I did it.
Yes, I can!
Relief and joy overwhelmed me as I crossed the finish line. I was pretty sure — but not 100 percent certain — that I reached my goal of running a 10k in under one hour.
How was it that I was unsure?
Mostly because I wasn’t looking at the timer when I actually crossed the finish line. I was trying not to care that I cared so much.
Goals are a strange thing, and so is deception.
I trained hard, but in a way that began grace-filled in a sort of tip-toeing around glass kind of way.
For five years I practiced yoga about two to three times a week with a DVD at home that was 25-45 minutes depending on the series. I bought the exercise program for my husband, who had chronic back issues. But I found that I liked it for the strength conditioning. As I did the workouts, I also noticed that my back — which would go “out” two or three time a year — was not giving me any problems.
But I had a weight loss transformation. Which caused me to want to run more and try more intense workouts like HIIT and weight lifting. I’d had a baby in the interim, too, so to fit it all in, I had to give up something. I gave up yoga.
I took my 14-year-old on a mission trip to Sierra Leone, during which my once always stable back mysteriously went all out. I could hardly look at my toes, let alone touch them.
Prayer alone healed my back that day. But two weeks later, momming a toddler and overdoing my fitness regime, pain crept back in. I had to give up the workouts I loved so much.
All I could do was yoga — Hatha yoga, vinyasa, slow flow, gentle, power yoga. I didn’t even know what all of it meant; I diversified my workout with variations of yoga. Then God called me in the midst of my pain to get my own certification in Holy Yoga. While my inner self was crushed, bruised and healing, my back was mirroring this painfully slow process.
For months, I thought yoga was all I could or would ever do. I love yoga like I love my protein shakes. Both have saved me and healed me, but it’s not like I don’t want to eat other food any more than I want my exercise to be limited to yoga.
Somewhere along the way, I decided while my back was not 100 percent better, nor might it ever be, it was healed enough to tie my running shoes on and take my chances on the trail again.
I ran a mile that first day, and I had no back pain immediately afterward. So I kept going. Once I could run three miles, I decided I would train for a race. I found out the Abe’s Amble, a 10k at the end of the state fair, would work well in the timeframe for ample training. I kept running skeptically and eventually I signed up.
As I ran, my old goals of “just running” seemed inadequate. I wanted to push myself — to trust more in God, to discontinue the babying I was doing, to stop making excuses, to see what I was capable of when it comes to setting and reaching a goal that seems, well, impossible for me. Could I run a long race with a 10-minute-mile average? Could I do a short run of two miles in under 19 minutes?
In elementary school, I had to run one mile for the Presidential Fitness test. I had the worst time in all my class. It was embarrassing. In track, I was so slow. I always felt weak and inadequate.
But when the stresses of life overwhelmed, it was running that cleansed my mind and unraveled the tension in my muscles. Before I could drive, I ran. It wasn’t about the time or about me competing against myself to beat my own time even. I was too naive to know or care. It was the healing nature of running that had me drawn to it.
This time, it was also the healing nature of running that lured me back. Could I effectively run the fastest ever as an exhausted mother, not to compete but to heal past hurts that made me feel inadequate? Could running bolster my own self confidence, as it drew me in to trust God at an even deeper level? Could running be a tool to heal my inner and outer self?
I set a goal — 6.2 miles in 60 minutes or less. It was moderately out of reach — much faster than I thought I could muster for a distance that great.
I used the app Map My Run and celebrated my progress. Eight weeks of training and nothing indicated I couldn’t reach it. Every week, I shocked myself. My confidence was, indeed, soaring. My trust in God and my pure thanksgiving for the healing work He had done in me was bubbling over.
I could absolutely do this.
But deception grabbed hold as soon as I drove to the Illinois State Fairgrounds. The thick smell of manure began to choke me even before I got out of my car. The stack of donuts at the check-in table nearly made me puke. I’ve nothing against donuts, but I always run on an empty stomach. That and my gluten allergy means the sight and smell of food I can’t have sometimes sets my body into a reaction as if I’ve actually taken a bite.
