Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,--Hebrews 12:1

Monday, October 29, 2012

Soaring Wings Half Marathon Race Recap

I seriously thought about dropping out. Saturday was the Soaring Wings Half Marathon. Close to home and raising money for a great cause, the race is pretty much a must do for enthusiastic endurance runners here in central Arkansas. But I was injured.

Still, I went to pick up my race packet on Wednesday from Braswell & Sons Fine Jewelers, the main sponsor of the race. I pulled out my bib and saw the number 111 stenciled on the front. As usual, I went to the Bible, looking for a verse to correspond with my bib. When I found it, all thoughts of dropping out vanished.
"being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience," -- Colossians 1:11

The knee that stopped me last month was still not right. Better but not right. But after reading this verse, I knew I had to lace up my running shoes and give it a shot. If it was God's will, I'd get through it, strengthened by His power and glorious might. If it wasn't, the pain would keep me from completing the 13.1 miles.

On Friday night, I stopped by Wal Mart and picked up braces and tape to try and brace my knee and ankle that had been hurting for weeks. I arrived at home, taped up, and braced up, then tried a little jog up the street. The pain was still there.

Still, my mind kept returning to the verse above.
"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will." -- Romans 12:2

The world's way, my way, would have been to quit before I started, to just stay in bed or go to the race and serve as a volunteer or spectator. That would have meant ignoring the bib number I'd been assigned and the bible verse that went with it. I felt God was speaking to me through the bib and the verse and it was time to test that feeling to confirm it or disprove it. If this was God's will, that I run this race, He would get me through it.

I arrived at the race a couple of hours early. We'd been warned via email the day before of limited parking at the race site. Since I wasn't convinced I'd be in any shape to walk after the race, I wanted one of those coveted few spots close to the finish.

There were very few already there, but several friends I see at events regularly were present when I arrived. I walked around, wandering and wondering how the day would go. As the time passed, more and more friends arrived. Some were concerned with injuries like I was, others in perfect condition and confident. The conversation made the time pass quickly and we were soon headed for the start.

It was a corral start and I made my way to the last corral for runners, labeled "All other runners," immediately behind the corral for those with expected finish times of at most 2:25. Healthy, I would have anticipated a finish between 2:00 and 2:10, but on this day I wasn't sure I could finish in 3 hours.
"Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;" -- Romans 5:3

We began to shuffle toward the starting mat, about 100 meters away. Just before the mat, I began a slow jog and the pain was still there. This time, though, it wasn't quite as sharp as the night before.

I was somewhat surprised that it was tolerable through the first mile. I actually passed some friends who I fully expected to finish before me. After short conversations, I moved on and left them saying, "I'll see y'all when you pass me." The pain was still there, but nowhere near intolerable.

My plan was to walk the hills. I ran this race two years ago, my second half marathon ever, and still remembered parts of the course, especially the tough parts. The hill around mile three was a killer for me then, and I planned to walk it this time. As I started up, I eyed a spot where I figured I'd start to walk. When I got there, my slow but steady pace seemed doable to get me the rest of the way to the top. So I kept chugging along.

At the top I was rewarded with the long downhill taking us right past the start, and right past the turn into the finish line. It would have been the perfect place to turn in, to stop, to quit. The pain was still there as I passed the best stopping place on the course, but I continued on past the 4 mile marker.

Still 9 miles to go.

The next two and a half miles were pretty uneventful, the pain getting neither better nor worse. I pulled out my pack of M & Ms at the water stop at the 4.5 mile mark to refuel. I walked 50 or so meters, taking in the water and fuel. The water stop at the halfway point included GU, so I indulged. Better safe and overdo the fuel, than pass it by and take a chance without it.

I'd made it halfway and was still going. Surprisingly, the knee pain wasn't getting worse. Oh, from time to time it would seem slightly more aggravating, but never steadily increasing, and still pretty close to the same level as it began.

A long downhill offered a little respite, before the next couple of miles of slightly rolling hills. Now, each mile marker I passed bolstered my confidence. I knew that Jesus Christ had carried me this far, and had no reason to believe He was planning to abandon me between now and the finish.

7 miles. 8 miles. 9 miles. 10. Only a 5K left to finish. Without a doubt the distance would seem tougher after 10 miles, but this is still a huge shot of adrenaline in any half marathon, the 10 mile marker. There was little doubt now.

I was passing a lady when we came to the 11 mile marker. "Oh how I wish that was a three," she said. "Only two miles left," I said, "When you see that three, you'll see the finish line." And on I went.
"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." -- Philippians 4:13

I fully expected to walk the big hill just after the 12 mile marker, but once again, a strength and will inexplicable except for the grace and mercy of Jesus found its way into my legs and my lungs. Slowly but surely, I continued my steady pace up the hill. Volunteers at the top told me, "Good job on that hill," as I passed.

Another long downhill before the slight incline leading to the last turn. On the way down I passed a man walking. I told him, "Good job. Only a little farther now." He glanced at my knee brace and my abnormal gait and began to run alongside. "I'll stick with you," he said, "for motivation."

He and I made the final turn, 100 meters from the finish line. We could hear the announcer calling the names and hometowns of those coming across. The crowd was cheering as even the exhausted picked up the pace to traverse the timing mat. I fell back a little as my finishing partner continued ahead.

As was the case the last time I ran this race, tears welled up as one of the kids from Soaring Wings handed me my medal. I was blessed to see my colleague, Stephanie, passing pizza to the finishing runners. Moving past the chute, out of the traffic lane for those coming in behind me, I knelt and thanked the Good Lord for the miracle He'd performed.

Still suffering an injury that kept me from even running a mile for the past two weeks, one that even caused me severe pain the night before on a little test jog, I had finished 13.1 miles in 2:24:57, slower than all but my very first half marathon, but a finish nonetheless.

I knew going in and I remained even more convinced at the finish that I COULD NOT RUN 13.1 MILES ON SATURDAY. Not on my own. Not by my own power. If not for the grace and mercy of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, I would not have crossed that finish line.

It was a strength that came from His power and "glorious might" that carried me the distance, from start to finish. 13.1 miles of His grace and mercy to His credit. Not mine.


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