With the nudge of a small town community, and the drive of a motivated woman, Lee Anne Bray completed her first half marathon in her hometown of Mathews County. Lee Anne, the Assistant Principal of Mathews High School, did not realize when she woke up on April 4th, that running her first half marathon would reap far bigger rewards than completing the race itself. It all started a few weeks before March, when Lee Anne had been training to run in the “One City Half Marathon” in Newport News. She had been training as much as she could using support from a friend from Church, Hope Lowe who encouraged her journey through a strict running plan. Feeling ready, only a week before the race Lee Anne caught the flu and had to miss it. After she recovered, and still determined to reach her goal, she signed up for the “Dismal Swamp Stomp” in Chesapeake a month later, for it only be canceled by an entirely different virus – COVID-19.
Not ready to stop there, Lee Anne vouched to try a Virtual Run that was encouraged by the Dismal Swamp Stomp. She decided to route her 13.1 miles within her familiar training grounds, her neighborhood. She aimed to achieve her time goal of 2 hours and 30 minutes with the support of her family.
“No. This was her first half marathon. It needed to be special,” Hope told us over the phone when she first learned Lee Anne wanted to run it at home. “So many people have been inspired by her journey training for this.”
A week before the race, a little convincing, and a lot of secret planning, Lee Anne agreed to run a course that Hope had created and do it on the day her Dismal Swamp Stomp race was scheduled, April 4th.
The morning of the race, Lee Anne showed up to the decided starting spot where she thought she’d be sent off by a few family members and close friends. But the reality was far different. She showed up to a DIY race day ceremony: there was a National Anthem, Prayer, a Start AND Finish Line. She was given a bib reading Matthew 20:16 and t-shirt with “America’s Smallest Road Race” and “Quarantine Half Marathon” written on it. In under a week, Hope and Lee Anne’s daughters had secretly gotten the word out to the community to safely social distance themselves throughout the entire 13.1 miles Lee Anne was due to run.
So the last will be first, and the first last.”Matthew 20:16
Lee Anne was overwhelmed by support from the community. There were water stations throughout the course manned with cow bells and home-made signs. Friends would drive to a marker, cheer her on as she passed, and meet her at the next marker a mile down the road. Everyone was thoughtful of each other’s space due to crowding and being outside during COVID-19 quarantine, but somewhere around 70 individuals showed up at different intervals that day to cheer her on. One person showed up in a dinosaur costume, and another as a giraffe. Another resident of a course section made up signs with balloons that were staked along both sides of the entirety of Pine Hall Road. She saw faces she didn’t expect to see, and some she didn’t know at all.
That Saturday was unfortunately a particularly windy day, and for the first 5-6 miles, despite all of the unexpected encouragement and support, “I was getting worn out. I was running against the wind for miles,” Lee Ann said.
By mile 8, the Greve family could see this at the water station they had set up at Linda’s Diner. Linda Smith Greve, adorned in a full body hazmat suit, passed her some water while her husband, Drew Greve, and their sons were cheering with encouragement and signs when she approached. Something wasn’t right, and Drew, Principal of Mathews High School, and an avid runner, couldn’t sit there and do nothing. Lee Anne’s daughter, Kathryn, knew her mother best and encouraged him to go, so he started running.
“He caught up to me and ran with me for five miles and pushed me. We’d be coming around a corner and I would say, okay ‘I’m going to walk now,’ and he’d respond with, ‘No, you are tough, you’ve got this,’ or ‘You can do it, keep going.’”
Until the last stretch of the race, Drew pushed her forward then stopped so she complete the race on her own, for herself. Her time was 2 hours, 29 minutes and 27 seconds – she beat her goal. “My biggest fear was coming in last, and I was last. But, I never thought I’d win a half marathon, either!”
Right before the race started, Lee Anne made a decision. “God laid on her heart to dedicate her race. Lee Anne was worried she would get lost on her route during the run and be alone,” Hope shared with us. So right before the race started, Lee Anne dedicated her run to anyone feeling like they are walking through these times alone right now during coronavirus. For the sick who can’t be with their families, to the healthcare workers, law and rescue squad, students and teachers. She dedicated her race to those people around the world experiencing that fear right now. “We are never really alone. God was with me every step of the way.”
We have a feeling that Drew and Lee Anne will work very well together, as Drew will be transferring to become Principal of Mathews High School next year, and Lee Anne will be running right by his side.