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

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Race Recap: Wrightsville Beach Marathon 2013

Today was marathon #7 for me and half #4 for Janice at the Wrightsville Beach Marathon in Wilmington, NC. Several things combined together to make this the toughest race I've done in a long time. It wasn't my best race, not by far, but the Good Lord brought me to the race, and He definitely brought me through it. So here's how it all went down.

Before the Race

Several days ago the Weather Channel was predicting much warmer temps for race day than what I've been training in. That's always a bad sign. I wasn't expecting a PR, and I told myself I was just going to take it easy and enjoy the run. The temperature was approaching 70 by the time I crossed the finish line, a long way from the 30s I've run most of my miles in for the last month. The race started before daylight with temps in the low 50s, quite comfortable if they would have just stayed there for 26 miles. But they didn't and that led to problems later.

We started at 6:15 this morning, pretty early compared to most races I run, and even earlier when you consider we're in the Eastern Time Zone. So it was really like 5:15 to me. I usually start all my training runs around 5 in the morning, so that shouldn't really have been a problem, except those training runs aren't preceded by a thousand mile drive the day before. Looking back, I'm pretty sure the long drive to get here this weekend took a toll on me today. I left the house at 4:30 PM on Friday after work and headed east. The long drive was broken up by a couple of naps and a stop for breakfast Saturday. I made it to the expo around noon in Wilmington. Then it was 50 miles to my in-law's where we spent the night before the race. I don't know how long I slept Saturday afternoon, but I do know I had a tough time getting to sleep that night. It must have been somewhere around 11 when I finally dozed up, with the alarm set for 3:15 AM.

Sunday morning we woke and left the house a little after 4, arriving in Wilmington right at 5. We parked near the finish line where shuttles were waiting to take us to the start. We had the good fortune to meet up with a couple of other members from the Red Felt Running Club (previously known as Marine Corps Marathon First Timers), Nicole and Brittany, for a pre-race picture. Another RFRC member, Robert, was unable to make the picture, but I did get to meet him at the starting area before the race. RFRC began as MCMFT with a bunch of folks running the Marine Corps Marathon for the first time in 2011, when and where I ran my first full marathon. After the race, the group changed its name and has continued to grow and thrive as a bunch of folks from all over the country who love to run and encourage others to run. I've only met a few of the members in person, but I really love to have the oppportunity.


From left to right: Nicole, Me, Janice, Brittany


The race started in 3 waves, at 6:15, 6:40, and 6:45, with the slowest of us in the first wave. I was able to meet several Marathon Maniacs at 6:00 am for the traditional pre-race picture, only the 2nd I've been in. I saw more Maniacs on the course, but these were the ones who gathered before the early start for the picture.


Maniacs from left to right: Eddie, Nilda, Murray, Charlotte, Me


The Race

"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

The hour had come! At 6:15 we began, several hundred of the slowest entered in the Wrightsville Beach Marathon and Half Marathon. It was still dark, with first light about 45 minutes away, but it was easy enough to see. I felt really good. The pre-dawn chill made the 50+ degree temps feel super comfortable so all was right with the world.

We got to the first mile marker and I looked at my watch, 9:50. Not good, and I knew it. I told myself I had to slow down, but one thing I couldn't see was my watch in the early morning darkness. So I tried to hold myself back based on feel. The only problem...I was feeling good...so holding myself back based on how I felt didn't work. Mile 2 I finished in 9:52. At this point, I decided I'd run the first 3 miles at this pace, then slow down once it got daylight. As I passed the Mile 3 marker, my watch showed I'd completed it in 9:44. Finally it was getting daylight.

Remember the plan to slow down after 3? Well, it sort of worked. I was still feeling fantastic but I was able to slow myself so that I clocked mile 4 in 10:03. Still way faster than the 10:30 pace I once thought I'd shoot for in this race. But by now that race euphoria was settling in and dreams of yet another BIG pr were filling my head. It was somewhere along here I decided I'd try to hold the 10 minute pace as long as possible. (That would prove to be a big mistake late in the race.)
"for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose." -- Philippians 2:13

It was somewhere between miles 4 and 5 when the first person asked me about the sign I wear on my back in races. He was passing me and asked about the pictures, giving me my first opportunity to tell Amanda's story in this race. More people asked me about my sign and complimented me on my shirt today than at any race in the past. A lot of people loved reading Philippians 4:13 as they passed me by, and several passing me must have taken the time to read the sign because they thanked me for running to raise awareness of the dangers of teen substance abuse. It made me feel like I was in the right place today, where I was supposed to be, doing what God wanted me to do.

