50 miles, Old Growth, and No Comfy Chairs

My first trail run was 4.5 miles long, 500 feet of climbing, and the hardest run of my life.  My first trail race was 9.3 miles long, 1500 feet of climbing, and the hardest run of my life.  Tomorrow, I will run 50 miles, climb 6000 feet, and will probably call it the hardest run of my life.  A run that began with 4.5 miles.

From the first time my pavement crusted running shoes felt the cushion of the trail, I was hooked. There was something magical about watching the city I call home fade into the distance as the wilderness enclosed around me.  I was mystified by the ever changing-terrain and beauty of the woods, a beauty that morphed at twilight so by dawn the same trail was all new again.  I embraced the solitude, burying all iPods in the grave of things no longer needed, and allowing the quiet to work through the stresses of my day.

Of all the revelling moments I  experience on the trail, there is one moment I look forward to on every run.  It is the moment when the forgotten world emerges, when the trail spews me out and the wilderness comes to an abrupt end.  Whether four miles or fifty, in that moment my reality is never the same.  I remember the hills climbed, the tree roots tip-toed through, the streams leapt across, and I know that I can face anything. 

At the end of my first 4.5, I swore that was the longest I would and could go.  After 9.3 (and being shoved off the trail by a young man tired of me passing him on the hills), I made the same vow.  When 9.3 became 32, I once again affirmed that would be my longest.  Now I plan on 50, a decision made in that moment when the trail ended and the world emerged.

God is most often quoted as saying to never look back.  “Lest you fall into temptation.”  “Lest you long to move backwards.”  “Lest (my personal favorite) you turn into a pillar of salt.” 

But there is one thing that God told his people to look back upon, again and again.  From the moment they emerged after forty years, God told Israel to remember the wilderness.  “Look back,” He told them.  And you will see that in all that time your shoes never wore out.  And you will recall that you were never hungry.  And you will realize that I, in fact, put My arms underneath you and carried you the entire way.

Our paths sometimes lead us into the wilderness.   Times when waters once parted crash behind us, and there is no other way but in.  The wilderness can be scary, uncertain, overwhelming.  It hides everything we know, and offers only obstacles.

The race directors for the 50 miler have sent a number of emails warning of “unnecessary pain,”  old growth trees that must be scaled over (no under or around available), and the clear fact that there will be no comfortable chairs to sit in anywhere along the trail (I’m not kidding, they really said that).  All things that might be a deterrent to anyone unprepared.  I just keep remembering all those moments at the end of my runs.  I have never gone 50 before, but I know what awaits me when I do.

God may take us into the wilderness at times.  We may face things that would deter anyone unprepared, but He also promises that with Him we are ready.  It takes faith to step in, but when we look back we will see we were never alone.

Sometimes God asks us to go a quick 4.5 with him, sometimes it is a full 50.   Whatever the distance; we go knowing that when the wilderness spews us out we will experience a moment of perseverance, and faith, and joy.

Tomorrow I will face 50.  I know that the world behind me faces even more than that.  There are people I know and people I don’t who face a wilderness of their own: illness, finances, job loss, loss of a loved one.  I go knowing that even when my legs are weary, I am not without hope.  We all can face our wilderness when we look back at God’s past faithfulness, throw our arms towards His shoulders, and allow Him carry us home.