That time I ran 9.32057 miles

This last Saturday, I ran my first ever “real” race (as I mentioned before, I’ve done a 5K or two but never with any preparation or particular interest).

And, y’all. I’m not gonna lie. It was hard.

I’ve been “training” (meaning running, whereas normally I don’t) semi-steadily for about three months now, and I even ran pretty much the entire race course two weeks ago. That time around, it was really, really good. I felt great the whole time. Our pace was good. I felt like I had energy and speed to spare, and I fully expected to run the real race with an even better time and even more energy (since the day that we ran the practice run, I hadn’t run in 21 straight days due to insane busyness).

selfie

{Me and my running girls, Emily—middle—and Amy—right}

I guess you can already tell from the way that I’m building this up that that’s not what happened.

Last week was challenging. Shaun was out of town. Kids were sick. We were busy (when are we not?). I didn’t sleep much.

But the morning of the race, I woke up feeling energetic and ready.

I got up plenty early enough to be at the race 45 minutes ahead of time, but that time quickly got eaten up by wet roads (I had spent the night at my mom’s house, which is 45 minutes away from the run site, and the folks going 20 below the speed limit on the 2-lane highway were, well, driving me nuts), a detour through the McDonald’s drive-thru for oatmeal when my stomach declared with great indignation that the banana I ate at 6 AM wasn’t going to hold me through the race and a futile trip to Wal-Mart in search of two very specific things—a fanny pack (yes, you read that right) and jelly beans (for mid-race energy-spikes)—neither of which I or any of the available employees could find. So, I left having kissed 14 precious minutes goodbye and wondering what the world has come to when two such quintessentially Wal-martesque items are nowhere to be found.

When I finally got there with only 18 minutes to spare until start time, I ended up running a good 1/4 mile just to get to the race because the parking was so insane.

Turns out that’s because 3,000 people were signed up to run the 15K, the 5K, or the 1K. It was bananas! (And I don’t just say that because that’s what they handed out after the race).

The next 15 minutes were a blur of finding my friends, picking up my race packet (something I had hoped to do before the morning of but never had time to), and pinning on my number while my friend, Amy, tied my running chip to my shoelace.

emilymeamu

{Don’t we look ready to take on anything?}

I am a competitive person, especially with myself (although I have mellowed considerably over the years). But I had deliberately chosen a very laidback approach to this race. I didn’t download any running apps to my phone. I didn’t train for speed, just endurance. And I didn’t think much about the race. Not that I had time  to do that anyway with the chaotic week leading up to it and then the hectic morning of.

But as we jostled our way to our pace group, dodging elbows and sliding sideways between bodies, I could feel the collective adrenaline rush of the crowd seeping into my veins.

Before we hardly had time to snap that selfie above, the starting signal sounded, and we were off, lumbering along like a huge blobby spider with innumerable arms and legs. I couldn’t take the herky-jerky pace of speeding up to avoid someone’s advance only to slow down to keep from rear-ending the next person for very long and almost immediately felt my legs starting to churn faster and faster, almost of their own accord. I started passing people quickly, weaving in and out among the close bodies, looking for a piece of pavement to call my own. Of course, later on, I found out that you’re supposed to stay with your pace group for X amount of time before passing and felt bad for breaking running etiquette, but I can’t deny that I was relieved to find a little breathing room.

For about 3 miles, I ran at a steady clip, aware that my pace was way too fast considering the number of miles left but too exhilarated to care.

And then, we hit the first hill.

Y’all.

Apparently, my legs had been planning a mutiny that whole first 3 miles because as soon as we started the incline, it was like they both yelled, “NOW!” and just shut down. People started passing me like I was standing still.  But the more I commanded my legs to put on the speed, the more they thumbed their noses (this is getting to be confusing, as metaphors go) at me.

