I packed on Monday, drove down with the boys to meet my husband in Albany on Thursday, ate Sushi and celebrated with my family that evening, picked up my packet, grabbed my 26.2 sticker of accomplishment (not to post until I finished, of course) and met my parents for a night of tasty pasta on Friday. I was excited, pumped, rested and ready. I thought.
When I got back to the hotel, I didn’t feel so well. I became severely nauseated and weak. I soaked in the tub thinking I needed to relax my nerves. Pre-race jitters, I suspected? I don’t think so. Nerves never affect me in that fashion. Then it dawned on me that in the last week, my boys have been back and forth with the stomach bug. Could this really be happening to me now? Really?? I collapsed on the bed and laid there still through the night.
I woke up before sunrise on race day to the sound of my alarm. I stepped outside to check the weather in preparation for the outfit I was going to wear. As expected, rain. So far, I wasn’t feeling too bad, then suddenly, I nearly passed out. I laid there on the bed for a few seconds when my husband nudged me and asked if I was alright. I went into the bathroom and laid down on the cold tile and broke out into a sweat. Great! We are here again?
I had prepared for every possible race day disaster: I had band aids for blisters, I had a back up iPod for music, I had four packs of GU for energy, Aleve for my aches, a lucky visor (my sweet running partner lent me that she and her Ironman husband wore), gloves for cold weather, but somehow I had forgotten two very important things: Pepto and rain gear. Instead, I dressed myself in a couple of layers and replaced breakfast with Pepto and a Gatorade G2 I bought on my way out. I hugged and smooched my family goodbye. Then, looking like a sleek hobo, I stepped into the wet streets of Albany and dragged myself to the starting line.
Despite the nasty stormy weather and the tornado sirens, the first 5 miles went remarkably well. Mostly because I was following the 4:25 pacer (and running from the storm). I soon fell behind slogging through the heavy downpour, soaked and suddenly weakness peaks its ugly head again. Now alone on the course for a long stretch, the crippling thoughts of loneliness and doubt were beginning to find cracks in my confidence and burrow into my brain. (There was that uninvited training devil again.)
Through my blurred vision, I caught site of an aid station ahead. I tried to keep the pace because I knew I would get the much needed fuel soon. Once I reached the station, someone must have caught sight of my stagger, because they led me to a chair, brought me a Gatorade and a banana. The sweetest sound came from her mouth, “You just sit here a minute honey (only in the South), you’ll be okay soon.” Then she asked if I still plan to finish. I felt like screaming “YES! I cannot stop now!” I have trained better than this mess I’m facing today. What is happening to me??? How could a bad day occur on race day?
I thanked her, rose to my feet and got back on to the course. I looked at my watch and saw my pace rise more than I had ever seen. I reached the halfway point 13.1 mile marker at 2:55. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I have finished several halves at 2:35 and below. I was already beginning to feel defeated. At that moment, I breathed a prayer and asked God to renew my strength. I needed Him more than ever. He has been with me throughout this journey. He has been my faithful trainer. It seemed as if all of my devotions and songs came pouring back into my thoughts again. I am living the race-today! I shouted, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength!”
I shuffled through two more miles and after I refueled with oranges, water and bananas at mile 16, my strength was completely renewed. The course didn’t get any easier though. The rain came down harder and harder. I could feel my shoes slosh and at this point, I could not hear a thing but my breathing. The sound was like the sound of someone breathing into a microphone. I went from two ear buds to one. I could hear my phone vibrating on my hip. My husband, sending encouragement getting me through each mile. Checking on me. “Keep hydrated, you can do this girl!” he said. I was in my own world. As I approached a parked car near my next turn, a young black woman leaned out her window and shouted, “Feel my energy girl! You can do this!” Although the sound of her voice was muffled, I could still make out her encouraging, sweet words. I started holding back tears and waved goodbye. “Not time for tears…yet,” I thought.
It was now mile 19. The next critical marker will be the finish line. I’m feeling all right until someone shouts, “Only seven miles to go!” I remember thinking of my training routes, that’s several times around the block. I knew I was going to have to start digging deep. The thunder kept rolling and I prayed, “God, please protect us all today.” I thought to myself, “I know Your will be done, but please let me survive this.”
