A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken. Ecclesiastes 4:12
I’m a solitary runner. I enjoy the time spent on my feet and inside my head. Sometimes I listen to music or podcasts or books, but more often than not, it’s just me, God, and the voices in my head. I like it that way. It’s my time to unplug from the world and press the reset button on my life. It’s why I fell in love with running, there’s no great skill required and it’s a lot cheaper than therapy.
But, the last few long runs have found me in a different mood. What I look forward to in the days leading up to a long run feels very different in the weird glow of my alarm clock on the morning of my run. It’s all I can do to make myself get up, slap on gear and head out the door, knowing that long, lonely miles are stretched ahead of me. So, I’ve turned to my trusty Ipod for help. Soul soothing praise music, heart pumping rock and roll, and some of my favorite podcasts have blazed the trail for me the last couple of weeks.
Then, this week rolled through. It’s been a really tough week for me. Both mentally and emotionally. For lots of reasons and no reason. I’ve struggled this week.
I set the alarm to 5:45 am yesterday to get my seven miler in early. I had looked forward to it the day before, but when that alarm went off, the snooze button was too tempting, so it was 6:45 before I actually got up. The thought of running seven miles was about as appealing as drinking warm Gatorade, but I geared up and headed out the door anyway. I’ve been doing this long enough that I know that most of the time, getting started is the hardest part. Once, you’re running, something takes flight inside you and you can do what you have to do. Not so yesterday. Everything hurt and nothing seemed to work in cooperation with anything else. I ended up running the first mile, then walking another 2 1/2. Blah.
One of the great things about running, though, is that there’s always a re-do. This morning it was a little easier to get up, and I looked forward to the challenge ahead. I was excited that my man was going to run it with me. He’s been training with me on my long runs occasionally in preparation of pacing me to my goal time at a half marathon in late November.
Gary is the perfect running partner. Strong and durable, he can hold his own on a long run, even when he hasn’t run in months. He’s not too much of a talker, although he does usually have a few smart remarks to make as we plod along. Those mostly just make me laugh, though, so he provides comic relief as well. He pushes me a little harder than I like, but he knows me better than anyone, knows I have a tendency to stop and smell the roses (or snap a picture) too often, and knows the outer boundaries of my limits. He’s also fairly hard of hearing, so he can’t hear the obscenities I sometimes hurl at him when he’s pushing that outer boundary. Or, at least, he pretends he can’t hear them. So, off we went in search of a trail to run.
We arrived in the magnificent Desoto National Forrest just as the sun was coming up. It was beautiful and quiet, the only noise coming from the gravel crunching beneath our feet. The temperatures weren’t awful, considering it is still August, and the first couple of miles were serene and soul soothing.
But, this isn’t going to be a description of a wonderful, soul soothing run because after mile two, things got ugly. My legs cramped some and began to complain, my breathing was fast and labored, and, of course, the piece de resistance, my tummy started misbehaving. After my first dash into the woods (yes, there were two), I rolled my ankle in a rut on the road. Not horrible, but painful enough. We kept on running. By mile 4, my body said it was through, but my mind wasn’t having any of that nonsense. So, I dug deep and pushed on. By mile 5, my mind was showing signs of decamping, so I raised my hands in supplication and asked for God to fill me with His presence. There was no way I was quitting this one. At mile 6, I got behind Gary and pretended he was pulling me. My eyes locked on the center of his back and I attached an imaginary rope to him that pulled me along. That worked for about a half mile, then the rope started getting longer and longer until I could no longer see Gary in front of me. I took several walk breaks that reminded me of video I’ve seen of elite runners who have hit the wall in a marathon and are staggering and mumbling incoherently. Yet, still, something deep inside of me knew that if I didn’t finish this 7, I would hate myself after I quit. So, I picked up the pace (imagine a turtle’s pace, then add a snail’s pace to it & you can visualize how fast this was). Mile 7 was the Longest. Mile. Ever. But, I finished.
I’m sure I’ve had runs this bad before, but I really can’t think of any. If I could have produced them, there would have been tears. My throat was clogged with them, but there wasn’t enough moisture to bring them to the surface, so I just heaved sobs. Not pretty, dainty ones. It was the ugly cry.
As usual, there are lessons to be learned from every run, and the bad ones teach me the most. The most important thing I took away from this run was the realization of the power of two. If Gary hadn’t been with me, I would have bailed after mile 3 or certainly after the second trip to the woods. Having his strong, constant presence with me gave me comfort and strength that I wouldn’t have found had I been on my own. Wrap that third strand (the Holy Spirit) around me and I can accomplish so much more than I ever thought possible. I’m thankful that when I have to dig that deep that I have solid Rock to pull out.
So, an excellent breakfast, 4 bottles of water, and 2 cups of coffee later, I sit here with my feet propped up and ice on my ankle nursing my quivering tummy as Gary finishes up our hurricane preparations. I’m humbly thankful that I don’t always have to run through the storms of life alone. If you’re struggling this week, mentally or physically, reach out to someone who loves you. That’s why they’re in your life. Get over the idea that we have to face every battle alone.