Amy Donaldson: Sister was the reason for first marathon

Published: Sunday, April 14 2013 9:35 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — My first concern should have been my sister’s health.

But six miles from finishing my first marathon, the issue that weighed most heavily on my mind was whether or not people would think I was a terrible person for abandoning my sister at a medical tent in the middle of a city she barely knew how to navigate.

Frankly, I’d made peace with the question of whether or not I should continue running the 2005 Salt Lake Marathon after my sister, suffering from altitude sickness, was in the hands of trained medical professionals. I knew she’d want me to finish. It was, after all, my younger sister, Mikie, who talked me into signing up for my first marathon.

But then I had to call my brother-in-law and let him know his wife was in a make-shift medical tent at a Salt Lake high school.

“You left her?” he said (obviously not a runner). “Well, was she OK?” “I’m not sure,” I answered. “You should probably try to call her in a few minutes. I found her vomiting on the side of the road.”

“And you decided to leave her?” he asked again.

“Uh, yeah, she said to leave,” I felt with just a hint of shame. “She wanted me to finish.”

I gave him directions to the high school, hung up and banished thoughts of running back to the tent where I’d left Mikie, who was my security blanket when we were kids. I was 16 months older, but she was always much more brave and adventurous. When we were small, I wouldn’t even go outside without her.

I would report injustices in the neighborhood to Mikie, and she would march out to make them right, with her happy-to-take-the-credit sidekick standing at her shoulder ready to shout out a, “Yeah!” to whatever lecture she was throwing down.

But being the second child — sandwiched in between the oldest and the only boy — Mikie eventually struggled to make her way out of our shadows. Running was the stage that offered her the spotlight. She was fast, really fast, from the time she started. As a freshman, she finished fifth in the Alaska state cross country championships, and might I add that her training regimen wasn’t nearly what it should have been for a fifth-place finish.

I never attempted much more than jogging until a friend decided a good Saturday morning activity would be to run 5Ks together. We enjoyed the exercise, the conversations and participating in events that usually benefited charities. One of the 5Ks we ran was the Salt Lake Marathon’s 5K. After crossing the finish line in the Gateway, we decided to stay and watch the finish of that first Salt Lake Marathon.

As I saw these strangers speed down the brick walkways of the outdoor mall, I was moved to tears. I had no idea what it took to finish a marathon (especially in under two and a half hours), but there is something about the energy that emanates from endurance athletes that is awe-inspiring.

I wiped away tears and muttered something about it “being cool” to watch people finish a 26.2 mile race.

It wasn’t until I ran the first Ragnar Relay in June of 2004 — which was originally called the Wasatch Back Relay — that I ever even contemplated running more than a 5K. During that race I’d run the course’s longest leg at the time — a seven-mile stretch through Morgan City — in addition to my other two legs. A number of times during that race, I didn’t think I would be able to take another step, and not only did I surprise myself, I shattered any and all notion I had about my physical limitations.

When I mentioned this to Mikie, she pounced.

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