This half marathon isn't going to train itself

"This half marathon isn’t going to train itself." These words echoed in my head and heart throughout much of my training. I could hardly believe that I had actually clicked the submit button on my laptop and registered for my first half marathon. I was absolutely thrilled and completely terrified. Just less than a year and a half ago, I was on the couch side of the Couch to 5k program. By God’s grace and the members of First Flight Alliance, I successfully completed the program and ran several 5k and 10k races last year. You friends who followed my #30before30 list may remember how much of a positive impact taking up running had on my life in the last year. Still, the idea of completing 13.1 miles was absolutely wild, and I could never imagine the satisfaction of slapping one of those fancy “humble brag” stickers on the ole Jeep.

As 2013 came to a close, my #30before30 list had been completed, and with no new race goal in sight my runs had become stale. I was sporadic, not challenging myself, and was beginning to feel like I had lost the spark. The distance between a 10k and half marathon seemed too vast. There is something special about runners though, and when you connect with them, they have a way of reigniting it. Just as I was resting on my excuses that I had exhausted the “running” part of my life, I was resinspired by a friend whose commitment to running is nothing short of infectious. They too, were relatively new to running, but knocked down each new challenge with a fierceness that was contagious. Instead of shrinking away from a challenge, they embraced it, and conquered it. (Literally, this person actually enjoys running hills.) I wanted that. More than that, my friend believed I, too, could have it.

Flash forward to a conversation I had with my dear friend Jordan, who lives in Pittsburgh. I had been wanting to visit her for a long time. She proceeds to tell me about the idea of us doing the Pittsburgh Marathon together. She did the half in 2013 and was looking to set the full marathon goal for this year. So, within days I was planning a trip to Pittsburgh to see my dear friend for the weekend, and oh yeah, run 13.1 miles. (Do they give you those fancy stickers at the finishline, I wondered?)

I am certainly not the first person nor will be the last person to draw analogies between running and life. Yes, you get it, “we are in a race” “let’s finish strong”— blah blah blah, yada yada yada. There are eloquent articles on the subject, there are inspirational memes galore you can easily pin on your pinterest board, but what I can share with you today, is my experience. My musings, my thoughts, my blog.

….So, the longer my runs got, the more time I had to think, meditate, and pray. My prayers, more often then not, are just “Help me. Now…Please. Need water.” More often than that, my mind would wander to many places. Some better than others. Full disclosure, I actually contemplated the distance between my home and Krispy Kreme as a reward for completing a long run. For this I am #sorrynotsorry. I soon realized this was actually precious time, and with some discipline and focus, I could train my mind to mediate on the things I wish. Paul wrote to the church in Philippi, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” I wanted to actively focus my mind and heart on these things.

A close girlfriend and I just last week had a very interesting dialogue about the idea of isolation. She is going through a tough season as last week was the due date of the precious baby she lost during her pregnancy. She confessed how isolating the pain and waiting on God’s time can be. And how too, it can be hard to share with even the closest of friends that pain, as not too damper their own happiness—those friends who are pregnant and/or already have children. I confessed my own isolation when I feel sadness being the only single friend among a house full of brides and mothers celebrating another wedding or baby. What could I possibly contribute to a conversation about breast pumps, honeymoon tales, and couples nights? How can I be simultaneously so thrilled for a sweet friend and inside feel a pit of despair?! Oh, I cringe as I write this to admit those selfish yucky feelings. Why do we isolate ourselves during some of our loneliest times? We know in our heads that our loved ones and friends will be there for us, but we so often choose to walk alone during our darkest hours, ashamed to share that pain. In that moment, though, our isolation vanished and we connected on a new and deeper level. We encouraged one another, loved one another, and refocused each other on God’s perfect love and perfect time. The isolation was no longer. We opened it up, making a way to feel freedom in discussing with our larger friend community, and set each other up for accountability. No longer can we let each other walk alone in pain, for too long anyway.

