Well I did it! I ran my first marathon and on top of that I combined it with the run Disney’s “Dopey Challenge”, 48.6 miles in 4 separate runs in four days building up to the full marathon on the last day. Some people I suspect thought I couldn’t do it, I know some thought I shouldn’t. But I did. It was probably more than I should have tackled being new to running, but it kept me motivated and inspired to learn properly how to run and avoid injury. I worked real hard to be mindful to listen to my body and surround myself with people to help coach me. In the end, as I shared with my church in a message recently, A Story of Trust, Grace, and Community (you can listen here), I discovered so many lessons on community that have profoundly shaped me. It has been a wonderful experience.
But then came the weekend of the runs themselves. I got sick!
I suppose it is fairly normal as I have discovered. You train hard and kind of wear your body down a bit. In addition, these runs are during the cold/flu season, so chances are, one will get sick. I was so discouraged. I felt horrible, and in fact still do. Chest and nasal congestion, that out of body skin crawling achy feeling, weak. And I am supposed to run 48.6 miles. I considered canceling. I agonized over it. I had been adamant about listening to my body all along the way. Why stop now? And yet, I had invested so much time, and frankly money, to get here. So I did some reading from other runners about how to manage it. And most said they would run no matter what. They just had to reframe their expectations of the goals. Since my goals were never time and only finishing, that wasn’t too hard. So I just tried to stay hydrated, get as much rest as I could, and do my best without pressuring myself.
The journey wasn’t just physical here though. I had some significant God-moments. And why not? It has been my desire all along to not have this story be about me. I never wanted to become self-absorbed in this. I tired of hearing myself talk so much about running because I knew there were more important aspects of my life to be shared. But frankly, the fitness transformation has been a true God-transformation and so to share it was to share God’s story. Well here it comes, God showed up in pretty cool ways.
I had one of those nights where I woke up feeling absolutely horrible. I was half delusional in the middle of a NyQuil dose. I couldn’t sleep because my whole body was crawling and I had to keep moving to avoid the feelings. I couldn’t keep still. I was at the bottom mentally wondering why my journey was coming to an end with the goal unmet. I was desperately calling out to God to know why. As I tried to lay in bed to get rest to run the next morning, I felt a strong impression say to me, “Drink the coconut water”. (I use coconut water on long runs to hydrate and so had stocked some). I pulled myself out of bed to go get some and after drinking it, my body calmed down, the skin crawling stopped and I slept through. I determined later that despite trying to stay hydrated, with the races, cold medicine, and the extreme cold, I had thrown my electrolytes way off and was in need of hydration.
I haven’t mentioned till now that an arctic cold blast came down into Florida and so while we are standing for an hour or more waiting for the race to start, we are doing so in mid 30’s and 40’s. As I was sick, I was taking my body to more and more extremes.
So the coconut water got me through that race and then I became even more diligent to monitor that. I began to feel at least stronger in terms of that. But of course I was still sick. I got through the half marathon fairly well. Of course my times were way off their normal. But I succeeded. I tried as best I could to enjoy it, running down main street in the Magic Kingdom, coming through the castle, but honestly, I just wasn’t present enough to care. It was just get through it. runDisney’s tagline is “Where every mile is magic” and I assure you, there were no magic miles for me that day. So going into the full marathon on Sunday had me very concerned.
Thankfully the weather improved and it wasn’t nearly as cold. And I was starting to feel a bet stronger, however, still sick. I felt pretty good getting ready that morning, but the burst of energy plummeted as I got closer to the race time. As I left that morning Diane prayed with me and in her prayer asked for wisdom for me as I approached Medical tents. To pay attention and balance the goal with health. She had been a great encouragement to not give up after working so hard for so long, but of course she didn’t want me to harm myself either.
The first mile I felt awful. Seriously, I really thought I would not make it. But then all of a sudden I felt strength come. I ran virtually all the next 8 miles and even enjoyed the experience going down main street and through the castle. And as I ran I began to pray and wonder what lessons I was learning through this. I mean, a personal goal of completing a marathon, while lofty and impressive, won’t last for eternity. In the grand scheme, it’s not what I am about, what I have given my life to. Now I am not suggesting we don’t have such goals or that God frowns on them. Of course not, but nobody would go to heaven because I ran a marathon. My heart’s desire had all along been that God get the credit for what was being done and as I have said, He did. I don’t think He zapped me with illness to play with me. But I do think that it caused me to push on relying more on Him. If I was going to do this, I know it was because of His strength and not mine alone. And so in sharing my marathon story, I am again sharing a God-story. A story of His transformational power, the power of community and trust and grace. And maybe someone will come to know and love my God the way I do as a result. Or perhaps risk trusting Him more where they had been holding back.
Miles 9-17 were physically hard. I stiffened up and ran even slower. Had to walk more than I wanted. And it was in miles 15-17 that I hit an emotional bottom. I actually don’t remember much of it. I zoned out and just lost will to really keep going. I kept telling myself, “Just keep running”. At one point I saw the medical tent and thought, “Is it the time to give up?”. I just felt horrible! But I found myself repeating in my head, “Fight for this Len”. And it was literally in a moment that a cloud lifted. I was emotionally light and clear headed. And I began running again as if it was a new race altogether. I don’t know what it was, but I believe it was likely prayer. I saw later that people had posted they were praying for me that morning and I think it was around the same time.
Well the rest of the run I was in a good head space, now I just needed to keep going. I was concerned that I was not keeping up the time limits needed to complete the challenge. I knew I would finish the race, but thought I might be DQ’d from the bonus challenges for being too slow. So that rattled in my head a lot and got me moving. We went through Hollywood Studios, the boardwalk area and then on into EPCOT. As we ran around the world showcase, the soundtrack music had epic swells and was inspiring. The crowds were cheering and I knew I would be finishing soon. And then it happened. The fitting end!
All throughout Disney races, they have bands and entertainment venues to make it all fun. Well at the last .2 of a mile they had a gospel choir all decked out in gold robes. As I rounded the corner, I heard beautiful voices lifting high praise to God, singing,
“We Worship You, Hallelujah, Hallelujah!
We Worship You, for who you are.
You are God!”
(I will post a link to the full song)
I began to raise my arms in celebration and started crying because I knew exactly that was the case. It was God who started me on the journey and it was going to end with Him being praised for His goodness. Along the way I got to do some pretty incredible things, accomplish some lofty goals, but I will never lose sight that those are all just little extras that in God’s grace I was able to experience. The real story, the real accomplishment, is that God revealed Himself once again to me, and hopefully to others, just how strong and powerful He is. He is GOOD!
I admit to being the first to say “Rest when you’re sick.” But in the case of your multiple Florida runs, my advise would have been so wrong! Congratulations Len! And thank you for bringing us along in your sermon last week and through your blog posts.