It was race morning. Our 5.30 alarm was accompanied by the sound of pounding rain. I could almost hear my two-year-old granddaughter’s favorite question, “Are you KIDDING me?!??” And as we drove to the marathon, all I could think was, “So at what point do you pull the plug?”
My daughter Kat and I waited under a small tent by the porta-potties that landmarked the start of the marathon. It was 49 degrees and still raining. Immediately, I noticed something very different here. No fancy running clothes and none of the arrogance that pervades big citified marathons. This rag-tag lot came to run, dressed in make-shift apparel to fend off the weather, some huddling under plastic garbage bags in an attempt to stay dry. I looked out into the rain and turned to Kat, who had just consumed the ultimate pre-marathon fuel: a blue-and-purple-frosted pop-tart. She smiled at me and quoted what she has always heard her dad say, “Everyone runs when it’s nice outside.” For sure, she possesses a large chunk of her father’s DNA. I was already shivering. Bill handed me his cycling “sleeves” to ward off the chill.
In the first few miles, we were all soaked, the trail muddy and rutted with rain. We veered around the largest puddles, which stood like a chain of lakes on the path. The cluster of 100 or so participants at the start quickly unraveled into a colorful thread of solitary runners. Soon, I came upon one ancient runner, who listed to one side, but kept up an impressive pace. This 76-year-old was running his 260th marathon, chatting away about another one next month and a 2.48 finish at Boston when he first started marathoning at 45. Whoa. I was awestruck.
The views and spring foliage were shrouded by a steady downpour of rain, low-lying clouds, and a trail of mud and cinders. At one point, the bridge over a large divide had been demolished by a tornado, causing us to scramble down a steep slippery embankment and literally claw our way up the other side. Cows stared at us from both sides of the path, silent spectators totally bored with it all.
Comprised of several out and back portions, the course required a two-way passage of runners coming and going. Even before I could see her through the rain, I could hear Kat shouting out, “GO, MOM!!” each time as she passed me. A woman in a red tank top, who ended up as the overall female winner, repeatedly cheered me on by name. I surmised that she had been running with Kat at some point (pictured above). Later, I discovered that Annette is a world-class ultra-marathoner who had incorporated this race into a five hour training run. Again, whoa. I was running among legends. A young man flew past me, wearing flip-flops.
My second time through the bridge detour -- the Valley of Despair -- at mile 16 initiated a slow hemorrhage of what energy I had left. Several miles later, my iPod earphones no longer functioned as there was too much water in my ears to keep them in. The thin white wires now danced and slapped against my race number, creating a rhythm for my feet. In front of me, I found a large man shuffling up the final ascent to the 21.5 mile turnaround. As I inched past him, he remarked that he had run another marathon the day before, accomplishing his first back-to-back marathons. “Not as hard as I thought,” he cheerfully concluded. The patriotic colors of his damp shirt announced 50 marathons in 50 states. I was truly eating a huge piece of humble pie at this point.
I splashed through the puddles now, no longer wasting any energy to go around them. Heading downhill, sheer gravity and my trusty German stubbornness pulled me toward the finish line. Kat, who had already finished, ran the final half-mile at my side, chatting away with words I can’t remember. The last two-tenths of a mile seemed endless. A man in a very wet windbreaker reached out and pulled the tag off my race number. “You’re done,” he informed me. I hadn’t even seen the finish line. I hobbled across the road to a warm towel held out by my gracious husband who had been waiting patiently in the rain, cheering us on and handing us baby Snickers and power gels as needed.
I finished my seventh marathon, but something significant happened on this run. As everything in me screamed, “You don’t EVER have to do this again,” I was wooed instead to the adventure of it all, the opportunity to do something again far beyond my own capabilities. I faithfully train, but the marathon itself takes me past what I can do on my own accord. It reminds me that life OUGHT to be an adventure. God designed it that way. And life is not just getting through the cold rainy days and miry bogs. But embracing the strength God imparts.
Blessed be the LORD,
who daily bears us up.