By the time I'd hit the Mile 5 marker, I guess I'd forgotten my plan to back things down altogether. I was back at a 9:53 pace. I was still feeling good, but should have had the sense to know this couldn't last. Miles 6 through 11 weaved through the absolutely beautiful Landfall neighborhood. Beautiful homes with well-manicured lawns made for a really pleasant setting through which to run. I slowed down some through here, but was still maintaining a 10 minute cumulative pace, still feeling great. We passed through the gates of Landfall back out onto the highway, headed back to Wrightsville Beach.

When I passed the Mile 12 marker, I was back down to a 9:55 pace, still feeling great. It was along here, just before I started over the draw bridge back to the beach when a passing woman tapped me on the shoulder and handed me a scrap of paper. She had a notepad and marker in her hands, never said a word, just handed me that piece of paper and kept running. On the paper she had circled the number 4 and followed that with the words to Philippians 4:13, the verse on the back of my shirt. I don't know if that's her way of encouraging others, of entertaining herself on the course, or what, but it was certainly a nice and appreciated gesture. I stuck that note in with my phone, meaning to take a picture of it and post here. (I'll explain later why I can't do that right now.) I'd have several similar experiences like this throughout the race, but never had them before. Again, these folks made me feel like I was in the right place and in God's time.

Miles 13, 14, and 15 were run through Wrightsville Beach. By now, the sun was higher in the air and the temperatures were rising. I was still feeling good, crossing the half marathon mark just after 2 hours and 10 minutes, still averaging a 10 minute mile. My pace for Mile 14 fell to a 10:06 because I tried twice to stop at the port-a-johns to find them occupied. It took me 10:45 to finish Mile 15 because I finally got to make a pit stop. I was still feeling good, but the heat and the sun were beginning to work on me.

Mile 16 carried us back across the bridge for the last time, then down a long, straight stretch with no shade. Under the ever-climbing sun and the ever-rising heat, I started to wish I had stuck with my pre-race plan to shoot for a 10:30 pace from the start. I still finished the 16th mile in 10:08, but by then it was obvious that pace wasn't going to hold up.

" 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." -- Philippians 4:6-7

My pace fell to 10:44 for Mile 17, and after that I started walking some. Mile 18 dropped to 11:08 and mile 19 to 11:55. I'd been praying off and on throughout the race, for one thing, then another. But around here is where I began to pray pretty much unceasingly, just asking Jesus to get me through on His strength, because I knew mine wasn't going to carry me the distance. On mile 19 another man came by me and patted my shoulder. He commented on the bible verse on my back and pointed to a bracelet he was wearing that bore Philippians 4:6-7. Like I said earlier, I've never had so many comment or speak to me about my shirt as did today. It was very encouraging to know that so many on the course were leaning on Jesus to get them through as well.

By the time I hit Mile 20, I'd decided on a run/walk strategy that I thought would carry me through to the finish. I was running 0.3 miles, then walking 0.2, and it seemed sustainable. It wasn't easy. Sometimes that 0.3 seemed like 30 miles, but it was working at the time so I set it as my goal. Mile 20 came in at 12:46, Mile 21 at 13:36, and Mile 22 at 14:04. Somewhere along here another man passed me, patting me on the shoulder and telling me, "He's always with us," as he showed me a small wooden cross he pulled from his pocket. Again I was encouraged by those surviving on faith to get through this race.
"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 40:31

Even my run/walk routine was tougher now. I was praying constantly, knowing I didn't have the strength to finish without Jesus. I could hear in my voice that I was becoming severely dehydrated and somewhat overheated. There were 4 miles to go and I couldn't make it on my own, but with God, all things are possible. I finished Mile 23 in 15:25, the slowest yet, but there was barely more than a 5K to go!

Knowing there were only 3 miles left must have boosted me some, because I finished Mile 24 in 14:50, 35 seconds faster than the previous mile, with nothing else to explain the improvement. I was still feeling really rough, still struggling to keep moving and keep breathing, but I was getting so close to the end! That improvement halted though when we emerged from the tree-lined (and therefore shady) streets of Landfall onto the wide-open highway for the last 2.5 miles. By now, the sun could be considered nothing less than an enemy, out to stop me from completing the race. But God kept me going. I passed the Mile 25 marker after 15:06. A little more than a mile to go.

