The Stuff of Dreams

This is a story of disappointment, redemption, hope, challenge, and, finally, triumph. The important events in our lives are usually the ones in which we are the main character, taking our place in center stage. This, on the other hand, is a story in which I am but a supporting cast member, one who had the pleasure of witnessing the performance of a lifetime.

In November of 2017, Sarah Ruff completed the Richmond Marathon in a time of 3:41.04, which qualified her to apply for the Boston Marathon. Though entry has been getting more and more difficult in recent years, she had almost four minutes on the nominal qualifying time of 3:45 for her age group. We in her running family weren’t taking anything for granted, but we felt pretty sure that she would be accepted. When the time came for the Boston Athletic Association to hand out bibs, the time needed was 3:40.08. Though Sarah took it well, as she does all things, we were all disappointed.

Redemption, however, came in the form of a Boston-based sponsor for the marathon, Hyland’s. The Hyland’s Powered team of runners would be chosen to represent the company for the third year, this time with the theme of Healers. When Sarah learned of this opportunity, she didn’t deliberate very long. She is a family medicine physician, a job she loves. She had wanted to run Boston at age 40, and this gave new life to her aspiration.

Completing the required questions proved to be easy, and she was the first person selected for the team. Being part of Hyland’s meant that she was encouraged to document her journey through social media. This gave me the privilege of helping photograph and document her training and races leading up to the Marathon on April 15, 2019.

Sarah at the Occoneechee Relay race on her birthday

Hyland’s provided a coach, Mike Ehredt, and her official training kicked off on December 23rd, 2018.

Because Sarah races frequently, there were many adventures on the way to race day. Sarah is always determined to give her best and holds herself to a high standard. The addition of a coach and being a representative for Hyland’s, however, made her all-the-more dedicated to her training.

Many of the most gut-wrenching workouts were the Tempo Thursday runs Sarah did with her Fleet Feet Monday Crew teammates. These called for her to run up to eight miles are better then marathon pace. Her loyal partner for these was often teammate Martin Wileman. In the end, she could not have asked for a more steady and encouraging running mate. I would often wait for Sarah and Martin so we could all cool down together. The amount of effort and grit displayed by Sarah during these runs could fill an ocean.

Martin, Sarah, and me

As winter turned to spring and the race drew near, we all knew that Sarah had done absolutely everything to the best of her ability. This included not just training, but also mental preparation and being a good representative for Hyland’s on Instagram.

The weekend of April 13-15 shaped up even beyond our high expectations Sarah enjoyed meeting the teammates with whom she had spoken and corresponded. She also met the Hyland’s staff and felt a bond with them. Everything about the weekend was special for Sarah — from attending a Red Sox game, to getting Fast Braids, to a special shakeout run in which she got to meet Mike Wardian.

Wearing Fast Braids with friend Susan

On the morning of April 15, I sent Sarah one last text to wish her the best. I received back the most unexpected response. Sarah said that she had woken up early with dizziness and nausea. Though we didn’t know what was wrong, we could only hope it would go away in the hours before the start. We later learned that Sarah had developed vertigo, literally overnight.

Sarah is a Christian, and her faith plays an important role in her life. Though we have not spoken specifically about the spiritual aspects of the condition, I suspect that Sarah will wring out whatever wisdom and knowledge there is to be had from it.

One of many training runs on the American Tobacco Trail

But back to our story: On the morning of the marathon, Sarah threw up and needed help from her teammates at the hotel to make it to the bus. Though everyone on the bus was a healer of some sort, none had any magic words or medicine to make the vertigo go away.

Sarah pulled herself together to get to the start. In fact, she was on goal pace through halfway. Tracking her at mile eighteen, we were in awe as she clicked off mile after mile. At mile 14, though, the vertigo made a roaring comeback. She fell to the ground. A teammate helped her up and, true to her strength of will, she continued. When we saw her from our vantage point in Newton, she was about as cheerful as someone could be under the circumstances. A quick hug and she was off the finish the race.

Despite circumstances, all smiles on mile 18

Running 26.2 miles is hard. Running 26.2 miles while dizzy and nauseated is epic. The first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon, Katherine Switzer, one said, “If you are losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon.” The determination Sarah Ruff showed that day went beyond what an ordinary human might do. Though Sarah is not superhuman, you could have fooled us.

Turning left onto Boylston

Looking back on it, as a new group of Boston Marathon applicants have received their acceptances into Boston, and as Hyland’s recruits their next team, it seems clear that Sarah’s journey from Richmond to Boston needed to be as inspiring as she is herself. To paraphrase Shakespeare from The Tempest, this is such stuff as dreams are made of.

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