Thursday, December 10, 2009

Let the race begin

I used to be one of those people that just didn't "get it".  Every time I would see someone jogging down the side of the road, wearing those ghastly tight leggings and dripping sweat from head to toe, I would most often think how crazy they were.  I am sure there was a bit of jealousy in the back of my mind somewhere, as well, maybe because I wished I could be that athletic.  Because let's face it, I'm just not an athlete.  
 
In elementary school, I attempted to be a cheerleader.  This most often meant that I showed up at Saturday basketball games more excited about the snacks and drinks than the cheer routines.  It took all of my girlish will power to muster up a "hoo-rah!".  Then, in high school I (let me tread lightly here) tried to play volleyball.  I was probably the least-coordinated person on the entire team.  When our coach said jump, my first instinct was to sit down.  Why?  Because I am just that uncoordinated when it comes to sports.  The first and only time I actually did something right in a game was at the end of the season in our "championship" game.  

Our coach graciously let me play (considering we were ahead by an obscene amount of points, I assume she knew I couldn't give away too many points in just a few minutes) and I was more nervous than excited.  I was on the front line, right up by the net and the setter "set" a ball up in the air for me to spike down on the other team's court.  I went up, actually struck the ball with the palm of my hand and made an amazing spike on the other side. I was so excited that I immediately started jumping up and down, screaming and laughing like a four year old.  My coach, half yelling and half laughing, kindly reminded me that the ball was still in play.  Yeah, maybe a little bit too early for celebration.  But we won, not in any way because of me.

I also managed to break both of my pinkies in sports-related activities.  The first, during volleyball in P.E (imagine that).  The ball was served, came across the court and hit me directly on the side of my pinky, snapping it in half.  I know, it makes you cringe, right? My other pinky was broken during a Powder Puff football practice in high school.  I was diving for the ball, landed on my pinky and, once again, it snapped in half (just in a different direction than the previous break).  All of this should lead you to the obvious conclusion that  athleticism  does not run through my veins.

This is why Saturday, December 5, 2009 was probably my biggest physical accomplishment.  I actually ran a half-marathon. 

 I first learned about the Memphis Marathon while we were living at St. Jude's last year.  Every year, they hold this race and it is a huge fundraising event for St. Jude's, most often bringing in over a million dollars.  Considering my little Chunk is a patient at the hospital, I felt compelled to begin training for the marathon and so my journey began.

At first, even running a mile would send me into a hyperventilation-type state.  It just seemed like I couldn't catch my breath and I would be so tired afterwards, I could hardly function.  Running for 13.1 miles seemed like an impossibility to me but, in some ways, that just made me want to do it more.  And for an entire year, I ran.  Three days a week, like clockwork, I would hit the treadmill, running until I physically couldn't anymore.  I was sore all the time, my legs burned constantly and my appetite seemed to grow by the minute.  At some point, I wondered if all this discomfort was really worth it but I pushed that thought aside and continued on.

Throughout the year, God really started using my runs as a time to focus on Him and not on everything else that I thought mattered.  A lot of times, I would come home from the gym tired but refreshed, I had spent my time with the Lord and I felt renewed.  Jesus also used this time to teach me a lot about myself.  I wasn't as strong as I thought I would be.  I couldn't handle this on my own, I couldn't always push past the pain when I wanted to....sometimes I almost felt like a little girl.  There were days when I struggled so badly that I wanted to give up but I would repeat the same verse over and over in my head as I ran, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me".  And I realized....I could.

So as the marathon drew near, I just decided to stop worrying about if I could do it and just accept the fact that I couldn't....not on my own, anyways.  

The morning of the race, it was a bitter 25 degrees; a huge shock from the semi-cooled environment of my home gym.  As I stood there waiting for the race to begin, I felt like my legs were going to freeze and break off.  It dawned on me at that moment that it might have been a good idea to do a couple of runs outdoors, just to help my body get used to the elements.  Nice thought, but a little too late.  Thankfully, a few miles into the run, I discovered that your body adapts to the cold weather as your core temperature goes up from physical activity.  It was for this reason, I was thankful that I did not take my mother's advice and wear two pairs of pants (thanks anyways, mom).

I remember when I saw the sign that said, "10 miles".  I looked up at the sky and said, "Thank you, Jesus!!".  I knew that I was in the homestretch and the finish line was just three miles ahead.  I had estimated that it would take me about 2 hours to finish (per my finish time in training) and I had already informed everyone that I would be highly irritated if I went over 2 hours.  I had no idea how long I had been running, but I knew my pace was about 8 1/2 minutes a mile.  I kept trying to do the math in my head to determine my finish time but gave up after about 2 seconds.  Another tidbit I learned--the brain doesn't do math during intense physical activity.

And then, there it was.  Mile 13.  I ran faster than I've ever ran in my life, knowing that my family was waiting to greet me at the finish line.  Unfortunately, as I finally completed the half-marathon, I immediately came to a stop and my noodle-legs almost gave out from underneath me.  I suppose this is why olympic runners always run at a slow pace after completing their runs.  It is to avoid noodle-legs.  I got my medal, got some pats on the back and left smiling.  I had done it.  A year's worth of blood, sweat and tears and it was over.  My first thought was....now what do I do?

I went to check my results and was ecstatic to learn that I had run the half-marathon in an hour and 55 minutes, five minutes faster than my goal.  Although I would love to say, "I did it!"; I know that I didn't.  Because if there's anything I learned through all of this, it's that I can only do it because He is beside me.  As inspiring as it was to have so many people cheering us on as we ran, to see the children of St. Jude's waving at us as we passed and to see the thousands of people that came out to support such a wonderful cause; the thing that inspired me the most was the music streaming through my IPOD.  A collection of worship songs, reminding me that it's my body but I'm His vessel.  

So maybe that sounds like a really spiritual way to describe running but that's just what it is for me.  And maybe, like my husband says, I am addicted to it.  But it's just my thing.  I'm not athletic, I can't even follow a football game that well on T.V, but I can run.  And I'll keep on jumping out of bed three mornings a week, desperately excited to hit the treadmill.  Because as cheesy as it may sound, it's my time to push away the world and run towards Him.