Tuesday, February 14, 2012

God Speed: Lessons Learned in the Race

If you read my post Keep Running, you know I just started running 10 weeks ago as a way to grow closer to Christ and watch him shatter the limitations I've imposed on my life.

Last weekend, this newbie who once could not run a mile, ran a half-marathon in Hilton Head Island, SC. I think it's fitting that the race took place in my hometown. For many years, I had a hard time going back there, reconciling the old me with the new me and the complications of relationships and memories. I also had difficulty accepting all the new stores, roads, neighborhoods, etc that cropped up since I left and changed the place I once called "home." But as my feet began to hit the pavement at Jarvis Creek Park, a place that never existed in my growing up there and then continued onto the Crosstown Expressway, a toll-road that seemed to pop up out of nowhere, I realized several things. One, coming home is good thing, not always easy, but good. It is good to reconcile the new you vs the old one, as you are truly ONE person. And two, running this race on Hilton Head was no accident. I had prayed about this and God had led me through my training step by step. It's no accident the timing of it all coincided with the Hilton Head race. I've just added one of my best memories ever to a place that carried a mixed bag for me before. Reconciliation with place and old self by creating new memories there. Amazing.

About thirty minutes before the race, my sister-in-law Megan and I thought we should visit the restroom one more time, just in case. The line was long. So long that by the time we got there, we really did have to go which caused us to start the race 2 minutes late. However, my stopwatch was working this time (It didn't in the Charlie Post race), so I could see my accurate time and didn't sweat the small detail of missing the start. And you know what? Sometimes we start the race late, don't we? I have on many occasions in my life. I think the key is that we start running, no matter if everyone is already way ahead of us.

After getting on to the Crosstown, I saw the toll signs up ahead. This is not something we see in Charleston, so it was quite a curiosity. I believe it was $1.50 for cars. At about three miles, I was well into prayer and loving the beauty of the place, the nature, the cloudless sky. So looking at that toll bridge brought this simultaneous thought. Someone must pay the toll. But I have no money, my road-weary mind responded. But I have already paid your toll. Wow. Thank you. Yes, there is a toll and someone must pay it to pass. I am grateful that Christ has paid mine because I certainly don't have enough currency to get to the other side on my own.

When I first ran two miles with God 10 weeks ago and didn't keel over, I knew I was fully in this. However, running is still not easy for me. There are very difficult days. On a particularly hard run, I will get a bit scared about the long run ahead of me that weekend and ask friends to pray. The first time I did this, I ran like Superwoman. I realized then that I wasn't running on my own, but literally carried by prayer. Now, when I have a long run, I ask everyone, even strangers who offer, to pray for me, because I have learned something more about prayer. Humbling yourself to ask someone to pray allows them to make a choice and then draws you both closer to God. Something moves in the heavens when multiple people are coming together in prayer. Something powerful. Running the long runs have taught me to ask for prayer, and I am witness that great things happen when you do. I wonder why I don't apply this concept to other areas of my life. I have had close friends pray for me when I was "running a marathon" to finish a manuscript, and it has worked as well. Wow. Ask someone to pray for that something that seems impossible for you to do. See what happens.

Normally during I run, I don't drink water. I know, how stupid is that? But I pray for my thirst and hunger to go and it does. For the half-marathon, I decided I wanted to finish this race, not fall over from dehydration, so I decided whenever something was offered to me, I would drink it. This proved to be good and not-so good. The good part was I learned how to do the grab and go, taking a swig of water or Gatorade and tossing the cup without breaking pace or throwing water on anyone. The not-so-good part was at about 4 miles, I felt my bladder rebelling. At about 6 miles, I remember passing a sign that said "Restrooms". Yes, I passed that sign. I had never had to stop running before and was afraid I wouldn't be able to get back on track with my pacing, etc. Boy, did I think about that sign for the next over two miles! I prayed to God something akin to: please let this go away without my wetting myself, or let it just evaporate or return to my body, etc. After a good four miles of this prayer, I knew I had to go and God had not answered it. (Thank goodness, I probably would have keeled over from sickness!) Instead, he brought me back around to that same "Restrooms" sign. I almost heard angels singing. I only lost about a minute with the stop and was able to find my pace again. I am thankful God did not answer that particular prayer in the way I wanted, but he did answer it in the way he saw fit. More to come on this, but know that sometimes God will force us to take pit stops to rest or recover. We shouldn't fight these so hard and long, but rest in the fact that his timing is perfect and he sees the bigger picture.

