"I wanted to find a way to inspire my students to keep going when they were struggling to get to their own finish lines."

By By Kate Fletcher as told to Macaela Mackenzie
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Photo courtesy of GoFundMe.com

For a long time, I didn't do any kind of daily fitness, but as a teacher, I wanted to find a way to inspire my students to keep going when they were struggling to get to their own finish lines. So, when I turned 35, I started running, and over the next several years, I worked my way up from 5Ks to marathons. Turns out, I loved running.

This year, I ran 100 miles for my students-in just 24 hours.

Running started as a metaphor. My high school students have to pass a long, tedious state-mandated reading test to graduate, and I watched a lot of them struggle. I really wanted to be able to tell them I understood what it was like to be in their shoes-to have to find the strength to keep pushing when you're really struggling. (Related: Meet the Inspiring Team of Teachers Chosen to Run the Boston Marathon)

I told my students about my running goals as I trained for longer and longer distances. During the 2015–2016 school year, I realized I could use running to help my students even more. Along with another teacher, we decided to collect pledges based on how many miles I could run on the school track if I ran all day. The idea was to use running to raise money for a scholarship fund for students who demonstrated perseverance and pushing through difficulties-the exact qualities that come with running long distances. We called it the Lion Pride Run after our school's mascot.

That first year, I remember being so scared of the potential distance that I secretly hoped the donations would be low enough that I wouldn't have to run that far. But in the end, we got such generous support and I loved running all day. Everyone at the high school was incredibly supportive and many classes found ways to participate. The culinary arts students, for example, created a recipe for what they call "Fletcher bars," which have continued to fuel me each year. Math classes came to the track and made various pace calculations; English classes recited poems to me; gym classes came out to run with me; the school band played. I'm not really competitive (I didn't even own a watch at the time) but that first year, I ran for six and a half hours straight on our school's track-about 40 miles. Despite my fears, I loved every mile. (Related: 7 Lessons I Learned Running 24 Miles In a Foreign Country)

Before that, the farthest I'd run was a single marathon. I felt like 26 miles was this magical wall that I could never go past. But I realized there's no wall at 26 miles-27 miles is just as doable. That opened a door in my mind; there's no limit to what I can do-at least not anywhere near where I thought. I realized that something very special had happened at the track that day. I'd come to the track that morning knowing from my long, solitary training runs, that running long distances means having to fight off discomfort, exhaustion, and boredom-everything felt harder on my own. But the support from my school seemed to keep all that at bay-it's the seemingly magical, unquantifiable factor that changes everything. Fueled by that love and support, I ran 50 miles the following year for the 2nd Annual Lion Pride Run.

Photo courtesy of GoFundMe

This year, I decided to aim for 100 miles-50 miles farther than I'd ever run. I would be lying if I said I didn't have a lot of fears about it. Especially because there was a lot at stake: The scholarship money we hoped to raise, and a film we were creating with GoFundMe to support that fundraising effort. I spent a lot of time researching how to prepare and everything I read told me not to run more than 50 miles while training for fear of risking an injury. So, my longest training run was just 40 miles. I went to bed that night knowing I had to run 60 miles farther than that. (Related: Why Every Runner Needs a Mindful Training Plan)

At the starting line, I imagined every possible outcome of the epic, unfathomable distance. I was confident knowing I'd trained properly, but simultaneously full of doubts, knowing this distance could easily take out runners far stronger than me. But the GoFundMe campaign was a huge motivator; I knew my greater purpose was to raise scholarship money to send economically challenged kids-who I know and love and who have worked incredibly hard to overcome obstacles-to college. (Related: How to Deal with Performance Anxiety and Nerves Before a Race)

While I was running, I had some low moments when I thought I wouldn't be able to finish. My feet swelled and built blisters at every point of impact; by 75 miles, it felt like I was running on bricks instead of feet. Then there was the snow. But I realized, just like I'd been trying to show my students, running really is a lot like life-when you're having a low moment when you think things can't possibly get better, it turns around every time. Thinking of the struggles some of my students have endured for years made the temporary discomforts I encountered seem completely inconsequential. I listened to my body and slowed down when I needed to. Each time I felt low, I'd come back running hard and fast and happy again.

When I think about what gave me the strength to keep running in those moments, it was always the support of other people. As a surprise, GoFundMe had contacted the scholarship recipients from the previous year who are now in college-made possible in part by the money we'd raised. During one of the hardest moments of the run, I turned a corner and saw my former students-Jameicia, Sally, and Brent-two of them stayed and ran with me for hours in the middle of the night.

I honestly think my last 5 to 10 miles were my strongest of the entire 100-mile run. All the kids came out of the school and circled the track. I was giving out high fives and felt so energetic, even though there had been moments at three and four o'clock in the morning when I was really stumbling along. Their support was like a magic boost. (Related: How I Run 100-Mile Races with Type 1 Diabetes)

Photo courtesy of GoFundMe

Even though it was twice as far as I'd ever run, I finished.

The Lion Pride Run is my favorite day of the year-it really feels like Christmas for me. Kids I don't even know in the hallway will say how much my run meant to them. A lot of them will write notes to me sharing how they don't feel so worried about the things they're struggling with in school, or that they're not afraid to try something new. It's incredible to earn that respect and kindness.

So far, we've earned over $23,000 for our scholarship fund from this year's run alone. In total, we currently have three years' worth of sustainable scholarship money.

The plan for next year's Lion Pride Run is to run between our district's four elementary schools, middle school, and the high school where I teach to make it even more of a community event. While it's less than 100 miles, it will be a much more challenging course than running on the track. I may have to get myself into shape.

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