A week ago I walked most and ran some of 26.2 miles.
A week ago I finished a marathon.
I mean, why? Why in the world would a reasonable, educated adult, with a good job, and dozens of other things to do, submit to the personal war that is a marathon?
I have never been interested in running; even walking, extreme distances.
I’m six feet and five inches tall, and weigh in at 210 pounds. I am not built like a walker/runner type.
I have knees and hips that are 43 years old.
I do not like pain, particularly self-inflicted pain.
No one asked me to do it with them.
No one triple-dog-dared me to do it.
And heaven knows it was not on a bucket-list. I do not have a bucket-list. I have loathed the idea of bucket-lists since the movie popularized them in 2007.
I guess if you pressed me for an answer I’d say a man needs a larger than life feat sometimes to test his limits. We humans need something to push us outside these comfort zones of pain-free safety, and into the wilds of trusting in the One who made us.
In my being, I have an inventory of what I can do and what I can’t do. The “can’t do” list gets a bit longer as years go by. All the feels in my body tell me my joints and sinews are too worn for this or that. But as I have moved into a season that I hope to be middle age – after all, who of us knows when we hit our mid-life (pause and think about that for a minute if you need to) – the feels in my spirit tell me a different story.
I am a body-spirit unity; a live soul. While they are entwined together, they speak different languages. My body speaks the language of the land. It’s mostly honest with me, and remains grounded in the reality of here and now. My spirit, however, speaks the language of God. Mind you here, I am NOT God. But God’s Spirit speaks to my spirit, and my spirit whispers back to me. And I am learning even now, far later in life than I ought, that what is whispered back to me is truth, because it is born from the Author of Truth.
So, when my body says, “Forget about it. Who cares about the discounted early bird entrance fee and that your Dutch heritage is a sucker for a deal. You hate running and you aren’t built for it,” but my spirit says, “What if at the end of it all, it will be less about you and more about Him who made you, who knows more about your limits than you do,” I sit up straight and listen. I pause and pray and click purchase, and then I go buy really good shoes. And on this side of the finish line the joy and gratitude I feel and know are proof that it was a good decision.
“So, how did it turn out?” you ask. Another good question. “Was it all about Him who made you? Or did you just train well and work hard and finish on your own?”
Can I walk you through it? Maybe you’ll decide that answer…
At the outset, before I get into the step-by-step of the race, you need to know that a month ago I overworked my left knee on a hike, which resulted in swelling under my knee cap. Even with much ice and stretching and ibuprofen, it has been giving me trouble as I trained to high mileage in preparation. But you need to know, over all 26.2 miles, start to finish, my knee gave me no trouble. Not a miracle necessarily, but equally so, not my doing. So that’s something.
But here’s the race…
My intention was to walk 70% and run 30% – I chose to not assign a percentage to crawling – and to finish it all under five hours. Because I would mostly be walking, I started early with the walkers. But the start was strange. The race officials weren’t ready for us at 6:45am when we were supposed to start. I was antsy, as were the other 20 or so folks waiting with me. Finally around 6:55ish the guy who was wrestling to set up the sound system hollered out a countdown from 10 and sent us on our way. I imagined bigger and grander. It’s a marathon! I trust the runners had a more official start.
I began with a run. It was downhill. It made sense. That put me out in front. I slowed to my speed-walk pace at the first uphill. I’m proud to say I was in first place for the first 1.2 miles. By the end of the next 25, however, I had slipped to 244th.
At any rate, 1 ½ miles was about as far as my strength took me. I turned a corner at that point to a spectacular view of Bellingham Bay, a sunrise and Mt. Baker…and a cold headwind that nearly stopped me. I felt my blood cool and my body slow. I tried to run more to make up time. I was alone, in second place, then third, then second again. Remember the really fast folks wouldn’t start for another half-hour.
I prayed for the wind to stop. It didn’t. I prayed for the will to quit. I couldn’t. Every breath felt forced into my lungs by these gales. My running was sporadic over the next several miles. Not my hope at all. I had hoped for a 10 and 5 minute split between walking and running respectively. I wasn’t even close.
By 6 miles my 90’s Christian rock playlist was interrupted by my RunKeeper App update:
Time: 1 hour
Distance: 6 miles
Average Pace: 9 minutes, 57 seconds per mile
That can’t be right, I thought. On my best day with the best conditions I have never moved further than 5.6 miles in an hour. Now, with no one around to push me forward and the wind pushing me backward, I made 6 miles? Where did that come from?
