On Sunday I participated in the Nationwide Insurance Columbus Half-Marathon. I finished 8,825 out of 9,934. Yeah, I know. Who aspires to place 8,825th? Pretty sure no one. But, I couldn’t be happier:)
In June, if you would have told me, “Sarah, you’ll be doing a half-marathon in October,” I would have laughed. Not a “that’s funny” laugh, but a “I am laughing to cover up that deep down I know I could never do that” laugh. My jokes about fitness level (or lack thereof) or my eating habits used to mask pain/sadness and embarrassment. Pain and sadness that I lacked the motivation and confidence to pursue such a goal. Embarrassment about being so out of shape at age 35 that I could barely make it two miles without incredible knee and hip pain.
As many of you know, a pastor at my church challenged the leadership to pray and fast on June 26, and I began pursuing a new lifestyle on June 27. When I began that Monday morning, I could barely walk from my house across the bridge and back, which is 1.6 miles. I remember the first time I made this trek; I was so proud – 1.6 miles!
From there, it was baby steps – literally. I walked a little further each day. A little faster each week. And added jogging after a month. I had tons of blisters and joint pain – always using an ice pack or heating pad trying to move past this injury or that one.
On August 20, I (very) impulsively registered for the Columbus half-marathon. I was talking to my friend, Anda, at a soccer tournament. She’d just finished second in the Parkersburg Half Marathon, and she said I should try a race.
After registering, I felt a new pressure to be in shape. I thought, “this is what I need – a goal.” I Googled “half-marathon training plan” and began the plan the next Monday.
My goal? To finish…period. This meant I had to walk/jog 13.1 miles in less than four hours. But, day after day, I’d record my pace. I was just too slow and out of shape. No way was I going to finish in less than four hours. Then, on September 24, I completed the entire 13.1 with my friend, Ashley, and her mom. Our time was about three hours and fifteen minutes.
For the first time, I believed I could finish.
Still, all the training and preparation in the world could not have prepared me for Sunday’s race. Beginning with my pre-race dinner and the marathon expo on Saturday evening, I discovered I had much to learn. Gu? Gatorade chews? Energy jellybeans? Belts for carrying water or Gatorade? Taped knees? Carb loading? Pacing? GPS watches? Headbands? Oh my…who knew? Not me.
At 7:30 am on Sunday morning, I found myself smushed into Corral E with a few other thousand participants. But, one participant would be more important than I ever could have imagined: my friend, Ashley.
From the start to mile four, it felt as if I had a knife in my ankle – evidently, two days rest was a bad idea. Ashley talked to me and encouraged me to run the entire way. “This is what you’ve trained for, Sarah. You can do this. You’re doing great.” Her continual words of encouragement kept me from giving in to my typical self-talk: You’re still too overweight to do this…you’ll never be in shape…you’ll never finish…you just aren’t made for this…give up…it hurts too bad.
I pushed through.
At mile nine, I had nothing left. I texted my husband asking him to pray. I prayed, asking God to carry me. I listened to Ashley…”Only five more, Sarah. This is nothing but your typical workout each morning. We have to jog now. Jog to the stop sign…to the Comfort Inn…to the corner…to the yellow flag.” She pushed, and I did my best.
Then, Ashley says, “We have five minutes to finish. If you run, we can finish under three hours.” Huh? We can?
I pushed up the hill and rounded the corner. There it was – the Finish. I was overwhelmed with emotion and couldn’t breathe. I almost stopped, but Ashley grabbed my hand, and said, “Come on!” This is what you’ve trained for…you can do this…let’s go.”
And, I did. I jogged, and then sprinted toward the finish as hundreds of people lining the course cheered me/us on. I stepped on the timer at 3:00:30. I didn’t make it under three hours, but I finished. I think I was in shock looking back. I couldn’t speak (a miracle, I know:)
Best of all, my husband and children surprised me! I had my own cheering section! And, that cheering section was not limited to my family and Ashley. I looked at my phone. Texts, emails, Facebook posts…all supporting, encouraging, praying, and loving – me – overwhelming!
Please understand: I didn’t complete a half-marathon on my own; I completed a half-marathon surrounded by the love and prayers of family and friends. Big dreams and big goals can NOT be completed alone. We have to have supporters, cheerleaders, and helpers. In fact, Coach Ashley literally had to drag me toward the finish!
Who’s dragging you toward the finish – or even toward the next step? Have you surrounded yourself with people who are supportive of your dreams and goals? Or, do naysayers and excuse-makers surround you?
I could never never never have accomplished this goal without my supporters.
I could never never never have accomplished this goal without Jesus. I can’t articulate how he carried/carries me continually. Through temptation, injuries, doubt, defeat, and discouragement, He remains.
I often cling to Hebrews 12: 1-3 – 1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Some days my race is literal – other days figurative. Regardless, my goal is always to keep my eyes fixed on him, putting one foot in front of the other – sometimes walking and sometimes running the race He marked out for me before the beginning of time. When I face opposition, I am reminded that He did too – on a scale that I will never know or understand. When I grow weary, I don’t lose heart – I pray, lean, and seek Him.
No matter what you’re facing today, I pray you fix your eyes on Him – and Him alone. Don’t grow weary; don’t lose heart. Throw off the sin that so easily trips you up, and run with perseverance the race he has marked out for you.
He will be there running alongside you – and carrying you when needed.