One weekend last November, the weather was as close to perfect as one gets in Duluth and I was not going to let it pass me by. A run was the only thing I could think of doing that Saturday morning. I dug out a matching outfit (it’s all that time I spent working at Victoria’s Secret, I like it to match from the headband to the socks), laced up my shoes, grabbed ear buds and drove to Canal Park. The Lakewalk isn’t just any trail, it’s miles upon miles of clean paved pathway to lay down footsteps. It’s engulfed in magic fairytales around every corner, springing with majestic views as far as the eye can see. I was first introduced to the Lakewalk the summer I moved to Minnesota in 1992, but I had no idea how far it stretched until about three years ago. Until three years ago, the idea of running was in the trash.
You know those defining moments that alter your life forever? That’s where I was on June 16, 2012. I had made plans to watch and support Grandma’s Marathon with friends that Saturday morning. So I set my alarm for crap o’clock early in the morning and made my way to our planned meet up. We had been having a great time, cheering on runners, calling them crazy, enjoying the entertainment aka “beer boys” down the road. Without warning I was racked with a searing sense of being left out. It was the same feeling I had every time I had been picked last for whatever horrific gym game I was being forced to play. This wasn’t “poor me I can’t run, I’m not a runner.” This was a gut wrenching ache, a void, like I had been left out. I mulled over this feeling for a week, I spent lots of time talking to God about it. There was a small spark of joy attached to the idea of running. There was also a large gap of fear. More than a year prior to that day, I had tried to run and completed a 5k only to become insanely sick and had severe knee problems. What was I thinking? I couldn’t run, my body wasn’t athletic. My childhood hadn’t been in sports, I couldn’t even tell you if our community had sports back then. They didn’t exist in my world.
One week had gone by since that crazy thought entered my mind, I simply couldn’t let it go. I felt like it consumed every thought. I rememeber the moment I heard God’s voice over all the lies. “I created you to be a runner.” It was at a monthly event held in our church, I was wrapped in the security of my amazing community. Yes I had some back problems, and pain in my knees, but I swear I felt those things vanish the moment I laid aside the excuses and said yes. Yes I would put in the time, yes I would educate myself, yes I would leave space to hear Jesus in the midst of it all. It was the following week that my friend suggested we run Grandma’s Half together the following year and I found myself saying yes, much to his surprise.
That was June and God was just getting started. In October, I joined a small group that was going to focus on hunger in third world cultures. This is where I walked through the unhealthy attachments to foods I had grown “entitled” to. Growing up poor, with barely a meal a day, and sometimes no meal at all had brought me to a pretty bad relationship with food. I could finally afford store bought (insert anything here) and I wanted what I wanted. Let me pause and acknowledge that we live in an amazing country with lots of comforts and we shouldn’t feel bad about having those things available to us, but this was about my unhealthy attachment I had created to food.
Having empathy for other countries who would fall to their knees at the sight of our abundance is a very good head space to live in. I wanted to get to a place of needing food to live, not living for food. I didn’t want food to be the driving force in my day. The nearly two months of barely-there calories brought me through Thanksgiving at a time when I needed to be reminded what going to bed hungry felt like. That kind of hunger isn’t the same as “I forgot to eat” hungry it’s painful. It plays mind games. In those moments I needed Jesus the most. I had come face to face with my sense of entitlement to food, and it wasn’t good.
In January, I walked into a gym and stepped onto the treadmill with no expectations and no real plan. Run one minute, walk six minutes. I would do that three times a week, and it was hard. The next week I would run two minutes, walk five minutes, every goal seemed more impossible than the last. I had only one main goal for the half marathon, run all 13.1 miles with no walking breaks.
During the course of my training there was a three-year old girl in our church that had been diagnosed with a life altering tumor wrapped in the stem of her brain. Our church rallied like no other to pray for her. I spent my time on the treadmill in worship and prayer. You may think that’s an odd choice but I listened to music that moved my soul, and this was my way of connecting that carved out time for Jesus. As the time drew nearer to race day I could literally see the light at the end of the finish. I was growing stronger, as this child was fighting her way through life. I had a clear vision one day of her racing ahead of me. Her dad was proudly waiting for her to cross the finish and she blew right through him into the outstretched arms of Jesus. She had her eyes on the prize the entire time, and it kept me focused. Running wasn’t about the race, but about relationship. She has come out the clear winner, now age six and dancing her heart out, she is the pillar I stack my odds against. As she fights, so must I.
Running was changing my life in a way I never expected, not just the physical changes (although that was really exciting). Exploring Duluth became exciting in new ways, I was getting out and meeting people. I was setting a new example for my kids, not the “run your race, your goals” although those lessons are good. I’m talking about the “mom needs to take time for herself.” The lesson that so many mommas forget or simply haven’t discovered. I hadn’t realized that up until that point I didn’t even know who I was. Here I was, running and every week was a new milestone (see what I did there?). I was discovering a person that could rise to a challenge. I found that I could see things through to the end. Rising above the lies, that I wasn’t a runner, that I wouldn’t be able to finish. I knew I was forever changed, and I loved it. God had created me to be a runner, it only took a few decades to discover her.
The day I ran the Garry-Bjorklund Half Marathon was not warm, actually it was pretty cold, and so very foggy. The first five miles felt like a breeze. If I could have bottled the euphoria that came from that day I could have sold it for an amazing price. The next five miles were fun, I came across so many friends and cheerful supporters. There were high fives, great big smiles, and cheering. This was the feeling I had been missing out on a year ago. This was what the hard work had been for. The payoff was unbelievable. As I came closer to the finish line I was so depleted but I could feel Jesus urging me on, literally giving me the strength to put one foot in front of the other. Running races isn’t about winning, only the elites do that. Running a race is about concurring you personally, rising above who you think you are and finding who you’re meant to be.
You may feel drawn to concur something bigger than you can imagine, it may tug at every corner of your heart like non other. Take time today to acknowledge whatever that is, give thought to forming more than just a dream, pray for courage to say yes. Yes to what God is placing in your dreams, yes to trying things that seem impossible. I am living proof that saying yes can move mountains and ignite passions. Saying yes can sometimes just be whispering your fears out loud and expecting God to catch you at the finish line.
My first half, Grandma’s June 2013
Running the Minnesota mile in September 2013