Before the RaceYesterday after work, we dashed home, let the dogs out for a bit, loaded up the vehicle, and headed east. Because we didn't want to take the time to stop and eat, we swung by Little Caesar's and picked up two Hot 'n Ready pizzas to consume on the trip. We stopped once for gas in West Memphis, AR and that was it. The trip went without incident, no delays.
We had booked a room at one of the host hotels for the race, the Residence Inn in Homewood, AL. They gave runners a special rate of $89 a night for a 1 bedroom suite. I have no idea what the regular rate was for this room, but we've paid as much or more many times for a lot less in a hotel room. It was around 11 by the time we settled in and got to sleep.
Race day packet pickup was scheduled for 5:30-6:30, so I rose at 5, dressed and slipped down to the hotel's dining area to grab a cup of coffee. The price of the room came with a complimentary hot breakfast, but we'd be gone before they began serving at 7. So I took an apple with my coffee back to the room and let that serve as breakfast. We were ready and out the door at 6.
We arrived and found a place to park within 100 meters of the start line. At packet pickup we stood in a short and quickly moving line. Included with the half marathon entry was a really nice short sleeve tech shirt, with the 4.13K run/walk was a just as nice short sleeve cotton shirt. As we walked back to the car to pin on our bibs, we heard the early start get underway for walkers in the half marathon.
It wasn't until I got back to the car that it dawned on me I'd left my Garmin in my bag at the hotel. The race was starting at 7:00 AM and it was already past 6:30. There was no way I'd chance missing the start to go back and get it. I hadn't run a race without it since a February 15K in 2012, but now I was facing a half marathon with no GPS. I didn't panic though, as the thought popped into my head that God wanted to remind me that He is in control and always there to lean on.
Turns out, my bib number was 110. I didn't have time to search for a verse that matched before the race, but it was on of the first things I did when I got home. I found Galatians 1:10, a reminder that we're not here to please people, or even ourselves, but to please God! The reasons I like a watch are because I get instant feedback on my performance. I can track how I'm doing and control how I'm doing.
"Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ." -- Galatians 1:10
We often set time goals as matters of pride, faster times impress people and bring praise. But then other times, we set time goals so we don't disappoint ourselves. Instead of pushing and doing our best, we slow ourselves down to avoid disappointment. On the way to the race Janice asked me how long I thought it would take to finish. I told her I planned to run it in around 2 hours and 10 minutes.
I'd just PR'd last month at Little Rock with a 1:55, but I've cut way back on my weekly mileage. I've replaced a lot of my miles with 40 minutes of the Insanity workout six days a week. I honestly didn't know how that would affect my time and I just planned to be safe and not expect a lot. If I'd have worn my watch, that would have helped me stay right around a 10 minute pace, an easy pace to maintain, a safe pace to maintain, one that I was certain I could attain without difficulty, without struggle.
But would that have pleased God? God just showed me last month that I could run a 1:55. Granted, that was on a flatter course in cooler weather, but still...would taking 15 minutes longer have been fully utilizing the ability God gave me?
I think that's why I forgot the watch. God wanted to show me what He could do if I just turned loose and trusted Him.
The RaceThere were less than 700 runners at the start so it was easy to position myself between the 2 hour and 2:15 pace groups. The small crowd thinned quickly and settling into a comfortable pace wasn't a problem. Without my watch, I had to just go on feel. That caught me up to the 2 hour pace group in short order.
I ran behind them for the first mile and a little more. As my legs warmed up, the running by feel thing started wanting to pull away. On a pretty good downhill stretch, I did just that. I was feeling good even through the hills in the early miles of the race were a lot tougher than what I'm used to.
I spotted the mile marker signs at 1, 2, 3, and 4, but I had no idea of my times as I passed each. I knew I had a good pace going because I'd long ago stopped hearing the 2-hour pace group leaders. But then I somehow missed the mile markers for 5 and 6. That makes things tougher when you don't spot those mile markers because there's no way to gauge your progress. Had I reached 5 miles? Had I reached 6? Those questions start working on your mind and the miles seem to get longer and longer.
