It wasn’t what I expected. But life rarely is, right?

The training I went through for the past four months has been a living metaphor for my own life so I shouldn’t be surprised that God used this 13.1 mile run to teach me some big, humbling lessons.

The anticipation the morning of the race was palpable as my brain tried to process all the new sights, sounds and of course, smells…yes really. Man, people dress up and down and all around for these races. And the icy hot, oils, body glide and the sheer number of humans in a smallish space was intense.

I wondered about some of the outfits until we finished the first mile and people began shedding what hindered them. The ugly Christmas sweatshirt lay in the grass long forgotten as the owner surely felt lighter and faster as her body heated up quickly from the cool, spring morning. I’m guessing it was well worth the quarter she spent on it at a garage sale to keep her body warm as we waited to run.

Within the first mile the crowd starts to space out so we could each find our groove and pace knowing full well the danger in  starting out too fast from adrenaline; we pull back a tad reluctantly knowing we will be thanking ourselves later.

We turn a corner and see The Hill. Alisha, my trainer and more importantly prayer partner and friend gently, but forcibly reminded us we had run this hill even further than we would have to for this route.

We start to dig deep in our confidence and a man’s deep voice shouts out behind us and it splits the early morning stillness save for the pounding of thousands of quiet feet, “WOO! WE EAT HILLS FOR BREAKFAST! LET’S DO THIS! POUR SOME SYRUP ON THIS BABY!” His voice echoes off the University’s sorority houses silent and stoic as all of us within earshot laugh nervously but thankfully as someone took the energy to recognize the challenge approaching that we all weren’t wanting to acknowledge.

Humor helps me, but I don’t dare laugh for the recovery I’d have to make where I had very little reserve. The three of us chomp down the hill with a bit of effort, and as we crest we hear the same man yell, “THIS IS WHEN 5:00AM HILL TRAINING PAYS OFF!!” I shout a silent “AMEN” in my mind as we turn and pass the ones walking.

I later learn, although some of the runners may have needed a break, others use walking the hills as an intentional strategy. I can see the advantage.

We’ve run what seems like forever and then see the mile marker 2. “You’ve got to be kidding.” I can tell this isn’t going to be one my “feel good” runs. It’s disappointing, but it is what it is. What is my choice at this point?

I also realized at about this time that I had practically gone mute. It wasn’t that I was too out of breath, I just could not talk! One of my favorite parts about running with these ladies is our encouraging conversation and now I could not participate, just listen. I apologized to my fellow running friends, but again, it is what it is.

We finally hit some familiar area around mile 4 and saw a friend cheering us on from the sideline. I could have cried. It helped me keep going.

Mile 5 another precious friend appears cheering loudly for us, hands me sticky, sweet gummy worms which I gladly gobble up, more for the moral boost than a physical one.

Mile 6, Mile 7, plodding along virtually silent, it was unlike any training run we had taken together. The sun is shining brightly which you’d think is a blessing, but for those of us used to the cool, pitch black early mornings it made for more heat than I prefer. What can I say, I’m a fair weather runner. (Fair meaning what I determine as “fair.” It’s all relative.)

Mile 9 we saw a couple more precious faces that knew our stories and shared our lives, I wanted to cry again, but I knew better…not much margin for extra emotion, my friend holds the sign “keep running the race that is set before with endurance…” (Hebrews 12:1b) she shouts what she thinks is encouragement, “Just four more miles!” Oh Lordy…

Mile 10 gets us back on a city trail, more familiar training territory which helps. But these are the miles that are the toughest. So close to the end, yet so far.

Sweet Alisha strikes up a conversation with a lady in our pace; she tells us she ran the half marathon the day before in a nearby city. She’s one of many we had met that had done the same. I start to wonder what motivates people like this, because at that moment, as someone said to us “we just have a 5K left to run” I want to swear off running for the rest of my life and I am questioning all of our sanity.

We start to hear more crowd noise as Mile 12 comes to a close,  the cheering helps but only enough for those seconds as we pass the onlookers…we still have minutes left…funny how long those can seem when you are working so hard.

Mile 13 brings with it a final short, steep hill up to the final stretch to the finish line. At this point I’ve already recited the Lord’s Prayer a few times, but I get real with God and in my head I pray something like, “Dear Lord, I am asking in all that is holy, send your Holy Spirit to push me up this hill to finish so that I can say it was you and not me.”

