Sunday, October 31, 2004

Going the Distance

Posted originally 10/30/2004

How did I get here?
As an avid runner I realize that I am always pushing myself to find more ways to challenge myself. I began running out of duty when I joined the Marine Corps in 1985 and it wasn’t until I got out of the military that I started running for my sanity and for fun. I entered my first 5K road race in 1990 and easily came in second place for my age group. (Poor turn out I suppose!) From that first trophy I was hooked and went on to run many, many more races and often brought home shiny trophies lauding my accomplishments. It wasn’t long before I decided to challenge myself with a marathon. Now, I am no speedster and so my goals changed from winning to just finishing. I simply wanted to be able to say “I did it!” In November of 1992 that is exactly what I did. I completed the Atlanta Marathon in 4:59:02 and was the very last runner to officially finish the race. You can probably guess what happened next. I decided that just finishing was okay but I really knew I could do better. So I did another…and another and soon began looking for yet a greater challenge. The Triathlon was next and finally the “Ultra”. An Ultra is any race longer than a marathon (26.2 miles). In both endurance type races, Triathlon and Ultra’s, there are usually an option for a “short course” or sprint distance. This is generally thought to encourage beginners to at least attempt going the distance. So if you register for a 50 mile race such as the Glacial 50k/50M and you run more than 50k but less than the 50 miles you attempted you still get a prize for finishing the 50k and you are considered to have completed the short course.

Now the general idea when you first register for a race is that come race day you are prepared. Training is usually involved and it may or may not include running distances equal to or greater than the actual race distance. Either way, one doesn’t go out to race an Ultra without running a few miles in preparation. Nutrition is also a big factor in how you perform during a race. I expended over 3100 calories during my race and had I not fueled my body properly I would not have had the energy to finish. On any endurance race if you feel yourself getting ‘hungry’ you are usually too late to give your body what it needs to go the distance. You need to fuel yourself throughout the race to give your body a steady source of energy to make it to the end. Hydration works the same way. If you find yourself feeling dehydrated you already are. It is so important to fuel and hydrate before, during and after any race and not to wait until you feel you “need to” because it is too late by then.

This brings me to my most recent race the Chicago Lakefront 50K/50M. I opted to race the 50k because I hadn’t really been training since finishing the Timberman Half-Ironman in August.

Ready, Set, Go.
October 30th, 2004 began cold and windy as I arrived at the race start/finish point and found a place to park. Ultra’s don’t draw the huge crowds that a Marathon does so it’s relatively easy. I went to the registration table to get my race number and shirt and find out any last minute details that may not have been posted earlier. Races are always interesting to me and I find myself fascinated by the varied mix of people who show up to race toward a common goal. I saw runners of all types: lean, short, heavy set, old, short, young and some with physical handicaps. All ethnicities and body types, some in expensive outfits and others in an old pair of sweats but they all had their running shoes laced and were ready to get started. On this particular morning, I noticed several who looked like they just wanted to go back home and crawl back into a warm bed. The cold took a little of the excitement away and I am sure that many were questioning their judgment or sanity.

I chatted with two women runners standing nearby as racers gathered at the starting line. One thing is true of endurance athletes – they are friendly! The women and I discussed our projected finish times and what we were planning on doing after the race. I was glad to share a few moments and get some of the jitters out of the way. We were all from different backgrounds, experiences, and we all had different motivations for being there and yet there we were ready to tackle 31 miles in the cold and wind. Different reasons but same goal – to finish.

We are off!
I ran out onto the course starting the first of three loops that would bring me back to the same start/finish area. I am thinking of my strategy and quickly decided to break the race up into segments between aid stations. The aid stations are approximately 2 ½ miles apart so that gave me roughly 12 segments. So I started to pray. (That is what I do best while running.) I started with my spiritual covering and prayed for both Pastor Stackhouse’s and then other Church leaders. I passed the first aid station taking in fluids and some sodium and moved into praying for our government. I was through praying before I got to the second aid station and so I started to praise God in psalms and adoration. When I did reach the aid station I realized I was only about 6 miles into a 31 mile race and I had better stay focused on something other than the 25 miles left to go! I began praying in the Spirit for my sister and her children who are unsaved and dabbling in the demonic. I just kept praying, praising and pressing on and every time I passed a fellow runner I would shout a word of encouragement. “Way to go!”, “Keep it up”, and “You’re looking strong!” became common echoes along the route. Most people just smiled and said nothing but kept on running. Before long, the first loop was done and I was headed out on the second one. It was shortly into the second loop that it occurred to me that an endurance race is much like our Christian walk.

When we accept Christ it is just like taking up running. We are getting started and changing our lifestyle. We all enter into the body of Christ at different levels and from different walks of life. When we are first called by the Holy Spirit to get involved and make a commitment to further the Kingdom of God we are registering for a ‘race’. Once we have committed to evangelize, lead a group, minister to children or simply serve as a janitor, we need to train. We must fuel ourselves with the Word of God and make all the necessary preparations to accomplish the goal. We must train our hearts and minds in the things of God and exercise our gifts of the Spirit.

