The bright yellow t-shirt on the guy in front of me read, “This seemed like a good idea 2 months ago….”. For me, it was a “good” idea about 5 months ago. Spring of 2010 I began learning how to run following a program titled Couch to 5K. By August I was able to run/trudge through my first 5k thanks greatly to the encouragement of my friend Ann. That fall Ann invited several of us to consider a half marathon (13.1miles) in Feb. 2011. To this day I am not sure what possessed me to sign up. It may have been the fun I was having hanging out with this group of young lady runners from our church. It may have been my desire to stay motivated to get in shape, or MAYBE it was the photo of powdered sugar coated beignets, which Ann included in her email about the race. A beignet is a New Orleans treat that is best described as what would happen if you merged the world’s fluffiest doughnut with a crispy fried funnel cake, YUM! Next thing I knew, I was joining Ann, Desi and two of Ann’s former college buddies, Tina and Erin for the Rock and Roll half Marathon in New Orleans to benefit the American Cancer Society.
The training for running 13.1 miles when you are a non-runner is not as much intense as it is consistent. Each week we would run about every other day, gradually increasing our distance and stamina. I was happily surprised when I found myself able to indeed run farther each week. I was far from fast, and my running technique may have been less than perfect, but I was working hard and completing my goals. By January, I began to feel the panic. Things like “What was I thinking?!” , “This is totally unrealistic” and “maybe I could just walk the entire 13.1 miles” where never far from my lips, that and “I’m going kill Ann for getting me into this”. By February, I was secretly hoping the return of Christ, and subsequent rapture, would occur and relieve me of having to run this race. Eventually I found myself nestled among a throng of runners, a numbered bib pinned to my shirt, and my heart pounding.
While waiting to start, I thought of something said at dinner the night before. Erin shared how she did not run with any headset or music and that she was challenging herself to interact with others in the race. That idea was totally opposite of my game plan. I had my music loaded, my ball cap on and was ready to block out everything I could and focus on getting done. I decided to change my game plan a bit, my new goals included:
1.) run at my own pace 2.) listen to the bands and encouragers along the route 3. talk to at least one person along the way if even for a minute and 4.) do not stop.
It was a gorgeous Sunday morning, chilly, but sunny with a bright blue sky. Dear friends had written encouraging notes and were praying for us that morning. I felt incredibly lifted up and energized by the time I finished the first mile. The end of the second mile is always the hardest for me for some reason. The discomfort felt in my lungs and heart usually disappears after mile three, but at the time, it makes me feel as if I am incapable of running any great length and the mental battle can be hard. Just as I was feeling as if I had bitten off more than I could chew, I noticed a portion of scripture on the back of a t-shirt of another runner. It was from Isaiah 40:31
“Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength….they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not grow weary.”
I jogged up beside her and commented on her shirt. I’m not sure exactly what I said, but I know it was a reference to the probability that being “weary” was inevitable today. I did not realize it then, but it would later be infinitely clear that this was the precise moment God was answering the prayers of my friends back home. Her name was Angie (hmmmm, pretty close to angel don’t you think?). She was a fellow Christian who was there with a Christian runners group from Alabama, Sole to Soul Sisters. We would talk, but not at great length since we were both busy breathing and often working hard, but it was just enough.
The race got brighter it seemed. I took off my head set and listened to the bands as we passed, enjoyed the antics of the encouraging spectators, and enjoyed the new scenery along the route. At each passing milestone, we shared astonishment that we were still going. When we tired, we slowed down, but kept going. When I thought about stopping, I reconsidered it because she was with me. When it got painful, it was good to have someone there to hear me complain, someone to share my pain. She kept things in perspective by reminding me as we passed markers what our running time was, I did not even have the energy to look down at my own tracker on my wrist.
In our final miles, when normally I would have been pushing myself and struggling with weariness, I was excited and proud of us. My heart felt strong even though my legs were aching and burning. When we crossed the finish line, we hugged and shared the joy of the accomplishment. Now I know what Isaiah ment…I beleive one of the ways God enables us to “run and not get tired, walk and not grow weary” in this life is by surrounding us with others who journey along with us, share our struggles, encourage our steps and push us to complete our race.