You’ve likely seen celebrities point upward when praising God for His blessings. After a race or a big workout (or sometimes any workout), I reach my hands up for what I call a Jesus high-five. I’d be kidding myself to believe what I’ve accomplished is all from my own steam. God blessed me with abilities and opportunities, and I’m not ashamed to say I ride on His coattails.
Last weekend I offered a Jesus high-five for the biggest event I’ve ever undertaken, the 100-mile ultramarathon. The whole experience is still so unbelievable to me. That God created the human body to endure and be trained, that He presented me with such an opportunity, and that He would give me the strength and fortitude to capitalize on such an opportunity is downright amazing.
Here is the story.
We house virtually unlimited potential, yet people tend to shrink back and languish in complacency. I have a list (c’mon, no one is surprised by this) of things I would like to accomplish. The list began after my first Ironman when I realized how much unrealized potential we all have inside. Running a 100-mile ultramarathon is the first thing I’ve crossed off my list.
Anxiety coursed through me the week before the race as I imagined every scenario of things going wrong and postulated every issue I could encounter. It mentally exhausted me. My mom changed her plans, and I almost suffered a nervous breakdown.
I left for the race site the day before. Adam drove me because I wasn’t sure I’d be able to drive my manual transmission vehicle home afterward. I had organized and re-organized, but once I left my apartment, I felt peace. There was nothing more to do.
I met my parents at the hotel but after a few hours, I needed to relax alone. My nerves were on edge. My crew chief, Rachel, arrived. I slept somewhat.
Race day, I suited up in my hydration vest, gaiters, and the like. The weather was high 40’s and shaped up to be beautiful that day. We got to the race site early; I feel reassured with an early arrival on race day. I placed my drop bags in the appropriate spots and stood around with other participants. My parents had befriended another runner the previous day, and I met him. My friend, Mike, surprised me by showing up for the race start.
Something wonderful happens at the beginning of a race: the stress dissipates.
We took off down the treacherous cliff followed by the tricky stream crossings. The first half mile took approximately 17 minutes. Once at the bottom, the trail was flat. The fog rolled along the canal in big billows obscuring any view. The air was cool but not cold: perfect running weather.
I stuck with my 8 minutes easy running/ 2 minutes walking routine. I spoke to Donna, Megan, and Karen (runners I met) as we leapfrogged back-and-forth along the course. I got to the turnaround point of the first segment at mile 10 in good shape.
My stomach felt well, and I enjoyed some delicious strawberries at the aid station. I reached Dargan Bend at mile 18, and Holly and Allison surprised me by cheering me on along with my parents and crew chief. The day warmed up to the 70’s.
Holly ran with me for the next 4-5 miles. The water near Harper’s Ferry stunned the senses with beauty and the playful sounds of rapids. I listened to a book on my mp3 player after she finished, and I hit Brunswick aid station at 28 miles. I saw my crew again and had some root beer and chips. I still ran 8 minutes/ walked 2 minutes.
The next 10 miles were the most boring. It was 3 miles until the next aid station, however, the following aid station was 7 miles away: 7 miles in the woods with limited views of the water. When I finally reached Noland’s Ferry (the final turnaround), I had to head back out for another repeat of that horrible 7 miles. I realized how difficult those miles would be during the next loop in the middle of the night.
I started to develop a blister on my right foot and my right pinky toe was hurting. I texted my crew that I needed clippers, and they picked them up at a store. All in all, I held up pretty well. I ran with a volunteer, Jorge, for a few miles. I saw the crew again at mile 50 at Brunswick. Rachel tried to fix my toe and clip it, however, the dressing seemed to increase the pain. I had 10 miles back to the start where I could pick up my pacers, and I was ahead of schedule.
I listened to my music intermittently as encouragement. It became dark and I used my headlamp and flashlight. I scuttled across the stream and climbed the cliff up to the start. My first pacer, Robbe, was ready. My mom helped me with a complete clothing change as the temperature was dropping into the 40s. I got new shoes, had something to eat, and headed out.
Robbe and I continued the 8 minutes running/ 2 minutes walking for the next 10 miles. I started to have trouble with leg pain and had the urge to walk with 30 miles left. We started running 7 minutes/ walking 3 for a while. The front of my shins caused excruciating pain when landing. I also started to have significant stomach upset and was unable to tolerate food as I had during the day.
Sometimes we ran for 5 minutes and sometimes for 2. Robbe kept me motivated and on track. He paid attention to my calorie intake and made sure I was doing okay. I had more trouble eating when I ran but did better when at the aid stations. Finally, I was back at Noland’s Ferry after a very difficult 7 miles.
Mike manned the nighttime aid stations, and I picked up Adam as my pacer. I forgot to fill my hydration vest and almost used a bottle of water the staff had set out with a glow stick inside as a guidepost. Instead, Adam ran back and filled it for me.
The next 10 miles proved very difficult. The sunrise was reason for excitement, however, my stomach continued to sour. I bent over the side of the road retching. I tried to run 5 minutes/ walk 5 minutes for as long as I could. I had to eat super tiny amounts. Adam kept me distracted.
I hit mile 90 at around 7am. Ten miles to go with 6 hours left. I knew I would finish. I tried to run but had a lot of pain and ended up power walking the last 11 miles. These were the toughest 11 miles for me. I was tired, sore, and my anterior shins hurt like crazy (I likely have a stress fracture). Rachel cut the tongues of my shoes off for it hurt to have them to touch my skin. Maria also joined as a pacer at this point.
I could barely eat and tried to hang on for dear life. I kept looking for the cones as the GPS read the correct distance, and finally, we saw them. We clambered over the stream and up the cliff. As the finish line came into view, I saw my crew at the top. I threw up my hands and whooped. We ran up the hill to the finish.
Words cannot describe this experience. The entire day was great. Low points came with stomach upset and pain, but the support and love I felt amazed me. I threw my hands in the air as I crossed the finish for a Jesus high-five. Thank you, Lord, for this day and every blessing incurred. I hugged my parents and my crew. I hobbled to receive my belt buckle when they called my name.
I am here to tell you that whatever big dream you have, you can with God. Against all odds, Jesus will bring you through. It is not easy and it will take planning, dedication, and sweat, but God specializes in the impossible. Believe me, you can.
Jesus high-five! (special shout out to my parents!)