There are many experiences in life that I treasure and remember with a smile. There are many experiences that I certainly DON’T treasure and I hope I never have to experience them or anything close again. I bet we’ve all had both extremes when it comes to experiencing what life has to offer. The good times – Mack getting baptized, our wedding day, our 14th-anniversary-14-mile-hike, my stepson Eric sending me a text message on Mother’s day, and so many more – are certainly far more pleasant to remember than the hard times. The hard times – leaving my parents’ home because I was running away from being sexually abused for years by my dad, holding the hand of my dear sweet Granny Beverett and singing Amazing Grace to her while she passed away, moving away from our home in Auburn last summer – are the times we sometimes don’t want to remember. Those times, although difficult, are often times of growth but so often I find that I don’t truly appreciate that until after it’s over.
Growth is a good thing. It means becoming more of who God intended us to be. However, it’s rarely easy and usually requires giving up something. The problem with that is that we feel the loss so much quicker than we realize the gains. And, none of us really WANT to give up something. In the words of the famous cliche, we want our cake and we want to eat it too. (Who doesn’t!) Even so, we know that to go up, we must give up and on our good days we do. Sometimes life happens and we don’t have a choice, but more often, it’s a decision point that we face and we can choose to move forward or turn around. We don’t like it, we may cry over it, and knowing it’s going to be to benefit us in some way seldom softens the blow. But, on an intellectual level, we understand that is the cost and so we do it.
This is what I thought about last Saturday. I started out that morning with the goal of completing my fourth marathon and hopefully completing it under four hours, which would be a personal record. I put the work in to train and prepare, I ate well, I practiced, I did long runs and short runs and I did everything I could to set myself up for success. Almost.
I was right on target for the first nine miles. I ran with the pace group at a consistent pace, right around 9 minute miles. I pushed hard to keep the pace up the “big” hill, and felt relieved when I recovered with no problem and grabbed some water at the next water stop. I took my gel pack right on time to make sure I kept my energy up. It was overcast, but the temperature was already hot and with over 90% humidity, I simply couldn’t keep my body cool. I was drenched with sweat by the time I got to the second mile. My visor was so wet the velcro wouldn’t stick and it kept slipping off my head. I finally took one of the safety pins from my bib and pinned it through my visor, while running, so I could keep it on. My shoes were SQUISHING with every step. I hit the nine mile marker and suddenly had a cramp. I had to walk through it and then picked back up my pace. I was a few hundred yards back from the pace group, still plenty of time to recover and catch up. Or so I thought. By mile ten I had to concede I couldn’t keep up. I walked through the next water station and took two cups of water and one of Powerade, trying somehow to stay hydrated. I knew I needed another gel but I was already feeling sick from the heat and just couldn’t make myself take one. At mile eleven, I tanked. I hit “the wall” far sooner than I should have and much sooner than I ever had in the past. Right about then, I came up on the split where the full marathon runners keep left and the half-marathon runners turn right and run the two miles back to the finish line.
For the first time in my life, I seriously considered quitting. I knew that since I was already hurting and cramping that the next 15 miles weren’t going to be pretty. I knew that I could simply turn right and be done in less than twenty minutes. I could come up with any number of excuses to justify quitting. I knew if I kept running, the next few hours would be more mental than physical, and it would certainly be a growth experience as I developed that “mind muscle” of self-discipline. I was already dehydrated and there was no way I would be able to take in enough water to rehydrate like I should. I clearly wasn’t going to make my goal of a personal record, so why keep trying to finish? What’s the point? Who would want to keep running as they continually got passed by runners who started well behind her? Who would want to spend the next three hours thinking about whether she should have trained harder, run more, started sooner, rested more, eaten more, eaten less, or whether she was simply too old to be doing this anyway?
I think we all face decision points in life, much like I faced at that mile marker. Keep going, keep pushing, continue working toward what we want, even when it means we won’t always be successful – or turn around and quit.
I thought about how it was going to be tough to keep going and how hot it was already and how much I simply wanted to sit down and rest. I thought about it. Then, I thought about how the rest of my day would be like if I quit. I thought about the drive home, the rest of the weekend, the rest of my life and telling everyone who had supported me that I simply gave up because it wasn’t going to be fun or easy. I thought about the T-shirt that I wouldn’t wear with pride and the medal that I wouldn’t hang up because I didn’t earn it. I thought about giving up on myself because it was easier to quit than to keep going.
I’ll spare you most of the details of the next few hours. It wasn’t pretty. I had trained for four hours of running, not five and half and not for that heat. I hurt, my muscles cramped up, I very nearly cried several times but running was hard enough and I didn’t have the energy. I texted Mack and told him I was going to finish even if I had to walk the whole way. I knew I was in trouble when the other runners started asking me if I was ok…..and the medic on the golf cart started following me. I kept going – and when one of the other runners simply laid down on a bench and stopped, I said, “Not me.” and kept going. I watched runners who were thirty years older than me pass me and wished them well. And, I kept going.
I think this medal is my favorite because I worked harder for it than any other. It’s not about the medal or the T-shirt, it’s what they represent. It’s knowing that I didn’t quit, although I wanted to, more than I wanted anything in a long time. It’s knowing that when I face a decision point, in a marathon or in life, I know I will make the right decision, even though it’s not the easy decision. Because nothing worth having comes easy, or cheap. And, if it’s worth starting, it’s worth finishing.