“Silence interrupted by the slap-slap-slap of my feet on the pavement. My breath manifesting little shape-shifting clouds in the brisk air. My headlamp bobbing a warm ball of light in front of me, catching the startled green eyes of a fox as he hesitates for a few moments to glare at me suspiciously before completing his dash across the road.”
So begins Lize van Wyk’s essay, submitted to Runner in Red, a Massachusetts organization that raises funds to help cure lung cancer and supports women runners.
That essay won van Wyk, 49, of Lutherville-Timonium, Runner in Red’s over-30 essay contest and earned her a place running among the elite runners of the Boston Marathon on April 15.
“I’m still pinching myself,” van Wyk said in an interview. She said that when she started running two years ago, she would watch and admire Boston Marathon runners from afar as “their own little separate group the rest of us could only aspire to. I never thought I’d run Boston.”
The national essay contest was organized by Tom Murphy, who founded Runner in Red in honor of his wife, Barbara Murphy, who died at 62 in 2013, after she was diagnosed with lung cancer. Barbara was an avid runner and ran the Boston Marathon in 2000, Murphy said.
In Barbara’s memory, Murphy wrote a novel called “Runner in Red” based on an urban legend: that more than a decade before Kathrine Switzer became the first woman to run the Boston Marathon in 1967, a mysterious woman in red was seen running the 1951 race.
The novel, whose profits Murphy said fund research seeking a cure of lung cancer, inspired him to start the organization by the same name. He started an essay contest to “promote the resiliency of women runners.”
The goal and prompt, according to the website, is “to give today’s women runners a chance to tell how running enhances their lives against the backdrop of a story from an era when rules forbade women to run.”
Two winners, including van Wyk, won spots in the Boston Marathon this year. Murphy said they will wear Runner in Red shirts at the race to “raise awareness of the need to cure lung cancer.”
Out of 50 essays from around the country, van Wyk’s stood out to Murphy.
“She just really captured beautifully with her essay the rhythms of running and beautiful prose that expressed the flow of what running is like,” Murphy said.
Van Wyk, originally from South Africa, moved to the Baltimore area in 2009 for her job as a sales support and engineering manager at a technology company. She has run one marathon and multiple ultra-marathons, but she said she is nervous for Boston.
Most runners have to run a qualifying time to participate in the Boston marathon, but as a runner for a charity van Wyk did not have that requirement. She said she isn’t worried about breaking any records, but plans to just “try my best.”
Van Wyk’s essay touched Murphy in another way. She wrote about running for her sister-in-law, who developed cancer and was “fighting for her life” before passing away shortly after van Wyk submitted her essay. Van Wyk said her sister-in-law inspires her when she runs.