In just a couple weeks I will be running my sixth half-marathon, and it will be the fourth time that I do the Detroit International Half. For the past three years, race day has been unseasonably cold, with it actually snowing last year. Long before dawn, the excitement is palpable as 20,000 runners make our way through the dark to find our corral and correct pace group. There we wait for what seems like hours, jumping up and down to stay warm. We smile and chat, as the common bond is instant. The countdown on the loudspeaker begins and we hear the siren as the first group starts. Slowly, we inch our way closer, listening as every two minutes the next group starts. Soon we can see the start line and many snap a few last minute photos before tucking away their phones. By now, we are jogging. As we cross that mat, we click our watches and we’re officially off.
The first mile or two I try not to think about what I’m doing. I can’t believe the day has finally arrived. I focus on not starting too fast or too slow. I tell myself this is just a normal run. Deep breaths in and out. Months of training have brought me to this point. For the past 48 hours, I’ve been carb loading and drinking water by the gallon. I am as prepared as I can be.
By mile three, we are running across the Ambassador Bridge as the sun rises. It’s a gorgeous site and the excitement continues. I remind myself to look up and enjoy the scenery. People are jostling just to have a few steps of pavement in front of them without tripping over one another. I try not to get annoyed at a runner who is already walking. If they knew they couldn’t run, they should have started further back, I think. Maybe they had no idea, my nicer self decides to give them a break.
At the end of the bridge, it’s strange to run across the Canadian border where on any other day, you would be in your car and have to stop at the booth. The border patrol stand seriously looking at us to make sure they can see our bibs, otherwise we risk getting pulled out. Next to them, a local band and lots of friendly Canadians greet us with posters and cheers. Miles five through seven are smooth, fun and flat as we run next to the river on the Windsor side overlooking Detroit’s skyline.
Somewhere around mile seven, we enter the tunnel. It’s exactly what it sounds like. A tunnel, except this one is underwater. Two lanes normally full of bumper to bumper traffic. But for these few hours it’s body to body as the herd of runners all head the same direction. It’s also the only mile of the run that we have absolutely no spectators. Some runners shout and scream to hear their echo. Some stop for a quick photo at the midway point next to the two countries’ flags. It is a cool photo op, but the competitor in me won’t allow me to stop. The first time I ran through the tunnel, I was amazed at how long it was and kept wondering when it was going to end. There is a gradual incline near the end of the tunnel. At that point, my quads are burning and I dig in deep to push through because I know the biggest crowd is waiting just outside the tunnel.
Sure enough as we come out of the dark and even before our eyes are re-adjusted to daylight, we can hear people screaming and cheering. Both sides are full and I began to scan the crowd for one or two familiar faces. When I see them, I run close to the side to get a high five. The smile and wave from someone who knows my name gives me a little more wind in my sail.
About a half mile later, that’s when the real struggle begins. Around mile nine my mind starts playing head games, telling me things like…
- Wow, you have a long ways to go.
- You won’t be able to keep up this pace.
- You are already behind last year, so just slow down.
- No one else cares about your time.
- Did I do enough squats, lunges, hills?
- Why do you even care about your time?
- Why are you doing this to yourself?
- What’s that pain (leg, knee, hip, ankle)?
- Most people never even do one of these races.
And on and on and on. So I talk back to myself…
- You are MORE than half way done.
- You can trust your training.
- This is a new race with a new time.
- You will be so mad at yourself if you slow down/give up.
- God cares what you are doing and He knows the details.
- You have breath and strength and ability.
- That pain isn’t real.
- Many people wish they could run.
Can you imagine the tape playing in my head over and over? Between the internal arguments, I pray and quote Scripture.
There is a hill somewhere between ten and eleven. It’s tough. That’s where I gave into the negative self-talk last year. I was nauseous and that gave me an excuse. I slowed way down and I as much as I hate to admit it, but I actually walked for like 30 seconds. Okay, maybe it was 60 seconds. Once I did that, I knew it was over.
Mile twelve is a great place for us half marathoners. It’s where the full marathoners keep going straight and we turn the corner and head for the finish line. It’s a great feeling to know you’re almost done. You forget the pain and pick up the pace. Every other time, I’ve been ecstatic when I finish. Last year I was already mad at myself.
It was the first year that my time didn’t improve. Later when I looked at my splits, I realized I hadn’t been doing as poorly as I thought. I had listened to the wrong voice in my head and I was my own worst enemy.
Five years ago, I had never run anything but a few family-fun 5k’s. I never envisioned myself as a serious runner. I remember how excited I was the first time I ran four miles without stopping. Now a four mile run is either a warm-up or a speed workout. Either way, it feels like an easy run day. Clearly, my perspective has changed. Training for a half marathon is work. Hard work. The only way that four miles got easier was by continually running.
Several times in the Bible, our lives on earth are compared to running a race. For me, the correlation is helpful. I understand that this life is not a sprint, but a marathon. I have to put the training in to reap the benefits. Spending time in His Word is paramount. Sharing my struggles honestly with godly friends is my lifeline. Regularly crying out to Jesus is the air I breathe.
Sometimes I feel like I can’t keep going. Like that hill on mile ten, I want to quit. But I need to play the tape of God’s truth to override the lies of my flesh. Letting go of my dreams and embracing God’s plan is still a work in progress. When I’m discouraged, I can choose where I let my thoughts rest. Do I focus on the pain and loss or do I remind myself of God’s goodness? When the daily loneliness threatens to devour me, do I give into self-pity or do I review how far I’ve come with God by my side?
My race is not over until God says it is. Someday I will cross earth’s finish line and when I do, I don’t want to have any regrets.
Hebrews 12: 1 & 2; 1 Corinthians 9:24-27; 2 Timothy 4:7; Philippians 3:14