I have heard the phrase “endure to the end” all my life. This is probably because as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormon) we believe that as each of us work through our unique life’s journey with hope and faith that in the end it will all be worth it. With faith we hope to endure challenges to become better, not bitter and to trust in God as we also trust in our own abilities to accomplish God’s purpose for our lives.
As I prepared to run my first marathon I thought I had anticipated how challenging it would be and felt as ready as I would ever be with only 12 weeks of serious marathon training. I had imagined feeling good. Running steadily. Keeping my pace. By the end I knew I would be tired, but I would see my family waiting for me at the finish line and sprint to the end with a smile on my face.
Let me just say this, I have learned a thing or two more about what it really means to endure to the end….
The night before the race my husband and four kids left me at the hotel to get some sleep before my 3:00 a.m. wake up call. We had planned on my husband being able to take me to the shuttle that would bus us to the starting line. Now, I didn’t have a ride to the shuttle pick-up that would be leaving at 3:30 a.m.! You can call it luck or divine intervention because I had overheard a some people talking about the marathon earlier and as I was getting on the elevator to head back to my room for the night they happened to climb into the same elevator with me. As it turns out it was their first marathon tomorrow morning too and they would be happy to give me ride to the shuttle in the morning.
Bright eyed with anticipation we drove the 20-some-odd miles up the canyon to the start of the marathon in the dark of early morning. I felt a friendly commodore with everyone I talked to on the bus ride and was nothing but positive and excited. I enjoyed a few of my Cherry Chocolate Energy Bites on the way and tried to drink plenty of water. I had been training to run a 4 hour marathon so I wished my new friends good luck as they gathered near the 4:30 pacer and I found my pacer. Her name was Lisa and I felt certain her happy smile and encouragement would get me to the finish line.
The first 6 miles were a fairly steep downhill grade on roads that switch backed down the mountain, followed by a 2 mile up hill climb. I felt good. My legs felt strong and I was staying with my group. I smiled and pushed my way steadily up the long hill as I read the scripture from Philippians pinned on the back of the lady in front of me that read, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” With everything going on I had forgotten to set up my iTunes, since in training I had just used my favorite Pandora station. But, it was okay! I could do without music until we got through the canyon and into reception by chatting with people in my group instead.
Back on the steep down hills again and I began to feel a familiar tightness in my right foot. The angles on the mountain road put more pressure on the outside of my foot and knee that I had expected. I had been struggling with my right foot and knee during my early training, but hadn’t had any problems for a long time. However, I knew that if I ignored it the pain would become sharp in my ankle and then in my knee. I didn’t want to lose my pacer, but I stopped at an aide station and asked for some Advil. I continued running and tried to stay consistent, ignoring the growing discomfort in my foot. I was hopeful the medicine would take down the inflammation so I would be able to catch up to the 4 hour group.
By mile 13 I knew I would never catch them. I was somewhere between the 4:00 and 4:15 groups and my ankle and knee were sending sharp shooting pains from my toes to my knee with each step. I limped along for the next 5 miles with no music, no one to talk to, and in a lot of pain. I just kept thinking, “as long as I stay ahead of the 4:15 group I’ll finish in good time. It will be okay.”
By mile 18 I had made it down the canyon and was traversing the downtown portion of the marathon. I finally had reception and my music was blasting to drown out the noise from the passing cars and the torturous pain in my right leg. It was about this time when the 4:15 pacer passed me. I felt discouraged for only a second. “It’s okay, I’ve already got a PR. I’d never ran farther than this in training. I was going to make it. It wasn’t going to be in 4 hours or 4:15. I just HAVE to stay ahead of the 4:30 pacer.”
By mile 21 my enthusiasm and confidence were pretty much exhausted. I struggled to keep my legs moving, my right leg felt mostly numb except for the dull throbbing pain with each step. I kept wishing that I could somehow pull a Marty McFly, steal a skateboard from some unsuspecting kid, and hitch a ride on the tail gate of a passing truck.
I looked up and noticed a racer standing on the grass pacing back and forth. The woman next to me called to him and asked him with surprise and excitement wondering if he had already finished. “No. I’m done.” He said flatly. What!? He had quit 5 miles from the finish line? Why would you give up when you’re so close? Not me! I am going to finish this race strong! I am going to come in before 4:30! I pushed on.
By mile 23, the sun beating down on me had sapped whatever energy I had left and the shooting pain had returned. I was forced to do something I swore I wouldn’t – I had to walk. Just 30 seconds of walking then a few minutes of running. Repeat. I kept telling myself it wasn’t much farther. I kept thinking about that guy who had quit so close to the end. I just had to keep moving. And then it happened. The 4:30 pacer came up beside me and started passing.
“No way! I’m going to beat you there.” I said through clenched teeth. He laughed and cheered me on as I picked up the pace and ran a little faster to move ahead again, but as badly as I wanted it the muscles in my left quad and calf started cramping. After overcompensating for my right leg for so many miles both legs felt useless now! My legs just wouldn’t do what I was commanding them to do and I started slowing back down. He passed me. I was choking in air, trying not to cry at the sheer weight of disappointment. He turned around and stopped. Waved me forward, encouraged me. He waited for me to start running again before he continued on. I was never able to pass him again, but that moment of mercy and love was enough to get me the last 3 miles.
I finally came to a crowd of people. There had been clumps of people cheering along the last stretch, but as I approached they called, “only 200 meters left!” I turned the corner, limping slowly along, content to just get to the end…when I saw my family. They were 100 meters from the finish line, smiling, waving, calling my name. I couldn’t even feel the pain or weight in my legs as I ran toward them. My two oldest kids came out and ran beside me. With my family with me somehow I found myself smiling and together we sprinted to the end. My final time was 4:33.
After some rest, a complimentary massage, food, and water, I hobbled to our car and we headed out. As we drove past the race course they had started picking up the cones as the last racer made their way to the finish line. I silently cheered them on. However, it was later that afternoon, after we’d gotten lunch and done some shopping, I saw an older man with a marathon bib jogging slowly along. It was well past the time limit for the end of the marathon and the crowds were gone. The finish line was probably already being taken down, and yet there he was still determined to finish. We drove to another part of town for a few minutes to grab something before we headed out of town and again I saw the same man, still running! My heart cheered him on the loudest.
Enduring to the end isn’t about how fast we finish the race. It isn’t about how many medals, accomplishments, or successes we can achieve. Enduring is about never giving up. Having people along the way, friends to help you get started and a good leader to keep you on pace are all wonderful and necessary parts of the endurance process. However, it’s when you find yourself alone, when weakness slows your progress, when disappointment feels like it might crush you, that mercy, grace, faith, and hope become everything. It really will all be okay. Enduring is about gaining strength from family and friends and FINISHING with a smile on your face.