Running continues to reinforce the importance of what community and accountability means in living a full life. One of my core beliefs is that God is just as concerned with me living a meaningful and purposeful life on this Earth as He is in my eternal soul. This life is a gift. Our trials and obstacles remind us of our need for Him, but I believe he reveals to us everyday and through other people His character: his kindness, goodness, and love. We are made to enjoy each other, and just as much that, we are created to encourage and spur each other on—not accepting mediocrity, but demanding better. I love this. As much as I wanted to stomp my foot and pout like a child when my friend responded to my lame excuse of not wanting to run one day that my training plan called for a long run, with a matter of factness, “this marathon isn’t going to train itself,” it was just the encouragement I needed. I am beyond grateful for that. I got through that long run, realized I could do it, and chipped away a little more at my goal.

And to the haters of social media, may I offer you this: My sweet friend Liz has been one of my biggest supporters and encourager in this process. She resides in NYC, and we probably have not seen each other seen freshman year at Salem College hanging out in Babcock dormitory. However, her friendship via social media over the years has meant so much to me. During this season of training, she is also training for the Brooklyn Half. She gets it. She is walking the path I am. There is something very special about that. Find people who are walking your path. Walk it side by side. Find the people, too, who are steps ahead on that path and learn to follow and learn from their footsteps. It makes all the difference. Liz, has walked this path before, as this is not her first half training. She has given me invaluable wisdom and encouragement. For that I am grateful.

While we cannot control God’s time for things in our life, we can control how we spend the time He gives us in between the start and the finish. That distance is just as much a gift as the result. It is our choice to decide if we will accept that gift. When I finally accepted this gift in my training, it was a freedom that is hard to explain. It just spilled over into my life and suddenly the “in between” in my life had new meaning. More value. It was good. Real good.

I have learned during this process that preparation is key, and having a good run day starts long before your shoes are laced up. It is often said attitude is everything, and I believe this is true, but I believe it runs deeper. It is an attitude of the heart. Just as my long awaited taper week began, I hit an unexpected turn. Monday evening after a four miler, I felt extra fatigued, hot, and sore. I brushed it off at first, but could not shake it. Oh, hell, no. I could not get sick. Too late, I was in fact down for the count y’all. God is so gracious, though, as he used special friends and home remedies to make me feel like a functioning human being again by Friday. (I tried them all y’all and I know they contributed to my healing! Thanks FB friends!) It was between Tuesday and Friday, though that the attitude of my heart really mattered. I had trained for the race, and this sickness was not something I had control over. This was in God’s time. I wish I could tell you I had complete and total faith and gave over my control of the situation to God, but let’s be honest, my faith can sometimes make a mustard seed look huge. I was worried, nervous, and anxious. I couldn’t control the situation and was frustrated. But, softly, ever so kindly, God reminded me of His perfect love. His perfect time. You see, He was way ahead of me on the path. Even if His plan was for me not to get well and run the race, He had already taught me so
much during the “in between.”

For the record, my “worried anxious oh so human in need of a Savior self” was so thrilled that His plan was to let me run on race day! He really showed off on Sunday to. Which is not surprising because it is HIS day. I have had some pretty amazing Sabbaths in my 30 years, some within the walls of a church sanctuary and some not. This Sunday, “I went to chuuurch!!” And by that I mean, the presence of God was everywhere; from the bottom of my feet to the top of my head and alllll the way to my soul! As I crossed the bridges over the city of Pittsburgh in the crisp morning air, I knew I was God’s child. (He even perfectly organized my shuffle to have Mumford play in just the right spots! I was grinning from ear to ear mile after mile!) He loves me when I pout about not wanting to run. He loves me when I want so badly to be out of a season of waiting. His love for me is so much more than my mind can even fathom. And what’s more, His love is enough for all those thousands of runners all around me. Gosh He wants us to continue come to him with our hearts. He is the opposite of isolation. He is the START, the FINISH, and the “IN BETWEEN,” sweet friends.

I sit in the airport today, justifying my M&Ms purchase, and eyeing my race medal peeping out of my overloaded tote (totally feeling like I am the central character in a cheesy made-for-tv Lifetime movie). I am excited about the next step; seeking to trust that the Lord’s love and timing is perfect. I do not know what my next goal will be, but I am learning to soak in the “in betweens.” :)

Annnnd just one more thing: thank you each and everyone of you lovely folks who have encouraged, tolerated, and loved me through this. And an extra special shout out to the best coworkers ever, who on a daily basis, for months, have been the BEST. Thanks for covering for me today and see y’all tomorrow morning. I will be taking the elevator.