December 5, 2011

Half Marathon

On December 4, 2011, Geoff and I (along with a few brother's and friends) set out to conquer our first marathon events. We got to Dallas on Saturday afternoon and stayed with my sister and brother-in-law, Justin, who was running the marathon with Geoff. We picked up our information at the big health and fitness expo featuring dozens if not hundreds of booths full of doctors, gear, product samples, etc. It was fun! Unfortunately, Geoff made sure I saw a foot and ankle surgeon Doc guy while we were there - where I got the first bad news of the weekend. I have struggled with an injured ankle since early October that has been a pain (literally!) through training, but I thought it was an overuse injury that would heal once I gave it time to rest. He examined it and was convinced I had torn my tendon and said that of all the people he examined that day, he hadn't told any not to race, but he would advise me not to. Wonderful. Not. Going. To. Happen. After questioning him I felt confident that even IF it was a tear, it wasn't likely to rupture. I had just run 10 miles Monday in training, I wasn't going to drop out of the race I've trained for over the last 3 months just because it hurts! It's been hurting for 2 months!

We woke up race day to a chilly 45 degrees which would have been survivable, even for my cold intolerant self, had it not been raining. My body has never functioned well in cold, and I did not train at all in the cold but opted for the warm gym and treadmill instead on below 60 degree days. Yes, anything below 60 does qualify as cold for me. We made it Fair Park for the start of the race too close to the start time to even think about finding someone to tape my ankle, so off to the start we went. I felt good and was pretty excited about running (not a normal occurrence for me).  Mist turned to rain as soon as the race began, and it continued to rain the ENTIRE race. I had a rain jacket on and good gloves with multiple hand warmers so I wasn't too discouraged.
Geoff with two of his brothers, Keith and Kevin after race
I felt great, my ankle was loose and feeling better than normal and for the first time my anxiety left and I was truly excited about the race and thinking I might just do pretty well! I saw my dad cheering for me on the road a couple miles in and he ran with me for a little bit which will certainly go down in my favorite memories file. The name of the game for me was to keep my feet dry as long as possible, trying to dodge puddles and people along the way.  I met up with Geoff's brothers and a friend around mile 2-3 and enjoyed running with them for a bit as well. I tried to get around someone close to mile three and slip! Rolled my ankle - and stepped in a puddle for good measure. Wonderful. Excitement. Over. I watched as they disappeared ahead of me and focused my attention on my screaming ankle, taking purposeful steps to prevent rolling it again. I was frustrated and fighting despair as I knew my odds of running a fast time had just vanished. To make it more fun, I was soaked through by this point and was feeling very chilled in spite of the exercise. When I feel cold, I feel sick, this is not fun.

I had told people prior to the race how amazed I was through my training how mental, not just physical, endurance running was. While both are necessary, I score the mental aspect to carry more weight than the physical - as evidenced by the mass amount of people of all shapes, sizes, and ages who compete in endurance sports. This is a lesson I learned all over again on race day as my body all but quit on me, and my mind struggled to overcome frustration and despair. I was severely disappointed as one thing after another seemed to delay me from the finish line, but one thing training taught me was that I could always go further than I thought I could. And on that Sunday, I needed that little gem of info!

Welcome encouragement around mile 9 from dad

The course was poorly marked and I didn't know what mile I was on most of the race. I didn't have a watch, so had no idea what pace I was keeping (or not keeping, in my case). The real low point of the race came when my ankle began locking up, making for a very awkward running gait, through mile 6-8 or so. I was just trying to keep moving, when I noticed someone slowly passing me...she was walking. THAT was the low point.  I walked for a bit to try to loosen my ankle, pleading with it to function, and saw my dad right before mile 9 with very welcomed encouragement!  He ran with me to the bottom of the next hill and I was able to keep going. I thought about every warm thing I knew, and tried not to think about what a horrible time I would post. My dad met up with me a final time right before the finish line, jogging with me so I could finish strong. I crossed the finish line fighting back tears of disappointment, feeling like a complete failure as all my hopes for a good time were destroyed.

I hurried/hobbled through the finishers room, received my medal and finishers shirt, grabbed a banana and headed to the World Vision Tent. My mom was waiting there and though I nearly cried seeing her, still feeling like a failure, she was so excited for me that for the first time I was happy just to have finished. I grabbed a dry hat from my bag, pulled on a dry jacket over my wet clothes and headed back to the finish line to wait for Geoff. I cheered on others, and still feeling competitive, was slightly encouraged by the hundreds of those who had been in the same race as I who were still finishing. At least I wasn't last. After watching people for 30 minutes or so, and cheering them on, I began to truly appreciate the ability to finish. For the first time in a long time, I looked at this mass group of people who were so close to the finish line, and had worked so hard to get there, and I was truly impressed with this piece of humanity. Everyone was wet and cold. Some were in good shape, some didn't look like they could get off a couch - and yet they were all there finishing a significant endurance race.  Standing in the still falling rain, and shivering harder by the minute my stupid competitiveness left and I was honored to be one of the several who just wanted to finish, and I grew more content with that.

