Sometime last year, I got this crazy-brained idea to run the annual 3-countries half marathon that courses through Switzerland, France, and Germany.
In the last few years, I’d forgotten how much I dislike running. And forgotten that I’ve walked through all three countries… why run it? Well, maybe there’s a Finisher’s Medal, and that’d be cool to earn.
I shared the ridiculous idea with a friend, who immediately jumped on board. Before I knew it, there were five of us consistently training to run this race.
I trained the first six weeks like a good soldier… I was super genau about training. I followed the schedule totally.
And then my hip went out on a six-mile run.
Which isn’t terribly uncommon for me on long runs. But when I went to my doctor to get chiropractic visits, she said, “You must stop running.” She sent me to an Orthopedic doctor. He took x-rays and said my hips looked fine… it’s probably a muscle issue. But I never got the green-light for running again…
A few weeks passed and I continued all of the aspects of my training except the running: Zumba, hiking, bicycling, etc.
Then Hannah got the chickenpox and I was homebound for a WEEK.
So basically, in the last seven weeks before the race, I ran 2 1/2 miles.
However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace. Acts 20:23-24
By this point, I just wanted to finish what I’d started. I knew I could walk a half-marathon: I’ve done it plenty of times with far more hills (and an hour lunch break in the middle but still).
I invested a lot of emotional energy in NOT being stressed about what I was about to do, and race day arrived.
My four friends and I carpooled into the heart of Basel, a spectacular city. We jogged about, stretched, used the restroom a few times, and talked through our beating hearts. It was about this time that I began to feel really stupid.
Who was I kidding?
Thirteen miles is a LOT of miles!
What did I have to prove?
But it was too late. My bib was on. Shoelaces tied. I was in the coral and the clock was counting down.
Then the gun fired.
We were off.
I wanted off that road so badly. But I knew each step was a step closer to the end of this crazy hair-brained idea.
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith… -Hebrews 12:1-2a
It wasn’t long before I was behind all of my friends- which we all well expected.
What I didn’t expect was the intense heat. The sun was gorgeous but overbearing and I was over-heated quickly. The first water station wasn’t until kilometer 5… and that was too far. My body was burning up, but I kept getting cold-sweats and chills. That was new. I didn’t know if that was something to push through, if I was about to have a stroke and die, or pass out.
I made it to the almost halfway point where the kids from our church, Black Forest Christian Fellowship, were serving the racers. I could hear them cheering for me from far away. I climbed up the stairs to the bridge to find Jeremy, Corban, Hannah, and Liz running toward me, hands full of ice-cold sponges and water. The rest of the group was on the other side of the bridge, in Germany (I started the bridge in France, ended it in Germany, hee hee), cheering. It was a welcome sight. I was hot, tired, and trying to imagine myself finishing. I threw off my head phones and headband, soaked myself in the glorious water, and kept on. Matt sprayed me with a shower of mist- pure heaven. And Hannah and Liz ran with me until my next turn in the road.
Not too long after this point, I got woozy.
Though this was my least favorite part of the story at the time… it opened my run to some cool moments, only available through humility, weakness, and dependence on something and Someone greater than myself.
I reached a corner and was on the brink of passing out. I was only halfway and struggling. I was hot. Thirsty. And couldn’t figure out the cold-sweat-goose-pimple thing.
“Wasser? Haben Sie wasser?” I asked the volunteers. There were so many and they were helpful. One of the workers reached into her bag and pulled out her own disposable water. On a different day, I might not have accepted it… but I thought I was dying.
“It might be better for your health if you don’t finish. It’s okay not to finish,” one of the workers said to me in English.
All of a sudden, my mind flashed to the next day’s front page news in Germany, Switzerland, and France: “American Woman Passes Out at Halfway Point” with a photo of me on a stretcher and commentary on the crazy Americans who think they can run these races (they didn’t even know about my wonky training).
“Can I just run slowly?” I asked, or maybe begged.
“Yes, of course. Go as slow as you need. You must take care of your health.” I think I fell in love with them, all of them, in the moment.
A few meters down was another volunteer, and he had a fresh, new bottle of water for me. I hadn’t seen volunteers handing out bottles of water before… I realized that the ladies must have called ahead for me. I gratefully took it and downed it.
He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:29-31
That mantra of hope wove through my mind, in and out of the goose bumps and chills and hot, hot head… He gives strength to the weary.. run and not grow weary, walk and not be faint.
I needed that.
I carried it on my sweaty arm the whole way.
The next volunteer had water for me too. Now I was convinced they were looking out for me. They cheered. The affirmed that my pace, no matter how slow, was just right. The kilometers counted down. I didn’t listen to my Nike, or my music, or try to keep track of how many miles it translated to.
I just kept moving.
And praying. I prayed for my other friends who were running ahead of me, for our families, for the kids serving on the bridge, for my friends around the world.
Another “slower” runner caught up to me and offered me her water. SO SWEET! We chatted a bit about who was waiting for us at the end and encouraged each other. Later, as she passed by overhead (on a loop) she called down, “Go Marcy!”
She cheered me on by name.
A young couple ran ahead and behind me (depending). He was coaching her and I secretly hoped he could just jump in and start coaching me too! Though his pace was clearly faster, he stuck by her, calling out instructions, letting her walk when she needed. I offered words of encouragement too… and she had to listen to me talk out loud to myself periodically.
About two miles from the end I became famished. Like, I could start to eat myself if I didn’t get food soon. My body was tired, but miracle of all miracles, my hips and knees were still in place, and my only soreness was the bottoms of my feet and my upper calves… not the norm for someone who hardly trained the last weeks.
Less than a kilometer from the end, I was done. I couldn’t see the finish line. I had no more “run” left in me. My fingers were swollen. I heard my name and turned to see some friends (one of whom had already finished running) cheering me on. They encouraged me that I didn’t have far left.
Then I saw it.
Well, first I heard it. All of my runner friends, their families, my family, and a few other families, were there at the end, calling me in. It was beautiful.
Jeremy jumped over the rope and trotted next to me, helping me find my “run” again. Corban and Hannah followed suit and joined us. Hannah grabbed my hand and crossed the line with me.
I was fourth from last out of 900-some odd people.
And it didn’t matter.
I’d finished what I’d started. I ran the race set out for me. I was weary and He strengthened me. I was met with the kindness of strangers and friends.
And I beat the time of my last marathon by 48 minutes and meeting my own goal of about three hours.
I pushed through the hard.
Of course, I had HIM in my head and on my leg, coaching me along too…
And did we get medals?
Not on earth. We got a mug and a shirt.
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith… -2 Timothy 4:7
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. – 1 Corinthians 9:24-27
*I had a three day recovery. That’s crazy cool! God’s grace abounds. I finished with my hips and knees in place, which has never happened at that distance. And by Thursday I felt entirely normal again. Clearly evidence of God’s kindness.