50 Miles to a New Motto

One week, and 50 miles later, I’m finally ready to write about my big race.  Eleven hours on the Pacific Crest Trail left me  with plenty to talk about: giant blisters, a rock lodged in my pinkie toe, race directors with no sense of humor, a wrong turn worth a good two-mile detour, and 90 degree heat that caused me to completely tank the second half of the race.  I reached my goal of crossing the finish line, I discovered new weaknesses, and found strength in good company.  Many blog worthy tales could be told, but only one lesson really sums it all up.

 Somewhere around noon the day before the race,  I loaded my family and my luggage into the car as all the nerves settled in my bladder.  Those nerves, combined with a solid effort to hydrate, meant I felt the need for a bathroom stop before we even left the driveway.  I was determined to wait as long as possible before stopping, knowing the nerves would not be relieved at the nearest Rest Stop.  I distracted myself with cross-word puzzles, radio surfing, and playing “whose driving” (a game where I tried to guess who was behind the wheel based on the vehicle).  After failing to complete six puzzles, finding a radio station that alternated Pearl Jam with Katy Perry hosted by Sven the DJ, and passing the neon-green van with Burton Stickers (obviously driven by two long-haired teens wearing beanies in the middle of summer), I could not hold out any longer.

Of course, by the time I told my husband to stop at the nearest restroom, we had already passed the shiny new Starbucks, the 55 various fast-food restaurants, and the beautiful Farm stand with fresh lemonade.  Leaving no other option but to stop at the Bate’s Motel of Gas Stations in Boring, Oregon (yes, that really is a town in Oregon).  The attached mini-mart smelled like a slaughter-house, and that was its only asset.  The woman at the counter responded to my request for a bathroom by pointing to a key hanging on the wall and directing me out and around the back of the building. 

One turn of that Key revealed a scene only suitable for a low-budget horror film.  My feet slopped through the water on the floor as I tried to hold my breath and not think about where the water came from.  Hovering over the toilet seat I could hear the sounds of a television coming through the wall and a winced at who might be watching on the other side of the yellow-stained stucco.  There was no sink to wash my hands in, just a sign that offered baby wipes at the front counter. I was in and out quickly, but  felt less relieved than when I arrived.  And the true irony?   A mile down the road . . . a shiny new Starbucks.  If only I had waited a little longer.

The day of the race started at 4:00 am in a nippy 47 degrees.  My husband, having failed to make it on time to every other race I’ve ever run, was determined to stand at the start line with bells on (literally.)  He made t-shirts for the kids and himself that read “more cowbell” on the front and “the cowbell crew” on the back.  Thing is, 4 am, 47 degrees, and t-shirts do not make for happy children.  As the gun went off I looked over to see my husband, arms wrapped around both kids, ringing three cowbells (the kids were supposed to ring two of them); while both the Ts sobbed with alternating cries of “I’m cold,” and “can we go yet.”.

The first 28 miles felt good, in spite of an upset stomach that left me diving behind trees every few miles . . . probably something I picked up at the gas station.  The final 22 miles pretty much ate me alive.  Temperatures soared and hit 90 by noon.  The once rolling hills turned into impossible grades, and I was fading fast.  By mile 39 I knew that finishing was an absolute reality, but I rued the ability to finish strong.  By mile 45, I had a general sense of what awaited me in the last five miles and tried to mentally prepare. 

To the best of my recollection, I expected a short down hill followed by a left turn and three miles of rolling trail to the finish line.  As the decline passed below my feet, I focused on finding that left turn.  “I’ll push then,”  I thought to myself.  The left turn refused to emerge, and I was losing heart quickly.  From 100 feet in front of me, my running companion, shouted back.  “It hurts to walk, it hurts to run, we might as well run and get it over with.”  I laughed inside thinking “sounds like a Nike t-shirt: everything hurts, you might as well run.”

When I finally took that left turn, I pressed through the pain in my legs only to find there were not three miles left, only about 3/4 of a mile and then the  finish line greeted us.  As the cowbells rang for a second time (this time with kids smiling), I could not help but wish I had pushed sooner . . . If only I knew how close we really were.

The morning after the race, the painful reality of lactic acid hell set in.  Everything hurt.  Usually the one to tell my family to walk faster, I kept waiving them ahead and promising to catch up (something my husband enjoyed way too much).  Still, I wasn’t ready to come down the Mountain.  Instead, we spent the day riding down the arctic slide, swinging on the mountain’s zip line, and flipping out on trampolines with bungee cords.  Not the typical post race faire.

I woke up Monday morning expecting the second-day onset (usually greater soreness than the first day after).  I felt great . . . better than the day before.  Pushing through to enjoy the mountain, in spite of the pain, turned out to be the greatest cure.  Maybe I should have hit one more back flip.

So where’s the lesson?

God is often accused of waiting too long.  In desperate times, when we cry out to Him, we expect immediate answers.  They do not always come.  To us, God delays, He claims perfect timing. 

What makes His timing perfect is not the answer that comes, but the strength we find in the waiting.  When we wait for His provision, when we continue to run not knowing the finish line is near, when we enjoy the experience in spite of the pain  we find perfect strength.  God does not find pleasure in making us wait, but He does find great joy knowing that He IS all the strength we need.  Truly His strength is made perfect in our weakness.

When we get impatient and jump ahead of God, we end up in gas station outhouses while God offers mansions just a little further down the road.  When we abandon the race and promise to run when we can see the finish line, we miss out on what we may have done with His strength to back us.  But when we enjoy the moment in all it’s pleasures and pain, we experience the power of God in a whole new way . . . and we are truly made better.

Nothing worth living for is easy.

Everything Hurts, You Might as Well Run.