Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Meander



Last week I ran my fifth half marathon and completed it with my third fastest time. As I limped across the finish line, sweat dried and breathing easy, my overwhelming emotion was one of frustration.  Certainly not the fairy tale ending I hoped for when I was training. 

Two hours and 20 minutes earlier, I waited for the race to start knowing I had an undiagnosed problem in my right knee.  When the all-too-familiar pain shot through my knee with my first step, I knew finishing the 13.1 mile course would be challenging, but I was determined to give it my best effort.

 The entire race is run on a bike path through a destination resort called Sunriver.  The first eight miles wind through the heavily wooded, relatively hilly, residential portion.  The course then flattens out and over the last five miles athletes run alongside and past breath-taking views of snow-capped mountain peaks, the Deschutes River, the perimeter of a nature preserve, a private airport, horse stables, and a scenic desert golf course. 

 The first year I ran this race, I let myself embrace the beauty of God’s creation, relished the challenge of keeping my brain and body active, and celebrated joyously at the finish line with little regard to the time it took me to finish.  And it was my worst finishing time ever.

 My goal for the race this year was to run a personal best time and in spite of continually increasing pain and tightness in my knee, I was on par to shatter my previous personal best.  I was in the zone, passing people on the hills and focused only on the task at hand.  When I stopped for water at the Mile Eight water station my knee literally gave out.  I simply could not run another step.  I thought I might have to drop out, but when I tried walking I realized I could walk with a slight limp and manageable pain.  Whether I could do it for the remaining five miles was an open-ended question, but I was determined to uncover the answer. 

 As I limped around the next corner, the Deschutes River came into view with Mt. Bachelor looming in the distance.  I tried to adjust my mental focus and embrace the beauty and extravagance of God’s creation, but every time I’d start to get a grip on my attitude another herd of runners I’d already passed would fly by me.  It was a bitter reminder of the pace that got away and for the next FIVE miles, I limped along throwing myself a pretty sweet pity party.  I griped and groaned.  Mumbled and complained.  Normally an enthusiastic cheerleader at races, I let hoards of runners struggling to find the mental and physical stamina to finish the race pass me by without a word of encouragement.  I even found myself inwardly gloating as I limped by a Team in Training athlete who was clearly competing as a tribute to someone she loved who had cancer and not because she was physically fit enough to finish a half-marathon without great sacrifice to herself.  What was wrong with me?

 I knew I should be grateful that God was allowing me to finish.  I knew I should be using my God-given gift of encouragement to runners on the course.  I knew I should be thankful for my family and friends who were praying for me as I competed.  But knowing and doing are often two different things and instead, I pouted.  All the way to the finish line and beyond.  It wasn’t until I stood up to walk home and realized I’d be dragging my leg behind me like a dead tree did I start to snap out of my funk and start to count my blessings.

My sister-in-law and I stole an hour later in the afternoon to bask in the desert sun and catch up.  Normally an active and busy home-schooling mom of three girls, coach, wife and church volunteer, she was recently sidelined by an auto-immune disease.  For two months she could do nothing but sit helplessly in a chair and watch her world swirl around her.  She shared that the main lesson in all her pain and life change was to slow down.  The word God gave her was “meander.” When I looked it up, it means “an aimless amble on a winding course; bend or curve as in a river.”

We talked about the craziness and ridiculous pace of life in modern-day America.  How we don’t take time to stop and smell the wild flowers.  Kick a little dirt, splash a puddle, laugh, or feel the breeze in our hair.  And then she said something that jolted me out of my self-pity and into reality.  She said, “When we run, we miss the view from the walk.”  I thought about the meandering river that accompanied me for part of my run and I knew I missed my opportunity to meander with it.  I also missed the view from the walk because I was too busy running.

I meet with a surgeon on Thursday to diagnose the source of my knee pain and it most likely will be a long road back before I run another half marathon.  But as I recover I plan to meander and soak in the view.    

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