‘He was right there beside me’ — Woman runs Grand Rapids Marathon in honor of father

Posted at 10:23 PM, Oct 27, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-27 22:23:32-04

HUDSONVILLE, Mich. -- A woman from Hudsonville is keeping her father's memory alive by putting one foot in front of the other. Twenty-year-old Elizabeth Carlson ran the Grand Rapids Marathon in her father's memory.

Brian Carlson, 54, was killed in a crash on I-196 in Saugatuck last week after he crashed into the back of a semi truck.

Elizabeth says her father was her best friend and running together was their thing. When she heard the news of her father's passing, she says dropping out of the race was never an option.

"Races were always something we could look forward to together," said Carlson.

They say life is a marathon, not a sprint.  For Carlson, the past few days have been uphill.

"My dad was my very best friend," said Carlson. "He was my favorite person in the world."

Carlson says she lost her father, running partner and best friend.

"The marathon was one of my first thoughts when I had found out," said Carlson. "He was so excited. He was so excited to run this with me and I knew I had to do it. I knew that if there was anywhere that my dad was going to show it was in the form of running because that's what we shared so closely."

On Sunday, she laced up her shoes in honor of her dad, also wearing his race number on her back for the 26.2 mile run.

"My dad was my driving force," said Carlson. "He made race days ten times better. There was no doubt in my mind that if I would show up, my dad would also show up."

With her family members by her side, they started the race. Around mile 19, Elizabeth noticed she was alone.

"I just kind of broke down and did the only thing that I knew would help," said Carlson. "I started praying. I asked God to give me just a piece of my dad. I need to finish and I can't do that without a piece of my dad."

Carlson reached into her dad's running belt she was wearing and found something tucked away deep in one of the pockets.

"I looked down and even though I had cleaned it out the morning before I noticed something sticking out of the water bottle slot," said Carlson. "I looked down and I pulled it out and was like, you've got to be kidding me. It was a headband and on it was bold letters and it said 'Fighter.'"

In that moment, Elizabeth says she knew her dad was with her.

"That to me was proof," said Carlson. "That solidified it. He was right there beside me. The whole run after that I was just looking over and talking to my dad."

Carlson's family let her run the last half mile of the race alone so she would cross the finish line alone with her father, who had never run a full marathon  before.

"It was just amazing and something that I'll hold onto forever because he could never run a marathon," said Carlson. " I was like, 'You finally did it. You finally ran with me.'"

Now, days later, with the race behind her and the loss of her father still very raw, Elizabeth says she knows her dad is proud of her.

"If he could say something to me now I think he would say his usual line he would say in the morning before races," said Carlson. "He would say, 'You're handling the situation like I handle my runs. You're running while you can, but if you need to walk, you're walking it, but you're going to get through it.'"

Elizabeth says she wanted to run 10 marathons in her lifetime, but her dad told her a long time ago she is going to do way more than that. She knows every time she runs a marathon her dad is going to be with her.

The Grand Rapids Marathon is one she's going to run every year from now on.