Sunday, December 5, 2010

It's how you finish....

I guess I thought I was invincible...I had no limits. I thought I was better than I was, stronger, more agile, more determined to push through the pain. But yesterday, I learned a huge lesson about myself that was a long time coming.

It was my third half marathon and I felt like I had done this dance before so it was really no big deal. You train and train and train, getting ready for the "big day" and when it finally comes, there's a point where you feel confident in your ability to perform. That's where I was at yesterday, confident...maybe even a little too much so. I had a goal in my head, a lofty one might I add, that I was going to finish this race with a time somewhere in the range of 1:30:00 to 1:39:00, basically somewhere within the hour and a half range. My past two races, I was able to exceed my goal so this time, I was sure I had it in the bag. My fastest pace during my last race was 7:53 a mile so I was determined this time around to bump it up into the 7:30's. Those mere 17 seconds a mile proved to be a lot harder than I could have ever imagined.

The first few miles were a little rough but they always are so I didn't think much of it. Around mile 5, we had to climb a hill that I was sure could've killed me. I felt like my calf muscle was literally tearing in half but I kept seeing that finish time of an hour and a half in my head, so I pushed through the pain. Right at the half-way point, I was averaging about 7:30 a mile and was suffering greatly. The humidity was high, at 85% and I was way overdressed for a 57 degree run. I spotted an ambulance around mile 8 and was very tempted to throw in the towel and take a little rest on their stretcher....after all, they were just waiting for one of us to collapse. The urge to give up was overwhelming, every muscle in my legs were burning with pain and I could not seem to regulate my breathing. Each hill was like a stab in the chest and I was quickly losing steam. I knew I had to stop for a minute and catch my breath but that was breaking one of my own rules, "Never stop running during the race. Pain is temporary, just push through it.". Yet, despite my best pep-talk efforts, I broke down and caught my breath for a minute. I was never the same after that which is why I am adament about not stopping during the race. It's like your body finally realizes what you're doing and everything gives out. Mile 9, mile 10, mile 11....I have never hated running so much. I kept swearing in my head that I was never going to do this again, I was dying on the inside and this was not the enjoyable experience that I am used to having. When I saw the finish line just ahead of me, I tried to pick up the pace and finish with a decent time. I was furious with myself over my performance and yet so exhausted that I didn't care.

Immediately upon crossing the finish line, I knew something wasn't right. I couldn't think, I couldn't talk, I couldn't breathe right. Fortunately, a nurse on the side grabbed me and put me in a chair. They were asking me a million questions and all I could say was, "I can't breathe...I need a banana"! I could feel my body sliding out of the chair but there was nothing I could do to stop it....I felt like I was a million miles away, almost like an out of body experience. My pulse was only 18, my temperature was 102 and I was way overhheated. Everything was a little jumbled after that and the next thing I remember was a doctor asking me, "Did you train for this marathon?". I actually laughed when he asked me that because I realized how ridiculous I probably looked. When I fully came to, I had been undressed, hooked up to oxygen and my husband was squatted down beside me rubbing my forehead. I had pushed too hard, reached my limit and thought I was capable of so much more.

This race taught me so much about myself and, even though it was a bad experience, it was a good one, as well. There's something about running that is addictive to me. I don't know if it's the sense of accomplishment or the endorphins or a mixture of both but I just can't seem to get enough of it. Because I've had two really good experiences in the past, I guess I just assumed my good fortune would continue. I had always been able to reach my goal and then pass it, I had always been able to push through the pain and run faster, I had always been able to pass the person beside me with ease and, to be honest, I think I was a little over-confident because of it. But lying there on a make-shift hospital bed, with nurses and doctors looming above me, it occurred to me how foolish I had been. I only stopped twice to drink during the race, why? Simply because I didn't want to slow down too much and mess up my finish time. I ran too fast from the very beginning, knowing that it was almost beyond my current physical capability simply because I was obsessed with reaching a goal I had set for myself. All in all, I had managed to suck the joy out of what could have been a wonderful experience.

I do this a lot in my life. I have wonderful intentions in the beginning, doing something for a good cause, going that extra mile and then it slowly becomes an obsession, an addiction, something that I put too much pride in and I lose the true motivation for why I started doing it in the first place. I started running because it was my quiet time with God....that's how it started. I've turned it into a stage for myself, a way to perform and praise myself for my efforts, I've strayed so far from where I started. I used to focus on the songs streaming through my IPOD, the worship music that kept me going, kept me strong, kept my eyes on Christ and yesterday that music was just an echo in my ear. I don't think I even asked God for His strength until mile 11....a little too late. My last half-marathon, I was praying and talking with God most of the race and at the end, despite how hard it really was, I knew the only reason I was able to finish was because of Him.

I swore yesterday that I would never run again, why did I do this to myself, why is this such a big deal to me? And that train of thought brought me back to the beginning, that first step on the treadmill when we were living at St. Jude's. In that regard, this race was just what I needed right now in my life. This isn't about me and it's not supposed to be. This is supposed to be about Him and what I learned through this is that I truly cannot do anything without Him. Sure I finished my race and just 4 minutes shy of my goal, but my attitude and focus throughout the race was terrible. So my goal for next year is not a certain finish time or a specific pace but just to finish knowing that I only did it because of Jesus Christ. I started off giving Him the glory and got sidetracked to the point where I was more focused on giving myself the glory. And what I plainly learned is that my life and my accomplishments aren't because of anything I've done, it's all because of what Christ does through me.

So I'll try again next year but this time my focus will be different. I'll give this another shot and I'll be sure not to rely on my abilities to get me through it. I can't tell you the joy I've received in past races from feeling run down, choosing to lean on Christ for strength and then feeling Him pull me through that moment of discouragement. It's what used to motivate me to get on the treadmill everyday, knowing that I was going to meet God there. It's been awhile since I've spent some time in that place and I'm looking forward to re-focusing my life once again. I think my new motto during the race will be, "It's not when you finish, it's how you finish".