Prisoner on a work release runs alongside a marathoner for 22 miles

Andrew Dawson
·4-min read
Photo credit: Carrie Kelley
Photo credit: Carrie Kelley

From Runner's World

Four miles into the Beaver Canyon Marathon in Beaver, Utah, on October 3, Carrie Kelley was hurting.

She entered the race, her 69th marathon, struggling with pain from a pinched nerve in her back that was diagnosed in January and depressed because of the injury. But Kelley is on a mission to run 100 marathons in her life, and after missing four other marathons this year—including the St. George Marathon, which was canceled because of the global pandemic—Kelley wanted to give this one a try, even if she wasn’t certain that she could finish.

'I had already paid, and I thought I might as well go down and see if I can a least do 13 miles,' she told Runner’s World. 'My docs said I might have to stop [running] if I have back surgery, but I want to do 100 [marathons]. I’ve been running marathons for 18 years and don’t want to stop running.'

Shortly after starting the small marathon (only 229 runners finished the 26.2-mile distance), Kelley quickly found herself in last as she shuffled through her early miles. Four miles in, she turned around and saw a sheriff’s vehicle with flashing lights and a clean-up crew of inmates from the Utah Department of Corrections on a work release.

The crew saw her struggling with pain from her pinched nerve and from stomach issues that she developed during the race. That’s when one of the inmates, Fidel Ybarra, decided to step in to join her.

'I am not sure why I began running with her, but I think maybe I saw a little bit of myself and other inmates in the situation,' Ybarra told Runner’s World through a statement provided through the Utah Department of Corrections. 'We are normally left at the back and left to our own devices. I could tell how much she enjoyed running, I felt like I could not let her finish the marathon alone.'

Photo credit: Carrie Kelley
Photo credit: Carrie Kelley

Ybarra started by running behind Kelley, and moved beside her around mile 10. Then they started chatting.

'He said, ‘I’m not sure if you want to run with me,’ and I said, ‘Yeah,’' Kelly said. 'We asked each other our names, and it was very casual. I wasn’t sure how far he wanted to go.'

The two remained together for the next 22 miles, all the way to the end. The entire way, Ybarra cheered on and encouraged Kelley to keep going, even when she was limping.

'I did not know that once I started running, 22 miles later we would cross the finish line,' Ybarra said. 'I could have stopped and jumped in the work van with the deputy that was following us, but something kept me going. I feel like by the end I was in more pain than her, but the feeling of accomplishment was more than I can describe in words.'

Photo credit: Carrie Kelley
Photo credit: Carrie Kelley

Kelley had similar appreciation for what Ybarra did for her.

'I came into the race so depressed because of everything that happened, COVID and my pinched nerve, and here I have this new friend who is cheering me on and just came out of nowhere to support me. He was running in long johns and sweating immensely and wearing work boots that were old and falling apart, totally unprepared for this and he ran with me anyways. I’m just so happy I met him.'

Kelley crossed the finish line with a time of 6:36:23, and the two embraced for a big hug. They chatted a bit more, took a picture, and made plan to stay in touch (Kelley already wrote Ybarra a letter, and is planning to send it, along with a gift, soon). Then Ybarra went back over to his crew and began working again.

'I don’t have the words to express what it took for him to run 22 miles with me,' Kelley said. 'I just think the world of him, and I hope that the world knows there are still good people out there even while we’re going through some bad times. There are good people doing good things, and Fidel is one of them.'

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