In October 2018, I ran my first half marathon. It was something I never really planned on doing and I never thought that I really wanted to do one. But, a friend convinced me I could do it and before I knew it, I had signed up for the Niagara Falls Half Marathon. The months leading up to the 13.1 mile run were filled with miles of running around the neighborhood, thousands of squats and lunges to strengthen the running muscles, hours of riding indoor and outdoor bikes to build up cardio power with less strain on my joints.
There were other things that road was filled with, and unfortunately, not all of them were positive. There were rivers of tears I cried. There was pain from shin splints and a stress fracture. There were the days that when my alarm would go off, I had no desire to get up and go run because it felt like a futile effort. There were days where I felt like I was never going to be able to do it.
Before running the half, my longest distance was a 10K, a little over 6 miles. It took me just under an hour to do and was in the spring of 2015--before kids, before a move from Ohio to New Jersey, before turning 30. 6 miles was the longest I had run and now I was going to more than double that. The morning of my first run over 6 miles (7 miles) I felt like I was ready. I had new equipment--a water bottle I could carry in my hand with a strap. I was armed with my compression sock for my recovered injured leg and what runners call "Gu" or fuel to keep me moving and carb-ed up. I had my headphones and a fully charged phone with a playlist of music and I was ready! 7 miles! It was time to run my longest distance to date!
And holy moly... I complained the entire time! The music wasn't right. My socks were bunching. My water bottle was TOUCHING ME and I couldn't figure out a comfortable position for it to be in. Every step felt grueling and horrible. I just wanted to quit the entire time. Honestly, quitting would have been easier. But I kept my brain focused on what I needed to do, which was those 7 miles. One step after the other. That's all I needed to do. If I kept running away from the house, then I would be forced to run back to it. So I did.
I finished those 7 miles and honestly... it wasn't too bad. I just had to get myself into the right mindset. I had to keep in mind why I was doing what I was currently doing--putting one foot in front of the other. I knew it would make me stronger. I knew it would get me even closer to that goal of 13.1 miles in October. I just had to endure those miles.
Through the whole of my training,moments felt way easy and I found cause for celebration. Like the first time I ran 6 miles and did them all in a negative split! (Meaning each mile got faster than the one before). Or the first time I did 10 miles in a single setting! That was HUGE news. But there were days that I hated to put on my shoes and run. Days that I had to push my kid in a stroller or that I had to do a few miles inside on the dreadmill (yes... dreadmill). There were hours of running around parks on paths and never thinking I was going to finish.
And then...there was race day. 13.1 miles on cold, wind, rainy day at the Niagara Falls in Canada. My friend, B., with whom I was running the race was there, as well as his dad. We lined up, and we went. B stayed behind me, alternating walking and jogging the whole way. I was convinced I was going to finish under 2 hours 30 minutes. That was my goal. And I just went. I zoned out. I listened to the coach in my ears asking me what my motivation was or asking why I was doing this. They pushed me and pulled me forward and I plodded along those 13.1 miles.
At times, B's dad would show up at my side (note... he has run the Boston Marathon a few times and is a SERIOUS runner) and give me encouragement. Then he'd drop back and run with his son. I loved the way that all of a sudden he would show up at my side and then would drop back. But what really helped... the people lined up on the sidelines. The people whose names I would never know and they were CHEERING. They were yelling and screaming "go! You can do it! You're almost there! Keep going!" And that meant more to me than anything. All that work had paid off. All those hours of endurance training, of sweat and tears, of blisters and falls, and of sheer joy, were paying off.
I began to understand Hebrews 12:1 "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us," Run with perseverance. Stay in it because it's the course in front of you. Stay in it because you have a team of people on the sideline telling you that you can do it...even when you feel like you can't. Stay in it because at the end... nothing feels better than crossing the finish line.
Friends, right now... we are in endurance training. There are so many times we want to quit and throw in the towel. There are times that we are going to be so exhausted that you just don't know how you're going to continue. There are times when you will tell yourself "maybe I've done enough" and you're just done. But we need to keep going. Because you have the people on the sidelines cheering you on and telling you that you can do. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and soon, 13.1 miles will be done.
During this time of quarantine, I have started running again. And I still dislike endurance days. But you know what else I did? I signed up for another Half Marathon in November. I signed up with my friend B and we will run it again. We start training in July. Why did I do it? Because I know that having a goal is the best way to get through any hardship. Maybe it's a long term goal, or maybe your goal is simply survival at this time. But find a goal...and look for those people standing on the sidelines cheering you on. I'm cheering for you. Whether I know you or not. I'm cheering for you to get through this minute, this hour, this day...week...month... whatever it is. Why? Because we are all the Great Cloud of Witnesses.
When I crossed that finish line in October 2018, I sobbed. They were tears of joy and relief. The metal was put around my neck and I fell into my husband's arms crying and trying to catch my breath. I heard them yell my name as I crossed that finish line. And that's a feeling I will never forget. Quarantine will be a memory at some point. And we will get through it. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and know you're being cheered on.