Thursday, May 10, 2012

Don't Fear the Hills (and other life lessons learned on race day)

My race was a success!! At least in my mind :-) Sure, I may have finished 83rd out of 90 timed runners, but I guarantee I was the happiest runner out there! Wanna see me crossing the finish line? Go here. My bib number is 118 and there are quite a few official pictures there.
Here's the one my husband took just minutes after the race was over.

I probably looked like a person on meds or something, but I promise I smiled at every volunteer, traffic cop, and other runner I saw out on the course. I was just pleased as punch to be there running a race I never thought was possible. Why was I beaming as I crossed the finish? 

For one thing, I RAN the WHOLE race!! The farthest I'd run before Saturday was 2.5 miles, but I ran the full 3.1 miles with zero walking! Even up the hills! This was my second of three major goals for race day after #1 simply finishing the race and just before goal #3 of staying out of the first aid tent. ;-) 

In addition, I realized I had learned a lot in those 40 minutes and 33 seconds it took for me to finish. And that's want I'm sharing today (aside from all that bragging and rejoicing - thanks for letting me drag ya through that with me!)

Lesson #1 - Smile at the Walkers - we all have our own goals and struggles

Okay, so I didn't really pass too many walkers, but there were some. And I knew they had their own goals, their own reasons for not running, and I knew that they needed encouragement as much as I did. Thus I learned my first life lesson of the race. 

We all have equal value, but we are not all on the same journey. God has a different plan for each of us, and for the time that I happen to travel the path with each person, I am called to come along side and offer whatever encouragement and refreshment to their spirit that I can. 

Lesson #2 - Keep Your Own Pace - comparison is the enemy

My pace happened to place me trading spots with a white-haired old man and a woman pushing a stroller, and my "running" was only slightly faster than the walking they did between running spurts. When the race began, it was a little disheartening to see 85% of the racers running blocks ahead of me. But I knew I just had to maintain my own pace if I wanted to meet my goal. I kept my eyes on the road and on my phone app that told me my current pace, and chose not to compare myself to the other people who ran lightly off chatting away with their running buddies while I chugged along slowly.

Going along with Lesson #1, if we try to follow someone else's path or meet another's goals, we are going to miss out on God's plans for us. 

Lesson #3 - Use that Heavy Breathing to Enjoy the Honeysuckle - but don't stop to sniff them

MAN! Spring-time honeysuckle smells glorious in the morning! Our course led us through residential neighborhoods and small wooded areas filled with honeysuckle vines. I allowed myself to enjoy the amazing scent as I jogged past, but I knew better than to stop and smell them.

God gives us blessings large and small to refresh us on our journey, but when we've got goals and a path to follow, even blessings can be distractions that, when pursued in an inappropriate way or time, can lead us away from what we are called to do. In short, if you wander off the path to smell every sweet-smelling flower, you're a lot less likely to stay on the straight and narrow.

Lesson #4 - Don't Fear the Hills - it's just more road

Something I didn't encounter in my training was hills. I run in my neighborhood, which was built on an old pasture, and is therefore pretty level (elevation change of like 9 feet). The race course was much more typical of the Ozarks and included 2 large hills, one of which went up 40 feet! That first hill (the smaller one) scared me. I'd never run uphill before! What if I couldn't make it? I even snapped a picture with my phone. But I just kept looking at the road, kept my pace, and I made it! And when that second HUGE hill came along, I decided I just had to do the same thing. So, I gave a great big grin to the folks directing traffic at the bottom and trucked on up!

Life isn't always nice and level; we sometimes get hills to climb - hard stuff. Just this week I've been clawing my way up such a hill. It's hard, it's scary, I really don't know if I've got what it takes. But the lesson I took away from the race was that those hills, those hard things— while different and challenging — well, it's just more road. And for every uphill battle, there's a downhill coast. The key seems to be just taking each step and focusing on just what's in front of you, not dreading how much hill is still in front of you. 

Lesson #5 - Imagine the Finish - and listen for the cheers

After I reached the 2.5 mile mark, I knew that the rest of the run was new territory for me. I still wasn't convinced that 3.1 miles was going to be possible for me. But the closer I got to the finish, it seemed running became easier in some ways. I knew that I had people waiting and watching for me, I knew that there were people waiting to hear the results, and I couldn't wait to succeed! As I made the final turns and the last half mile or so, I started to hear the cheers of the crowd as others were crossing the finish line, and it drove me on. When I saw my husband waving at me with .2 miles to go, I raised my arms in victory and nearly cried, so pleased and proud was I. And, remember that smiling face? That's the face of someone who knows that she did what she set out to do. :-)

As I was running and this lesson was going through my mind, it brought to mind spiritual heroes of old. How could a person be afraid of dying when they know they've run a good race? (2 Timothy 4:6-7) On race day, honey to my ears was, "Way to go! I'm so proud of you!" But at the end of my life, I wanna hear, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant." (Matthew 25:21) And that, friends, will keep me going.

Parting thought — Check out some of the terrific music I got on my "Don't Stop Believing" Pandora station I listened to while running:
"I Won't Back Down" Tom Petty
"It's My Life" Bon Jovi
"Any Way You Want It" Journey
"Living on a Prayer" Bon Jovi
"Pride" U2
"You're the Inspiration" Chicago (Seriously playing as I approached the finish line! Perhaps my smile held a bit of irony...)

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