It’s my turn to ask your indulgence.  Please forgive both the length and the exuberant detail of this post.

I am blessed to have parents who believe in me and my visions. When I said, “I want to invite fifty of my closest friends for dinner and square-dancing the week before my seventeenth birthday,” they said, “Would spaghetti be okay?”  When I sent an email to the family that said, “When I graduate from law school in two years, will you all fly out to California to spend the weekend with me, so we can visit my favorite Palo Alto places and go surfing?” my mother said, “Are we going to have to wear wetsuits?”

Olsons Surfing May 2008

And last February, when I said, “As part of my goal to go to all fifty states by the time I’m thirty, I want to go to North Dakota in September to run my first half-marathon, and I want to bring the little girls [Rachel, 16, and Rebekah, 14] with me,” my parents said, “Can we come too?”  (Actually, my dad was the one who said, “Can I come too?”  My mom said—slowly—“I guess I should do it, too.”)

So we trained, each of us with varying degrees of diligence. We are not an athletic family.  But my father lost 30 pounds and ran four times a week.  My mother started by running around the block, ended by running for hours around town—to the post office, to the grocery store, to the houses of the people in our church.  (She became the only woman we know who means it when she says, “I’m going to run some errands.”)  My sisters ran variously, on schedules I never questioned too closely.  And I—despite a crazy summer—trained as best I could, with my longest run a 2.5-hour 9ish miler plodded out two weeks ago in the hot Virginia sun.  A girl can do only what a girl can do.

On Friday, we went. My family flew from NY; I met them at a layover in Minneapolis-St. Paul, and by noon we were in the cute airport in Bismarck, North Dakota, laughing openly at the strangeness of life and the blueness of the North Dakota sky.  “We’re in Bismarck!” we kept saying.  “Bismarck!”  As though it was its own obvious punch line.  Bismarck!

First thing, we picked up our running packets at Scheel’s, a massive sporting goods store/archery range in the center of town.  “Who’s running?” a woman behind the registration table asked.  “All of us,” we said in unison.  Her eyes widened, maybe with delight, maybe with incredulity.  We ate like pigs (at Famous Dave’s Famous Barbecue, where we were instructed by a pig-shaped sign to “eat like pigs”), finishing our meal with a ROCKTASTIC serving of bread pudding with praline sauce and ice cream.  “We need the calories,” we told each other.  “We’ll eat light for dinner.”  We visited the Fort Lincoln Historical Park.  We drove across the Missouri River.  We found our hotel.  We watched TV, sorted our things, set our alarm clocks.  We went to sleep.

After an accidental early rise—turns out my blackberry didn’t reset to Central Time—we woke at 6ish, clothed, tried to figure out what to eat and what not to eat, and headed to the starting line in the dark, dark, dark of a Bismarck morning.  (Bismarck!)  The starting line was crowded.  We’d heard they were expecting 1400 people, but it looked more like 500 to me.  The sunrise, some announcements, a national anthem, a gun noise, and we were off.  To each his own.

The day was perfect for running. Warm air, occasional breezes.  The course was beautiful.  It wound us around and through a park, then across a river, under an overpass, around a corner, down a cornfielded, farm-country road, and back again, past a zoo and two calmly grazing camels, around the Clem Kelly Softball Field, then, finally, to the finish line.

I listened to my iPod as I ran—to two movies actually (a terrible one, Just Friends, crude enough I skipped whole scenes, and a classic, Max Dugan Returns, starring a pre-Ferris-Bueller Matthew Broderick).  I high-fived my dad when he passed me on his way back.  (He was by far the fastest of the family runners; he kept a 10-minute-mile pace for 10 full miles, slowing only a little for the last three.)  I shouted and cheered for Rachel, when she rounded the corner just before me, and at mile 9, was clearly second in the Olson division.  I smiled for Mom and Beka, when they stopped their run/walking to take my picture after I’d started my return.  And, at no point, did I feel in any way ill.


God was with me, and it was an awesome, awesome run.

I came in three minutes after Rachel, at 2 hours 52 minutes, (of course) my own personal best.  I could have run another three miles.  I felt like a million bucks.  And when Mom and Beka surprised us all by showing up only forty minutes later (Mom’s first attempt at a 13-miler took her five hours around town), we laughed and hugged each other and talked about how bad we smelled and which body parts hurt.  (The back of Beka’s knees hurt.  Anyone?  Ideas about what to do about that?)

People came up to meet us. We’d worn these t-shirts we’d ironed sayings onto, sayings I had made.  We each got to choose our own, but a favorite was a big white rectangle that said, “This was SARAH’S IDEA.”  Correspondingly, I put only my name on the front of my shirt: “SARAH.” And we all had this on us: “Olsons / North Dakota 2009.”  During the race, people had yelled out to each of us.  “I saw your sister!” they’d say.  Or, “Go, Olsons!  North Dakota 2009!”  I turned one corner and a fat old man in a camping chair said, “Hey, this was your idea.  You’re Sarah!  I’ve been seeing it all morning!”  Now that it was over, they were coming by.  One woman came up to me and said, “You’re Sarah?!  I wanted to meet you.  I heard you’re planning to do this in all fifty states!”


“No,” I said, no.  I laughed.  But for a moment, I considered.  If it could always be like Bismarck…


The half-marathon was just the highlight of an otherwise 100% great weekend.  The capital has a charming museum attached, it turns out.  Our hotel had a 97’ indoor water slide and a truly hot hot tub, it turned out.  Even the church shared a parking lot with a little LDS Temple, a delight and a surprise we couldn’t have planned.

At every prayer this weekend, my father asked us to pray for the same thing: that our weekend would be satisfying.  He said he’d been praying for it all week.  “Please heaven, help us to be protected, help none of us to get hurt, and help this weekend to be satisfying.”  And because of my family’s faith—in God, yes, but also in me and in my visions—it was.  It absolutely was.

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