Inspiration can come in unusual ways.

Sometimes it’s the kind word of a stranger that keeps a person going, and other times it’s the sting of an insult that can motivate someone to succeed.

And at Columbus East High School last week, students in Julie Hult’s contemporary issues class explored the world’s various motivating factors as part of an effort to inspire and encourage runners in this year’s Mill Race Marathon.

Ahead of the Sept. 26 race, Hult’s students made inspirational posters to be displayed along the loneliest stretches of the marathon route, a place Eva Cagwin, the creator of the poster project, has dubbed “Inspiration Mile.”

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This year, Inspiration Mile is at mile 18, near Wade Street and Chapa Drive. The students’ posters will line that area of the course to give runners a confidence boost at a point in the race when they might be tempted to give up.

“Your head is telling you that you can’t do this,” Cagwin said. “We want to give them a lift to get them to the next group of people.”

To create the posters, Hult asked her students to tap into things that inspire them personally, and the results were widely varied.

One poster appealed to patriotism — “Uncle Sam wants YOU to run” — while another went for the fear factor — “Run like the police are after you.”

Though unconventional, Cagwin said those simple messages will lift runners’ spirits, which could be enough to get them to the next mile.

Runners themselves, Cagwin and Hult said it’s often the cheers of the people who stand on the sidelines — people who are usually strangers — that keep them going.

So when the Mill Race Marathon came to Columbus, Cagwin said she and her husband, Roger, began creating the motivational posters as a way to provide that same support and motivation to local competitors.

But this year, Cagwin said she wanted to increase their presence at the race, so she reached out to Hult to ask for her students’ help.

The idea fit well into the school’s goals, Hult said, especially its emphasis on “purposeful and motivated learners.”

She started showing her students photos and videos of marathon runners, including one of Dean Karnazes competing in the Badwater Ultramarathon, a 135-mile journey that goes from Death Valley at 282 feet below sea level in extreme heat to the trailhead for Mt. Whitney at 8,360 feet in elevation.

For Will Bucklew, a senior in Hult’s class, Karnazes’ story struck a chord.

“The video was my motivation,” Bucklew said. “I’ve never run a marathon, but I signed up for the half-marathon, and I’ve been training ever since.”

But other students in Hult’s class were a bit more hesitant than Bucklew to take on the challenge of running one of the Mill Race courses.

Heaven Thompson, a sophomore whose poster used a pop culture reference — “Walking? Ain’t nobody got time for that!” — to inspire runners, said she could probably finish the half marathon but wasn’t quite up to the challenge yet.

Isaiah Beck — who created a poster saying “Run like your favorite band is in town” — said while runners like Karnazes are admirable, his own struggles with asthma keep him from running long distances.

But even if they don’t go home and jump on a treadmill, Hult said her students still are learning about the importance of purpose and motivation in life. If that’s the only thing they take away from the project, then Hult said she will feel as if she has done her job.

“We’re showing them that if you work hard, you can do amazing things,” she said.

Making an inspirational poster

Running a full, 26-mile marathon is one of the hardest physical endeavors an athlete can take on. It takes training and dedication, and also a little help from family, friends and even strangers willing to offer some encouragement. If you’re looking for ways to support this month’s marathoners, make a sign of your own. Just think of what inspires you, transfer that idea onto a poster and let creativity do the rest. You can join Eva at mile 18, or stake out elsewhere along the route to offer a little encouragement to a runner in need.

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Olivia Covington is a reporter for The Republic. She can be reached at or 812-379-5712.