Behind my big smile at the Ironman finish line Sunday was the hardest race I’ve ever done. Without the prayers of so many of you, I’m not sure I would have finished. I learned a lot out there on the race course for 14 hours and 2 minutes. Dozens of times throughout the race, I thought, “I wouldn’t do this for me!”
Many of you know me well. I’m a goal person inside and out. I’m intensely driven to give 110% at whatever I do- whether fundraising, Ironman racing, parenting, or just playing a game of Chinese checkers with the kids. But this God-given personality of mine sometimes causes battles in my head. Sunday was one of those battle days.
I had several goals going into this race. The first and most important was to raise $15,000 this year for Team Orphans. That was almost accomplished before the race. ( I’m $42 away from my goal now and Tom said that if I haven’t reached it by tomorrow, he will be my last donor! : ) ) Another part of my first goal was to have opportunities to talk to people about why I do what I do- my faith and my passion for adoption. My second goal was to finish faster than last year. I did- by 23 minutes and each of my swim, bike, and run times was my fastest ever. My third goal was to make it 30 minutes on the bike before Chris flew past me. I did- Thanks, Chris!!!! (She went on to finish in an amazing 11 hours, 59 minutes). My next goal was to finish in under 14 hours. I didn’t make that goal, but I can honestly say that I’m glad I didn’t. Here’s why: It’s not about me.
The swim was rough. About 1/2 mile in, I got a really hard kick in my right calf muscle that caused pain and cramping all the way through the bike ride. I also swallowed 6 or 7 big gulps of lake water that caused my stomach to cramp for most of the day. I realized after I started out on the bike course that I have never had pain like this racing. I knew I had a prayer team back at home and I couldn’t wait to find Tom on the course and ask him to email Jennie to let everyone know to pray hard. As I continued through the 7 hour bike, I kept feeling worse and worse and praying more and more. 7 hours is a long time to pray, recite verses, sing to myself, and think. But during that 7 hours, I spent a lot of time talking, arguing, and crying with God. He knows my body and how I couldn’t run with a cramped leg and stomach. But he also knows my heart. He knows that deep down inside I don’t want to be like the other Ironman racers! This is a very selfish, ego-centered sport. I’m not doing this for me! I don’t want this to be about me or my finishing time. It’s about the orphans getting families. It’s about doing what God has called me to do and making a difference for Him. So somewhere along the course, I had to let go of my pride and competitiveness and be willing to walk the marathon, or worse yet, not be able to finish, if that was part of God’s plan for me. For those of you who know me, you know that it was a hard battle to get me to this place of surrender! When I was coming back on the last bike loop feeling like I was going to puke at any moment, I decided that I needed to stop thinking about myself and start focusing on others. It’s not all about me! There were many racers just starting their last loop when I was coming back. Maybe they felt worse than I did! So I cheered and encouraged each of them as I passed them. Their smiles made me smile.
God was gracious and took away all of the pain in my leg for the entire run! My stomach pain was off and on, but I was able to run most of the marathon. Tom describes the last few hours of the marathon as “watching the walking dead”. I felt it! I talked with a few people in the first half of the marathon- some about Team Orphans, some about my prayer team back at home, and one about the verses I memorized from Romans 5. But for the last 13 miles, I felt so bad that I couldn’t talk much. I started to sing hymns softly to myself. As I passed people walking, they heard a little of “Amazing Grace” and “May the Mind of Christ my Savior”. Maybe they recognized the song and it gave them hope and encouragement. Maybe they thought I was crazy. For the last 5 miles of the run, I decided to start encouraging other runners behind me. The run course was another out-and-back. As I headed back for the last time, they were just heading out with a lot of miles still left to go. Most of them were walking. I cheered for each one of them, ” You can do it! Keep moving! Go!!!” Most of them smiled. Many of them starting running again. I hope some of them remember the girl in the Team Orphans shirt who helped them to the finish line.
Here are a few verses from Romans 5 that I said hundreds of times during the race and I hope I never forget: “You can rejoice too when you run into problems and trials, for you know they are good for us. They help us learn to endure. And endurance develops strength of character in us, and character strengthens our confident expectation of salvation.”