The Great Race

I wasn’t quite fully recovered from the red-eye home from Hawaii, but after we spoke at Grace Chapel’s Mom to Mom on the morning of November 5th and at the Patriot’s Couple’s Study that evening, I flew out early Friday morning (November 6) to fulfill the biggest physical challenge I’ve attempted since giving birth.

It all began a year ago, when I stood at the finish line of the Outer Banks (OBX) half-marathon, cheering Lisa on as she finished pounding out 13.1 miles in 1 hour and 53 minutes. In the ensuing celebration, I mentioned how being there stirred the memories of the last 10K I had run, 27 years earlier, with her in utero. She immediately suggested that we run together next year—and it sounded harmless enough at the time.

Many conversations happened over the next months, but registering for the race in late August converted it from a possibility to a reality. My first training run was Sept. 15, after returning home from a very full summer. Knowing I was already a month behind suggested training programs, I had many internal conversations regarding the feasibility of being ready to run 13.1 miles in 7.5 weeks, but I banked on my daily hiking and swimming all summer to have laid a strong enough foundation to support the endeavor.

And so I ran. I pushed through the fears, the pain, the fatigued muscles, and the breathlessness. I drank in encouragement and I ignored the few who upon hearing of my goal and of my shortened training period expressed doubt or incredulity. I fought hard to win the constant mental battles, which regularly proffered a litany of reasons to not do what I was attempting to do.

Week by week my mileage increased. At the end of week one, I was running 2.5 miles. Week two, I hit 3 miles. Week three, 3.5 miles. Week four, 5 miles. Week five, 7 miles. Week six, 7 miles. Week seven, 8 miles. And my last run in Kauai was 9.5 miles.

At times, I felt like giving up or throwing up. But I kept on because 1) I had made a commitment, 2) I had paid the non-refundable race fees, and 3) I was learning a great deal about myself.

Part of the reason I said “yes” to Lisa was because I have become increasingly aware that the older I get, the easier it is to shy away from doing “hard things.” Why do it if it’s going to hurt or push me out of my comfort zone? This attitude shows up in all different places besides the physical. Memorizing scripture is much harder than it used to be, so why bother? Eating healthfully takes more time than not, so why not choose the path of least resistance? I could see that the adage “use it or lose it” was more than just a catchy phrase, and didn’t want it to describe my life.

And so I had something important to prove to myself. I wanted to see if I had the mental toughness to push myself to do something I secretly wasn’t really sure I could do. I wanted to see if I had the physical stamina to do something I’d never done. I wanted to see if I had the character to fulfill my commitment, assuming it was physically prudent.

The day of the race (Nov. 8) arrived. Very little sleep and a great deal of travel preceded it, so I went to bed Saturday night expecting deep, renewing sleep—and experienced fitful, anxiety-ridden, non-sleep instead. The recurring theme was you’ve never run 13 miles before . . . what if you can’t do it? I knew that I had the option of walking if the running became too much, but somehow that didn’t seem like how I wanted to accomplish the goal.

At 5 a.m. Sunday, the alarm went off, and I think it wakened me, which means I must have fallen asleep sometime after 2 a.m.—the last time I saw the bright red digital numbers on the alarm clock. A half a multi-grain bagel with peanut butter and sliced bananas was our chosen fuel, and Gatorade washed it all down. We dressed carefully in our matching running outfits (sweet Lisa...), and off we went to the starting line, joining about 4000 other runners. Thankfully, the weather conditions were perfect.

Just before the race started, we snagged a fellow runner to snap this shot.

And then we were off and running. I had trained using my iPod, listening to David Swaim sermons and Danny Oertli’s music. I offered to use my iPod during the race, but Lisa assured me we’d talk the whole way. I countered with “You may talk the whole way, but I will be silent.” Talking is an non-essential use of breath while running, in my opinion.

So she talked and ran while I ran. And ran. Up through mile 4, I felt great. Nothing bothered me, and we were keeping a good 10-minute/mile pace. Just after passing mile 4, I hit the first little wall—when I did the math and realized that I still had 9 miles to go, which was the longest I had run prior to that day. That thought panicked me for a bit, but I got over it. At mile 6, we slurped down a pack of “energy goo” and I almost threw up. Having never had that food substitute before, I wasn’t really prepared for the texture of it, and found it rather disgusting. Fortunately, it didn’t slow me down.

At mile 11, the completely flat course hits its only incline, which is about 1/4 of a mile up and over a bridge leading to Manteo. That about did me in, but we continued to press on.

Surprisingly, the last mile was the hardest for me. Though I was thoroughly blessed to have no blisters, side aches, or cramping, my legs suddenly felt like lead weights—and I toyed with the idea of not being able to finish. A mental argument followed, which got me 1/2 mile closer to the finish line, and the last 1/2 mile was pure determination over all else. I was as amazed as anyone to finish the race in 2 hours, 37 minutes (12-minute miles).

Minutes after crossing the finish line, Lisa and I are all smiles.

Wow! After a year of thinking about it, and almost two months of training for it, the race was over. It was a great experience on so many levels. It took awhile for me to believe that we had actually done it. I can’t imagine doing it without Lisa, who sacrificed so much to help me accomplish the goal. Not only did she post her slowest half-marathon, but she TALKED for 13.1 miles. :) She admitted afterwards that it was a challenge to keep a one-sided conversation going for 2.5 hours—and that she’s still amazed that she spent that much time with me as the “wordless wonder.”

Post race celebration: a Dunkin Donut’s stop before the drive back to Harrisonburg.

I’m so glad we did it, and will cherish the memories of my first half-marathon for a long time to come. We’re already talking about our next half-marathon—and I think Lisa’s thinking that the iPod might not be a bad idea after all. :)