That restroom pit stop let a lot of people in front of me who had been behind. And mind you, I started the race two minutes late. Part of me, the cruddy part, started inwardly groaning that I had lost ground and others were now ahead. But I gripped myself in prayer and instead looked at the face of a gentleman I had easily passed earlier as he now passed me while coming out of the restroom. He was grinning ear to ear, not something people do much in running races. I took pleasure in that smile and smiled myself. Good for him. I started praying again for the people around me, for the man who was limping, for the old woman who was running faster than me. I was swept up in the humanity of it all, pulling for everyone, wanting each of us =to finish this race. And then I saw her. My sister-in-law. She had gained on me when I'd gotten off track. I cheered her on and seeing her pulled me on. I watched her climb the bridge ahead, the one we'd already done on the other side. I knew how hard that bridge was and I prayed and encouraged her, knowing my time would come soon. Putting my thoughts on Megan and others took the thoughts of my own discomfort away. We have a choice in life, whether to whine about how others are getting ahead or to choose to genuinely be happy that they are achieving their dreams. I choose the latter. It makes for a much more enjoyable race.

A half-marathon is 13.1 miles. I had not run 13.1 miles before. My longest was 11 miles last weekend. I was nervous about running those last two miles. Could I do it? Well, that pit stop was apparently in God's plan for me, because I watched my sister in law for a good while and then suddenly, I was getting closer and closer and at mile 11, caught up with her. We ran side by side for those last two difficult miles silently pulling each other on. I'd run that race alone, but God gave me a companion in the most difficult stretch. I am astounded at his timing and will try not to moan so much when my life seems to be full of late starts and pit stops.

There were photographers stationed throughout the race. I don't know about you, but showing full bare legs in winter, no make-up, hair in ponytail and over 2 and a half hours of running are not the best look for me...or anyone. I just got an email with a link to my race photos and well, they're not so flattering. They do, however, show my hand raised in praise and smiling. They show I wasn't falling over. They show me doing my absolute best. They show God was finishing something he started in me 10 weeks ago. And I think they are beautiful. What about you? If photographers followed you through some of your most difficult challenges, what would the photos show? Your hand raised in prayer and praise? You doing your absolute best? Scowling or smiling? This is something I will take away from this. There are always cameras lying in wait.

In those last two miles running with Megan along the Expressway, a truck came by us with two men picking up the orange cones that had delineated our running lane. We were both thinking it. Is the race over? We looked at our watches. No, the race closes after three hours and we still had time left. We kept running and shook it off. See, even when people seem to be picking up the cones prematurely, your race is not over until it's over. Not until you give it your all and pass that line. Don't let anyone fool you into thinking you're finished when you still have miles to go. Even after everyone has given up on you, don't stop running until you know you've finished your race.

Megan finished 20 seconds ahead of me. I could see as we rounded the last corner that she put her hands up and smiled in response to someone. I knew, before I even saw them that my children and husband were waiting for me and it helped me run even faster. My son and daughter ran to greet me before the finish line and ran the last few meters with me side by side. What an unexpected joy this was. I can't help but think about this race of life and how someday, when my race is done, loved ones will be waiting for me and help me over that finish line. What a glorious day that will be.
I don't know what's in store yet. I don't know if I'll ever do a full marathon or what races, if any, will be in my future. What I do know is that agreeing to go on this journey of running has been much more than running. So much more. And here I spent my whole life thinking I'm not a runner and that this part of life was closed off to me. It makes me wonder what other parts of life I have prematurely closed for myself and what amazing blessings might wait for me if I'd just knock on those doors and have the courage to watch God do the impossible through me.
God bless your journey. There is more to your life than meets the eye. There are impossible things you are supposed to be accomplishing with God. What are they? God only knows. Ask him.

God speed.


Shellie Tomlinson said...

Mercy, Nicole, the only way I could've learned more from this post would've been if I had RAN the marathon myself. Thank you for taking the time to write such a thoughtful piece. It will stay with me for a while-- and then-- and then I do believe I'll come back and reread it!

ShaRon Leaf said...

Nicole, as I read your account of your fantastic feat (or is it feet? spell check, please), you have brought back many wonderful memories of my former running years. I almost passed out when I crossed the 1/2 marathon finish line, yet feeling like I could accomplish anything, with God's help. I hope some day we can sit over coffee and compare notes on our physical/spiritual races. As I press into my sixty-sixth year, I admit that my running times were the best. I wish Hebrews 12:1 to you, my dear friend!
Oceans of blessings, Sharon