Last Sunday, I accomplished something that I’ve talked about doing for 3 and a half years! My friend (and former running partner!!), Corrie, and I began talking about running a half marathon back when we were running around the gym in the Luce Center. It seemed like a far off goal, as even then we were “building up” to running a 5K, a mere 3.1 miles. But, we talked about it, even talking about where we would run the race. Life happened and I moved away, but we still talked about running one at some point. Then, “Life” passed me by as she continued training without me and ran a half marathon a year after I moved away.
And yet, I was given another chance. Last fall, my sister began talking about running a half marathon. When Amy brought it up, I told her that I was going to run one, too! I don’t think that she believed me. To her credit, I had really only started running again in August, and even then, it was just 1 measly mile. By that time it was October and I had worked up to 3 miles (but only once or twice!). What was I thinking? I wanted to be able to run 13.1 miles by the spring? Well, fortunately, I wasn’t thinking, just acting on a desire that had been planted in me three years earlier!
And so, armed with a new pair of Adidas, and some new workout clothes, I started running “purposefully” last November. My sister pushed me to run (even on Thanksgiving Day) even when I didn’t want to, and then my pride took over! I had told people, namely my sister (who, by the way is in awesome shape), that I was going to run a half marathon in the spring, and by golly, I was going to do it, even if it meant running on holidays. Throughout the winter, I bundled up, avoided the ice and snow, and ran anyway. I enjoyed the “think time” of being able to just go and put my brain on autopilot while I worked my body. By Christmas time, I was bored of my own brain and bit the bullet to buy an iPod to be my training partner. I was ecstatic when I discovered the Nike+ system that charts my mileage, my pace, and the length of time I’ve been running. Soon, I abandoned my old (shorter) routes of 3 to 5 miles and I set out to blaze a new (longer) trail, with my iPod as my guide! This was wonderful, as I didn’t have to take the time to drive my routes anymore. My distances were able to be downloaded, analyzed, and recorded for me to study to improve my pace. My iPod and me—we were a great team! It always told me everything I needed to know!
Race day came last Sunday morning in Lawrence, KS, and I was absolutely confident! Sure, I would be lots slower than my sister, but I would make it—no problem! During my last long workout, I had run 11.5 miles in 2 hours and 5 minutes and I was ready to go. It had not been easy, but I knew that I could make it one and a half miles further. As we set out running that morning, I quickly settled into my pace (SLOW!) that I knew I would be able to sustain. It wasn’t a breeze, but I was making it. I sure was looking forward to being done, but I just kept putting one foot in front of the other…on Mass. St…by the stadium…up the hill to the Campanile…up another hill…and through residential areas. About mile 9, I began to be perplexed. I caught a glimpse of the mile marker and something didn’t seem right. I had pressed the button to hear from my iPod about my distance a few minutes earlier and it had told me that I had run over 10 miles. I was confused by the sign, but convinced myself that it must be wrong. According to the times that I had run the week before, I was on pace to have already run over 10 miles! I kept running, putting one foot in front of the other…a park…another hill…a water station…and then, finally, heading back in the direction of Haskell, where the race was to end. I pushed the button once again and heard sweet, wonderful words: “You’ve completed 12.5 miles.” Yeah! I’m almost done, but something didn’t quite seem right. I couldn’t even see the stadium yet. My worst fears were confirmed when I saw the mile marker sign marked 11. A panic set in as I realized that my iPod had been feeding me wrong information through my race that day. The worst of it? I had been sharing my information with a fellow runner who was just as ready to be done as I was! I silently despaired at the thought of 2.1 miles to go instead of the .5 miles that I thought remained. I confessed to my fellow runner that I had been accidentally feeding him wrong information and he confessed that he had stopped believing me a mile earlier when he passed the 10 mile mark (which apparently, I had explained away). Those last 2.1 miles seemed like the longest miles ever. My blister from the week before had returned, my knees ached, my head spun, and my toes hurt. But, I kept putting one foot in front of the other. I prayed, I thought of the well wishes that I had gotten from students, friends, and family. As I headed toward the finish line, I saw my sister, some students from Southwestern, and the rest of my friends who were waiting patiently. I took the headphones out of my ears and I kept repeating the words, “I will not stop running, I will finish this race,” in my head. Somehow, I managed. For the next few minutes, everything sort of turned into a blur of pain, water, and the now unfamiliar feeling of standing still. As I told my friends about my iPod, my sister asked me, “Didn’t you see the mile markers? They should have told you how far you had run.” My answer? “I think I saw most of them, but I didn’t want to believe they were right. I wanted my iPod to be right.” I was struck by the truth in that statement. How frequently do I see the signs in life about something, but I explain it away through my own rationalizations, excuses, or ignorance. How many times do we look at something, and still not recognize the Truth standing right in front of us?
My finish time was disappointing. It took me a very long 2 hours and 40 minutes to finish the race. I was shooting for 2 hours and 20 minutes. I got home and downloaded the data to my computer and laughed out loud when I looked at it. I managed to keep the pace in my “desired” range (10:30-11:00/miles) until I ran 13 miles…according to my iPod, anyway. It takes a serious dip after it records 13. I wasn’t prepared. I thought I was. I had run for weeks, and weeks, and weeks. I thought I had run 11.5 miles. But, I was relying on a wrong system to tell me what to do. My iPod had been wrong on race day, but it had also been wrong every other day that I had trained. By my calculations, I must have only run 10 miles the previous week, causing a pretty big jump to 13 when it really counted. While I faced the disappointment of not hitting my goal, I did enjoy the satisfaction of completion of the race.
That’s what it’s truly about, isn’t it…finishing the race? In our Christian lives, we often think that we’re on the right track, doing all that we need to do, listening to God’s voice, and then sometimes, we’re put to the test by our circumstances and we discover that we really weren’t quite as prepared as we thought we were. We stumble. We fall. We sometimes even lead others astray by our actions. But fortunately, God continues to surround us with people cheering us on, encouraging us, and challenging us to get back in the race. And certainly he leaves us mile markers. If only we have the eyes to see them.