Are we there yet?
It was now almost 11:00 am and I noticed many runners starting to slow down and some were even walking for periods. The wind picked up considerably and it grew even colder. It seemed as if fatigue was approaching for many as they would merely grunt when I sent them a word of encouragement. Everyone was still moving forward although with considerably less zeal as they showed at the start. I saw a man limping on the side of the path and asked him if he was alright. He assured me it was just a muscle cramp and so I prayed for him and told him I would keep praying for him. As a general rule of thumb, I always try to smile and give others an encouragement as I run and even more so during a race where I know the effort is really being put forth. As I ran on ahead of the man limping I realized anew how important the simplest encouraging word can be. Except for these brief words of support as we passed one another the only words I heard were the prayers on my lips and the songs in my heart. The wind blocked out all background noise and created its own shuffling of leaves that kept pace with my feet. My children were lifted up through the next two aid stations and then petitions and thanksgiving for Valerie carried me through another fuel stop.

Every aid station brought a reality check. Am I hydrated enough even though it’s cold outside? Do I have enough fuel to keep me going to the next station? Are my shoes comfortable or should I retie my laces? As I moved out of the aid station again and on toward the finish I found myself pondering my options: I could keep going at whatever pace I could muster and finish the race, I could quit and walk back to the parking lot and just go home since I already had my shirt as a sign of my participation, I could walk the rest of the way and still finish under the cutoff time, and who would care anyway? No one would blame me for quitting since I only had two hours sleep and it was freezing cold and windier than ever. Under these circumstances I could almost justify it to myself. Again the Holy Spirit brought to my mind my walk with Jesus.

We all start out serving the Lord full of energy and ready to go the distance. We may have a perfect environment to serve Him in or we may instantly find ourselves fighting a headwind. As we continue in our service we may encounter sore feet, hurt feelings, cramped toes, or blisters on our hearts but we keep pressing on toward the prize. If we are not maintaining a personal relationship through the reading of the Word and communicating with our Lord we will run out of energy during the ‘race’. We need to stay focused and constantly re-sighting on Jesus so that we are not fatigued and unable to finish what we started. We may feel discouraged, overwhelmed or just plain tired but we always have options or choices. It is a choice to keep going and really the only thing we have control over.

Heading back to begin the third and final loop was a mental struggle. The start/finish had to be passed twice before reaching the finish line. Just as there are big and small, old and young, and novice and experienced runners you also have fast and slow. The second loop drove that home as I realized some of the runners were finishing the race as I was just going back to begin the final loop. Oh, to be in their shoes! I could feel both of my big toenails pressing up on my shoes a sure sign that I would eventually find huge blisters under the nails. I decided the only way to keep my focus was to continue the spiritual warfare begun earlier. I kept praying in the Spirit and when my mouth was too dry I would sing a song in my heart and recall the Word that I had hidden in my heart. It is amazing what can happen when we focus on Jesus and His unfailing love for us! I was almost to the turn around on the last loop of the race! Thanksgiving and exaltation starting pouring out of me as I realized I had just five miles left. At that point, I knew I would finish and I knew that it wasn’t by my strength.

The finish.
I picked up the pace the last quarter mile seeing the finish line in my line of sight. I could feel the adrenaline rush from just knowing that I had done it once again. The medal was put around my neck and I pushed the timer on my watch and the race was over. That was it. Out of 132 runners who raced that Saturday I had finished 69th. Out of the 52 women who raced I finished 19th and of those in my age group I finished 3rd ~ It doesn’t get much better than that for me! I had taken 48 minutes off my previous time at the same race last year. I could only think of one thing at that point “THANK YOU LORD”!

God allowed me to run the race so I could ‘see’ what He has called each of us to do. We are to strive to obtain the prize of His High Calling! (Phil. 3:14) We may not be the fastest, best dressed, or the most physically fit but if we lean on Him and prepare ourselves for the race ~ we will finish. Some will finish faster than others and receive another calling to serve somewhere else, some will not finish at all, discouraged by the challenges of the event. Others will start out with a goal to go 50 miles but will end up finishing the short course. Although we already have our shirt and race number (salvation) we are still challenged with running the actual course to achieve the prize. We may face all the elements, injury, or fatigue that threaten to stop our progress but at every step of the way we have a choice to quit, slow down, walk, or keep pressing on at the same pace we started. Our motivation regarding our call or ministry may be different from everyone else but the goal is the same. We are called to live for Christ and preach the gospel.

We are in a spiritual endurance race and if we are going to attain the prize we need to resolve to finish no matter what. No matter what the ‘weather’ is like or how many blisters we may get or how discouraged we may feel. We may not be the elite in the race who break records. We may be a middle of the pack runner or even a race walker but regardless of our skill level we CAN finish the race. I don’t want to DNF (Did Not Finish) when all is said and done. I want to have run the race worthy of His calling.
It requires training, strategy, aid stations to keep you fueled and many words of encouragement along the way. It is not enough to receive those encouraging words it is actually more important that you give encouraging words.

The post race praise.
The man who was limping on the second loop came over to me as I was stretching after the race to thank me for praying. He said to me “Thanks, I finished!” but his face said so much more. The disappointment and discouragement I had seen earlier was gone and replaced with a look of extreme satisfaction and joy. Another man came up to me as I was almost ready to leave and shared how hearing my prayers made him realize that he was not where he needed to be in his relationship with God. He shared how he has watched his wife pray for 7 years since becoming a Christian and he never understood what it was for and why it was necessary. He said I had changed that for him and he would be going to Church the following morning with her and get himself right with God. I was overwhelmed by what God was doing knowing that I had nothing to do with it. The only thing that I had done was what I am called to do... “run with endurance the race that is set before me.” Heb 12:1b

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I love Jesus and want my life to be a reflection of His life in me!

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