In July 2012 I casually mentioned to a friend that maybe someday I'll try to run a marathon. She jumped right on it - said she'd run with me, and proceeded to find possible marathons to sign up for. When we found the Salt Lake Marathon takes place on a Saturday (most are on Sundays) and that it's mostly a flat course, we decided on that one. I immediately signed up at a whopping fee of $88. I did think it weird that I was actually paying to run - something I've never enjoyed doing. I ordered a book about running marathons and began the training course immediately. 8 months of training (by the way, my friend was unable to do the marathon) with just a few setbacks (getting sick, traveling, car accident) helped me to feel like I'd really prepared myself. I read other books, talked with real marathoners, and put pictures on my dream-board to inspire me.
I had people encouraging me - especially family members and particularly Brad who would go with me on lots of my "long runs". All of this preparation made me believe that this was like anything else - just believe you can do it, practice and prepare, and then push through the exhaustion on the day of the event. That is exactly what I did ... but through some surprises I learned a whole lot about life and progression, especially those last 6 miles. There was never a time when I thought I might not complete the marathon. I knew I would finish. But I was totally blindsided by the fact that my muscles and my joints were in as much control of my movements as my mind was. I totally expected exhaustion and needing to push through that - I totally didn't expect the impact on my joints and the consistent contraction of my muscles to bend and temporarily cripple me. I also expected that as soon as I saw the Finish Line my adrenaline would kick in and I'd sprint through the end with my arms in the air, Rocky-Style as the crowd cheered me through. My reality was a little different than my fantasy.
It was a rainy Saturday and I was glad for that. I heat up really fast, and heat and my body don't get along. So the cool breeze and the misty rain was perfect for me.
It was sobering at the start line when a "moment of silence" was called for the victims of the Boston bombings. Immediately after, "Sweet Caroline" started playing through the loud speakers as the announcer counted down "5 ... 4... 3 ... 2..." GUN SHOT! The energy in the crowd was electrifying and we all started running at once. I had planned to "run a minute, walk a minute" as instructed in the book I read, but the crowd didn't slow down - so I didn't either. We ran about 3 miles before the group started to spread out a bit. And it was a fun 3 miles - lots of cheering and chatting. It was in those first 3 miles I met up with Brooke's sister-in-law, Bree.
We jogged together long enough for a picture - then she took off. Her goal was to complete the race in 5 hours, mine was to complete it before they took down the "FINISH" sign in 6 1/2 hours. I had pre-determined that I'd run each mile for a different family member. The first mile was for myself - I wanted to get excited and enjoy the scenery. And then each succeeding mile was for a different one of the individual family members.
The miles actually flew by - I loved thinking about everyone and could hardly believe when it was time to move on to the next family member. During the mile sometimes I'd pray for the person, sometimes sing something that reminded me of him/her, sometimes talk in my mind about that person ("Caci, the one who decorates for every holiday; Caci the one who loves to be in the kitchen serving even when others are playing ...") . I really loved the fact that each of you got me through the separate miles. The entire race there were people lining the streets, cheering for the runners; but the first couple of hours the crowds were especially energizing. I knew that Patti and Yayoi were coordinating to get Azure to the finish line, so at mile 11 I took a picture showing my time then texted it to them so they could plan to be there about the time I ran through. I remember thinking at mile 11, "wow - this isn't bad! 2 more miles and I will have completed a half marathon!" When I saw my time at the 11 mile mark I decided to pick it up a little. I wasn't tired, my hips hurt a little - but I was completely encouraged. So I picked up my pace. I was surprised that I never got winded or felt the type of exhaustion I feel on steep hikes like the Grand Canyon. I just felt good. I felt like I was working, but I felt good. Between mile 19 and 20 my muscles started to really hurt. My feet started hurting. I even got hungry. I popped out some G3 chews and ate an entire package and I stopped thinking about other people. I started thinking about and praying for myself. I even started talking to myself.
When I saw my time at mile 20 I got a new surge of energy. I realized that if I kept up that pace, I'd finish way before my goal. With just 6.2 miles to go I could dance through the finish line at less than 5 1/2 hours! So I picked up the pace again. Within seconds my body fought back. All at once my back bent, my knees tried to buckle, my ankles weakened and every muscle in my legs and feet tightened up. I was bent forward and was actually unable to stop moving. At one point I tried to stop and stand up straight to stretch. I said to myself, "This is easy - you can walk the rest of the way. Just stand up, breathe the fresh air, and imagine you're walking through Sitka's trails. You'll be finished in an hour and a half if you walk at a comfortable pace." So I stopped and tried to stand up straight. I couldn't. My body wouldn't. No matter what my mind said, my body refused to cooperate. So I kept moving. My pace slowed to a ridiculous crawl. I was limping and leaning (thankfully I was leaning forward or I would have been going the wrong direction!). Then it started to hail. The wind blew harder, the rain and hail picked up, and my gratitude for inclement weather disappeared. I was no longer running so I wasn't heating up at all. I told myself that I needed to run so I could stay warm - but my body wouldn't run.