Now, well set in second place, though knowing the runners were narrowing my head-start lead, my feet were burning. It was my right pinky toe to be precise; the smallest of toes, the greatest of pain. By 8 miles I couldn’t take it any longer. Too embarrassed to stop by the kids handing out water – I mean, I wasn’t even a third of the way done yet – I endured the pain until I came upon a bench along a boardwalk well away and between the stations of kids. In a rush my shoes came off, then one pair of socks, and then the second pair of socks, then the Band-Aid’s wrapped around my little toes. Evidently running is not like basketball where it pays to have an extra layer of socks in your shoes. Abandoning one pair of socks, I pulled the other pair back on, tied up my shoes and set out again. But not before I was passed by two walker/runners who had started with me.
I was in fourth place, but I was not deterred. From the start I wanted to run my race, not someone else’s. I wanted to push my limits, not someone else’s. And now, at 8 ½ miles my foot felt better and I continued in worship.
You wouldn’t believe it, but amidst the tiresome wind and chaffing toe my heart was compelled to worship. “Thank you Father…” “This is good; You are good, Father…” These and other short declarations of truth and gratitude spilled from my heart and lips. It was as though my spirit was competing on a cosmic plane, far beyond the pavement beneath my feet. So yes, I continued in worship.
Turning 10 miles found me on a beautiful stretch of curving country road called Red River Road. Basically it cuts the corner of a busy intersection near a casino. The trees along the north side of the road cut the wind speed in half so I ran for about three quarters of a mile until the wind slammed me in the face again.
Finally, by mile 12 I felt the wind at my back. I ran again and felt refreshed. I could take my own breaths and lope along at my own pace. It was between mile 12 and 13 that the real marathoners caught up to me. My head-start had disappeared and the 6 ½ minute pace of the leader overtook the 10 ½ minute pace of this guy.
Still unfazed, I pressed on past the halfway point. Then I hit a lonely streak. I was back in a headwind and being passed every few minutes by runners. The county roads were turning to city streets. More folks had joined the onlookers and were cheering us all on. Inevitably I’d come upon a pod of cheering fans, and as I signaled my gratitude with a smile and a half wave, a runner would pass me and I would think to myself they were cheering for her, not me.
I was closing in on 16 miles and that lie was clattering about in my mind. I was walking again by now. And there along the course was a boy; a young man I’d come to find out. He was 11 or 12 years old, and he was more than cheering. He was waving…at me. Maybe I know him? A closer look indicated a nope. He held his hand out for a high five and looked me right in the eyes. A quick glance behind me revealed there was no one within 40 or 50 yards. He was for me; like really for me. I clapped his hand and thanked him, and continued in worship.
The loneliness vanished as I merged with the thousand or so half-marathoners. They were fresh and vibrant and only 4 miles into their 13.1. It picked me up. I joined the run. I took some puffed-up solace in the fact that my race bib was blue and theirs were orange, and though we both had 9ish miles left, they had to know I was already 17 miles on.
The next couple miles went fast. I walked up hills and ran down hills. Moving through neighborhood streets was sweet because there were more people out and about, less headwind, and more twists and turns, which made me feel fast.
At one point, around mile 18 there was a little girl; maybe 4 years old, standing with her hand up beside the course. Folks were running past her, not paying much mind. I was running now too, but I noticed her; the Lord quickened me to her. I swerved to clap her hand, and her face lit up. The brightness of her smile carried me another several blocks where I noticed an elderly man, an invalid in a wheel chair, sitting near his son perhaps. They were opposite the running lane. His withered and stiff hand was raised waving to the runners. I veered across the running lane, into the next lane, making my way over. I gently clapped his hand to no real reaction from him, but from his son, an echo of gratitude sang out as I continued to move along in worship.
Then along came mile 19. My pace was around 10:45 minutes per mile, which is where I hoped to be when turning 16 miles. To be there heading into mile 19 felt really good. Nineteen miles was as far as I had trained to. It took me three and a half hours to get there in training. I had arrived there in 3 hours and fifteen minutes. I was ahead of my training pace.
I ran through a park and down a hill on my way toward the bay again. On three occasions I nearly started to cry. I’m really going to do this I thought. I have one hour and 45 minutes to finish seven miles. My feet felt light. For two miles I kept a strong pace of walking and running. I felt great. I forgot about the distance. I forgot about the headwind. I forgot about the lies in my head. I forgot about those first arduous and lonely miles in the early morning. I forgot…to give thanks. And during mile 21 I wanted to die.
