On your mark, get set….

It is a crazy thing, a bucket list.

You think about the things that you want to do, to accomplish.  It is a list of the things you dream about doing, people you want to meet, places you want to go, goals you want to hit.

My list isn’t written down, it just floats about in my thoughts.  It has been added to, edited, tweaked, revamped, added to again, and some (very few) items have been checked off.

Some of the items on my bucket list are:  setting my feet upon every continent, visiting every one of the 50 states, running a half-marathon (check!), riding in a hot-air balloon, opening/running a B&B with a spa, learning how to cook a whole chicken (okay, so some of my dreams aren’t very big!), and living to see all of my children graduate,  get married, and meet my grandbabies.

And run a marathon.

That one is just about ready to be checked off.

running feet

Back in January, I signed up to run in the Mankato Marathon.  I’ve spent the last nine months, hours upon hours, training, running, focusing on accomplishing this goal.  For nine months, I’ve been a bit obsessed over training plans, calendars, carbohydrates, and fueling.  For nine months, I have told everyone I know that I am going to do this, and probably annoyed everyone around me with talk of it.  For nine months, I have sacrificed almost every Saturday morning to spend running for 3, 4, and sometimes, 5 hours.  And now, in just 9 days, I will put my feet at the starting line, and push forward with 1,500 other men and women to run for 26.2 miles, up and down hills, through long straights and sharp curves, all for the right to say I’m a marathoner.

But it is going to be ugly. That I already know.

I live currently in a very, very flat part of the state.

Mankato? Not. flat. at. all.

It’s going to hurt. It is going to be hard.  My goal? To finish. My other goal? To finish under the 6 hour, 15 minute time limit allotted for the race. Long past after most of the other 1,500 runners finish.

Fast? No. But finishing? That is what is important to me.

That’s what I keep telling myself, anyway.

I’ve never been a fast runner, never been much of a runner at all. In fact, I still have a hard time calling myself a runner, even after finishing a half-marathon, a 7 miler, a 10K, and a couple of 5K races. But I am stubborn, determined to finish what I start.  Of course, I would love to finish in less that 5 hours (definitely not going to happen).  I’d be thrilled to finish in less that 5 1/2 hours (probably not going to happen, either).  6 hours, 15 minutes, the time limit allotted? Hopefully, I will finish in less time than that. I am hoping I won’t be the last person to cross the finish line.

Because, yes, I might be that shallow, that proud.  There is something within me (probably the mental scars from junior high phys ed) that doesn’t want to be the last one to cross the finish line. As if there is shame in that. As if conquering 26.2 miles of ascents and descents is not enough, I think I have to do so in a certain time limit, held to some standard in my head that I have to come in before somebody, anybody, else. Shallow, right? (Or maybe all runners think that, and I’m just putting it out there for the world to know…)

And there is fear, too. Fear that I can’t push through, fear that when it gets hard, when I lag behind the crowds, that I may just want to fold up and quit.  Other than having babies, there is nothing else that I have committed 9 months in preparation for.  But you can’t quit in the middle of labor.

You can’t just stop in the middle of pushing, and say “Yeah, enough of this. I’m done. I’m going home.  Just leave that kid in there.”

Running? There is an out.  It hurts? I can quit at any time. There is nothing that commits me to finishing, other than my own mental fortitude. Nothing forcing me to follow through, except for myself.

I have been thinking through how I am going to deal with it when the pain starts, when the fatigue sets in.  Having read plenty of articles about running a marathon, I know there will come a time when I hit a wall, when the carbs from breakfast are used up, when the energy stores run low, when the blood sugar crashes, when it will get hard.

My plan when it gets hard? To focus outside of myself.  I have started a list of people I want to think of, pray for,  when it starts to get tough.  Each mile of this race, I want to dedicate to a loved one, some who are still here, some who have passed on.  I’m making a mental list, but I am pretty sure I will need to write it down before race day. Who knows what my mental processes will be like by mid-race, and I want to make sure I don’t forget anyone.

My nephew with a heart defect, who has been through multiple surgeries, and who still needs a miracle.

My father in law, who passed away several years ago from cancer.

My husband’s great-grandma, almost 102, and my baby girl, almost 4.

My children. My husband. My family of origin.  My family I have been blessed to marry into.

My friends who are like family.

Sweet friends who are mourning the loss of their first pregnancy.

Other friends who are mourning the loss of their parents.

