By Christine Darragh
October 20 was bright, beautiful with autumn foliage, and full of promise. It was dry, 45 degrees and perfect running weather. Especially for a marathon. The race in Grand Rapids is large, but small enough to feel congenial. The gun went off at 8 am – a nice late morning start, and we took off, trotting through a few neighborhoods, then tangent to downtown before heading into the rural beauty of the course.
Sometimes following roads, and a little ways along a wide, paved path, our route followed 131 south through meadows, grassy open areas, golden and feathery with grain. Around some small lakes, one with a beach, still and glassy, reflecting gently the blue sky and a bright haze of foliage. We were along the river before turning back, going through trees on a leaf-strewn road, shady and wet, and smelling of the rich decay of fall.
A lot of the path was lonely of spectators, who were few and far between. We saw many of the same supporters again and again, as they moved along the raceway, watching for and cheering along their favorite runners. It was idyllic – the perfect day.
Right out of the chute, my sister and I were running steady 9 minute miles. Right-on for eight miles, then we fell behind, slipping a few seconds each mile. At the halfway point (13.1 miles), our time was 2:00:55. One minute slow, but right on for a strong race. Within a couple of miles, however, our few second lag slipped even more, and our minutes per mile increased to 10:45 – a slow crawl compared to where we had been.
Then came the hardest part of the race, a six-mile out and back section. It was beautiful, with the river running alongside a small tree-lined avenue, empty of houses. Mentally however, it is hard to go out anywhere and turn around, especially when you’re in a long race, and there’re many miles left to go.
On this lonely stretch, our pace retarded as energy began to flag. It was apparent at that point that we would not be hitting our goal, and only perhaps hitting last year’s finish time. By mile 21, we were done with the out-and-back and headed to the end.
But, my body was tired, and my brain was losing the mental battle. I started believing the thoughts racing through my mind.
“What’s the point of finishing when you’re not even going to P.R.?”
“Why did we start so fast when it wasn’t going to be possible to keep it up?”
“We’re going so slow, our time is going to be so much worse than last time.”
So, at mile 22, I quit.
I stopped running for about 3 minutes, ready to be done. I quit again at mile 23, and again at mile 24, feeling stressed and panicky. With only two miles to go, I was repeating under my breath “I can do all things, through Christ who strengthens me.” Over and over, with every step, I said this, drowning out the voices of defeat, ignoring the protest of my body.
It was a prayer that in the end, acknowledged that my own strength wasn’t enough. I needed the strength and will of a power bigger than myself.
It was in this manner that I stumbled across the finish line 4 hours and 28 minutes later, finishing weary and disappointed, after a wildly optimistic start.
In retelling this disappointment, the story in Luke 18:1-8 of the persistent woman comes to mind. Her life was characterized by a single-minded vision, a focus on one thing she wanted: justice for a past wrong. She tried and was turned away. She tried again, and again was turned away. Over and over and over, this scenario plays out.
Maybe the woman prepared differently, each time rehearsing a new argument on her own behalf. Maybe she sought the advice of different experts. Perhaps she used the testimony of various witnesses to bolster her case. Or maybe she just showed up every day and begged, “Please, please, grant me justice.” And, because the judge was simply sick of seeing this woman, of hearing her story, he finally gave her what she wanted.
There are many reasons to stop running. It’s cold outside this time of year, getting up at 5:15 a.m. is tiring, and I’m scared I may never reach my goal of beating 4 hours in a marathon. I’m going to keep running, and trying for this goal, not because it will make me feel good, which it will, but because every time I fail and have to pick myself back up, I learn something about persistence.
I learn through running that the most important part of any race, and life, is that I show up and take a shot. I can’t win without showing up. God can’t continue to perfect me into the woman He envisions unless I show up at his feet and let him work His sanctification in me every day.
It’s easy to feel discouraged, like a failure, and even hopeless. But, it is much harder to walk slowly and deliberately along the path that is prepared for me, facing down those feelings and my own human inadequacies, but still showing up to say, “God, do I get justice today, or will I have to come back again tomorrow?”