I'd bring up my arms and bend my legs in jogging position and move - but it wasn't running. It was comedic shuffling. Each time I'd approach people on the sidelines cheering us on I'd try really hard to run. I know I smiled and thanked them, but my body just wouldn't run. They'd shout encouragements, "You're so close!" "Keep it up - almost there!". At some point in the last mile I saw a "lucky penny" on the ground and bent to pick it up.
I was thinking "this lucky penny will perk me up - it'll get me there faster!" When I bent, my forward motion tipped me over. Holy cow. I knew I'd better not try anything so risky again! With just 1/4 mile or so left Yayoi met up with me. A second or so later I turned to a couple who was cheering so I could thank them - it was Caci's sister, Jini and her husband, Drew. I was deeply touched that they were there! I had no idea they would be. I stopped for hugs and for the banana Jini brought. I could see the finish line, so I knew I was in time to meet my goal - my running time didn't really matter. But stopping for the hugs sent my body the message that it didn't need to hold up any longer. I grabbed on to my friends and we inched toward the finish line. This is no exaggeration - they were pretty much carrying all my weight. But when we saw the photographers there they released me and I tried to run.
I saw and heard Azure cheering for me and I desperately wanted to run through the finish line triumphantly.
The pictures of me "running" are hilarious.
I was almost to the finish line when the guy carrying the medals got tired of waiting and came up to me.
As he placed the medal over my head I tipped forward and caught myself on his arms. It must have been awkward for him - but I was just glad I didn't tip him over. Patti sent a towel and a blanket with Azure so I wrapped up as the paramedics at the finish line brought a chair for me. Yayoi's daughter brought freshly baked cookies, and Jini and Drew brought Poweraid and bananas.
While Yayoi went to get the car Jini and Azure rubbed my legs. I didn't finish triumphantly as I planned, but still I finished and I had people who cared about me right there just as pleased with me as if I had been the first to cross the line! Hugs, cheers, "I'm so proud of you" statements ... they just kept coming and coming.
"Which is harder, a marathon or natural childbirth?" I didn't answer. I wasn't sure. But there were some things I was immediately sure of. All the training, practice, reading, long runs and short runs, praying ... could not have fully prepared me. But, without the training, practice, reading, long runs and short runs, and the praying - there is no way I could have completed the marathon. The multiple prayers on my behalf, the thinking of individuals each mile - none of that would have done any good without my preparation. But my preparation alone didn't get me through the race. On the car ride away from Salt Lake City, Jini and I talked about it. This is just like life. Circumstances in life - everything that actually means something - are hard. They take effort. They take practice and preparation and prayer. And in the midst of it, there are hills and valleys and pain and beauty all at the same time. If we've prepared and done our work, we will reach a point in every meaningful circumstance where the trial is beyond our abilities. We are often blindsided by the potentially crippling effect and realize that our preparation could only take us so far. This is the point of not only proof of character, but also proof of faith and complete reliance on Divine Powers. It is the Savior who carries us those last 6 miles. And it is in those last 6 miles that the real growth occurs. Until that point it's steady, even growth - but the growth and the reward is exponential those last 6 miles. And it's beyond anything we can imagine. The pendulum swings both ways - the pain and the joy are extreme. Something else: It's not the same journey for everyone. Although 905 participants crossed the finish line that day, we each had our own experience. I can't judge whether someone else's was better or worse than mine; whether I did it wrong and they did it right ... and it really doesn't matter anyway. We all finished. And we all left with the same medal and the same T-shirt. If I would have focused, even for a minute, on who was behind me and who was in front - if I'd have taken the focus off of my race ... I may not have finished before the race was over. There's no place for comparisons in our lives. Our journeys are our own. It doesn't matter how each of us gets to the end or even when each of gets to the end. What matters is that we do it. Lesson #3 for me: All of life is easier and more joyful and even more rewarding when we're focused on others. The miles I thought about others and prayed for others were the miles that seemed to zip by. I had promised Sierra I'd think about her every 5th mile. So during those last 6 miles when I was so focused on myself, when I got to mile 25 I remembered it was time to think of Sierra again. Honestly - I don't remember much about that mile. Why? Because I stopped thinking about myself. I was thinking about Sierra in the MTC, about the exciting time ahead of her, and I was praying for her. Even when we're in the middle of pain, suffering, seemingly insurmountable trials - if we find someone else to focus on and to serve we will be happier and things will get easier. Lastly: I absolutely KNOW I could not have finished those last 6 miles without your prayers. The letter we received from Bryan a couple of days ago included him telling me that he was praying for me during the marathon. There is strength in joined prayers. There is no reason, in this life, to try to get through things on our own. We are meant to bear one another's burdens. We are meant to rely on each other.
I was so happy to have Azure at the finish line. I know others would have been there if they could have. It was only because of Patti and Yayoi that Azure was able to be there. And I was deeply touched and surprised that Jini and Drew were there for me. Those who weren't there at the finish line, but wanted to be, were cheering for me from a distance. Life is a marathon. As we do our part - practice, pray and train - The Lord will carry us when we need to be carried. And in His infinite wisdom, He will allow us the pain and suffering we need for proper growth. When we cross the finish line there will be cheers and congratulations, people we expect to be there and some really sweet surprises. And it won't matter whether we were first or last - our journeys, our personal journeys will have gotten us there.
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