The next mile was brutal. Suddenly, I was famished, which is strange because I never notice hunger when I run (I suppose it might have had something to do with my burst of speed at the beginning). And the Jolly Rancher fruit chews I’d bought in lieu of finding jelly beans were in a pocket that was almost impossible to reach while running in a crowd (which I now was again after slowing my pace so dramatically). I felt woozy and found myself praying for supernatural energy less than halfway through a race I’d finished with ease only two weeks before.

A water station was coming up, and I grabbed a paper cup and sloshed a little water into my mouth before dumping the rest on my red face. And then I spotted a man holding out something I desperately needed—a little plastic sleeve of “running chews” (which serve the same purpose as my jelly beans cum fruit chews). It was a little like playing a video game in which your character only has one sliver of life left, and you’re desperately maneuvering your controller hoping that you can grab the gleaming, life-replenishing coin over there in the corner of the screen before you either get taken out by an enemy or someone else gets there first.

I reached out my hand and snagged the energy chews just as I lurched past the man. Of course, my hands were slick with water and sweat, and those little plastic serrated edges are beyond impossible to rip open when you’re not shaky from fatigue, slimy-fingered, and—oh yeah—running. It took me the next 1/4 of a mile to finally rip the package open with my teeth and wrestle one of the chews out as, all the while, more and more of the runners I had passed at the beginning returned the favor.

And it took another 1/2 mile before I felt any effect from the chews, and when I finally did start to feel a little better, I realized something: I hadn’t seen the 5 mile marker yet. Surely, I would soon.

But I didn’t. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other hoping to see the blessed sign that would assure me I wasn’t stuck on some of sort of sadistic outdoor hamster wheel. But I never did. I was starting to be convinced that I had wandered into the mile from Hades, and I started praying again, “Lord, please let them have skipped a mile marker or let me have missed it somehow.” I was hardly done praying that before I saw a sign that said, “6 miles.”

Hallelujah!

By this point, my energy had stabilized, but I still couldn’t put on the bursts of speed that I wanted. And I knew something: to finish strong, I’d need to dig deep enough to find the strength for the 3 remaining hills, one of which is a monster. Not only that, but the end of the course was the hardest section—because of the hills but also because of the circuitous nature of the neighborhood we were running through.

I fought the urge to dread those last three miles because by now, I had started to see a pattern: just when I felt despair creep up behind me, I would cry out to God for help. And he would answer with the very thing that would get me through to the next mini-crisis.

So, as I wound my way up a shallow incline and felt my energy beginning to wane again, I prayed, “Lord, I know it’s just a race and doesn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things, but I want to finish well. Could you please send me something to help me do that?”

Which is when I spotted a ponytail I thought I recognized. As I got closer, I could see that it belonged to Cami, a girl that takes my BODYCOMBAT class. As it turned out, she had no one to run with and was only too happy to hang with me until the end.

And you know what? As soon as I started running with a partner, my leg strength returned. Even as I watched others I’d been chasing for 5 miles slow down to a walk on the soul-crushingly long hill, I felt renewed and invigorated—at least as much as I could hope to after a 7 1/2 mile slog so far.

me and cami

{So grateful Cami helped me finish strong!}

Cami and I ran together for another mile or so before she needed a break and told me to go on. And as I ran up another hill that a very energetic man kept loudly assuring me was “THE VERY LAST ONE” (I knew differently because I’d already done the course), I felt the weighted down feeling creep back into my legs. Until I heard someone calling, “Gooooooooo, Abbbbiiiiie!” and looked up to see my friend, Adrianne, wearing her newborn baby in a wrap and pumping her fist and cheering as I ran past. With only 1/3 of a mile and one last short hill left, I felt a surge of adrenaline.

Running through the finish line was a jumble of waving arms and shouted directions and general discombobulation—so much so that it never occurred to me to look for the finish-time clocks.

So, when Amy and Emily came through a few minutes later and asked when I’d finished, I honestly had no clue.

But I did look up my results later, and this is what I discovered:

I ran 9.3 miles in 1:25:36. That averaged out to 9:13 min./mile.

I placed 28th out of 120 women (I had originally thought there were more but found the exact number after digging around a little on the internet).

