"Breathe, Annie, Breathe is an emotional, heartfelt, and beautiful story about finding yourself after loss and learning to love. It gave me so many feels. Her best book yet."Jennifer L. Armentrout
Annie is running from her past and from grief, but is she ready to move on?
Annie hates running. No matter how far she jogs, she can't escape the guilt that if she hadn't broken up with Kyle, he might still be alive. So to honor his memory, she starts preparing for the marathon he intended to race.
But the training is even more grueling than Annie could have imagined. Despite her coaching, she's at war with her body, her mindand her heart. With every mile that athletic Jeremiah cheers her on, she grows more conflicted. She wants to run into his arms...and sprint in the opposite direction. For Annie, opening up to love again may be even more of a challenge than crossing the finish line.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
TODAY'S DISTANCE: 5 MILES
Six Months Until the Country Music Marathon
As a kid, I had the worst mile time ever.
Our gym teacher made us run the mile a few times a year for something called the Presidential Fitness Test. I'd huff and puff and wonder why the hell President Bush cared how fast I could run laps around the playground. I always came in dead last.
Most of the boys could run a mile in eight or nine minutes. The girls usually came in around ten. And there I was, scooting in at over thirteen minutes. Truth be told, running bored the hell out of me. I'd rather have been doing word problems.
Today, I'm running five miles along the Little Duck River. If I finish, this will be the farthest I've ever run. I know I'll finish-there's no way I can give up.
Because I'm doing this for him.
At mile 3.5, my running coach rides up next to me on his bike. Matt Brown is twenty-four and owns a program that trains people to run marathons. Some people on my team are running because it's a lifelong dream, some want to lose weight, and the others, like me, haven't told anyone why they're doing this.
"How's it goin', Annie?" Matt asks.
"Oo-kkay." Great. The lack of air is making me stutter. I can't breathe.
"You're Jordan's friend, right?"
If you consider the school's new football coach my friend. "She s-signed me up for your program, y-yeah."
He hops off his bike and pushes it along beside me. I can't believe he walks as fast as I run. "You need anything? Water? Tylenol? Vaseline?"
He shrugs. "Yeah, for chafing. Are you having any issues?"
Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine a man would ask if I'm chafing. "No, thanks."
I shuffle, one foot after the other, trying to run like Matt taught me at the beginning of today's session. Keep my toes facing forward. Move my arms back and forth. Breathe in through my nose, out through my mouth. Pain pierces my side.
"What's your pace so far today?"
I glance at my new watch, tempted to lie and say I'm doing nine-minute miles. "About twelve minutes a m-mile."
"Not bad. When you're doing these long runs on the weekend, make sure you run your miles a minute slower than you usually do on your short runs."
I can't imagine going any more slowly than this, but I nod as Matt climbs back aboard his bike. "See you at the finish line."
I must've accidentally inhaled glue or something when I signed up for the Country Music Marathon.
I'm at 4.5 miles.
In through my nose, out through my mouth.
In through my nose, out through my mouth.
Point my toes.
Check my watch. I've slowed to a 14-minute mile. I'm going about as fast as that cloud, lazily inching across the blue sky. Half a mile to go.
A gorgeous woman with olive-toned skin, bouncy brown curls, and a pink ID bracelet jogs up next to me. Matt makes everybody on our team wear the bracelets so he can identify us and get in touch with our emergency contacts just in case.
"Damn. Our coach is fine."
"Maybe that's the point," I reply, sucking in a breath. "He trains us by making us chase after him."
The lady chuckles. "You're probably right." She speeds up and within the minute, I can't see her anymore. Not a surprise. Every time I start running, I get a great lead, but then it's like a parachute opens behind me.
Swaying willow trees and trickling water lead me along the dirt path back toward my car, which is parked at the mouth of the Little Duck. Today's run is peaceful, but not boring. Considering how much stuff I have to think about, like drinking the right amount of water, looking for mile markers, and studying my watch, there's not much time left to obsess about graduation, or college, or him.
Instead, I can focus on this new CamelBak water-hydration device I'm wearing like a backpack. It kind of looks like a bong. I slip the plastic tube in my mouth and sip some water, pretending I'm taking a hit. Kyle would laugh at how ridiculous I'm being.
Stop thinking about him. Stop already.
Breathe in, breathe out.
I bet that when I start the longer distances this summer, running upward of fifteen to twenty miles on a Saturday morning, I'll have even more stuff to obsess over to distract me. Like chafing and Vaseline and continent-sized blisters.
One foot after the other. In through the nose, out through the mouth. I inhale the springy smell of dandelions. They dot the grass like gold coins.
"On your left!"
A boy streaks by me, running backwards. He settles directly in front of me and goes even faster. Wow, he has such vivid light blue eyes-I nearly lose my footing at the sight of them.
"Are you freaking kidding me?" I gasp.
He grins and slows to a jog. "What?"
I look for his pink bracelet, and finding none, I blurt, "You're running faster than me and I'm going forward!"
"So speed up then!"
What an ass.
"C'mon." He tosses his head from side to side, acting like one of those macho guys on a cheesy exercise show. "Let's go. Faster now. Work it out, girl! Let's go."
I flip him the bird. He throws his head back and laughs.
"Stop that!" I say.
"Stop what? Laughing at you?"
"Running backwards. It's unsafe."
"No it's not. Besides, I have to. I'm training for the RC Cola Moon Pie ten-miler. I'm running it backwards this year."
My mouth falls open. It shocks me that 1) he's running a race backwards; 2) it's named after RC Cola and Moon Pies; and 3) he's running a ten-mile race more than one time.
The guy has messy, light brown hair, seriously muscular arms and legs, and an outline of his abs peeks through his thin white Delta Tau Kappa tee. Is he in a frat?
