Numbers. They run through me as my feet hit the sacred ground, the paved streets, bricks and trails of the past four years of my life. How many miles run thus far? How many times have I done this loop, or that street, or stopped in that Wendy’s for an emergency bathroom break, or said hello to the bearded man walking his dog in the early morning? How many pairs of shoes and washings of shorts and sports bras? I’ve completely forgotten how many, but one thing I haven’t forgotten is what coming to North Carolina has done for me. It gave me running.

I’m that Chapel Hill girl who always runs. You see me looping UNC Hospitals and Gimghoul loop and Carrboro in the wee hours of the morning. You’ve seen me recently looping University Mall at noon and running races such as the Kernersville 10K, Umstead Trail Marathon, Owl’s Roost Half, Coach Bubba’s 20K, Old Reliable… the list goes on and on. And maybe you wouldn’t believe that the same girl in the Carolina blue shorts, sports bra and sunglasses just started four years ago. I would have died back then if you told me I’d progress to running 30-milers for fun on Saturdays.

When I came to UNC, I joined the club track team because I wanted to sprint the 400 meters like I had for two years in high school after being cut by the softball team. Run the 800? No way! I’d have to walk. There were no sprinters though, so if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, I thought. Slowly, I built up some miles and decided to run a 5K–22 minutes and 30 seconds, good enough to win an age-group award. I liked this. I kept building up and running faster and faster. Minutes flew off my 5K! By the next year, somehow I was down to 20 minutes for 3.1 miles! I thought I’d try out for the varsity team, you know, give it a shot as a walk-on. I think I totally stressed myself out about it, but eventually, I was cut. I took a break from racing. That’s when I decided to run for me, for the thrill of getting up every morning under the rising Carolina sun, 10-20 miles, thinking, thinking, thinking. Races were places to meet new comrades, friendly Southern folk who enjoyed chatting during and after races, learning your name. My times kept decreasing as I logged over 100 miles a week, but they weren’t the reason I kept at it.

I moved to Raleigh last summer and ran downtown, Hillsborough Street (Waffle House was the perfect potty stop, too!), Meredith College, Cameron Village, and then came back to Chapel Hill for my final year of school. Running then gave me even something more–my future profession. I decided to become a podiatrist–yeah, a foot doctor. I want to help people who can’t run. I want to make a difference.

And so, North Carolina, I will miss you as I make the trek up to Philadelphia this August. My heart ached when I received the Salem Lake 30K brochure in the mail. I know that going back North (where I’m from) will be different, but Carolina will always be on my mind. And who knows–some day in the future, you just might see that pair of blue shorts and sports bra rounding Franklin Street once again, before I go into my office to heal your Achilles tendon or stress fracture. How lucky I am to receive such a gift from y’all. Thank you.