How the Apology that Almost was Became the Race that Almost wasn't

Back in September, when I blogged about the different things I was going to do with my life now that my kids are in school all day, I mentioned a few things specifically.

One was that I was working on promoting/facilitating an Atheism/Christianity forum in my community, to be held on October 2nd.

The next was that I was training to run a half-marathon on October 9th.

The third was that I was attending a blogging conference, on October 21st-23rd.

Now for those of you who actually know what day it is, you may have realized that I'm writing this from the blogging conference.  While I'm tempted to blog about the conference itself, I would be remiss if I failed to talk about my half-marathon.

Particularly because, I almost didn't do it.  But let's start at the beginning.

I have not always been a runner, and I'm not an athlete.  I'm the girl who, in middle school,  pretended to have her period far more frequently than is physically possible to get out of gym class.  When they forced us to run a mile for the Presidential Physical Fitness Test, I walked.  I pretended it was because I was too cool to care, but really it was because I didn't want everyone to see how badly I sucked wind.  So when I, as an adult, started working out and running, suffice it to say it was out of sheer necessity and a complete unwillingness to go up to the next pant size (yet again).  Now I've done it long enough that it's habit, but let's be clear... this whole fitness thing has been a long road.  And this road has never extended longer than a 5k.

So when a couple months back my friend Melanie put a bug in my ear about running a half marathon with her in Oct, I almost poo-pooed it.  On a whim, though, I asked my hubby (who is a runner and was already planning on doing it) just what would be involved in training.  He quickly came back with a training plan that actually seemed doable to me, and I decide to give it a shot, with the understanding (with myself and others) that I would just do the training and see how far I got with it, but that wasn't committing to anything.    Every week as I went out for my "long run" (which started at 4 miles and went up from there) I prayed that God would help me through it if it was his will for me to continue.

And every week he did, up until the post that I did back in Sept.  If you remember, I said my next hurdle was 9 miles and that would be the deal-breaker.  If I could do 9, I would sign up for the half-marathon.

Well, the day I tried to do 9, and it was a horrible experience.  H.O.R.R.I.B.L.E.  I could barely breathe,  I had pain in both of my feet and my back - and I didn't even run the whole 9!   After the run I felt like I had been hit by a bus for three days, which was highly inconvenient since I was in the last couple weeks of finalizing plans for the Oct 2nd forum.  I was super-busy and laying on the couch in a vegetative state was not an option.  I decided then and there that I was going to nix the training.  Going forward with it was going to cost more than I wanted to pay, and my practicality overtook my competitive drive.  

Melanie and I before the race
I wasn't too sad about quitting, given the situation.   In fact, I was even going to use it for blog fodder.  I was going to blog about how I was quitting the training, and how quitting is okay and is sometimes even the wisest choice.  I even had a title in mind for my post: "An Apology for Quitting".  Except I would use the word "apology" in its original Greek sense, which means "to give a defense of." I was not going to actually say that I was sorry for quitting.  Because I wasn't sorry.

Well, like I said, I was busy so I never got to writing that post.  But I did tell Mel I was backing out, and I told my husband and my running friends too.   Then I put it out of my mind and had total peace.  I registered him for the race, and didn't register myself.  I went on with my life, put all of my extra energies into the Forum, and never looked back.

One of the photos from the official race photographer.  I like this one because I look like I'm flying.  Kind of.  
That is, until after the Forum.  Mel emailed me and said her husband Robert couldn't run the race after all (darn back injury!) and he had already registered.  She offered his bib number to Pat, but I had already registered him too.  Robert's bib was going to go to waste.

A couple days later, the idea resurfaced in my mind.  Could I do the race?  I was feeling better physically and was less-stressed with other obligations.  I was tempted.  Why not try it?  I talked to Mel, and she was in.  I would use Robert's bib number, Robert would watch my kids during the race (along with his own.. the man deserves some sort of merit badge!), and I would surprise my hubby and not tell him until the night before the race.  This idea was exciting to me.  I love surprises.  And would I make it through the race?  Well, that was a surprise too.  But like before, I figured if the Lord wanted me to be able to do it, I would succeed (after all, I had truly put it out of my mind, but now all the sudden there was an opportunity for me - which tends to be how God works sometimes!).  And if I failed, well, at least I can say I had tried.

Mel and I.  No laughing at my pink shorts!  I know they are dorky, but so comfortable.  And, they made it really easy to identify me in all group photographs!
The night before the race, when I told hubby I would run the next day, at first he didn't believe me.   Once he saw that I was being serious, his reaction was a funny mix of amusement, support and skepticism.  I asked Mel on the phone that night if I was crazy for trying it.  She said no, but later confessed to me that she had her own concerns.  Can't say I blame her.  If I had thought very hard about it, I might have been concerned too.  But I didn't think.  The next morning, I just ran.