It is crazy how quickly things change. When you’ve been exerting that level of physical and emotional energy for that long your mind can do some wonky things. Like a light switch flipped, lights out. Darkness. Surrounded by hundreds of runners and walkers I was lonely again.
My left pinky toe began to burn…bad; like it was buried in a pile of campfire embers. I wanted to stop and cut it off. I knew there must be a blister of skin swelling with puss. I gotta bail out. This is too much. Tell my family I love them.
And just then I rounded the corner, finishing 22 miles, and there was my family!
My spirit scolded me: Tell them yourself you arrogant child. Have you forgotten who made you? Who equipped you? Who set you to this race and strengthened you to this pace?
They were the best thing I’d seen all day. “Daddy. Go. Go.” the signs read, later to find out it was purposely out of order to make me laugh. And Amy was there smiling that smile that spills love all over me. I veered over to clap their hands and took off running up a hill. Running… Up a hill, after 22 miles!
Atop the hill and around a corner I began to walk briefly to catch up with my adrenaline. Then I ran the next mile and a half, until the last great challenge: The hill at the end of the board walk.
Why the marathon organizers loop the course up this hill at the mile 24 marker is senseless. The reality is it’s more of a head hurdle than anything. In other words, the length and grade of the ramp are easier overcome physically than mentally. After 24 miles of elevation changes, the last thing you want to lay eyes on is a steep 50 yard incline. But there it was anyway. It wasn’t going to climb itself, I thought, which is a dumb thing to even say or imagine in its impossibility, but that’s what you say at mile marker 24 to spur yourself on.
I whispered my gratitude to God for the miles in the rearview, put my head down and…
Here along comes a bearded guy with his cell phone out!
“Are you Mrs. Weeda’s husband?”
“What?” My response carried all manner of imaginable tones I’m sure. He repeated the question.
“Yes” I replied.
Then he slows me to a near halt and snaps a selfie of the two of us! Yeah! True story! And then off he ran up the ramp!
What was that? I thought, though I didn’t take time answer. I had a mountain to climb…
So I put my head down, again, and started up the ramp with what must have looked like the most awkward stride. I hunched my back over and leaned forward, throwing my weight beyond my feet. The effect was a sort of forced forward stumble that I kept up the full length of the ramp. I probably looked like a drunken fool, but I suppose, after adrenaline has been your fuel for at least the last six miles, if not more, maybe there is a sort of drunkenness that comes over you. Even still, I was in control and when I raised my head up there was a race attendant at the top of the hill pointing me to the right to stay on course.
Finally, the home stretch. Two miles left. This stretch of the race is largely unmemorable. I was so enamored with the reality that, barring some physical breakdown, I was going to finish the race and do it inside my 5 hour goal. My average pace had steadied out at 11ish minutes per mile. I was walking as fast as I was running. I alternated from one to the other only to give the joints and muscles I used for one a break as I used those of the other. Ridiculous logic, I know.
At last the mile 26 flag was in view. I ran like I hadn’t run yet. Not speed wise, but manner. Goodness knows my lungs were barely full of air and my muscles barely full of blood. Now I ran with a full heart. Not because it was downhill, though the last 0.2 miles is. Not to quicken my average pace, for it would have no bearing on that at this point. But rather, I ran because my spirit was so full up with joy and gratitude it became an involuntary response of worship.
Maybe you’ve been in a worship service at church when folks are singing along. Then, at a particular point in the song – maybe the tempo increases or the kick drum hits – folks stand up or they raise their hands.That was the effect on me at this point in the race. Crescendo.
The course passes between condo buildings for a block or two, and then you enter the finish gate lined with crowds of people all cheering for the athletes finishing their race. I heard the voice of my wife and kids. Then I saw them. I began to cry from the inside-out. I made it. We – my Father and I – made it. The breadth and depth and height and length of my being was crossing a line my body told me for years I needn’t even try for. But my spirit as inspired by God’s Spirit knew otherwise.
The whole thing was larger than life; my life at least. It was most certainly a feat that tested my limits and pushed me beyond the familiar and the comfortable and the pain-free.
Will I do it again? Honestly? Probably not that course and probably not that time of year. And I’ll see how my body mends after all is said and done. Getting home I found my left foot in pretty sorry shape, and here a week on I may or may not be nursing a slight stress fracture. There are some things I might need to get in order physically before I go again, simply to be a better steward of my body. But if God’s Spirit says to me spirit, “Go again. It will all be more about Him who made you,” then I would not hesitate to click purchase, and then go buy a really good pair of shoes.
All for God’s glory and my joy.
(Below are my final results and a picture from the course photographer.)