Impressive? Hardly.

As good as I’d hoped for? Um, no. (I would have been happy with anything below 9 min/mile).

But good enough for a girl who had decided not to care about standings or finishing times and just wanted to run a 15K and enjoy the process? Absolutely.

Race-running is such a common metaphor for life that it feels almost cliché to attempt to extrapolate any of my experiences from this race into something deeper or more existential.

And yet…

I was reminded several times throughout the race that God is in the details of our lives. He cares even about the actual races that we run. He hears our cries of desperation when we feel like we can’t place one more literal foot in front of the next. He provides unexpected little refreshments at the most crucial moments of our race courses—the exact times when we need something, anything  to help us push through. How much more does he care about the daily circumstances of our life’s race? The ones that shape us into the kind of people that we yearn to be? (Answer: so much more).

Of course, the fact that he cares isn’t the same as giving us permission to give up. Whether it’s something as trivial as pressing on during epic grocery trips with inopportune potty breaks or something as grave as a life-threatening illness or painful as a divorce, until the Lord takes us home, we have to keep running or jogging or walking or limping along sure in His promises that he will never leave us or forsake us.

As I talked to my friends after the race, they told me they had struggled more than usual just like I did. We had all had moments of crisis when we just felt like quitting. And none of us were particularly pleased with our times. We were pretty sure we knew the culprit too: after regularly running in “crisp” 30 degree weather with very little humidity, we had raced in 65 degree weather with humidity so high it felt like you were breathing in Jell-o on the hills that blocked the blessed breeze that blew during parts of the race. That moisture weighed down our lungs and dragged at our legs, making our breathing ragged and our pace sluggish.

race finish

The race conditions weren’t exactly ideal.

But—and I’m not trying to be cheesy or trite here, I promise—how much more aren’t we promised ideal circumstances in this life? How many times have you spilled something on yourself right before a big job interview or had a kid start puking right before a big event? How often does a sick person do everything possible to improve her health, only to be faced with a grim diagnosis when she goes back to the doctor?

Life’s not fair. It can’t be. There’s too much sin and depravity and general humanity rubbing up against itself for that. We strive and jump through the hoops and make all the right decisions, only to come up short during the big test. So not fair.

But then there are the times that we slack and complain or make a careless mistake. And lo and behold, we don’t get fired, and our kid forgives us for forgetting to pick him up after piano practice. That’s not fair either.

If I’m honest, I should be relieved more often that I don’t get what I have coming to me than outraged that something didn’t go as I’d hoped. 

So, the ultimate takeaway from this race for me was relief that I hadn’t quit and that my time, though not noteworthy, was respectable. But even more so, I was grateful for a God who hears my prayers and gives me the little bursts of strength I need to do (relatively) hard things.

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the [b]author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

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12 thoughts on “That time I ran 9.32057 miles

  1. Happy and proud that you ran the entire race (which I still think is an amazing feat no matter what!). I love that God showed you the reality in th metaphor, and the metaphor in the reality. :)

  2. Oh wowsa!! My legs are cramping & my lungs are burning just reading this….haha! Way to go! So proud of you finishing & for doing it with the Lords help. Really loved your analogy of race running with life……so very true! Praise The Lord that He runs the race with us and never tires or falls when we do! Thx for the update….I was curious bout how it went :)

  3. Loved ypur story. I will be doing my first race in 5 yrs. I joined a running club on a couch to race prog. I have 2 moore wks. You r really inspiring physically and spiritualy. Thank you Melody

    1. I think I want to try a half. After running the 9, I definitely think if I trained a little more, the 13.1 would definitely be a doable/”enjoyable” distance. I don’t think I ever want to do a full, though. That sounds…time-consuming.

  4. You should check out http://www.hipssister.com/. They sell fashionable “fanny packs” that work great for running. They are spandex and fit snug around your waist. I have one of the “park city sisters” and love it. Perfect for running, or to wear when your outfit doesn’t have pockets and you don’t want to lug around a purse.

    Great job on your race!

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