I ran with Mel the whole time, which was great.  We don't see each other very often, so we got to talk and catch up through about the first six miles.  After that, I couldn't handle much more talking, other than the occasional complaint or sarcastic comment.  But having her next to me motivated me, and I'm not sure that I would have done as well if she wasn't with me.  At the very least, I wouldn't have enjoyed it as much!  And while enjoyed might be a bit too strong of a word, at the end of the race I was happy.  My run was major-pain-free, I felt strong, and I finished in 2 hours and 12 minutes (that's a 10:06 mile) - not groundbreaking, but not too shabby considering my lack of training.

Crossing the finish line!  Though, I must point out that the clock was off because there were almost 5,000 racers that day and not everybody can cross the starting line when the gun goes off!
I am not willing to say yet if I will ever run a half-marathon again.  I will say, though, that running 13.1 miles is highly educational, and there are a few things that you don't realize until you actually do it.  For one, while you appreciate their go-team sentiment, someone standing on the side of the road 8-miles in cheering "You're almost done!" when you still have FIVE MORE GRUELING MILES to run is completely NOT HELPFUL.  Second, a 15-year old boy loping along in untied skate shoes will probably pass you easily at some point.  Consider this a reminder that pride is a sin.  And third, this whole barefoot running craze that seems to cool and earthy is really JUST NASTY.  People shamelessly hock loogies on the ground when they run long races.  And you step in them.  Eew.

So glad it's done!  Ow... quads hurt! 
But the best take-away from my race experience is a whole new appreciation for a passage of scripture that I have heard many times before.

Hebrews 12:1-3
       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.  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Running a long race is really hard, but there's joy in the journey because of the pride and accomplishment that you get when you cross the finish line.  You have achieved your goal!  All of your hard work has paid off.  You forget about your shin splints and your blisters, because the prize at the end has made it worth the pain. 

Me and Mel and two of her friends after the race.  We were smiling partially because the race was over, and partially because the full physical effects of our self-torture had not yet taken effect!
It makes me wonder if the writer of Hebrews was a runner, because running a long race is such an apt comparison to our lives.  We start off well, but as time goes on it gets hard.  Long.  Tiring.  Painful.   Sometimes we are capable of conversation, other times it's all we can do to just keep breathing.  We look around for encouragement, but it's not always easy to find.  Sometimes well-meaning people speaking vain words tell us the tough times are almost over but we suspect the the hardest road still lies ahead of us.  We step in spit.   Other people effortlessly pass us by, untied laces flapping gleefully against the pavement, unfazed by our aching bodies.  The hills come, and we stumble.  Putting one foot in front of the other becomes almost more than we can bear.  We are tempted to quit.  We wonder if finishing strong is even worth the pain.  If it even matters.

If it's even possible.

In life, like in a race, it would be impossible to keep going if there wasn't a finish line.  But if we fix our eyes on Jesus, we can see that it's possible to finish the race, because he did it first.

And in the end, the journey will be worth it.


Melanie said...

I loved reading this, Jess! And those pictures of you are so GREAT! I haven't looked at mine yet because there was a problem with the site when I first tried.

I am a bit concerned about my facial expression and what exactly my hand/fingers are doing in that one photo. Yikes!

So, are we on for next year? ; )

Prisca said...

Dunno about next year. Ask me again four days before the race next Oct! ;o)

LOL about the hand/fingers!! Sorry bout that.

Jen said...

So fun to read all of the details that led up to you running the race after all. I had heard the bits and pieces as you went along, but loved reading it all together in one place. I can only imagine that amazing feeling you had at accomplishing something that you didn't even plan on doing for sure. Nice work!! Don't worry, I didn't think your pink shorts were dorky at all and it sounds like they came in handy. :) The pictures turned out great! What great memories you will be able to relive as you look at them. I laughed out loud at your the 15-year-old, the bare feet, the loogies and the "helpful" cheerleaders. I absolutely loved reading your perspective on that Hebrews passage and the extra insight you were able to provide. Such a blessing that you were able to run with a friend and that they two of you could encourage each other to the end!! Great post!

Prisca said...

TX Jen! It was all so neat w/the Hebrews stuff... Mel and I were talking about that very chapter during the race, and then we covered the same thing in your Bible study! Love it when God keeps bringing the same passage to mind, I just had to share it. Oh, and glad you liked my loogies. ;o)