* The final miles will always be brutal but kind of wonderful. Brutal because it was the hardest I have ever pushed my body and most fatigued I've ever felt. Brutal because the first 20 miles felt great when I trained but the last six turned out to be harder than I ever imagined. Brutal because my legs felt so weak and feet felt so heavy that I could barely lift them and thought I might collapse at any moment. (I think the fear of embarrassment kept me on my feet.) Brutal because my brain was screaming at my legs to stop and then my feet and butt joined in the cacophony of screams.
But those miles are wonderful precisely because they are so challenging. Wonderful because they force you to play a mental game and you simply must endure pain and exhaustion. Wonderful because they reveal what you are made of and what drives you. The last three miles were the longest of my life. I ran them as fast as I could which was probably a power walking pace. I searched my playlist for the perfect song that would pump me up and energize me but none worked. Not even Eminem or "Testify" by Avalon. For two miles I said two words every step. "Help.....Lord....Help....Lord." It may have even been out loud. I was too weak to notice. And as my feet continued to pound and I continued to whisper these two words, I remembered one of the reasons I wanted to run this race. I wanted a challenge. My life is pretty easy and I wanted to have to sacrifice and work hard for something. I wanted to force myself to rely more on God and less on myself. So those last miles were wonderful because I was brought back to the place I love to be, the place I need to be- a posture of total submission and relying solely on the power of my mighty God to get me through. Those last miles made me painfully aware that I am weak and powerless and cannot finish on my own. So those last miles were painful, excruciatingly painful, but also marvelous, unbelievably marvelous.
* You can never have too much cowbell. When I first heard the crowds ringing them, I instantly pictured Will Ferrell's skit and laughed aloud. I then wondered if the people felt silly ringing them. Then I started to like them. I liked that strangers were ringing cowbells for me. They don't know me but they cheered and clapped and gave me thumbs up and rang their cowbells. Who knew some friendly encouragement could make one run faster? It certainly helped me. It also helped when I walked to the starting line and was greeted by these two:
They got up at the bcod to drive to Camarillo and cheer me on from the beginning. They wanted to be sure I saw them- hence the wonderfully loud shirts. I felt so blessed and so encouraged to see friendly faces to see me off. (Did you catch my acronym? "butt crack of dawn" I'm determined to make one of these stick.)
At about mile 18, I was alone on a country road and pretty spent. Then I saw the Swansons. Cute preggo Jenny was standing beside Chris who had the ever adorable one-year old Asher on his hip. Jenny gave me a glass of water and some encouraging words while her husband ran along side me in his flip-flops while making Asher fly next to me. This not only made me laugh but also energized me. A few miles later Jenny ran along side me for a bit and then took this picture when I was telling her that I was ready to collapse.
My parents also found me on the course and seeing their faces made me go faster- and not because I was trying to impress them- parents are automatically number one fans so there is no need for false pretenses. But I saw them and wanted to do better.
Such is the power of encouragement. They spurred me on. So did my friends who were there in spirit and sent encouraging pre-race words and even a video. (note: my friend Lesley is beautiful and brilliant and write this incredibly insightful blog but she also can be wonderfully weird which is why I love her so much.
I've said it once and I'll say it again- I was never alone in this race. I ran faster because I was supported and encouraged and heard plenty of cowbell.
* Crossing finish lines on earth can be anti-climatic. I'm a crier. I cry during home security commercials, during instructional CPR videos, during episodes of Community, and during many other moments that should never warrant tears. I don't think I'm emotional though, just have overactive tear ducts. That being said, I assumed I'd cry when I finished this race. Heck, I ran a half marathon today and for no reason at all tears streamed down my cheeks from mile 11 to mile 12. People probably thought I was in pain or super sad. I wasn't either. I just had no control over them. (Maybe this is what happened with the girl who I saw today with poo running down her legs. She must have simply lost control but instead of streaming tears, she had streaming poo. The bizarre part was that she just kept trekking on like it was no big deal that rivers of liquidy brown poo streamed down from her too-tiny spandex shorts all the way to her calves. But I digress.)
My point is, I thought I would cry. For three months, every day was dedicated to this moment. Yet, when the moment arrived, there were no tears. No deep thoughts. No epiphanies. Just sore legs and a need to empty my bladder. I guess I was expecting some magical, enlightening moment to occur when I crossed the finish line. I guess I was expecting a wave of euphoria to wash over me. I guess I was expecting to feel satisfied and fulfilled. Instead, I was just tired and thirsty. Sure, I felt accomplished and proud but not nearly to the degree I thought I would. I remembered the last three miles and couldn't even think about training for another marathon again- why volunteer for that pain again? However, two weeks later, I've signed up for another race. Not because I'm still searching for some enlightenment, but rather because I miss the training and I love being forced to rely on God's strength. I miss having something to work towards every day, having something to motivate me to lace up when I want to lay down, having a goal to journey towards. I miss the journey.
When I consider how this race is an analogy for life, this is where the analogy fails. Because crossing the finish line on earth and being ushered into the throne room will be anything but anti-climatic. I don't know what I'll see, but I know it will be a bit more thrilling than bottles of water and energy bars. I don't know how I'll respond, but I know I won't simply collapse in exhaustion. I don't know how I'll feel, but I know I'll be worshiping and completely satisfied. Completely fulfilled. Complete. And I imagine I'll be crying.