Even though I usually can't hear Southern accents, I notice his. One time when I was little, my mom, brother, and I took a road trip to Chicago. Everywhere we stopped to eat, waitresses kept telling me I had the most darling accent. That's how I know people in Tennessee have an accent even if I can't hear it; it's weird I can pick up on the twangy countryness in his voice.
He keeps shuffling backwards. Our eyes meet, then he checks me out. It's been a while since a boy has straight up stared at me. His gaze trails over my long, strawberry blond hair tied up in a ponytail, to my legs, and then settles on my pink bracelet. He smiles at it.
"See ya." He increases his cadence, continuing in reverse. I glance down at my watch. I bet he's running eight-minute miles. And he's doing it fucking backwards.
Being pissed at Running Backwards Boy carries me for another couple minutes.
But soon I'm alone again. Just me and the sky. Kyle's grin flashes in my mind.
A quarter mile more.
One foot after the other.
Breathe, Annie, breathe.
For all of last year, Kyle had been training to run the Country Music Marathon in Nashville.
Every Saturday, he would jog anywhere between five to twenty miles as he worked his way up to the full twenty-six. All throughout his training runs, I would drive to different meet-up points along the trail and give him water so he could stay hydrated. Month after month, mile after mile, I was there with an energy bar, a smile, and a kiss.
During one run, I brought him chilled Gatorade at mile ten. "I love that dress, babe," he said, gulping his drink so fast the orange liquid trickled down his chin and onto his white shirt. "What do you call that color again? Perihinkle?"
He grinned and took another sip. "Like I said, periwinkle. Can I have a kiss? To get me through the last five miles?"
"You're all sweaty and gross!"
He pulled me to his chest. "You don't care."
And he was right. I kissed him long and slow, running my hand over his buzzed blond hair, then patted his butt to make him start running again. He finished his fifteen-mile run easily that day and kept up his training over the next couple months.
But Kyle only made it to twenty miles before I lost him.
And then he was gone, and snow covered the leaves, and then sun melted the snow, and all my regrets aside, I couldn't stand that all that training was for nothing.
He never got to run a marathon, which had been his dream since he'd started running track in middle school. He couldn't get the idea out of his head.
So early one Saturday morning, I tied on my sneakers and went to the school track. Kyle had told me four laps around equaled a mile, and during his training, he ran about a bazillion miles, so I knew I had to start logging some huge distances if I was going to do the race on his behalf.
But during my first run, I only made it around the track twice before the cool February air burned my lungs and throat, and my shins felt like somebody had kicked soccer balls at them for hours. I rested my hands on my knees and spit onto the pavement, tears clouding my eyes. Two fucking laps? That's all I could do? I quickly did the math-a marathon is the equivalent of 104 laps around the track!
On wobbly legs, I hobbled toward my car, passing the new football coach, who was setting up little orange cones for drills. Guys at school were still cursing the Sports Gods because the school board had hired a woman to coach football, and the girls wouldn't stop talking about how hot her boyfriend was-we had all sneaked a peek at the picture of him on her desk, but that's not what I was thinking as I passed Coach Woods.
She must've seen me horribly running those two laps. She knew how pathetic I was, that I would never be a runner. That I could never finish what my boyfriend had started.
I turned the ignition, my engine rumbling and groaning to a start, and got the hell out of there before anyone else saw me. After that first run, I didn't expect to go back. But I couldn't stop thinking that Kyle needed me to finish it for him.
The next Saturday, I went to the school track even earlier-the sun was barely up-so I could run without anyone else around. And Coach Woods was already there doing sprints and exercises of her own!
Up and down the fifty-yard line, she did high kicks and lunges and sprints. She waved at me, and I started running horribly again-like an ape in a zoo, flailing my arms and legs.
I finished two and a half laps, then knelt on the grass, wheezing, working to keep the tears from falling. And Coach Woods sat down beside me, tossing a football to herself. She was my health class teacher, but we hadn't talked much, at least not about anything except the usual mortifying health class topics-safe sex and bodily changes and the importance of flossing.
"Are you trying out for the track team next week?" she asked.
"Then what are you doing out here?" She looked me straight in the eye, and I kind of hated her for that. I didn't want anyone to know I was attempting to run, especially not the best athlete our school's ever seen. Coach Woods used to play football here when she was my age. Unless you count chicken fighting in a pool or beer pong, I had never played sports. If people knew I was training to finish the marathon on Kyle's behalf and I ended up failing miserably, I would feel more lost than I already did.
"I'm not a bad runner," Coach Woods said. "Well, I used to be a lot better than I am now, but I still know the basics. Can I help?"
She stared at me expectantly until I admitted, "I'm training for a marathon, okay?"
"Okay." We sat in silence. I counted as she tossed the football up and down, up and down, twelve times. I waited for her to laugh in my face. But she didn't. She stood up with the ball, launched it down the field, and we watched as it bounced to a stop beside the goal post.
She nodded once at me. "I'm not sure I could ever run a marathon. That's a big commitment, and I have no idea how to train for one... But one of my friends might be able to help you."
That's longer than the drive to Nashville.
Kyle would've been upset if he'd known how I spent most of my senior year: eating lunch alone, wearing his flannel shirt to sleep every night while I cried, watching movies alone at the drive-in. I wanted to do something that would make him proud. Something to honor who he was.
I told Coach Woods, "I want to run the Country Music Marathon in October."
She knew a guy who trained people to run marathons and triathlons and any kind of race, really. Matt's program isn't cheap. I picked up more waitressing hours at the Roadhouse, so I could pay for my training, the entrance fee for the October marathon, new sneakers, a watch, athletic clothes, and the water-hydration device that could double as a bong.
And here I am, running every Saturday morning.
Running for him.