The list is long already, and growing.  Each mile will have a focus, and every mile will be special.  The names will be written on my arm, and tattooed upon my heart.  They will be carried with me over every mile, and they will carry me in every way.  This is how I will get through the (literal) ups and downs of this race, by turning outward rather than inward, by thinking and focusing on what is greater than me, and the One who is greater than me.

And that finish line? It really doesn’t matter how long it takes me to cross it. Running, walking, stumbling, or perhaps even crawling….I just gotta cross it.

And if I am the very last person out of 1,500 to cross that line?  Well,  I’ll just hold fast to the statement I’ve heard…

Finishing = Winning

Running Naked

I ran naked the other day.

Now, don’t go into shock.  It wasn’t that kind of “naked”  (or “nekkid” as the native Kentuckians around us say.)

I ran without a phone. Without music. Without a watch. Without any “tech” type of gear. Just me, enjoying a 50 degree winter day, in my running shoes, capris and long sleeve t-shirt.

And for the first 15 minutes or so, it felt odd. Weird.

I am so used to having earbuds in, listening to podcasts or music, having the phone tell me when to run or walk, watching it for my time and speed, glancing at it for distance and pace.

The quiet was…disquieting.  It has been a while since I have run naked, allowing myself to run by feeling, rather than by a watch. It has been a while since I have  not allowed myself to get lost in an audio book, or music, or podcast. It has been a while since I have taken the time to get lost in the silence and quiet.

And then, I got lost in it. I tuned in to the sound of my footfalls. I became more aware of my breathing.  I heard birds. Train whistles. I became more aware of the sensations of muscle fibers twitching, cold breeze against my skin, trickle of sweat down my back.

And in the quiet, I had time…no, I GAVE time…to listen to God.

The past few weeks have been hard.  I have wrestled, I have been angry, and I have (mentally) screamed, yelled, and had myself a good ol’ temper tantrum with God.  I have cried out, wept, and poured out the burdens that weighed heavy upon my soul.  But it has all been one-sided. It has been me talking, yelling, crying…but never listening.  And so, by running naked, I was able to silence my own thoughts and allow Him space in my head to speak, and space for me to listen.

There was so much quiet. I invited Him in, I asked to hear His voice, I asked Him to be with me.  And with the rhythm of my steps, I fell into the quiet and fell into a deep sense of peace.  Occasionally through my run, songs of praise would run through my head, and I would allow it, matching the rhythm of the song to the pounding of my feet.  For much of the run, there was just silence. And peace. An overwhelming sense of peace. Peace that, in the turbulence and the unknown and the fear of the past weeks, felt wonderful. I felt His breath, giving life to me, breathing into dry bones, stirring up the dust.

I came home from that run renewed. Revived.

Clothed in His presence.

For the love of endorphins…

First, I need to confess something to you. I struggle with follow-through, especially with big commitments.  I have grandiose ideas, but then, the reality/implementation of such ideas hits and I get discouraged. Or lazy. Sometimes, I just get lazy.

A little backstory…in early 2010, something (don’t ask me what… or why….) inspired me to start running. The city we lived near was going to host their first marathon/half-marathon in October, and I thought, “Heck, yeah, I want to run a half-marathon.” Again, don’t ask me why. I don’t know where that inspiration/momentary lapse of good judgement/insanity came from.

I was the girl who, during the Presidential Fitness test in high school, when required to run a mile, walked most of it. I had never run farther than a few blocks, never really wanted to. And here I was, suddenly transfixed by the idea of running 13.1 miles. Yes, yes, I could do it. Me. No problem.

And so, my relationship with running began. Luckily, I found a friend who also had a lapse in sanity, and we started running together, on dark country roads, through rain, and snow, ice, and lightening, avoiding getting hit by bad drivers and tractors. 6:00 a.m. was early, and cold in February in Minnesota. And yet, we ran. Or really, jogged a few steps, then walked, alternating constantly. But we persevered. And on we went.

Let me tell you, it was after a few months (yes, months) of running before I was able to run my first mile without walking. I can still remember the joy I had, the happiness that it brought my soul, to know that I did something, at age 34, that I had NEVER done before. Never.  That was the first experience I had of the fabled “Runner’s High.”  And I liked it. A lot.

