NOTE: Last week, Megan Buerger brought you the story of Holly Mitchell, whose husband died at age 28 while running last year’s Ragnar Relay from Maryland to Washington. Last weekend, Mitchell returned to the relay to try to complete it in her husband’s honor. Here’s how it went:
Her team departed Rocky Gap State Park at 9 a.m. Friday. Running all day and overnight, they ventured through the Appalachian Mountains, around the Mall and over the Potomac to the finish line at National Harbor on Saturday afternoon. They ran the 200 miles in 30 hours and 37 minutes (Mitchell ran a cumulative total of 13 miles) and finished 143rd out of 261 teams.
The Fairfax resident said that even though participating was hard emotionally, she felt triumphant: She beat all of her personal records at this year’s event.
“The second leg took place at night, and maybe it was because I was so terrified of running in the dark, but that was the fastest five miles I’ve ever run,” she said.
As she approached the finish line the next day, her son, Preston, 2, was there waiting. As a surprise, a friend of Mitchell’s had made Preston his own matching relay T-shirt.
Holly said the Ragnar directors went out of their way to make her feel comfortable. The volunteers — some of whom had performed CPR on Shane at last year’s relay — had a matching medal made for Preston to wear with his mom at the finish line. Kent Phippen, the director of the D.C. Ragnar Relay, met her at the end of her first leg with a dozen roses.
That moment was the hardest for her to face.
“Kent was waiting with flowers right where I would have been passing the baton to Shane,” Holly said. “It was beyond thoughtful; everyone was so kind.”
Despite offers from friends to accompany her on her first leg, a loop around a lake, she insisted on running it herself. She wanted one-on-one time between her and the road, she said, so that she could be alone with her memories of that day one year ago.
“Nobody could see me during those five miles, so it really felt like just my time. When I finally came around the bend, that’s when I broke down. You know, that moment was the last time I saw my husband alive.”
“I saw signs for Cumberland, Maryland., and all I could think was, ‘That’s the place on the death certificate,’” she said. “And it was like, wow. The whole year just came full circle.”
At the end of Mitchell’s first leg, the team hopped in a van and drove to the site where they had found Shane Mitchell’s body. There, they left flowers and a single donut. Holly Mitchell had ordered a dozen that morning, one for every member of the team, including Shane.
Mitchell concedes that the wounds are perhaps even more fresh than she had thought. She doesn’t regret running the relay — and admits she’ll probably return next year — but she doesn’t know if it will get any easier as the years go by.
But Mitchell is nothing if not persistent. She’ll run a 10K this Saturday at the Giant Acorn Triathlon at Lake Anna in Bumpass, Va.
To donate to Holly Mitchell’s college fund for Preston, visit shanemitchellmemorial.blogspot.com.