This morning I set out to run my first Half Marathon. Since this is one of those ‘bucket list’ items I thought I would combine it with what I learned for today’s On-Line Advent blog posting. Hence the title.
Last May, some will remember that I ran my very first Beach to Bay Relay Marathon. This is the largest relay marathon in the nation. Corpus Christi has hosted this event for nearly 40 years and as a resident for the past 13 I had always wanted to run it. Which I did. After nearly 10 months of training, I was prepared to achieve my three goals: (1) Finish!, (2) Run without stopping, (3) Run my relay leg in under 45 minutes. I reported then that I achieved all three goals. I was pretty amazed especially after learning that over 1,000 participants were treated for heat exhaustion.
Over the summer, Doug Kline, a friend of mine, encouraged me to run in December’s half marathon. The race I ran today. I wasn’t interested but it stuck in the back of my mind and I continued to run through the summer and into the fall. About two months ago I committed to running the half marathon and began serious training. Over the course of that two months I increased my distance and maintained a decent pace. This all culminated two weeks ago when I finally ran 12 miles in about 10:30 a mile. It was hard, but I felt good afterwards and felt as prepared as ever to run today’s race.
This morning we got to the race and once again I set three goals: (1) Finish!, (2) Run without stopping, (3) Run my race averaging 10:00-10:30 a mile. We started out and our average for the first seven miles was around 10 minutes a mile. I felt good and knew if I could get to mile 9 feeling this good, I not only had a shot at completing my first two goals, I felt like I could pull off the third as well.
At mile seven, I felt in my left knee (my weak knee and yes it was from a high school football injury…) what I could only describe as a slight rumble. This scared me since I had taken 4 Ibuprofen before the race and hadn’t felt any serious problems before today. By mile 8 it was getting considerably worse and by mile nine I could barely walk. Goals two and three were out of reach so I released Doug and he took off while I tried the best I could to complete goal #1: Finish. Long story short, I did complete my first (and probably only!) half marathon (bucket list check off!). But as I’ve sat in this chair icing my knee, I began musing on what I experienced today. Goals aside, what are the lessons that I learned from this experience?
1. Everyone needs community
Doug was great along these lines. Not only did he encourage me to do this race but when I went down and he finished alone, he came back part of the distance to make sure I crossed the finish line. When people journey down the road of life and we try to do so in isolation, it is a miserable experience. To have community, to have others come along side and encourage us through difficult times is what can often times make the difference between finishing and just giving up.
2. Don’t ever give up! Finish!
Was I disappointed that goals #2 and #3 were out of reach? Of course. But had I never gotten up this morning, I would never have completed goal #1. I was reminded that there were 250 of us out there this morning. Which means that I achieved something that approximately 299,750 people living in our city did not. I was also reminded that while I certainly had the heart and lungs to run 13.1 miles, at the age of 39, I simply lack the tread on the tires. Finishing a half-marathon is an incredible feat in and of itself–regardless of how its achieved. I was blown away by the real athletes who competed along with the rest of us who completed! Which leads to the third and most important lesson I learned while walk-jogging the last 5+ miles.
3. God will get you home!
My favorite all-time scripture is from an Old Testament prophet by the name of Isaiah. This is what God said to His people through His prophet: Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. 29 He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. 30 Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall;31 but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. ~ Isaiah 40:28-31
To be honest, I first heard this Scripture back in 1981 when I watched what is one of my favorite movies, Chariots of Fire,for the very first time. It’s the true story of Scottish runner Eric Liddell who actually quotes this verse of Scripture in a homily that he delivers midway through the film. It wasn’t until many years later when I was a minister myself that I began to reflect on what the old prophet meant when he wrote this verse long ago.
Why flying, running, walking in that order? It seemed to make more sense for Isaiah to have written this verse in the opposite direction: walking and not fainting, running and not growing weary, soaring on wings of eagles. Doesn’t that make more sense since that is how we all learn to grow? We first crawl, then walk, then run. But Isaiah is not giving us an analogy of growth as much as he is describing the journey we take with God. Will there will be times that we simply soar? Yes. Will there be times that we just run. Of course. But the journey of Christian on the road to the Great Celestial City (to reference John Bunyan’s classic Pilgrim’s Progress) is one that will be marked primarily by walking. The journey is long to be sure. It is difficult and marked by mountaintops and valleys, but to the one who hopes in the Lord, he will get home! We will walk and not faint. Sage advice as we continue on through Advent and look to the New Year just a few weeks away .