And we ran. I ran my first 5K that June in our small town celebration days.  I got a t-shirt for my efforts, coming in second-to-last in a field of 40 or 45.  (But I finished!)  We continued to run through the summer, but with the rising temperatures came a decline in motivation. It became tougher and tougher to motivate myself to leave the air-conditioned comfort of my home to go run 3 or 4 miles in sweltering heat. Yes, I got lazy.

I didn’t follow any type of training plan, just ran and tried to go for a slightly longer distance, but really didn’t build up mileage the way I should have. In September, I became sick, thinking it was a cold, but it turned out to be bronchitis. I stopped running altogether, because it was so difficult to breathe.  October neared, and knowing how I was feeling, I changed my plans from a half-marathon to a 10K.

I ran that 10k. I got the t-shirt. And I felt miserable the whole time running, ill from bronchitis, weak from lack of training, and disappointed in my poor time, but glad that I was able to finish, even poorly.

Skip now to 2013.  After giving birth to our third child, and taking a year off from running, I felt the pull again to train for a half-marathon. I started up again 6 weeks postpartum, and it has been a long, slow process to find my running groove again. I started, stopped, started again, slowed, and re-started a multitude of times since last year, but have tried to maintain the (insane?) goal of running a half. I found a new friend to run with me (since I was 800 miles away from my former running buddy), and we ran (once again, in darkness much of the time, at the ungodly hour of 6 a.m.), slowly but consistently.

In January 2014, I registered for a 7 mile race that occurred in late March. I had to have something to train for, to get my butt off the couch and out on a treadmill. During the crazy snows of January and February (crazy for Kentucky, but for a northern girl, it was nothing…), it was especially hard to motivate myself to train, but knowing that I had paid money for the “opportunity” to run, I pushed myself out the door and onto the street.  I began reading more books on training for a half-marathon, and really began to focus on what I needed to do to ready myself.

March 29th came and it was a cold, wet, rainy, miserable day. A day that got colder as the hours went on. I ran the 7 mile race, and this time, unlike my 10k, I relished every goose-bump filled moment. Even though the weather didn’t cooperate, my body did.  I am a slow runner, and many of the half-marathoners finished their race before I finished mine, but I finished, and was giddy in my shivering, shriveling skin. And the racing bug bit me. Hard.

I found a half-marathon in a nearby town that was scheduled for mid-June. 13 weeks to train for 13 miles. And by train, I mean run, run, run a little more, and then run a whole-heck-of-a-lot.  Each week, I would increase my mileage, and every Saturday morning I would do a “long run,” which at first qualified as a measly 5 miles, but by the end, I ran over 12+ miles. In one very long, very warm, summer morning. All leading up to that glorious 13.1 mile half-marathon on June 14th.

It was a beautiful day, cool temps (for a June morning), with the sun shining brightly. 7:30 a.m. is a wee bit early for a race to begin…especially when I had to get myself and the rest of the family up, dressed, fed, and out the door by 6:00, for the one hour drive to get to Paris, KY, but we did it and made it with (barely) enough time for me to stand in the port-a-pottie line with 300 of my newest friends.

And 2 hours, 46 minutes, 59 seconds later I crossed the finish line, accompanied by all 3 of my children. They joined me before the last corner, the last .1 of 13.1, and were leaping and running with me. (They were leaping.  And running. I think I was stumbling/walking/crawling by that point.) It was one of those moments I will never forget, my family being there to cheer for me, encourage me, and run with me in my last steps. And I am so grateful that the race photographer caught the moment on film for me.  My poor husband was trying to video it, as he fumbled with the stroller, toys, sign, and all manner of stuff he had to entertain the children for mommy’s LONG run.

The Bourbon Derby

I was so filled with joy and pride that I had finally accomplished a goal I had been clinging to for 4 years. 4 years, a move, a baby, huge changes in our lives, and I finally did it. That medal will always hold a special place in my heart, knowing how long it took me to accomplish this feat.

Of course, now my plan is to have a few more medals. I am already scoping out another half for this fall. In the spring, I plan to do the same race as this spring, but the half, not the 7 miler. And next fall, well…

There is a full marathon in Mankato, Minnesota, I plan on running. All 26.2 hilly, crazy miles of it.  The 5 year anniversary of my 10K. Same race. Much different and longer route.

Just because I’m crazy like that.  And I really, really, like endorphins.

The Bourbon Derby

Photos courtesy of JA Laub Photography and the Bourbon Derby. Copyrighted 2014.