Tina Muir is an elite, world-class runner who has posted a personal-best time of 2:36 at the 2016 California International Marathon and competed for Great Britain and Northern Ireland in the World Half Marathon Championships. Below, Tina shares her life-changing experience as a USABA guide runner at the 2019 USABA Marathon National Championships, held in conjunction with the California International Marathon in Sacramento.
For the first 14 years of my life as a runner, it was all about winning. About being my best and taking all the necessary steps (and beyond) to get to the top. My training controlled everything in my life, and those around me. A requirement to be at the very top level, but also a very selfish, unstainable way to live. I was driven and motivated to do everything I could to reach my lifelong goal of representing my country (Great Britain and Northern Ireland) in a World Championship. At age 28 I did it and it was an even better experience than I imagined. Fourteen years of working towards a goal, you would hope so! Afterward, I thought the sky was going to be the limit, could I make an Olympic team someday?
Except all of a sudden, my running felt very hollow. I had achieved the biggest thing I wanted to do, but without that big, meaningful goal, and after many years of intense training, things got stale, quickly. I started to dislike the sport I loved so much. Each run became a chore, I started to skip the little things that made me my best, all I could think about was the finish line of a race, the only place that gave me the rush of endorphins that made it all worthwhile.
Less than a year later, I stopped running to start a family. I didn’t know if I would ever run again. Three months of no running went by with ease, I didn’t really miss it for the first two months. After I found out I was pregnant, I wanted to go celebrate by going out for a run around three months after no exercise. But this time, I made a promise to myself. It was going to be about joy, about being a part of the community, giving back to others, and most of all, doing it for the love of it, not for the results.
I vowed I would change my ways, and Tina 2.0 would discover a whole new world of running, one not bound by pushing myself to the max every day.
After having my daughter, I returned to running, slowly, and began to look for ways to give back. During a run one day, I heard elite runner Mike Wardian talking about his experience as a guide for a visually impaired runner. As someone who had been a guide for one of my best friends in high school, I knew how important that role was, and I wanted to be able to do that for someone.
I got in touch with Rich Hunter, who offered me the opportunity to run as a guide at the USABA Championships, and we eventually decided I would be a guide for a runner who had been a fan of my podcast, Running For Real, and was going to be running his first marathon at CIM.
In the build-up to CIM, I was nervous. In September, I found out I was pregnant with my second child, and I was struggling to run more than an hour with the exhaustion of the first trimester. It felt surreal as an elite athlete, being scared to run a half marathon, a distance I had done so many times before (and yes, at a much faster pace), yet I felt nervous. I knew how important this was for Joe, and I wanted him to enjoy his first experience at the marathon…without his guide hyperventilating next to him. I did the best I could, and then just hoped my years of training would help me through that day…along with a big burst of adrenaline.
When I arrived in California and went to the USABA welcome breakfast, I immediately felt relieved. I could not believe the stories I was hearing. The courage, the strength, resilience. I felt chills over and over from the sheer grit these runners had. Tears came to my eyes on multiple occasions (and not just cause of the pregnancy hormones!) and I couldn’t believe that for all these years, I had been missing out on learning more about these runners. I thought I was tough, but I realized I had nothing on what the runners had overcome to be here.
That evening at the pre-race dinner, I learned more about these incredible human beings, and during Kyle Robidoux’s motivating speech, I was in total awe at the number of runners who had completed challenges that seemed almost physically impossible to me, let alone doing it with partial or no vision. How could they be so strong? I tried to soak in every moment, soak in their wisdom and bravery. What an honor it was to be surrounded by so many inspiring people, genuine people, thoughtful people. It was a life-changing evening, one I am not sure I will forget. Especially as Rich called me up to the stage unannounced…and as my husband has lovingly told me many times, I am not the best at talking on the spot. In case this blog post is anything to go by, I ramble and go off in different tangents. Let’s say I have work to do! Thanks for that, Rich!
The morning of the race was here, and I enjoyed being back in the pre-race environment again, but this time knowing that all I could do was support and help Joe (or anyone else who needed it), in any way I could. It felt good to give, rather than take.
Tina Muir is called up race director Richard Hunter to say a few words at the pre-race dinner
I ran with Joe for over 2 hours and 30 minutes. Well over an hour beyond what my pregnant body had done in months, but I cherished every moment. The time flew by and Joe looked great going into the second half. When I got to the 13-mile mark, part of me wanted to keep going. I didn’t want it to end and had I not been pregnant, even with only running an hour in the months before, I think I would have gone the whole way, unable to stop.
I decided to rush back and make sure I could see Joe at the 25-mile mark. We made good time, were able to see multiple other runners in the USABA championships closing into the finish. I felt pride and excitement seeing them go by. When Joe passed, I couldn’t help myself. I jumped in, despite wearing casual clothes (and definitely not a sports bra), to run a short stretch with Joe and his other guide, Aaron. I felt so proud of Joe, and I knew how much this race meant to him. I chickened out before the finish, and jumped back off the course, but ran right to see Joe celebrating with his kind, loving family, all there to celebrate with him.
One of my closest friends from college sums up my experience best. Having known me for 13 years now, she has seen me at many races and been there through my many highs and many lows of running. She went to four different spots along the course to cheer Joe and me on. After the race, she told me that she had never seen me so happy running, had never seen me smiling that big, even before I saw her. And I was. I was concentrating, doing what I was there to do, but also appreciating that I had this gift of being able to be there for Joe’s first marathon. Talk to him, learn his story, see his courage coming to life. It was one of my favorite running memories of my life. I totally get why Scott Jurek only goes on the road to be a guide, it IS better than racing for yourself.
I don’t know what my running future brings, but one thing I do know is that the group of people I met that weekend, the community I became a part of, was one I want to be a part of for life. I had traveled all over the U.S. in 2019, doing events at the biggest races of the year, even running my first Boston Marathon. This weekend though, was far more special, far more memorable, and one, I would pick over and over again.
So, will you pick me to join you again? I hope so!
Listen to Tina’s Running For Real podcast at https://tinamuir.com/rfr-podcast/