The Marathon That Wasn’t

Last November I signed up to run a marathon in August. If I talked to you in person at some point between those months, I’m sure I mentioned it. I was so excited. I realized that in order to have motivation to exercise through the Alaska winter I needed a goal. Building a base for the marathon was exactly what I needed.

I love running. I love its simplicity, poetry, and how much it teaches me. I had never completed a full marathon before, but the marathon intrigued me. I felt curious about the distance, and wanted to see what it would be like to do a buildup and then run a marathon.

I worked really hard at building my base over the winter logging miles on the treadmill, and thinking how wonderful it would be to finally run outdoors and see the sunlight. The first day that the snow had melted enough on the track I did a little happy dance. I ran the first track workout I’d done in years, and I loved it. Marathon training made me so happy. I loved the long runs, the track workouts, all of it. I researched and stretched and foam rolled and ice bathed and did all the things.

And then one day in June my knee started to ache a little. I thought nothing of it, but skipped my long run that week. The pain persisted. After some time icing and ibuprofen didn’t seem to help I saw a doctor. Throughout weeks of trying to cross train and take care of myself it didn’t get better. I suddenly realized that my dream was fading. Maybe a better word would be deferred, to steal from the iconic poet Langston Hughes.

I realized that if I truly believed that my body is God’s and I want to honor him with it I couldn’t in good conscience continue trying to push myself to do the race. My body was telling me it wasn’t ready, and I had to listen. I had to scratch. After I scratched I felt really mad that I had wasted all my training. I put hours of work, research, and rehab into training, only to not accomplish my end goal.Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

One of my favorite authors, Amy Krause Rosenthal, talks about “Plan Be”, existing only in the present. I love that. It redeems Plan B from a second choice to the best possible choice. It asks, what do I have now that I can rejoice in? So my marathon Plan Be was to take the lessons marathon training taught me and hold them. I learned about endurance, rest, and being kind to myself. Those lessons will always be there. The marathon ended up giving me a lot more than I could have expected, and I didn’t even run it.

That thing that you worked and hoped for, putting in lots of hours, only to see it pass without fruition? It mattered, and it still matters. You’re not a failure if you don’t end up accomplishing the goal you worked towards. Sometimes you just have to work a little to find Plan Be.

Fireweed

The first weekend I lived in Alaska, two weeks freshly wed, Derek and I drove up the Steese Highway in Fairbanks. It’s an incredibly scenic drive and we lost phone service almost immediately, a perfect recipe for quality time.

As we drove I noticed a pink flower on the side of the highway, and I remarked at how beautiful I thought it was.

“That’s fireweed,” he told me, his eyes fixed on the winding road ahead. “They call it that because it’s the first thing to bloom after a forest fire.”

I never knew until moving here that Alaska had a forest fire issue, but lightning strikes, hot summer air, and abundant wilderness make for quite a few forest fires in the summer.

I looked at the fireweed, a stark contrast with the overwhelming green on the Steese, and it struck me what a grace it is that God made something so beautiful to be the first thing to come from a fire. The fireweed was a little phoenix rising from the ashes.Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

This morning, two years after that drive up the Steese, I was talking with some friends about God’s faithfulness, and how refining trials can be. I think difficult and painful seasons of life always bring with them their own fireweed. They bring lessons, truth, wisdom, and grace. The caveat is we have to be attentive–and patient. Maybe sometimes that fireweed isn’t visible for years, or even until eternity. (This is not to say trials or pain are easy, either. They are difficult and hard, and I don’t want to be dismissive of that. Sometimes answers are few and tears are many. But I am a person who tends to dwell on the negative, and I want to be more focused on the graces and lessons of trials, and fireweed helps me to do that.)

Whenever I see the fireweed, and it is everywhere in Alaska in the summer, I try to remember that grace. The grace that something beautiful and bright comes from ashes of a forest fire, and in the same way God is in the business of bringing truths that are beautiful and bright to our lives in the midst of trial and pain.

Eyes Up

    My school year ended almost three weeks ago, and since school has concluded I have had much more time to run instead of squeezing in a short run while feeling exhausted from a full day of work. I was sad to see the school year end, but I am very much enjoying having a bit more time to myself.

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   With more running time comes more thinking time. I have the tendency to get words or phrases stuck in my head, particularly on runs. (Usually it’s a line from poetry, because I am me.) One thought that keeps coming back to me is something my high school coach would tell us during cross country season.

    “Keep your eyes on the shoulders of the girl in front of you, not on her feet. If you look at her feet you’ll start running whatever pace she’s running, and you’ll never pass her. If you look at her shoulders, you’ll pass her.”

    I am not sure why this phrase keeps rolling around in my head, in part because most of my runs these days are alone on an Army base with no one to pass in sight. But when I find my eyes dropping and scanning the pavement in front of me, counting cracks and divets, I remember what he used to say.

    Lately I have found it really easy to look at the metaphorical feet of other people and started trying to run whatever race they’re on. It’s so easy to wish ______ for myself, and usually it boils down to something someone else has (whether it be a talent, skill, or even tangible thing) that I want. It’s hard to admit that reality.

    Alaska is not a terribly hot place in the summer, at least not compared to other places in the Lower 48. But it feels really hot because the sun is smack in the middle of the sky for so much of the day. Today as I write sunrise was at 3:11 AM, and sunset will be at 12:24. It feels like the earth is baking in sunlight, and it makes running outside unpleasant at times. Yesterday as the sun beat down on my arms I kept hearing my coach’s old words in my head — eyes up, eyes up — as my eyes drifted down to the pavement the more fatigued I got.

    The race of the person in front of me is their own, just as mine is mine. If I keep looking at their feet I minimize my own efforts. It’s not so much about passing people as it is about running my own race that’s set out for me by God as fully mine, intended for me, at my pace. I think that’s part of why I love Hebrews 12 so much – “the race set before us.” It’s a metaphor I find relatable. Let us run it with endurance, and eyes up.