What an emotional journey this was. It’s even difficult to type this because it means I am at the end of this particular journey. Preparing and training for this marathon was an all-consuming endeavor, not just for me, but for my family as well–particularly for my husband. As the race date approached I knew I wasn’t as in shape as I was hoping to be. I knew I would most likely finish after the course was closed. I envisioned being escorted off the course because I was taking too long and all the volunteers needed to go home, etc. I determined in my heart that I would finish, no matter what, because I couldn’t go through, or put my family through, another training cycle. I worked too long and hard to get to this point, and I needed to see it through.
I was a bundle of nerves as we arrived in Mankato, still dealing with self-doubt and battling the negative thoughts that plagued me for most of my life. I began to pray, and I heard the LORD say to me, “You belong here. You have every right to be in this race.” Then, something changed in me, and even though my emotions were high, I knew I was going to make it. I had a long list of mantras, but in the end the one that got me through was, “I will finish. I want that shirt!”
[For those reading this who are not familiar with marathon tradition, most race participants get their shirts when they pick up their race packets. However, those doing a full marathon don’t get their shirts until they cross the finish line because the shirt has the word “Finisher” on it.]
The race started, and I was feeling really good. It was awesome running the first three miles in the pack along with those doing the half marathon. My husband followed me along the way, showing up at various spots to cheer me on, encourage me, and pray for me. Then at mile three we split off. The half marathon runners turned right, and I turned left. I was alone on the course, and there was no one behind me. Then at mile 4, a volunteer named Sarah ran with me for about a quarter-mile with words of encouragement. Then she wished me well, and I looked ahead, the mile five hill–the biggest hill of the course was coming up. My mantra was, “That’s my hill. I own that hill.” And I shouted those words to everyone along the course. I made it to the top and at mile six I encountered one of the cheer teams who cranked up their tunes and busted their moves and celebrated as I ran by them. It was awesome!
At about mile 8 I caught up to an elderly gentleman also running the marathon. His body was bent, and I guessed he was around 80, but I could tell he knew what he was doing. I eventually passed him and was well ahead of him until mile 18. After passing the mile 8 marker, friends of ours, Jesse and Debbie, were there to cheer me on. They drove more than two hours just to support me. And, their being there was not only a blessing to me, but also to my husband.
I made it up a few more hills, around some twists and turns and approached the half-way mark, and I burst into tears. My husband came up beside me and started praying, “Lord, the first half is run with the legs, the second with the mind. I pray for her thoughts.” He had some more encouragement for me, and I kept going.
I made my way to a flat part of the course. The flatness was welcome after the hills; however, someone decided to turn up the wind machine and I was beaten and battered. One of the aid station’s cups of water/Gatorade were so full of debris kicked up by the wind I didn’t want to drink.
I don’t remember exactly what mile it was, but another cheer team, and another volunteer ran with me for a bit. She said that the cheer team was there to give me pep in my step, she even commented that my husband was there and was pretty proud of me. I knew there was a long downhill part coming up, and I was planning on picking up my pace. This would be miles 17-18. The older guy caught up with me and passed me. By mile 20, he left me in the dust, and I lost sight of him for the rest of the race. Then I hit the infamous wall.
The wall is real. Everything hurt. I thought I was going to collapse. I didn’t want to drink. I couldn’t bear another gel. Six more miles. Would I make it? Then one of the medical volunteers rode his bike up next to me. I thought, “Please don’t ask me how I’m doing.” He didn’t. Instead he said, “I’m so proud of you.” I sighed in relief. Then, wouldn’t you know it, when I was in the most pain, there was a photographer. I plastered a grimace on my face, raised my hands to show that I was “enjoying” this. It’s awesome looking through the photo proofs because I couldn’t hide the pain. The bottom of my face is smiling, but the top half is in obvious pain.
My husband decided to join me on the course for the final six miles, and he was welcome company. I won’t talk about the annoying golf cart on my heels who was assigned to follow the final runner. Okay, I did, but that’s all I’m going to say about that. Miles 20-23 were through the woods, we were alone, and I wasn’t doing well. I wondered where the “Psychs on Bikes” were, because I could really use some mental help.
We came out of the woods back onto the city streets and I knew we were a few blocks from the finish; however, instead of heading toward the end, we had to turn left and enter into the dreaded Sibley Park. I remembered hearing someone at the start line say, “Sibley sucks.” I discovered why. It’s only a two-mile loop, but when you’ve already gone 23 miles, two miles is grueling. There were twists and turns through what I am sure is a lovely park, but I couldn’t wait to get out of there. Another medical volunteer stuck by me to ensure I made it through. We were approaching the end, and I couldn’t believe what I saw–another hill. “You’ve got to be kidding me!” The volunteer said, “This is your last hill.” I replied, “Promise?” Eventually, we made it through, and turned left onto the final mile.
There in front of me I saw two angels in bright yellow shirts on bikes. They were waiting for me. I recognized one as Cindra Kamphoff, the leader of the “Psychs on Bikes,” but it was the other lady who engaged me in conversation and encouraged and energized me through the end–I found out later her name is Kate. I had quite the entourage of volunteers surrounding me who were committed to leaving no one behind. They stopped traffic one last time opening the way for me. I saw the scaffolding of what once was the finish line (the FINISH banner was already taken down and put away), but I was filled with new strength and energy and ran again. Everyone working on tearing the finish area down stopped what they were doing and cheered me on. One of them (Beth) joined me in running the final few yards, and Maureen shook my hand in congratulations.
Jesse and Debbie were there waiting for us. Everyone knew “Rebecca is coming.” They later told me that someone came up to them and asked, “Why is Rebecca doing this?” They began to talk, and Jesse asked about the time the first runner crossed the finish line. She proceeded to say, “I admire Rebecca. She’s the one out there doing the work. Sure there are those that can run this in less than three hours, but Rebecca is out there now doing the real work. She’s got what it takes. She’s got courage. She’s got the perseverance. I so admire and respect that.”
Another person came up to them and said, “Are you waiting for Rebecca? She’s out there and she’s not alone. There’s a group of people with her, so she’s not alone. She’s going to make it.”
Oh, and the older guy was actually 87-years old, and this was his 325th marathon!!
In the days following, I was stunned to learn that my story was shared with hundreds of people through Facebook…all inspired by my effort, and I was even mentioned in a newpaper article. I wondered if I was in the shape I was hoping to be in and did finish the marathon in 4 hours 30 minutes, would what I did have had this kind of impact? I realize that people were inspired because I struggled through and didn’t give up.
For me, when God first issued the challenge to complete a marathon, I was shaken to the core to realize that it was not a metaphor. He really wanted me to do this. His Word to me then was, “You’re stronger than you know. In doing this, I will release a strength in you that will surprise many.” I believe that is happening.
I will continue running. I registered for a half-marathon in May 2013 a month or so before this marathon, and I’m currently working on building a stronger running base and losing the rest of the weight so I can be leaner, stronger and faster.
The purpose of this blog was to keep me focused and accountable as I pressed through to the completion of this goal. Now that this goal is complete, this blog will come to an end. Thank you to all who encouraged me, prayed for me and cheered me on. I couldn’t have made it without you. Thank you, Dear Hubby, for all the time you sacrificed to support me through this. We are better together!
Truly, my hope is that my story will be an encouragement and inspiration to you to face your fears and press on to do great things. If I, the least likely runner of all, can finish a marathon, you can achieve your dreams, and I will be there to cheer you on.