After waiting under the stars, we sing the National Anthem. “O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.” Something about the song, the imagery of battle and victory, the flag standing amidst the smoke, sends a lump to the throat. It suddenly feels like a much more important endeavor than just a run.
The gun goes off. When you line up where I do, it takes about twenty minutes to really start. Until then, we shuffle forward, excited to glimpse the starting line. Craning our necks to see over the crowd in front of us. Ready to step over that line.
Then we’re off. The first thing to do is try to calm down and settle into a groove. A comfortable pace that feels easy. This is a challenge with other runners running all over the place, some that we have to run around, and others who run around us. No one runs the same exact pace.
At some point in most runners’ minds, the thought comes. Something like, “why did I sign up for this?” I have that thought right away, and continuously throughout. What am I doing?
I see my friend Mandy at mile 10 and get a boost. It’s amazing the effect personal encouragement has when you are out there. She runs with me for a few minutes and tells me I’m looking good. I straighten up, run a bit taller, and carry on.
Sometime around mile eleven, I get a stomach cramp. Painful enough to get my attention. And with discomfort comes doubt. For me, the hard work of a long run is really about staying out of my head. My head likes to judge and assess and critique and act like it knows something.
I begin to repeat my mantra, "All is well."
I look around for something, I am not sure what, to tell me whether I should keep going. I don’t want to be irresponsible. I realize I have a kidney disorder. And even though kidney doc has given the go-ahead for my fitness adventures, it is a thought that gains momentum and I push forward. Right foot, left foot.
I’ve been on High Street for a while now. I’ve been running for just over two and a half hours when I see the sign.
HALF MARATHONERS TURN LEFT
The finish line is just to the left of me. There is another sign of course. FULL MARATAHONERS GO STRAIGHT. I think of how wonderful it would be to finish here. To be done. To stop running and get warm and eat something. To get comfortable.
If I go straight, I have to run thirteen miles again. The word again echoes in my head. Again. I don’t know if I can do it again; repeat what I’ve just done. No one would care. Everyone would be proud of my half marathon finish.
But for some reason, I know in my heart I am supposed to go straight. Even thought it would be easier to turn left. Even though I really want to.
It is not easy to step into adversity. It is not easy to choose to be challenged and tested. To invite change into our lives by saying yes, I am willing to be with this pain. Yes, I want to work through this struggle. But nothing else refines us like that kind of fire.
You may be struggling in a relationship right now and there is a conversation that needs to take place.
You may be frustrated and stuck in your health and fitness.
You may be locked in grief from a loss you suffered either recently or long ago.
You may be trapped in an addiction.
You may be in a job or career that drains you of your energy for life. Or you may have a calling on your life, but are afraid to step over that line.
I understand completely.
But summon your courage. Land of the free and home of the brave.
You have to see it first, then eventually get to the starting line.
And you have to take that first step, even though you’re afraid.
Then find your own pace. Find your groove.
Accept encouragement. Accept help.
Find your mantra. Override your judgmental mind.
Expect doubts and challenges. It is part of being refined. It is part of growth and healing.
Then, no matter what it is you are trying to break free from (or for), when you get to that intersection – and I promise you will come to it – where you must decide to keep going, you know what to do. Right foot, left foot. Finish the race. Walk right into that fire, and become the person you were born to be.
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
2 Tim 4:7