Geoff and I had set goals for ourselves on what time we wanted to finish. I set mine slightly faster than my training time, and Geoff set his much faster! So when the pacers for his target completion time passed and I didn't see him I wasn't too worried. In fact, I was relieved because I couldn't imagine what setting a record pace per mile on his first marathon in that weather would do to his body. I wanted him to be able to walk again by Christmas! I caught up to my dad and sister who were waiting under a bridge further from the finish and talked with them as we waited. When I thought I had gotten too cold to be able to handle staying out there waiting in the rain any longer - he appeared! Geoff and Justin ran together the entire race, and I was so thankful for that. Somehow I managed to limp jog next to Geoff for a few paces so can say I got to run with Geoff in the race, at least a little!

Both of our times were way slower than we wanted but we finished. I learned a lot from those running the race with me. I also learned a lot from Justin, my sister's husband, who ran the race with Geoff. He was already an endurance athlete in road biking, and had run track in college. Justin had never run a marathon but was excited about the challenge when Geoff asked if he wanted to run with him. Justin's training pace per mile was ridiculously fast, and he could have posted an incredible time for his first marathon if he had just run on without Geoff. But he had said before and stuck with it, "how many times do you get to run a marathon with your brother-in-law?" It meant so much to me that he was willing to keep pace with Geoff. The race was harder for him, because he was changing pace, but his sacrifice and love exhibited was a great lesson for me that day.

The training, and the race itself, have taught me so much. In so many areas of life it's easy to be lazy, find the easy way out, or believe too quickly that you just can't go on. On every long run as mileage increased and I was running further than I had ever run before, I got a crash course on just how much further I could go than I thought. I would never have attempted to run several of the distances (past 4 was unimaginable not so many weeks ago) had I not had this race looming over me. But each time I was able to go farther, and do better. Instead of listening to music during training, I would recite some of my favorite life verses in my head, and I learned a lot from them. One of my constants was:

"In a race, all the runners run, but only one gets the prize. Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like someone beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that in the end after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize." 1 Corinthians 9: 24-27

The concept of "beat my body and make it my slave" was so fitting for a body that does not enjoy running, really at all. When my body wanted to quit on all those training runs, I was able to keep going, focusing on all the other areas of life and spirituality that Jesus calls us to persevere through in the same ways. At the start of the race I planned to run to the finish line as hard as possible, having nothing left at the finish, so that I knew I did my best.  I felt like I had failed when I crossed the finish line because I had not even run close to my training time. My body was hurting and cold.  I felt like my body had won, that I had not made it my "slave."  I didn't want to receive the congratulations from loved ones. I hadn't met my goals.

As I hobbled back onto the course to wait for Geoff and watched others complete their race, I learned a little more about grace. My goal in life has been to live as passionately and fully for Jesus as possible. When I get to Heaven, I don't want to have anything left, I want to have "run" as hard as possible and given this time on earth everything I have. I don't want to live here to pursue my own ambitions or anything that the world has to offer, but want every moment, and every work to be filled with bringing His Kingdom - because that is why we are here.

So far in life, I have not met my goal. I can live more fully, I can be far more loving. I can devote my energies toward love, and not money or comforts. I have a lot left to give, and am tired of holding back. As I watched people struggling to finish the race on Sunday, I could feel the love of the Lord calling us to finish our race. I wasn't thinking, "my, they are really slow! I can't believe they even entered this race!" I was thinking, "I am so impressed that so many young and old, big and little, entered this race and are finishing no matter what." We aren't called to finish by a certain time, we are called to pursue the goal of Love.
Crossing the finish line - whew!

On Sunday, I was not able to keep going on my own. Just when I needed it the most, my dad was there to run with me for a bit, to encourage me and get me going again. As I continue through life I hope I remember that race and do the best I can through the grace of God to persevere until the end, keeping the real goal of His Love, in mind. I know that as I pursue the finish line my Father will be there to run with me, to keep me on track, giving me the strength I don't have alone.

1 comment:

Randy Pittenger said...

It was an honor to run a few steps with you. I am so very proud of your great accomplishment and awed by your account of it and the life lessons learned. You are running a great race Jamie! A great example and teacher for us all. I love you! Daddy