Not long after her father, Bernie Haske, was hospitalized this past summer, Canton resident Sara Milliken half-jokingly asked him if she should attempt to run the Detroit Free Press Marathon two weeks before her 40th birthday — even though she had barely trained and had never run a 26.2-mile race.
“We both laughed, my dad kind of rolled his eyes and said, ‘That would be insane’,” reflected Milliken, smiling at the memory.
Sadly, Haske, a longtime resident of Allen Park and a United Parcel Service driver for 40-plus years, passed away July 16 at the age of 80.
“After he died, I was like, I’m turning 40, he spent 26 days in the hospital before he passed away and the race is 26 miles,” she said. “I thought, ‘Just do it.’ It just felt like it had to happen.”
Milliken and her twin sister, South Lyon resident Katie Laurie — both of whom ran cross country for Allen Park High School and had completed a few half marathons, the most recent in 2018 — registered for the Detroit Marathon in mid-September, just two hours before the deadline.
“I didn’t tell anyone — not even my husband — that I had registered, just in case I decided at the last minute not to do it,” Milliken said, smiling. “One day my husband texted me, ‘What’s this charge on our credit card?’ and I never told him.”
What made the sisters’ decision to run the marathon in memory of their dad even more impressive was that by registering so close to the race date, they had limited time to train.
A large percentage of marathoners run hundreds of miles in the months leading up to the race, often putting in a 20-mile-ish run a couple weeks before the race to make sure they’re prepared for the grueling endurance test.
With only one month to train, Milliken and Laurie defied the usual regimen.
“The longest single run I did before the marathon was five miles,” Milliken said.
The sisters also broke the long-established rule that marathoners should get a good night’s sleep on the eve of the race.
“I attended the Red Wings’ season-opener the night before,” Laurie said, “so I got to bed pretty late.”
“We had a euchre tournament the night before and didn’t get home until 1 a.m.,” Milliken added. “And I was so wired (in anticipation of the race), I barely slept.
“My husband joked with me, saying, ‘There’s no way you’re going to get up and do this’.”
Exceeding their goals
But she did.
The sisters left Canton at 5:45 a.m. on the morning of the race and — after struggling to find a parking spot — arrived at the starting line 15 minutes before the 7 a.m. start.
The sisters admitted their goals were modest.
First and foremost, they wanted simply to finish the race as kind of a tribute to their dad — and to check off an item on their bucket lists.
For reasons they can’t explain — Milliken said she felt her dad’s presence during the race, “Even though I never ran a single mile with him in my life” — the sisters performed exceptionally well, finishing in just over 5 hours.
Sign from dad?
One surreal moment unfolded for Milliken on the Canadian side of the route when she spotted a woman holding a sign that read: “Go Sara and Katie!”
“I saw that sign and just stopped in my tracks because I had no idea who that lady was,” she said. “I went over to her and asked if I could take a photo.”
The sisters persevered despite a few obstacles — some Mother Nature-induced; others that could be blamed on technology.
“It was pretty windy throughout the race and the sun was so bright during one stretch I got a headache from squinting so much,” Laurie said.
Laurie’s AirPods died 16 miles into the race, leaving her music-less for the final 10.
Milliken’s music-related luck was much worse.
“I couldn’t get my AirPods to work after the first mile,” she said, adding she had painstakingly created a 144-song playlist to help her conquer the longest run of her life.
“Waste of time,” she said, with a good-natured grin. “After the first mile, the only song on my playlist that kept playing was Taylor Swift’s ‘Bad Blood’.”
Not only did the sisters meet their goals by finishing with times far better than their expectations, they felt fine during the days following the race.
“During the half marathons I’ve run, once I got to the 11th mile or so, my knees have felt like they’ve been hit by a baseball bat,” Laurie quipped. “And when I’d see the full-marathoners split away from us doing the half, I’d always think, ‘There is no way I could ever do a full.
“But I felt surprisingly great. Two days after the marathon I did my usual workout at Orange Theory.”
Milliken echoed her sister’s feelings.
“Our oldest sister, who has run full marathons, warned us that we were going to be feeling it the first couple days after the race, but I felt great,” she said. “I actually felt more sore after raking leaves later that week than I did after running 26 miles.”
Did the inspiration delivered by their beloved late dad have something to do with his daughters’ amazing accomplishments?
“I definitely think so,” Milliken said.
Ed Wright can be reached at 734-664-4657 or email@example.com.