Last year in October, I completed my first half-marathon. After finishing those beautiful 13.1 miles alongside of some of the best Rhode Island coastline, I knew I had run as far as I was able that day! Happily I stood sipping a Gatorade behind the finish line, now a spectator among hundreds of other onlookers. And as I peered around shoulders and heads, squeezing through to get a better look, the announcer spotted the first full-marathon racer heading right toward us! I couldn't see this person yet but that didn't stop any of us from cheering. Goosebumps came through my now dry salt-laced skin as I realized I was a part of something greater than myself. Watching that person cross over that finish line brought surprising tears to my eyes. This stranger, I had never seen before inspired something in me. I couldn't help but wonder if I was meant to run more than I had today.
After that race, I started thinking about what my big goal for the new year might be. As I got ready to hang up my 2015 calendar, I thought it over some more and wrote it down. I knew I wasn’t ready to run 26.2 miles yet - the butterflies in my stomach assured me of that - but I was ready to commit and begin.
The thing I love about setting a goal is how it gives me something specific to live toward.
A goal helps me keep my eyes open, aware, and moving toward Jesus with passion and growing endurance! It gives me a tangible focal point.
The marathon I chose was set for June 21, 2015 and the entire experience felt nothing short of miraculous to me. The race was set to start at 7:30am. on Sunday morning. As of 2am. I was sicker than I’ve been in years! Even as optimistic as I am, I began wondering if I’d be able to go. After months of hard work all my reserves had left me in minutes. Sometime after 2am. I was in the shower while Josh cleaned up my sick mess. Sometime after 3am. I was able to lay back down to rest. Sometime after that, I fell asleep to the beat of my heart praying to make this run!
At 5:10am. our alarm sang out and I woke to the sound of another potential obstacle. Feeling physically strengthless, I slowly sat up in bed, cautious of how my body might still react and heard the sounds of heavy raindrops. I sat at the edge of the bed wondering about what the blister on my right big toe would think of me running in these conditions. Unsure of what would happen, I slowly forced myself to eat a pb & j and the banana Josh had brought me and felt a little strength returning. I put on my race clothes. I walked through the rain to the car and closed the door with Josh inside beside me, still unsure of myself but sure of God. I had no guarantees except that He would guide me.
I showed up.
We picked up our friend Jason, and once we were all there I knew I was still in it! I started stretching on an indoor track and met Tracy. She wasn't sure how the weather would affect her but wanted to run anyway just to "feel God's pleasure". Me too, Tracy.
Josh and I started side by side. He was in it for the half-marathon and so was Jason, who was already ahead of us. About two and a half miles in Josh told me to go ahead because his knee was acting up. I stayed near him a little while longer and then knew I had to pull away and run my own race. Trusting God would provide for him, I took off.
It’s a funny thing to be reminded that when it comes down to it our race is our own. It’s personal and it's different from anyone else's.
At every station, I accepted a Dixie cup of Gatorade and thanked the people waiting for me in the pouring rain! When the miles really started adding up and racers were thinning out I ran along side a few other women, exchanging names and stories between breaths. We talked of where we were from and why we were here. Sometimes I ran alone - just Jesus and me. I knew I was more than lucky to be in attendance.
As I approached MILE 20, I broke into a huge relieved smile! Waiting in the rain with others at the water station was my personal volunteer. Our friend Brian had promised to join me to help me finish. Borrowing a line from another experienced 60-something year old runner I had tracked with through half the race, I shouted to Brian, “We’re doing this!” He jumped in with fresh, excited feet asking me right away how I was doing. It was a perfectly logical but loaded question; like asking a woman in the transitional stage of labor how she’s feeling. I hung in there with him by my side. With every next step Brian reminded me to just put one foot in front of the other, “pitter-patter, pitter-patter”... So, I just kept breathing and doing that.
During MILE 22, I got my first stomach cramp of the race. I told Brian and we slowed down a little until it dissipated. At MILE 23, we were entering the last leg of the journey, passing a few funny signs like; “Chafe now, brag forever," Ridiculously hilarious! We entered into the quiet part of the route, through the woods away from cars with only a few other almost-finishers in sight at this point. Branches, weighed down by the rain, dangled over our heads. Brian jumped up slapping a few leafy "high fives" and we ran on.
Brian told me that sometimes when he runs in the rain he feels like he’s being baptized again. It described exactly how I felt... Like wanting to follow, choosing to plunge into the water in front of witnesses to share God's story of you more than anything!
Besides being really cold, I was now appreciating the fresh perspective of the rain. There were a few more silly signs sprayed on with paint on the paved path. I remember laughing quietly through my pain. At MILE 24, Brian told me the last mile would be more a victory lap because at that point I would have already succeeded. I hoped it would be true because I was hurting! At MILE 25, I felt it happen. It was like a gear inside me shifted. I wouldn’t have believed anyone who told me previously that I would have something left to give to that FINAL MILE but I did; it was true! I started sprinting and passed 3 people, Brian and I calling out encouraging things as we passed by each of them. It was cammaradorie at its best knowing we had all experienced the same terrain. I said things out loud to myself too like, "Come on, Amy!" and, "If I can give birth to four babies I can do this!" Brian affirmed everything I said.
My kind volunteer bowed out and left my side right before I ran under the huge UMO Black Bear blowup back onto the track field where we'd all started. I could hardly believe I was so close! The first people I saw were my children, then my husband, our friend Dean (who had chased me throughout the whole race in his car to check on how I was!), my nephews and sister in-law, my mom, my dad, my Grandma, and my friend Shannon. They all looked exactly the same. They all looked astonishingly beautiful to me!!! They were running all around cheering me over the finish line! I was finally here!
I showed up and I made it! It's truly a miracle I was able to ATTEND AND FINISH, under 5 hours in the cold rain, with a blister after being so sick! By the way, I found out later Tracy was the first woman to cross the finish line. Yay, Tracy! Yay, God!
I see my marathon the same way I see life.
What I’m learning is there’s always going to be variables at play. Things working for me and against me. It doesn't change the truth that who I sense I'm meant to become takes work!
It takes me establishing a routine...
It takes paying attention to how I'm doing along the way...
It takes commitment and endurance without knowing the exact outcome...
It takes God... It takes his people!
We're here to SHOW UP and do our very best with what we're given. It’s not as much about the "big" goals but about the "Full Life" Jesus offers. That my friend, is something that is guaranteed always and starts right NOW wherever you are.
I ran for God and me, and any of you out here; the onlookers, the witnesses to my story, and hoped you'd be encouraged in some way. Like the marathoner who unknowingly inspired me last October, if I've inspired you, I ran for you too.
My prayer was that my training and the marathon experience would become a part of who I am. And the more I’ve let it simply sink in over the past week and a half, I feel it has become a personal marathon miracle. That years from now I'll look back on this little piece of my story and be able to give God full glory! Arriving at this appointed destination and celebrating it through sweet reflection has become "the icing on the cake" for me. The journey, the months of training was just as important if not actually more than what happened on race day.
Whatever "race" you need to enter in your life right now, may you too run toward Jesus and become stronger for it! May you point your body and soul in one direction and don't stop until you get to the finish line.