We haven't posted an update over the past few weeks - mostly because of our give away contests. We wanted our contests to be front and center for anyone visiting our blog. But also, I think, we haven't posted an update because we really weren't sure what to say. These past few weeks have been difficult and emotional in ways that none of us could have expected. I've said it a hundred times and I think it's more true now than ever - there is something about sacrificing physically that causes a deep emotional response. The fact that there was a whole team of us sacrificing together caused a bond and a closeness that made that emotion even stronger.
The people on this team are the kind of friends that last for a life time - regardless of where life takes us. The kind of friends that are as close if not closer than family. The kind of friends that are rare and precious. It feels like our lives have been gradually woven together over the past months of training. We didn't really notice it happening until it was all over and now it's obvious that our story doesn't end here. This is the end of a brutal, painful, sweaty chapter but the story we are telling with our lives doesn't end here. We have more chapters to write, more adventures to brave, more stories to tell the world.
I've taken some liberty over the past months to speak for the entire team - mostly because the rest of them refuse to blog. I hope they don't mind if I write for all of us once again. (Honestly, I hope that they each write their own post about their own experiences and feelings and struggles but I'm not holding my breath. They apparently are not the blogging type.) I want to share a bit about what these past several days have been like from my perspective. Each of us has experienced different things, of course, but most of our emotions and fears and doubts and battles have been similar.
The week before the marathon was a constant battle of nerves and will. It was like a flood of panic was lying just below the surface. I could feel it constantly - beating against the walls of my chest, waiting for the slightest shift in balance to burst free and send me into a full blown panic attack. Just thinking about the upcoming marathon would cause nervous shaking or crying or nausea or all of the above. You know those dreams where you're running and something's chasing you and you can't get away - that's how I felt all day every day. The marathon was chasing me, getting closer and closer with each passing hour and I couldn't find a way out.
There was no escape.
Friday I was a complete wreck. I'm sure my pulse and blood pressure were through the roof. I could feel the anxiety like it was literally wrapping around my chest and constricting my lungs. I don't think it was the pain that I feared although I knew it would be brutal. I think I feared failure. I was terrified that I wouldn't be able to finish. Ruth and I talked on Thursday about how this was a once in a life-time thing for us. The training was so time consuming and painful and awful. We hated every minute of it. We both knew that we could never again go through the training process. This wasn't something we would get another shot at - this was it, our only chance to complete a marathon. I knew that if I failed this time, I would never have the chance to try again.
I don't like failing. The thought that I had invested so much of myself - time, energy, emotion, passion, injured feet - into something that I might not conquer was terrifying.
I drank so much water last week that I swear I peed every 20 minutes. I fully realize that you may not want to know that but drinking water and therefore peeing is a huge part of marathoning and I think it's important to share. The thing about staying hydrated during a marathon is that it starts days before. If you aren't saturated before the marathon begins you are probably going to get into trouble. So I drank and drank and drank...water, water, water and still some more water.
Saturday morning began bright and early at 4:30 am. Drank a disgusting protein shake (for the last time) and drank some more...wait for it...water! Put on my running clothes followed by several layers of other clothes because it was literally freezing. When the marathon began it was about 40 degrees. When it ended it was about 70, maybe a bit above that. So, we knew we'd shed some layers through out the day. Jeff, Mike and I drove to the marathon together.
We went to the registration tent to pick up our packets. We told the girl our names and she automatically started thumbing through the half marathon stack to look for ours. We told her we were doing the full marathon not the half then Jeff said, "I think that's a bad sign." If the volunteer automatically assumes we're doing the half just by looking at us, what exactly does that say about our chances? Not good. We were there early so we went back to the car and sat in the heat. All the other participants were jogging around or stretching or doing weird looking skip-run-hops. We sat...in the car. Again, this doesn't say much for our chances.