I had been dragging a few steps behind my two friends, but as I hit that hill, and you can ask my witnesses, it wasn’t a second or third wind that took over, it was a miracle push that could have only come from the answered prayer. I felt good for the first time in the 13 miles! I ran up that hill and even picked up speed for the last hundred yards! The crowd is cheering, I hear my name over the loud speaker and I spot my kids and husband, Tyler. All I can do is hug each of them and let a few tears fall that cannot be stopped.

I find my running mates and we embrace totally spent and sweaty. Immediately I know I need fluids and an angel friend I hadn’t seen in ages appears and hands me a chocolate milk. Praise Jesus.

I manage a few pictures with my friends before knowing I’d better sit before I pass out, not knowing that sitting signals the EMT’s to swoop in. It’s quickly determined I’m dehydrated enough to need to sit on a sad little cot while I’m monitored for a few minutes while I eat my humble pie. Okay, it was a banana, but whatever.

So I’m finally dismissed by my new friends (Brian and Tracy  wherever you are thank you for assisting me and doing your jobs well!) and they tell me to keep drinking fluids but call 911 if I fall down. Awesome.

At this point my legs are too stiff and sore to even think about celebrating anymore and I just want to rest. (Well, before that could happen it was…Now where’s the car? Where’s my key? Who has my phone? Where are the kids? For the love of all that is holy Just somebody get me home, please!)

No one told me this is the point where it feels like childbirth has occurred. I have soreness in places I didn’t know existed on my body and I feel the need to weep from hormones/emotions(!?) People are checking on me to see how I am doing and Tyler brings me water and Ibuprofen while I wonder why in the world anyone would ever choose to put his/her body through this ever again. The main difference was my finishing medal wasn’t needy. It just hung out silently observing my craziness.

That afternoon I try to process all I went through and write at least five different blog posts in my head. I finally feel well enough to act human around others so we go out to eat. I only half-joking ask Tyler if I can wear my medal. He said no.

I felt better the next day, but here I am day 4 post race and I still cringe using stairs. The memories are beginning to be sweeter and I can laugh about my muteness during the race and crazy recovery. This phenomenon, how we are created, that the acute pain and grueling work fades into remembering the joys and shared experience is why we are able to take the next step. It’s why people can have more than one child, how we survive trials, and why people choose to run again. This pain on earth only lasts for a relatively short while compared to the life that comes after.

“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:11

half marathon groupOh, how I desire to reap the harvest! Praise be to God He gives us running buddies to train with all along the way if we are willing to take their hand and believe together. I realized out on the long, course though, it was up to me to choose to run with God. My friends couldn’t make that choice for me although they encourage me to do so. The last half mile it was God physically helping me to cross the finish, just He and I. But goodness it was glorious to have my friends and family all there, too.

family 13.1Now I actively rest. Alisha outlined this beautifully in her post this week. We don’t kick back and eat chocolate as we “rest.” When in the throes of a trial or just beginning to recover from one, be gentle with ourselves, but alert and moving. I’m willing, if you are?

“Keep a cool head. Stay alert. The Devil is poised to pounce, and would like nothing better than to catch you napping. Keep your guard up. You’re not the only ones plunged into these hard times. It’s the same with Christians all over the world. So keep a firm grip on the faith. The suffering won’t last forever. It won’t be long before this generous God who has great plans for us in Christ—eternal and glorious plans they are!—will have you put together and on your feet for good. He gets the last word; yes, he does.” 1 Peter 5:10 msg (emphasis mine)

Yes, indeed, He gets the last word.

I tried to tie myself into knots all week worrying and wondering how to write this post about such an emotional experience for me and do it justice, but I gave myself a deadline for today, which just so happens to be Good Friday. And so I soak up God’s goodness that He arranged it to be this way for me, that He can so graciously yet resolutely remind me that this isn’t about my work.  There is no need to prove to myself or anyone what I can do or how well I can do it. Jesus died so that it is finished. I can feel a new rest soaking into my bones when I say that aloud…it is finished.

Dear Lord, I pray for the person reading this today that he or she will feel free to lay at your feet, at the cross, whatever is hindering his or her current race. Although you bless our obedience, your Son did all the work. We do not have to try harder, do more or drive ourselves into the ground with expectations that do not come from you. Let us rest in your son’s dying words on the cross. It is finished. (John 19:30) In your Son’s most Holy name. Amen