Valentine’s Day made my heart skip a beat this year. And I don’t mean the kind of beat you get when a guy picks you up for a first date or you get flowers delivered to your desk at work (because neither of those things happened this year unfortunately). This Valentine’s Day, 2/14/2016, I had the opportunity to run my first full marathon. It was in Jacksonville, FL – the 26.2 with Donna National Marathon to Finish Breast Cancer. I found it in a magazine a couple of years ago at a race expo when, not 5 minutes prior, I was having a conversation with a close friend about my mom’s recent diagnosis with breast cancer and the conversation turned to marathon training. “I just really want my first one to be flat and at a beach…and you know what, how cool would it be if it benefited breast cancer research?” Then right then and then in October of 2014, the Lord turned my attention to the back of the magazine where I found “my race” and two years, later there I was at the start line.
There were 4.5 months (18 weeks) of training that led to that big pink START sign hanging above my head as my whole body shivered in the T-shirt I had designed for one of the most meaningful days of my life (with the 818 logo on the front – obviously). It was a little overwhelming to think about all the time, energy, money, tears and grit that went into that moment. I wish I was exaggerating when I say that blood, sweat and tears went into this day, but I’m not (see picture below). I quickly found that marathon training can’t be “one foot in, one foot out” and sometimes a 15 mile long run has to happen at 6AM on Saturday morning because that’s when all your friends want to run and then you end up face-planting because you missed a curb (I wish I could say I only did that once) because you’re tired, clumsy and you can’t see.
There were a lot of 5 AM Knoxville Endurance (www.KnoxvilleEndurance.com) practices on work days that led up to this day. There were a lot of days when I doubted my ability to run 26.2 miles. In those times the Lord always reminded me that every good and perfect thing comes from Him (James 1:17) and He knows the desire of my heart (Psalm 37:4). There were also many days where I thought I had it all together. For instance, the day that I ran 15 miles for the first time. Yes, it was just 15 (which is a far cry from 26.2) but it was still my “first first” of marathon training. The next day I woke up with a pain so horrible in my ankle that it was difficult to walk. After a couple weeks of physical therapy I was back on the road but my pain level continued at about a 3 throughout the duration of training. The Lord continued to remind me daily that I could not run my first marathon as a product of my own strength (Isaiah 40:29, Isaiah 40:31) – but I continually had to rely on Him mentally and physically as I continued progressing into the long weeks where there wasn’t much of a light at the end of the tunnel. My race turned into “our race” and my first marathon became much less about me and much more about God showing Himself faithful as the ultimate Healer and also about celebrating my mom’s victory over breast cancer.
So as I stood there with adrenaline pumping through my veins, me and Jesus had a lot to celebrate. We came pretty far together over those 4.5 months. 562 miles to be exact – from October 1st to February 14th. I had a lump in my throat as the National Anthem was sung and when the gun went off and pink confetti flew in the air, the feeling as I started my Garmin watch was almost surreal.
I thought about the day that I watched my dad finish his first marathon. I have never been more proud as a daughter to see my dad accomplish such a huge goal at the 50 yard line of Neyland Stadium at the Knoxville Marathon in 2012. I thought about the endless conversations I’ve had with friends who gave me advice about what that day might feel like.
There wasn’t anything out of the ordinary about the first 10 miles, to be honest, other than trying to calm my nerves down so that I wouldn’t start out too fast. There was a ton of support along the streets of A1A and Ponte Vedra and by around mile 4 I was running along the beach looking up at the most beautiful day. It was about 50 degrees and not a cloud in the sky. Somewhere between mile 10-11, I saw my first familiar face screaming my name as I passed by, extra blue Gatorade in hand ready to refill my water belt and cheer me on for about half a mile. Becca Mabry (our Becca here at 818) came with me to Jacksonville and rode a shuttle along the way to see me at this stop and at mile 18. At mile 10-11, I greeted her with a smile and was able to talk a little bit before she turned around to head back to the bus and go to the next stop.
