me. It was extremely surreal. By mile 11 however, I was definitely struggling. Yet, friends cheering me on by Carroll and others texting that they were headed to the finish line helped me make it to the end. The final mile was definitely the toughest but I’ll never forget the feeling of giving everything I had and sprinting down the final stretch. There are few things I am more proud of than that moment.
Running the Holy Half taught me so much more about myself than I ever thought possible. It showed me that with determination, there are few finish lines that I can’t cross. Additionally, the support of my friends made me realize how valuable my four years at Notre Dame really are. I cannot imagine my life today without them. Although next Spring I will be studying abroad in France during the Holy Half, I am confident that I will run it again my senior year surrounded by my favorite people in the whole world. And for that, I am so incredibly grateful.