Mile 20, I thought of the distance as a 10K. Like the one I ran the previous weekend. Just not with the awesome PR. Maybe I need to break into smaller, easier segments like a 5K (more like two 5Ks). I have heard visualization works better in times like these and it worked better for me mentally. I didn’t quite hit a wall; however, I started to feel my lower back ache, and my legs tightened with every stride.
The thought of one more sip of Gatorade made me gag. I was longing for water and more of the most delicious orange slices. Thank you Publix!! I was trying to dig within and find courage. I think I even offered my husband a dollar if he would just finish the race for me. His beautiful response, “I will, just come meet me!” Gosh, I love him!! He was the best cheerleader. He has seen me train and will see me finish. He believed in me when I did not. At this point in the race, he was believing for me.
Here I was, mile 23, about three miles away from the finish line. I was telling my legs to keep moving, don’t stop. I was way beyond simple fatigue, but was in a strange, challenging and ultimately enlightening state of mind. It was in that moment when I passed a church sign which lit up my favorite verse: “And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,” Hebrews 12:1. I felt God was sending me a simple reminder (and a cheer). “Run, run, run the race. Keep, keep, keep the faith. Run the race, keep the faith, and keep your eyes on Jesus! (For all you VBSers who remember that song-Game Day Central) I smiled and began to run stronger focusing on what was about to come.
Throughout mile 24-25 the course was empty and after a lonely run by the lake, I passed a smiling officer, standing and watching patiently in the lightning and pouring rain, pointing his finger to the next course. After a mile or so, I heard distance cheers for a runner several kilometers in front of me. I didn’t see any spectators anywhere in sight. Are these beautiful sounds coming from the finish line? I knew that wasn’t the case. As soon as I reached the end of the block, an entire bus packed with people (who I couldn’t see) shook while everyone inside clapped, cheered, whistled and shouted- “You can do it! You’re almost there!!” I couldn’t hold back my tears. I was overwhelmed with emotion. I waved and smiled, thanking them as I passed by.
At mile 26, I ran over a carpet across railroad tracks (in my mind, it was a red carpet), and cheers from five spectators underneath the smallest umbrella shouted, “Only 400 meters left to go!” I cheered too as I passed and praise God through this stormy day for keeping me on the course. The end was near, and I felt it. Through the treacherous rain, I saw a race volunteer leading runners into an old railroad station. I could tell it was small, but it was also shelter. It looked so amazing! What a wonderful treat. I was greeted by a camera man who snapped a picture (above) and smiled saying, “Welcome back.” “Bless you!” I said. This was the first dryness I had felt all day.
Even though the shelter lasted only seconds, it was pure joy. As I ran out the door and back on the cobblestone trail, I know I must have skipped by this woman who was drenched, cold and weary as I was. I whispered to her as I ran past her, “We are almost there!” She smiled and replied, “Congratulations!” I returned the greeting then turned for home, moving faster now. I could see the finish line in the distance. It wasn’t long until I saw my beautiful family, standing in the rain beneath an umbrella, all drenched with water and submerged in muddy soil, cheering and waving me home. I raised my hands to the sky shouting, “Whoo-Hoo,” while laughing and crying. Such an overwhelming mixture of emotions and pure joy. I didn’t see anyone in front of me. I was seriously thinking, I may have won this thing, lol. The race clock, of course, tells a different story!
Everyone needs a bit of encouragement from time to time. Thankfully throughout the race, I felt the encouraging shouts of spectators, and digital shout-outs from my family and friends. During those lonely roads when there was no one in sight, and my iPhone lost its charge, I thank God for the scriptures that He brought back to my mind that I learned throughout my training. These helped me each step of the way. Even in the midst of our weakness and throughout our storms, we can remain hopeful and encouraged if we keep trusting God. I have found that the key is to find specific scriptures and meditate on them and according to the Word, that is how faith comes. The more we soak up the truth of God’s Word, the more assured we become that He really is going to take care of us. The important thing to remember in the midst of the hard times is that God is in complete control. He is not surprised by the events and He is not unsure how He is going to take care of His children. We are just as safe putting our trust in Him when things are going great as when it looks like everything is failing for us. Remember the scripture of Isaiah 41:10 which says, “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” I believe, without a shadow of doubt, that through my weakness, when I cried out for God’s strength, He heard my cry and carried me to the finish line. I am so thankful for His faithfulness!