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Seminary Students Run the (Marathon) Race

by Laura Lehman Amstutz

Rachel Runs Rachel Ringenberg Miller runs the race.

While most students are plowing through mid-semester papers and exams, two Eastern Mennonite Seminary students were training for another big event.

About the time school started in August, Rachel Ringenberg Miller and Jill Gerig began training to compete in the Richmond Marathon, November 11. Miller and Gerig are both third year M.Div students and avid runners, although this was the first time either of them had run a marathon.

The 26.2 mile race took both women around five hours to complete and at least once during the race both women wanted to quit, but they kept each other going.

“The breaking point for me came at about mile 13, which seemed sort of dumb, because during training we’d run 13 miles or more quite often,” said Miller. “That was the point when Jill and I slowed down, up until that point we had been running with two other women we trained with.”

The heat also affected Miller. The day of the marathon was unseasonably warm, reaching close to 80 degrees. “We had been training in long pants and long sleeved shirts, and suddenly it was 80 and I wasn’t used to running in weather like that,” continued Miller.

Gerig said that for her the 20 mile mark and beyond was the most difficult. The women had run 20 miles twice before, but had never gone beyond that in their training and Gerig had injured her hip in the last week of training. “The last 6.2 miles was the worst, mentally and physically. I just wanted to quit and my joints and pulled muscles were hurting,” said Gerig.

“My aunt got me into running when I was in college. I lived with her the summer after my junior year,” said Gerig. “I’ve done two half-marathons before, but my dream was to finish at least one full marathon.”

Miller has been running since junior high and high school. “I had this track coach in high school who loved to run and she ran the Boston marathon, so I thought I wanted to run the Boston marathon,” said Miller. “Then I realized that you had to qualify to run it, so I decided just a regular marathon would be enough.”

The women had started to train two years earlier to run a marathon but Miller got injured and so they had to stop. When Miller learned of this marathon she told Jill and they decided to begin training.

Miller knew two other local women who were training and so they began doing their long training runs together on the weekend. Miller and Gerig would run together several times during the week and on the weekend, when the training schedule called for 10, 15 or 20 mile runs they would join Sandy King of Dayton and Rhoda Miller of Harrisonburg, who had run the race before but were training to run it again.

The victors celebrate The successful marathoners celebrate their accomplishment. Left to Right: Jill Gerig, Sandy King, Rhoda Miller, and Rachel Ringenberg Miller.

“I’ve learned a lot more than just running through this experience,” said Gerig. “It is a lot like life. It’s so important for me to have other people with me in this experience. It wasn’t about beating someone else, but it was about encouraging each other and being together on this long journey.”

“I was surprised by the amount of encouragement I got from people I didn’t even know,” Gerig continued. “Our names were printed under our bib number so along the way people I didn’t even know would shout out ‘Keep going, Jill.’ And toward the end when I had to walk a bit because of my hip an older man came and walked with me and gave me encouragement.

Gerig and Miller also received encouragement from the seminary community. Several students and faculty logged on to the marathon website to watch the women’s times come in and back at the seminary on Tuesday Miller and Gerig were overwhelmed with the students, faculty and staff who asked them how it went and listened to race details.

“I’ve gained an insight into myself and life by doing this,” said Miller. “I’ve learned that the journey can be fun and easy sometimes, and tough and miserable sometimes, but when you reach your goal it’s a great feeling.”