What it does say is that we were cold and had enough sense to stay in the warm car unlike the other crazy people who were running around in their spandex and short-shorts. At least that's what we told ourselves. By this point the nerves were out of control. I was shaking and nauseous and may have suggested that we make a break for it and just lie to everyone about actually running. I figured we were pretty good at limping these days and we could fake that no problem. We just go somewhere and disappear for about 6 hours, come back, fake a limp and we'd be golden.
Only there's no way I could've faced the rest of the team. We had made a commitment to do this together. And, even though we weren't physically in the same location, we were going to follow through - together.
Go time! The cannon fired, scared my socks off, and away we went. The first 7/8 miles felt amazing. I usually hate those first few miles. My knees and legs always protest. It's always those first few miles that are mentally toughest until you reach a point when everything goes numb. It's always pain, then you get into a rhythm and numbness, then the pain comes back in the end. Well, for some unknown reason (probably all the adrenaline built up from being so nervous), those first few miles were great. I've never felt that good while running.
Then I missed an aid station. I don't know how. I just didn't see it. So I went about 5 miles without any water or electrolytes. My body shut down pretty fast. At mile 12 I was walking and my calves had cramped so badly that I thought I wouldn't even be able to do that for much longer. Thankfully a runner's aid volunteer rode past on his bike. I stopped him and asked if he had pain medicine.
Now, you aren't supposed to take pain medicine while you're running. For one, it blocks the pain so you could hurt yourself and not realize it. But, also, running is hard on the organs, the liver in particular. Pain meds are also hard on the liver. It's just best not to combine the two very often. But, I was desperate. He was so kind. He immediately stopped and said, "I've got whatever pain medicine you want." I opted for ibuprofen thinking he probably didn't really have "any" kind of pain medicine (and also something like vicodin or hydrocodone would just make me sleepy). He also gave me water which was much needed. I walked for about 10 more minutes and could literally feel my calves relaxing. I don't think I've ever felt pain medicine take effect like it did in that moment. It was amazing.
I felt great again. I ran for about four more miles and then whatever relief the ibuprofen had provided was gone. Here's the other thing about staying hydrated during a marathon, you have to STAY hydrated, there is no catching up. Missing that aid station did some damage and I wasn't going to recover. I could continue, I could hang on, I could manage, I could walk, I could not run.
Walking was brutal on my feet. When you train, your body gets used to a certain movement - in this case, running. My feet are used to the movement required for running (or, my version of running anyway). My feet are not used to walking. It hurt, excruciatingly. For the last 10 miles I jogged what few steps I could manage and then I walked as fast as I possibly could. My knees and hips no longer bent properly for running. So, I just moved, one step at a time, one foot in front of the other.
At mile 19 I lost all control over my emotions. I balled like a baby. I'm talking sobbing, snotty, tears pouring. People stopped and asked me if I was ok and all I could do was nod my head and give a thumbs up and hope they wouldn't recognize me later. That lasted for about a mile until I finally regained some sort of control.
All through this time I kept thinking about my team. I knew Mike was right behind me. He had injured his foot around mile 12 and had to walk the remaining 14 miles. It wasn't how he had planned to complete his first marathon but he didn't quit, he kept going, kept moving even in pain. Throughout this whole training process Mike has always been the slow and steady one. He doesn't get caught up in the rush of the beginning, he knows his pace and sticks to it. He runs his race regardless of what's going on around him. I'm so proud of him for sticking with it even when injured.
I knew about the time when Jeff would be finishing. Jeff's the fast one on our team. He's always standing around waiting ever so patiently for the rest of us to finish. I knew his family was coming to pick him up after the marathon but I knew he wouldn't leave us. For one, his stuff was in my car and I had the key. But, really, he wouldn't leave because he would want to be there for us. He would want to cheer for us as we ran across the finish line. He would want to be there to tell us we did a great job and that we should be proud of ourselves for finishing. We called Jeff "Coach" all through our training because he was such an encourager. Always ready with either a joke or a pat on the back depending on what we needed.
