Houston felt like a world away from Southern California, where Dana Sexton had spent her whole life. But her husband's job transfer brought them a new home. Now she just needed friends -- the last thing on her "Texas To-Do List." As she shares in our book for just us girls, her real estate agent and newfound friend suggested Dana join her walking and running group. She had misgivings, but decided to take the first step. That first step turned into many, and in the process she found some great new friends: Diane, Karen, Jill and Betsy. Here's what happened next:
For the next six months, those four women never left my side. When fall arrived, we rejoiced in the beauty of the changing leaves and inhaled the scent of crackling fires as families rose and prepared breakfast. By now, our Saturday morning chats had become more personal. Kids, jobs, houses, dogs -- no subject was off limits as we raced past the tranquil lakes surrounding our town. The sun rose, great blue herons soared and deer wandered on the edge of the woods. I came to believe I could actually walk the half-marathon at the rapid pace required by the sponsors. My confidence grew not only from strict preparation, but also from a collective courage.
The USA Fit training schedule was taped to my kitchen wall. Every day for six months was recorded, with the required activity listed. I diligently crossed off each square until only the final week remained. With that realization, panic set in.
That was also when I understood just how supportive my purple friends were. On the Monday before the race, I saw Diane in the busy produce aisle of the grocery store. "I'm so happy to see you!" I gave her a massive hug and, without warning, the tears started. They came from a place deep inside, from insecurity and the realization that I might not be up to the challenge ahead.
Diane steered me toward the racks of bread. The air smelled delicious, and a soothing calm enveloped me. "You are going to be just fine. You're ready! I'll be waiting for you inside the convention center first thing that morning. I'll help you through the whole process." Another hug and I was on to cereal and canned goods.
Then came a piece of bad news. Karen was experiencing knee problems. On Wednesday, she made the tough decision. "I just can't walk the course. Look for me at mile seven. That's when you'll need a cheering section the most. I'll be there." I wasn't certain I could accomplish the enormous task ahead without the full team; each woman added a different component to the group's success. Karen was steadfast. "Do not let this take away any of your joy."
Race day was exciting. Spectators lined the streets with noisemakers, banners and loudspeakers. I found my purple friends at the designated meeting place without any problem. A group photo was taken, and then we clung to each other as 24,000 racers made their way to the starting line. The four of us huddled in the early morning chill, pep talks were given all around, and then the gun sounded. Finally, I would face the challenge Annie had invited into my life.
Back in July, my target had simply been to finish the half-marathon. At some crazy point, I decided to complete the race in less than three hours. In order to meet that goal, Jill and I kept constant watch on the time. "Dana, I have a plan. We need to walk for five minutes, then jog for one. That should keep our finish time to three hours." We grinned at each other, knowing that this rather large detail should have been worked out in advance!
The last mile was nearly intolerable. Our pace had been much quicker than during training. Luckily, the final stretch was bursting with enthusiasm from the crowded sidewalks. I sped along to cheers from Elvis impersonators, sumo wrestlers and a youth group dressed as chickens. Diane yelled from far ahead, "It doesn't get any better than this!"