Writing this post has honestly been something I’ve been thinking about since I started this blog last summer. One of the most significant, physical, mental, and even spiritual journeys of my life was making the once-thought ridiculous decision to train and run my first half marathon last March – and the “Toughest Half in Texas” at that. It sounds shallow when I say that it was such a big deal to me, but if you’ve ever joined the “half-crazy” club you might understand where I’m coming from. It’s not just about running some silly race, it’s about overcoming a battle inside everyday and accomplishing things that seem impossible while honoring God with the gift of health that He’s given me.
If you would have told me in high school that I would run a half marathon in college, I would have laughed in your face. Sure, I was always an athlete growing up and played volleyball, softball, and basketball in high school, but the extent of my running career was the 100 and 300 meter hurdles that only lasted through middle school. Any time we had to do distance conditioning or run outside for team workouts, I would easily be one of the ones grumbling under my breath about it. Long distance (aka anything more than maybe two miles) was never my thing. I really don’t know what changed my mind, but I woke up one day with the foreign idea that I could actually call myself a “runner.”
I figured I’m in my twenties, quite possibly at the peak of my physical prime, and I’m also such a believer of goal setting and focusing on a certain project at any given time. My university puts on The Bearathon every year which helps raise money for scholarships and attracts people from all over the state due to its challenging course full of hills and that runs through our beautiful campus and nearby park. My freshman year I started easing my way into this running thing and actually trained to run the 5K portion of the event with a great time. 13.1 is an entirely different animal, though.
I signed up for an Aerobic Running class the fall semester before the race to fulfill one of my degree requirements while getting a good maintenance run in three times a week. We never really went more than about 3.2 miles in the class due to time restrictions, though. At home over Christmas break I think my longest run was about a 4.3 loop around our county roads. I browsed the web for a 10 week training plan (the exact time from the start of the spring semester and the race in March) for beginners and just picked one, printed it out, and posted it on my wall. As I looked at those little squares with scary big numbers, I didn’t know if I would actually be able to go through with it.
I sucked up my fear, and I remember crossing off that first day of actual running. Now there was no turning back – I was really doing this. I prayed daily that God would give me the strength and endurance to keep going further – literally and figuratively. Not only was running an investment in my physical well-being, it was some of the most precious times spent in the Lord’s presence, listening to worship music, and being outside enjoying His creation day after day. I do always listen to music on my runs, but I also use the time to think and pray about things on my mind. I also believe exercise can be a form of worship if you let it be. I think honoring our body as the temple God created and taking care of our physical selves daily brings Him joy just as much as sitting and reading His Word.
On a different note, one of my favorite things about training for a big race is definitely the liberty you can take with the amount of food you can eat. Yes, it’s important to eat the right things for fueling and recovering, but let’s be real – you certainly can afford ample extra calories (and specifically carbs) around the times of your long runs and still never gain weight. I wasn’t training to lose weight, but just after a few weeks of regularly running, I could visibly see a bigger gap between my inner thighs, that signature defined muscle cut above my knees of a true runner, a slimmer waist, and my calves that I always thought were muscular grew even more (funny but sad story – my favorite riding boots from that winter season now no longer zip up over my calves).
“It’s all out there, with nothing but the drumbeat of your feet and the rhythm of your ragged breath and the green of the trees on the path.” – Shauna Niequist, Bread and Wine.
Each Saturday my long runs became longer, and I somehow kept finishing them – sometimes with even improved paces despite the mileage increase. Once I got past six or seven, eight, nine and ten really all did start to feel the same (I know it sounds crazy, just trust me).
Once the actual day of the race came, I had so many emotions. Nervous, scared, and excited, adrenaline pumped through my veins like never before. One of my biggest fears was that I would start off too fast and tank way too soon. I use the app MapMyRun on my phone when I run, and I was shocked and worried when my first mile (and the next and the next) was at a pace about a minute faster than most all of my training runs. I couldn’t slow down, though. I loved the feeling as I passed people and felt my entire body powering through each stride. As I came into the last mile or two of the race, I was overwhelmed with the fact that I had actually made it to this point after months of dedication and sacrifice. I crossed the finish line and was blown away when I saw my official results (beating my goal time by over 11 minutes!).
These feelings are why I run today and am training to do this same race again this year (although if I’m honest, I don’t think I’ll PR). Right now, the miles once again feel long, slow, and impossible at times. Still, I know I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to run again and go on a new journey, discovering more about myself and God on each run, in each sunset, and with each step.