And then I thought about Ruth. Ruth was running a different marathon but at the same time. She was hours away and I missed her terribly. For months, Ruth and I have ran our long runs together, side by side, talking and laughing and pushing each other. We could run faster, farther, better when we ran together. I wished I was running with her then. When I was hurting, when I wanted to quit, when I couldn't do it I knew that if only Ruth were there I would pull through. Knowing that she was running too, even in another place, helped. I knew that I'd see her soon and we'd exchange "war stories" and we'd cry and we'd be thankful that it was over. I knew she was thinking about me and praying for me as I was for her.
When I rounded the corner at mile 26 with only .2 left to go I saw the Martin girls - Jeff's wife, Cheri, and their three girls - running toward me. Most of the people had already left. I finished an hour over the time limit. What had been a parking lot that morning was just an empty field. But Camryn and Paige and Lauren ran to meet me and cheered and walked with me for that last little bit. I lost it all over again - balling like a baby. When I crossed the finish there were a few dozen people I didn't know all standing and clapping and cheering. Cheri took pictures of me crying my eyes out. And, Jeff was waiting with my medal.
I wasn't sure I'd even get a medal. There was a six hour time limit. It took me 7 hours and 5 minutes. Jeff had gone to the people handing out medals and told them that he had two teammates still out there who had trained for 8 months and deserved to get a medal regardless of how late we finished. He demanded that they hand them over. "Coach" to the very end.
About 20 minutes later Mike rounded that last corner. He received the same welcome and cheering that I did. Only, he was much more composed than I was. He stuck with it - steady and determined every step of the way. Jeff had struggled too. He's had an ankle issue for a while. He said that this was physically and mentally the toughest thing he's ever done, but he finished. Ruth ended up having to walk about 5 miles at the end but was able to muster up the strength to run the last 100 yards or so to the finish. Ryan and Vivian ran their half marathon this morning. I know they finished well and I'm looking forward to hearing all the details of their race once they get back.
For the last few weeks I've looked forward to this day because I viewed it as an ending. Today marks the end of months and months of struggle and pain and injury and anxiousness and 6 am running in both the heat and humidity of a Tennessee summer and also the freezing cold of Tennessee fall mornings. As much as I'm thankful for this ending, I'm thankful for those difficult months. It has been a time of growth and self-discovery and bonding with friends that I wouldn't trade for anything.
What I didn't realize until today is that today is not just an ending, it's also a beginning. I think we all realize that we don't want the story to end here. The running can end here, sure. But, the time we spend together, sacrificing together for someone else can't end. This all started because we wanted to live a better story - meaning we want to live more meaningful lives. We want to live lives that have risk and love and loss and beauty and pain and hope. We want to live lives that affect people, lives that make a difference, lives that inspire - not for our own sake or for our own honor but so that through us people would see the love of God and that He alone would be glorified.
Praise God for this first chapter. I anxiously and excitedly await the chapters that lie ahead in our story.
We are still raising money for a couple more weeks. We've raised about $3500 so far. $4000 is enough to provide a well. A well means clean water for an entire community. We'd like to raise at least $500 more. We are so thankful for those that have already donated. You are part of this story too! You are the most important part. Without you this would just be a story about a race. Thanks to you, this is a story about giving clean water to communities in Africa. If you haven't donated but would like to be a part of this story with us, click the Donate tab above for more information.
Below is a video that we made to show at church this morning. It summarizes this chapter in our story and tells a bit more about why we did this. The song playing is "Something Beautiful" by NeedToBreathe. If you aren't familiar with their music, you should check them out - beautiful, beautiful music.
Also, I think you should know that during the marathon I peed in the woods...three times. I'm confident that if completing a marathon wasn't enough, peeing in the woods certifies me as a legit runner. The fact that I did it three times without "revealing myself" to anyone is just impressive.