The first half mile of the race was through the fair grounds where the smell of stale glutenous food clogged my nostrils and lingered into the depths of my throat. And I thought the hills would be my biggest adversary!
I knew immediately that the finish line would be a problem for me, since we would circle back around the same loop.
The hills I handled fine. I muted my Map My Run app so that I wouldn’t be discouraged. It was time to run for fun and to trust God entirely. I check in the first two miles, and I was pacing far better than usual.
Around the 4.5 mile, my sciatica nerve on the left leg began to throb. In all my training, it had never manifested while on a run. I only vaguely feel it when I stretch it out in yoga. It was jarring — more mentally than physically. I tried not to think about it, but it was reverberating from my glutes all the way down to my ankle. It was very hard to ignore.
The runner holding the 59:59 sign was another area of deception, too. Initially, I thought it was great that she was there. I would know and be able to adjust my speed so I could meet my goal. Of course, she was never in my sights, as I ran a great first mile and a good second mile. But somewhere along the way in the hills and humidity and with my throbbing leg, my pace obviously slowed.
I sensed someone passing on my right and before I saw her, I knew who it was. I wasn’t even out of the park yet, so I had a long stretch of sidewalk and into the fair before hitting the last half mile that I had already decided would be my most challenging.
That didn’t last long. I pushed right back in front of her and picked up my pace. My feet beat the pavement in rhythm to a prayer. It was time to lean fully on God. Though I was secretly hoping my husband and toddler had made it out to cheer me on at the final turn into the main gate back into the fairgrounds.
So with discouragement that they hadn’t been there and the smells of grease fryers firing up for the final day, I hit my wall. The pace runner zipped passed me, and as much as I tried to pick myself up, I simply couldn’t.
I tried self-talk. I was digging deep. But I could feel vomit coming up the back of my throat. And then I got a whiff of urinal cakes — you know, those nasty things they put in the port-a-potties to make them smell less gross or to cover up the odor. Whatever it is for, it gagged me.
Then I heard one of the vendors cheering us on while they were warming up their fryer. I know he meant well, but I wanted to stop and smack the crap out of him. “One more turn and you’ve got it,” he says. To me, it was a sneer. The very smell of food that sends me to the emergency room was doing me in. Food he was making to sell. Ugh. At this point, I couldn’t find my positive self talk. Every bit of energy was directed to my attempt to NOT vomit.
A couple came up beside me and the husband pointed out to the wife that the woman in the red shirt was just a little bit ahead.
“Let’s pass her,” he says.
“I can’t,” was all the wife can muster.
I’m with her, I think. I feel like that last part of child labor. I’ve checked out. It’s over. I’m done investing any more physically or mentally, and I’m only going through the motions.
But the woman picks up her pace anyway.
I think to myself I am certain I won’t pass the woman with the sign, but I can definitely go somewhat faster.
I watch the lovely couple pass the pace runner, who slows down significantly as she comes to the finish line. They finish, but the pace runner seems to be stopping.
Oh, she went too fast, I think. She has to wait.
But then she crosses over.
Disappointment sinks in. My feet slow.
Then I hear someone to my left yelling, “There’s still time!”
I am about 30 yards from the finish and I see four numbers, and all I know is the first number is a 5. So I run as fast as I’m able.
I don’t look at the timer. I just run.
As I clear the finish line, I head for a seat and a bottled water. I finish the water, call my husband, grab another water and start walking to my car.
I don’t know if I did it, I say.
You did it, he said.
Yep, I was a pro at NOT puking that last half mile, I think. That’s what I did.
When I pull in the driveway, I realize I have an unread text. I had recalled as I was crawling to the bench after the run that I got a notification on my phone. I thought it was notifying me of the race day. A little late, I thought.
But it was a text with my results: 59:33.