Nothing was easy by now and I decided to walk the entire Mile 26. I must have looked bad because one of the volunteers on a bicycle passed me and asked me if I wanted water. I told him no because I was feeling sick at the time, like I'd throw up anything I tried to take in. He went on, then slowed down and asked me again a few seconds later. Still out in the blazing sun, I was in pure survival mode, trying to just get to the finish.

At one point, I thought about trying to run again, but only because my watch was showing that I might just come in under 5 hours if I did. I could hear the Lord telling me to not be stupid, that time didn't matter, but the vain runner in me was poking its head out in my Mile 26 delirium. Like He does so many times, Jesus stepped in and convinced me to stick with the walk. This time He used a song. Blaring from the speakers set up at a tent about a half mile from the finish was one of my all-time favorite songs, Three Wooden Crosses by Randy Travis.

I tried to sing along, but at the same time fighting back tears as I thought about the message in the song, the timing of hearing it just at that moment, and about the reasons I'm out here running marathons. The situation described in the song is completely different, but the message that God can make great things come from horrible tragedy came through loud and clear as I cried, sang, and thought about Amanda's death and how God has used it to save others. To hear that song, just then, it wasn't coincidence.

I finally rounded the last turn and saw the finish line a couple hundred yards ahead. It looked like a couple miles ahead, but I started pumping my arms and doing my best imitation of a run that I could muster at this point. It probably looked more like a 90-year-old shuffling through the mall than a marathon runner approaching a finish line, but it was all that was left for this race. When I crossed the timing mat, I didn't care about the photographer and I didn't care that I'd come in over 5 hours. I was just grateful that God carried me across that finish line!

After the Race

They handed me a bottle of water and my medal after crossing the finish line and I continued through the chute toward the finisher's area. I was hot, tired, and feeling extremely queasy. As I passed the medical tent, they tried to convince me to step inside. (I must have looked awful!) I passed and headed through to the food. There was pizza and cookies and pretzels and bananas and soft drinks, but nothing seemed appealing. I took a couple of banana halves and continued on.

I found Janice sitting down in the tent and joined her. I tried to eat the bananas, but only managed to down part of one half. There was no wind moving inside the tent and I needed to cool down, so we headed outside to find some shade. I settled into a nice spot beside a truck and laid down on the pavement. The breeze did it's job and I began to feel better, although post-race cramps were seizing my legs.

After about 30 minutes, I decided we'd try for the car, but on the way began to feel sick again. I told Janice I might need that medical tent after all, so we headed that way. By the time we got there I was feeling better so I didn't go in. Once again, the Good Lord took care of me, just like He always does.

So we headed for the car to make the 50 mile trip back to Jacksonville. Janice offered to drive and I didn't argue, so I got to sleep most of the way back. And now, finally, 12 or so hours after the race, I sat down to write this recap.

I have nothing but great things to say about the race organization, volunteers, and course. Traffic control was fantastic. The aid stations were staffed with enthusiastic volunteers. The course was on good roads and through nice areas. I won't be back every year, but I would imagine that I'll eventually be back to do this one again. The things that made this race tough for me were completely out of the control of those in charge.

Today was rough, but I am so thankful for a God who loves me, whom I can lean on when things get tough, and depend on when I'm not capable of continuing by my strength alone. As tough as today was physically, everything that happened on the course reminded me of why I get out and do this, why God allows me to get out and do this. It can't be for my glory. It can't be for me. I'm out here running marathons not because there's anything special about me, but because this is how God can use me. I don't look like a marathon runner. I'm not built like a marathon runner. Most people who saw me would never believe that I could run 26.2 miles. And they'd be right.

I can't run 26.2 miles, not on my own strength. But God can do what man believes is impossible. He can make the impossible possible. He can keep you going when everyone believes you should quit. He can bring light to a dark world. So I hope and pray that He will continue to use me to spread that message, and continue to carry me across the finish line.


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4 comments:

  1. Wow. I feel tired just reading this. Way to stick with it and get through the finish!

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  2. Thanks Tod! It's been awhile since I felt like this in a race, but it's the marathon, and we never really know what it's going to throw at us until the day of! God bless and happy running my friend!

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  3. this is John Griffin from Running Faith and I loved your recap. Congrats and keep it up brother God bless you

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  4. Thanks John! We'll keep running as long as the Good Lord lets us. :) Love what you guys do at Running Faith too! Hope to see you at a race someday!

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