Well I finally did it. After 35 years of running off and on, I got serious and ran my first marathon at the age of 56. I had dreamt of this for so long and thought that when I finally crossed that finish line, after 9 months of training and 26.2 miles of blood sweat and tears, that I would feel proud and exhilarated. “What an accomplishment this will be. I’ll really be something now!”were thoughts I can only now barely admit to having.
The reality was surprising and confusing. The minute I stepped across that finish line I burst into tears, (ok, to be honest, “balling my eyes out” would be more accurate). “What is this?” I was embarrassed and surprised by the emotional outburst. The only other feeling I could identify in the moment was a profound sense of humility that I didn’t understand.
As I reflected upon my experience, I began to make sense of my emotions, which continued to surface any time I talked or even thought about my experience for some weeks after the race. I came to understand that my humility came from the deep realization that something I thought had been a mostly solitary journey, had involved so many other people and that I could never claim sole credit for this accomplishment. Also, that so many others had been on their own solitary journeys and here we all were. We hadn’t been alone after all!
First there was my son’s girlfriend who started this whole thing one Sunday afternoon in June, by casually asking; “so, who wants to run the LA Marathon?” My son instantly responded affirmatively. “They don’t even know what they’re getting into” I thought, but I knew running a marathon had been on my bucket list for many years, so I reluctantly agreed. Okayyy…..I’ll give it a try. We’ll see how far we get with this. And so it all began…
I didn’t even tell people my goal, because initially, I figured I probably would never get anywhere near that distance and I didn’t want to be viewed as a quitter. But as the weeks passed I was adding ever-increasing miles to my runs. I was seeing and feeling my body change and I began to dare to hope that I might actually be able to do this thing.
I began to meet and talk with other marathoners and their encouragement spurned me on. My son and his girlfriend and I commiserated on our every changing aches and pains. My son was especially good at researching the various strains and injuries and the best ways to treat and work around them.
I would be running to benefit St Jude Children’s Research Hospital, since my son’s girlfriend worked in their marketing department and she had been instrumental in their connection with the marathon. It all took on special purpose and meaning when I learned that the grandson of a dear friend was diagnosed with leukemia. He was probably one of the biggest motivators for me. I knew this little guy was running his own endurance race and it made mine look like a walk in the park. How could I tell him to keep fighting if I gave up? I also owed so much to the many people who donated in honor of this brave little boy. On race day I pinned his picture to my singlet and his bright eyes and smile told me to keep going several times.
|Ethan Fontes...my inspiration|
I was also deeply moved by the many hundreds of volunteers and supporters who lined the route to hand out cups of water, or bananas and those who cheered for hours, holding up signs or pieces of cardboard glopped with Vaseline (to prevent chaffing… who’d a thunk ?).
The sympathetic medical aid worker who saran wrapped an ice pack to my knee at mile 22 relieved the knife stabbing pain enough to keep me in the race. Bless you nameless angle of mercy!
The “carbo loading” homemade pasta and shrimp dinner my husband so lovingly prepared for me the night before the race and his waiting on me hand and foot during post-race recovery were testimony of the love and support he had lent enduring my long, frequent absences for training runs… I was not alone.
Rugged Independence VS. Accepting Help
Why tell you this whole story? I think because something that God had been speaking to me for a long time, really hit home. I had always embraced the rugged independence that our American Culture loves to nurture. That day, I humbly acknowledged that I hadn’t done this alone and that, like it or not…I needed people. God intended us to be, not dependant, in a weak or lazy way, but interdependent.
Galatians 6:2 says: “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ…”.
We are to come along side and help those who are burdened. But a strange paradox appears in scripture just 3 verses down.
Verse 5 says: “for each one should carry their own load”.
Ok, so which is it? Do we help and allow ourselves to be helped or do we carry our own load and make others do the same? When we look more closely at the language we find the answer: The “burden” referred to in verse 2 is an overwhelming burden that we are not able to carry. God calls us to help carry these for one another, in the same way Christ’s work on the cross lifted the burden of sin for us. We were unable to do anything about our sin, but Christ was able to do what we could not.
The “load” mentioned in verse 5 refers to our responsibility. When we are able to fulfill and carry the responsibility for something, we are expected to do it. I was responsible to put on my running shoes several times a week and head out the door and log my miles, but there were times I was lonely, discouraged, hurting and ready to give up, and someone would come along to encourage me. When I think of all the volunteers who lined the route handing out water and Gatorade, I was aware that I could have never carried enough liquid on me to get me through the race. They did what I couldn’t do for myself. I also don’t think I had the heart to plug along for so many hours, but the cowbells and cheers and goofy signs of bystanders kept me smiling and a trickle of energy flowed into my long empty reserves that got me just a little bit further down the road.
Sometimes we get hung up on receiving help from others…especially if we are a helper ourselves. Needing help makes us feel weak. What if I had refused to accept those cups of water because I thought I needed to do this on my own without any help? I most surely would have never finished that race and probably would have ended up in the hospital being treated for dehydration.
We Are Not Alone
I was also comforted and touched deeply that my suffering had not been alone. I saw a commercial that played during the televised coverage of the race of a young woman shuffling painfully to her car. She gingerly eased herself into the drivers seat and with a cascade of “ow ow ow ow ow” managed to buckled her seat belt.
“Wait a minute…how did “they” know what I felt like after the race…you mean, everybody feels that way after running a marathon? I thought I was the only one who hurt that much, I thought surely I was the only one to be in so much pain”, I thought…
What a comfort to know that there were other’s who knew how I felt. My pain was more common than I had ever imagined.
When we are in pain, exhausted and discouraged, why do we always think we are the only one who has felt that way? Let us draw strength from the “cloud of witnesses” who have gone before us and compassionately nod their heads in understanding.
In my practice I have often been asked why God allows them to suffer more than they can seemingly take. Sometimes my answer is: “so that you can learn to ask for and accept help!” When you are overwhelmed, look around you for the outstretched hands and the untapped resources that you have been to proud to accept. God expresses himself in community. The Church was His idea because He didn’t just want us on our knees talking to Him, but also expressing Him through the help and comfort we give one another.
If you realize there is no one around you, perhaps you have cut yourself off from others for some reason. With the help of a therapist you may be able to get to the bottom of that problem and begin to form some meaningful relationships. All of us need to be part of a Church Fellowship. I would strongly encourage you to pick a church and attend, and not merely attend but get involved so that you can not only make your needs known, but can be used by God to help and comfort others.
Even as I complete this entry, I have a sense that I have missed important lessons here. I want to reach out right now and invite you to comment and add to what I have said. I love that this is unfinished, because….
I am not alone, and neither are you!