Sunday, September 12, 2010

Humbly Grateful




The Portland Marathon is four weeks from today. And I'm registered to run it. Is it too late to back out now?

When I started running almost four years ago, I was convinced I was going to be a marathoner. Maybe even a Boston qualifying marathoner if I worked REALLY, really hard. I was thrilled with the fact that I was exercising consistently for the first time in years and tackled each of my marathon training runs with more determination than I knew I possessed. When I got tired, I told myself, "You're going to run a marathon. Who does that? You do. You go girl," and I kept running. My 18 mile training run was a disaster and when I crossed the imaginary finish line where Curt and my four precious kiddos were waiting, I burst into tears. If it was that hard to run 18 miles, how on earth could I run 26.2?

Fast forward to race day and you couldn't have gotten a worse race. The dreaded Chicago marathon of 2007 was a train-wreck. Temps in the mid-90's with equal humidity caused runners to start dropping like flies within the first few miles of the course. The sirens started early into the race and never quit the entire 4 hours and 55 minutes I was running. It was eerie. Medical tents were overflowing. Runners were collapsing and retching on the course. One guy close to my age and much more prepared than I was, dropped dead on the course. Race officials ended up canceling the race at the half-way point but how do you get the news through the one-million plus fans to the 32,000 runners on the course that the race they trained for months for was being cancelled due to extreme weather conditions?

I was at mile 22 when a lady with a bullhorn at an aid station hollered, "The race has been cancelled. You will get no official time. Buses are on the course picking up runners. You must get on a bus and it will take you to the finish." I thought she might be crazy. There was NO WAY I was putting my tired butt on a bus and quitting with four.point.two miles left. I shoved off from the aid station and was shocked to see the next clock on the course turned off. Despair set in. My mind started racing as my tired legs slowly pushed me down the course, "They can't take away this dream from me. It's on my bucket list. I HAVE to cross it off. I will NOT quit."

All around me, exhausted runners were in a state of confusion. Normally known for making friends and conversation on the course, we all trudged along too weary to even talk. It had to be a mistake. This could not be happening. But each digital clock was eerily blank. At the mile 24 aid station, a police helicopter hovered with a bull horn toting police man hanging out and shouting, "The race has been cancelled. You must stop running and walk. I repeat, stop running and walk. The race has been cancelled."

I obeyed. Slowed my jog to a walk and let the disappointment set in. Every step rubbed another spot on the blisters on my toes and the raw interior of my thighs. My muscles cooled and started tightening up. I tried to call my fan club to share the news, but all the cell lines were jammed. I waited for those dreaded buses and decided I would NOT get on one. No matter what. If it took me all day. I would cross that finish line.

And then at mile 26, a mere point two miles from the finish, the clock was on. Glowing flourescent green, it mocked all of us who heeded advice and walked the last two miles. And there waiting patiently, my husband, my mom, my aunt and uncle who no doubt wondered what had happened for me to fall so far off my goal pace. I tried to run the last .2 miles but ended up hobbling across the finish line in disgust instead. My dream of dashing across the finish line, fists pumped in celebration of my bucket list accomplishment was shattered. It took me weeks to appreciate the fact that I finished one of the most talked about marathons of all time.

Over the past three years I have set out to run more marathons than I can count. Inevitably, I get hurt before I can even register for the race. Running a marathon, a "normal" one (if there is such a thing) has continued to elude me. Until now. My step brothers shanghaied me into registering for the Portland marathon in spite of my apprehension. I wasn't sure I wanted to put the time and effort into training for such a huge race nor did I think I wanted to tackle 26.2 miles again, but I couldn't let those boys get the best of me. I had to show them that girls can run too.

So here I am. Four weeks before race day. Slogging the mandated miles and waiting to get excited about it. My 18 mile training run was great for the first 15 miles, and then I tanked hard and fast for the last 3 miles. I felt sorry for my well-trained and ridiculously prepared running buddy Carissa who watched me self-destruct and had to wait for me to drag myself across our invisible finish line. I had to laugh at the irony of how bad both my 18 mile training runs were.

I realized this weekend that I've been focusing my mind on the negatives of this race: the time away from my family on the long runs, the difficulty of slogging so many miles, and the mental drain of keeping my mind occupied when my body wants to quit. Instead of embracing the challenges, I've resisted them. And maybe whined a bit along the way.

But God reminded me of a song I sang as a kid. The lyrics go, "Are you humbly grateful? Or grumbly hateful? What's your attitude? Do you grumble and groan? Or let it be known you're grateful for all God's done for you?" Talk about a much-needed attitude adjustment. For crying out loud, one year ago I was in a full-leg immobilizer and walking even a few steps was incredibly painful. How on earth can I complain about running 18 miles? Big fizz that it was hard. I wouldn't expect it to be easy.

Next week we're scheduled to run 20 miles together. Who does that? When I think about it, my stomach starts flip flopping and my palms get all sweaty. But I know with God's help, I'll be able to cross that invisible finish line and hopefully have some fun along the way. My prayer is that when I cross the real finish line in four weeks, I will embrace all that God has done for me with a humbly grateful heart.

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