Somewhere in that stretch where I didn't know what mile I was on we started a long, straight stretch down Hwy 149. Several times I thought about slowing down, but every time the Good Lord kept saying, "I've got you. Just keep going." So I did. I kept pushing and eventually came to the water stop at mile 7. They were also handing out Gu, so I took one and a cup of water. I did walk long enough here to swallow the Gu and kill the water, then it was off and running again.
As we approached the 149/31 intersection, the police directed us across the highway and onto a jogging path that meandered along parallel to the highway and through the Samford University campus. It was another long, straight stretch, but unlike the highway portion of the course we'd just left, it did afford us shade for most of the trek back to mile 10. We crossed back over the highway at mile 10 and immediately started up a killer hill.
Near the top of that hill is where the two hour pace group caught up with me. What had been a group of 15-20 at the start was now two runners and the two pacers. I was struggling by this point to maintain pace and decided to try and hang with them to the end. I tagged along for the next mile and a half, listening to them conversing about upcoming races, past races, and just about everything else. The hills and starting off too fast had taken their toll on me and I didn't contribute to the conversation. Just plugged along, trying to keep up, praying constantly for God to just keep me going.
Somewhere between mile 11 and 12 one of the pacers said they were on track to finish in 1:58. By now I realized that a sub-2 hour finish was possible and I was trying to figure out if that's what God wanted out of me. We started up another tough hill and I decided with the two minute cushion, I could take advantage and walk to the top. The pacers were a couple hundred yards ahead of me by the time I hit the crest and began to run again.
Fortunately, the subsequent downhill gave me enough of a boost to catch up within a half mile. We were strolling along and then hit another hill. Again I decided to walk, thinking time wasn't what I was here for. Just crossing the finish line was fast becoming my goal as I began to think a little over a two-hour finish would be just as good. The pacers were quite a ways ahead of me and I saw them disappear around the last turn on the course.
A volunteer shouted out this was the last turn. A left turn, another hill, and then downhill to the finish. As I rounded the turn, the hill looked like a mountain. The two hour pacers were nearing the top and cheering on the couple of runners who had hung with them, and those they'd caught in this last stretch. The pacers stopped at the crest of the hill as I began walking again.
When I got to them, one said, "1:58:50, you can do this." The finish line was about 300 yards away, but all downhill. I let gravity work it's magic and picked up speed as I cruised down the hill. I still haven't found a link to online results, but the last I saw the clock as I stepped across the timing mat, it read 1:59:41, a sub-2 finish on a hilly course, without a watch!
"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
So much of the time we lean on our own strength and on devices and other man-made contraptions to meet challenges in our lives. In doing so, we tend to become dependent on these things, believing we can't meet the challenges without them. But this weekend, at an event planned and carried out to glorify Jesus Christ, God reminded me that if we lean on Him, He can carry us through any challenge.
He carried me today, to a finish more than 10 minutes faster than what I set as my goal, without the man-made satellite contraption I'd grown dependent on. This was my second-best half marathon finish, ever, and only the third time I broke two hours. It wasn't because of my strength, or my ability. It was all God. Jesus Christ came through today and He will come through every time you trust Him, lean on Him, and seek to fulfill His will in your life!
After the RaceThe post-race celebration was nice. Pizza, snacks, and soft drinks were available to runners. Half marathon finishers received a nice medal and 4.13K finishers received a smaller, rubber "medal" for finishing their race. That was pretty cool since most short races don't offer finishers' awards unless you place in the top three of your age group at least.
We hung around for a little while, eating and enjoying the beautiful day. We had a 12 noon checkout at the hotel, so we left around 9:45 to head back and clean up. We cleaned up, packed up, then loaded up and checked out by the noon deadline, then we hit the road for the 6 hour trip back home.
By 5:00 PM, we were back at the house, 24.5 hours after we'd left the day before. It was a great race on a great day, all to glorify a great and mighty God! I can't wait to run with TEAM 413 again!
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