…I was running! Somehow, despite my locking knees and destroyed quads, I was running! I was sooooo slow, but I was actually running. The tension eased out of me with each early step and I now knew, no matter what, I was running every single step of my 40.5 miles. I could tick off quarter mile after quarter mile and eventually I would get to my destiny, the final transition area. This was crazy. I couldn’t believe I was able to run!
“Trust in the Lord with all of your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6.
Nothing was impossible with God, and he was about to show me that one more time. Two runners started right by me, one a few seconds ahead and the other just behind. The runner behind me, a big guy, ran past me like I was standing still. It’s funny because their paces were slower than I would usually run, and I thought about it, maybe a little too much. I didn’t like being this slow, but there was nothing I could do to go any faster. My legs had nothing left in them. I wasn’t going to be able to keep them in my sight, and in about a minute they were long gone. And thank the Lord they were!
We were running this leg through Exeter, the town right next to where we live in Brentwood. I have driven and even run these streets several times, especially more lately during my training. One thing I’ve noticed is it is a town with a whole lot of runners, and on this bright, Fall Saturday morning, it was the perfect time for a run. I wonder how surprised the lady must have been to go out for her usual weekend run and to suddenly have runners following her as if she were in the race? Yes, this lady wasn’t paying attention to the course or maybe she never realized she was being followed by the two runners who had left my sight so quickly. In fact, I suspect the reason they were out of my sight so quickly was because they had followed her off course, and we learned later they ended up doing so for about a mile and a half. Holy cow! If I would have been able to run even close to my normal pace at the start I would have probably followed them, too. But the Lord kept me on the path. In the meantime I kept watching the signs as if they were my lifeline in this final run. And they were. After all of these miles the last thing I was going to do was to go the wrong way.
This race is so often just like life, isn’t it? How often do we go off and follow someone else because they appear to be doing the right thing in the moment and their way seems to be the best? We don’t stick to our true way, and the path that was written for us. The signs were placed on the course specifically for the runners to follow, and no, they aren’t at every intersection or corner. Sometimes you have to keep running straight and trusting that there will be a sign up ahead to take you exactly where you are supposed to go. This was my plan on the course, and it is the plan God has for each of our lives. We can think we are doing the right thing and following someone else who seems to confidently know what they’re doing. But what happens if they’re not even running the same race? How far off course will we go? Maybe the difference was I knew how very desperate I was. Maybe that’s the difference in life? Knowing how desperate we really are and how much we need God’s help. Maybe the other runners were thinking about other things. It’s what saved me in the mountains on the incredible challenge of the fourth leg. I was desperate to stick to the right path no matter how I felt or what other the other runners did.
I could see about a half mile ahead of me, and there was no one in sight. I stayed on the same road, though, and kept running. I was thinking about how I hadn’t seen a sign for a little bit, but there should be one soon. I kept the faith. Just when I was starting to become a little more concerned, a giant yellow sign with blue arrows appeared and I was following the road to the right. Less than three miles were left and I felt okay, good enough to keep running. Another runner passed me as I came to an incline, and I followed him to the top.
Suddenly, I saw my daughters and one of their friends on the side of the road cheering for me! What a welcome sight they were. I was so slow and probably looked horrible. My youngest girl, Summer, jogged next to me for a minute offering a ton of encouragement while Kaitlin, my seventeen year old, and her friend shouted words of encouragement to me. My team was there, too, and that was the final kick I needed to get to the transition area.
I left all of them behind, our truck passed me again, and I turned left to head to the final turn before the finish. With less than a mile to go everyone was passing me, and I didn’t care. I knew I had run over twice the distance of most of these runners and was happy just to be able to finish. I talked with a lady for a minute and offered her words of encouragement as she ran past me. I could now see the final turn into the parking lot where the exchange would take place.
I dug in and picked up my pace a little. I ran past a few race officials who guided me into the transition area and this time it was Michele waiting for me. My mind was shot at this point, and I remember almost nothing about the handoff. I think I shouted something like “I just ran over forty miles!!!” Michele took the bracelet and was gone, and we loaded into the truck and headed to the final transition area between Michele and Melanie.
I was breathing. Slowly. Overwhelmingly. I choked back tears like I had after the last leg. ‘Please don’t cry,’ I thought. Not now. These final two legs had been something other worldly and different feeling. I was at a point of exhaustion and weakness I had never experienced before, but I was okay and resting finally. I was shocked I had run the whole thing. Being slower than I ever had been on those last two legs took nothing away from what had just happened. Nothing could take this feeling away from me.
In the madness of Michele’s course, she got caught in a pack that took her the wrong way. There was a ton of confusion and too many runners to count were confused about the course and having problems on Leg 34. She pushed through, got back on track very quickly and made the handoff to Melanie just a few minutes slower than she would have been if she hadn’t been taken off course.
Melanie was hurt and slow (nowhere near as slow as me), but anyone who knows my wife knows she is a fighter and almost impossible to stop when she gets her mind made up. She came through on Leg 35 for all of us, and I cheered her on as she came around her last corner to the final handoff with Dan. Dan was off and we were in the truck and on our way to meet him at the finish line.
We parked the truck and together the five of us headed to past the finish line to run the final part of Dan’s leg with him, and together across the finish line. Michele, knowing what kind of shape we were all in, especially me and Melanie, kept us close to finish line so we could actually run it together. Suddenly we saw him! Through the thick sands of Hampton Beach our 203 mile journey was going to finally come to an end, just thirty-two hours after it had started. Dan led us in, and we all followed him to the finish line. Honestly, I was falling behind a little and couldn’t make my legs move any faster, but I pushed as hard as I possibly could and caught up. Finally, our race from Bretton Woods to Hampton Beach ended as The Ultra Avengers crossed the finish line together.
We got the medals. We got the bowl of kale. Some of us…almost all of us hate the kale bowl. I’ll just let it go though. We won’t end it on that note.
The team said their goodbyes and left. Dan, Michele, Melanie and I were determined to end it all on a good meal, so we went to Carriage House in Kingston and I devoured a pretty intense looking pizza. It felt right eating something horrible for me after everything I had endured. The four of us were falling asleep in our food. It was a lot of fun, though. But we were all a mess.
Why do I do this, you might ask? Why do I put myself through such things? I think for everyone it’s different. I think everyone has their own reasons for doing an endurance race such as this. For me, this time, doing the regular Ragnar Relay wasn’t enough. I needed something more, and boy, did I get it. I guess, honestly, I have spent a lot of my life listening to people tell me what couldn’t be done, while my mind was always challenging their notions. In the freedom and peace of God I live in today, I have chosen to live a life of adventure and to go down whatever path God brings. It seems like he wants me here for awhile, and until he takes me another direction, I’ll keep heading this way, following his written word and his signs so I stay on his path. Trusting him and myself when I think I have nothing left in me. Being the best human I can be, while trusting him to take care of the details around me so that can happen.
I guess I do this because it’s simply what I’m supposed to be doing. What about you? What do you think He wants for you?
The End…And the beginning of something new, and maybe for you, too?