A picture of birds flying across a body of water

Today would have been your 26th birthday.
A few years ago, when I was 26, I was training for my first half marathon.
(And last, as I haven’t done another since.)
I remember the joy of waking up to a 5 a.m. alarm each morning
Anticipating my hour or hour and a half run.

The sound of my feet hitting the pavement.
The sight of the morning’s fog being pierced by the sun as it slowly met the day
The smell of wet grass and sweat dripping down my face.
The feeling of my breath constricting, my calves tightening and my lungs sipping in the morning air.

I lived for those mornings. Those runs were my happy place.
I’ve always had a love hate relationship with running, but mostly, I really loved it.
The pain seemed of little significance to the joy of meeting a new goal.
Another lap, another mile, a little bit longer.
I can go a little bit longer. I can do this. I am strong.

Running became my safe haven to process hard things.
Loss, uncertainty, death, heart break,
Running is the place I went to process.
Running taught me to endure in life’s hardest moments.
Running taught me that I am stronger than I know.
Running taught me I can keep going even when I felt like I had nothing left.

I wonder what running meant to you.
I have to believe that you too found the joy and safety that only running can provide.
I can only imagine what it felt like in that moment, when your safe place,
A place with you, your thoughts and the open road
Became the place where you took your last breath.
At just 25 years old, you were gunned down doing the thing you loved.

I started running again the past few months.
The world around me got stressful and uncertain.
So I took to running again and I remembered why I used to love it so much.
I am not as strong of a runner as I was a few years ago when I was your age,
But one thing my runner friends and I always laugh about is,
“Once a runner, always a runner.”
Running is part physical, but it is mostly mental.
If you have built the endurance to run once, you can do it again.

Ahmaud Arbery, you were a runner.
You will always be a runner.
You were also a son, a friend and a human being.
I, like the rest of the world, wish you were here to celebrate your day
To take another casual run.
Please know, there’s a community of runners down on earth
Who are running for you today, your birthday.
Runners everywhere are cheering you on
Because your life mattered and it always will.

Today, in honor of Ahmaud Arbery’s 26th birthday, join runners around the world who are running 2.23 miles to represent the day Ahmaud took his last run on February 23. Take a picture and share it on Instagram with the tag #IRunWithAhmaud.

Image via Raisa Zwart Photography

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