At mile 18, it was a different story. My quads were starting to get tired and I was starting to feel the effects of going out about 15-20 seconds per mile faster than my coach told me to (sorry, Robin!). I saw Becca, she cheered for me and gave me a high five. “How are you doing?”, she asked. “Tired,” I said. “Just talk to me. I can’t say much.”
She ran with me about 4-5 minutes, wished me good luck and rode the bus to the finish line. Every mile became exponentially harder than the last, and I started to question why I was running this kind of distance in the first place. GU packets became hard to swallow. I started getting hot. My quads felt like I did “leg day” about 8 days in a row and then decided to go on a run afterward. Even though I was hot, my body kept chilling because of the wind outside. The wall…it was real. And then, while texting my dad an update of where I was, I finally crossed the 20 mile marker. I had been so far, but still had so far to go.
By about mile 23 I was over it and ready for some social interaction. Between watching people dropping to a walk and putting their head between their knees…I realized I had been keeping a steady pace with a husband and wife. I ran up to them and asked what their finish time goal was. “4:15…but we won’t get there in time…” they said in a “not so nice” tone of voice. At that moment, it was as if Jesus was saying, “Girl…these last 6 miles are between me and you.”
So I continued onto an exit ramp that led to this legendary bridge everyone talks about when they talk about the 26.2 with Donna. It has a beautiful view and the sky was clear blue as far as I could see. All of that was great until I realized what a steep incline it was turning out to be…at mile 24. Like everyone else, I took frequent short walk breaks, making deals with myself like, “At the 4th orange cone I will walk until the 7th one!”
Between mile 24-25 I got a text message from Becca that was a picture of the finish line. Almost instantaneously, I could also see the finish line in the distance – the Mayo Clinic. As I continue climbing up the bridge, I got way more emotional that I had anticipated (let me tell you – running, drinking water and crying is NOT a good combination). Up the bridge they had signs posted with inspirational words like empower and succeed that had notes written on them from marathoners written TO the person they were running for – 2 of which I had written on for my mom at the expo the day prior. Amongst these were other posters of women who had beat breast cancer. Also, as soon as I pulled myself together from seeing a sign I had written on, a survivor passed me wearing a T-shirt that had the day she “finished” breast cancer on the back. I was a wreck.
I realized I had saved a song for this point in my race from Elevation Worship’s new album. The song is called Yaweh. I saved it because I knew I would need it at this point in the race and I wanted to listen to it while I was gazing out over the most beautiful view of Jacksonville. I turn it on as I’m going down the other side of the bridge and I got overwhelmed as the song reached the bridge…
He who was and is to come is the One who lives in us…the Great I Am, Yaweh.
Those words are what carried me to the 26 mile marker and eventually to the finish line. God stopped me dead in my tracks and reminded me Who was giving me the strength and grit to persevere and finish in the first place. I saw mile 26 and looked up and saw the finish time clock. I gunned it and was able to finish with a good stride and a smile on my face. As soon as I crossed the finish line and stopped my watch, it was all worth it. 4 hours, 24 minutes and 37 seconds. The Lord had given me the opportunity to do something I didn’t know if I would ever quite have the guts to do. And as the woman put the medal around my neck, I don’t think she had any idea the significance of that moment.
I’ve recounted that day in many conversations since Valentine’s Day and the number one question I get asked is a simple, “How’d you do?” For me, that is a very loaded question. Did I reach my time goal? Yes, because I didn’t put a lot of pressure on myself apart from finishing and enjoying the ride. Was it the hardest thing I’ve ever done? Physically, yes. Will I do it again? Absolutely. Probably this year.
But I will never cross the finish line of my first marathon ever again. And it is a memory I will never forget. So to me, that’s what it was all about. A memory of something I’ve always wanted to do and the #1 item on my bucket list for the last 5 years.
My encouragement to you is this…stop staring at your bucket list and check something off this year. Make it memorable. Surround yourself with people who will push you toward your goal. Soak it in and you will have memories that will last a lifetime.