in our culture of 'sequels' galore, writing a post entitled 'the day before' kind of assumes that you'll write one entitled 'the day after'.
generally, i'm not a big fan of sequels. mostly because the sequels almost never as good as the original (the 'Toy Story' trilogy being about the only exception to this rule).
so now, i've not only set myself up for this.
i've also set YOU up for a subsequent blog post that is almost destined to be sub-standard.
read on at your own risk. ;)
it's the day after my son, Trevor, and i, along with four other dear friends (who made up this year's version of 'TEAM 316'), joined the almost 4000 runners and walkers for the Missoula Marathon.
and what a day it was.
the six of us all did the half marathon. one of us (Rachel Firebaugh) came from Seattle to join in the fun.
all of us started and finished the race.
all of us PR'd (set new personal time records for a half). Trevor SHREDDED his previous PR, actually cutting 25 minutes off of his finishing time from 2010 (2.20 down to 1.55). i can't even begin to tell you how PROUD i am of my boy! (i even managed to slice a full 7 SECONDS off of mine ;)
and in the process, between online and off-line giving, we raised about $1500 for Nakuru 316 Bridge of Hope Street Families Rescue Shelter.
not a bad way to spend a Sunday morning.
some aspects of the half marathon experience this year were the same as my first one two years ago.
the course was the same.
the underlying reason was the same (raise support and awareness for N316).
many of the smiling faces and cheering voices along the course were the same.
the Ruby family's HUMUNGOUS cowbells, ringing out with crazy encouragement, were the same.
my chemical dependency on ibuprofen, before AND after the race, is the same.
but other things were different this year.
two years ago, my brother, Roger, came up from OC to run with me. it was the first half marathon either of us had run. we both run at about the same pace. we even discovered upon his arrival that we had the exact same running shoes in the same colour (we MUST be related ;). and we both ran for TEAM 316. it was a wonderful and memorable experience for both of us.
this year, however, although i was part of TEAM 316 once again, i ran the race alone.
in the days leading up to the half, i wasn't at all sure that i welcomed this change. i even texted other members of the TEAM, asking if any of them would be running slow enough to hang with me for at least the first part of the race. given the fact that there would be walkers who would finish before me, understandably, there were no takers.
i did most of my training runs by myself. but the best training runs i had were the ones i did with Trevor, and especially the 10 miler that T and i did with Rog when he came up here for Ian's graduation weekend.
so while i anticipated the half with some excitement (especially the part when you FINISH ;), down deep, i was dreading having to run it all by myself. so much so that the night before, i literally never fell asleep.
not exactly the way you want to prepare yourself to run 13.1 miles at the crack of dawn.
but whether i liked it or not, 6am would come.
and there would be no turning back.
the fireworks crackled. the cannon thundered. and we were off.
the first 2.5 miles of the course are my favourite. running on Blue Mountain Road through the trees along the Bitterroot River is so breathtakingly beautiful, it's a 'religious' experience in the best sense of the word.
but it was difficult to take in all this beauty at first.
there were a lot of us who were doing some version of the 'Galloway method' for the race, meaning that you run and walk at intervals throughout the course. i did my own version of this by walking through each aid station (there were seven of them on the half marathon course), and running the rest of the way. however, many of the runners following this method had timers set on their iPods or watches that beeped a signal when to walk and when to run. this meant that for the first mile or two, the pristine and mostly silent beauty that i had anticipated savouring was mostly drowned out in a cacophony of bells, whistles and chimes (not to mention that this resulted in having to zig zag my way around runners i was following who would suddenly stop to walk).
i tend to get into my rhythm of running during the first mile or so, and this rhythm is based on a pattern of six steps per breath (three steps inhaling, three steps exhaling). i've mentioned here before that what helps me get into this rhythm and stay in it is by breathing in the word 'thank', and breathing out the word 'you'. it becomes a kind of contemplative 'mantra' or 'prayer' as i go along, where after a while, i'm doing it without even thinking about it.
well, i was having a hard enough time getting into this rhythm that when i thought i did finally get into it during mile 2, i discovered that actually, i was so distracted that i had timed my breathing not to my own steps, but to the steps of a guy running in front of me. my own steps were still out of sync with my breath. it took me getting past him to finally fall into my true rhythm.
and once i did, a whole new dimension of the journey opened up before me.
i did start to hear the river flowing beside me. i did take in the sunrise over Mt. Jumbo and Mt. Sentinel. i did feel the gentle, cool breeze surround me like the presence of Spirit.
but i found myself awakened and aware of other sources of beauty and inspiration as well.
i saw runners, both passing me and that i passed, wearing shirts depicting all sorts of different people and causes for whom they were running, all images of ways that the world was becoming a better place because of their efforts.
i saw people of all ages who volunteered to get up before dawn to serve us runners and walkers at aid stations, passing out cups of life-sustaining water and Gatorade, and more importantly, sharing life-giving smiles and laughter, cheers and encouragement.
i saw people of the neighborhoods through which we traveled lining the streets, spraying sprinklers and hoses to cool us off, waving signs and hitting drums and tooting horns and shaking cowbells to empower us to take another step, and another, and another.
and the further i went, the more i realized that, in the truest sense, i was NOT running alone.
by the last three miles, though, i was awakening to another realization.
for the past several months, i have been traveling through a season of life unlike any other i have experienced in my 47 years. more often than not, it has been challenging and confusing, draining and daunting, exhausting and excruciating.
and as i faced the reality of having to run three more miles after finishing the first ten, i felt all the weight of the past several months - the anxiety and fear, the pressure and pain - weighing down on me like the weight of the world.
i became Atlas, the Half Marathoner.
and the universal journey i had been experiencing up to that point became a very personal journey to the end.
my lack of sleep was catching up to me, and reminding me of all the nights i've spent tossing and turning, with my heart burning, my stomach churning, my soul yearning for clarity and direction.
the pain that had been present in my left calf since mile 1 had spread to my other calf, and my hips and lower back, reverberating through my whole body like the pain of failure, disappointment, rejection, self-recrimination and accusation and condemnation that has debilitated my sense of calling and self.
the strain of concentration was starting to wear on my brain and psyche, and opened up the deeply buried 'Pandora's Box' worth of frustration, betrayal, resentment and rage that had been waiting to be released and unleashed.
in other words, i was tired, sore, and pissed off.
and that meant one of two things.
either it was 'time to write a ROCK song' (as Jack Black instructed his students in 'School of Rock').
or it was time to face all of this straight on, and finish the damn race.
i didn't write a song.
i took some sips of water, slurped down one more 'Jet Blackberry GU (w/ 2X caffeine)', and put one blistered foot in front of the other.
at the moments when i felt like i was about to reach rigor mortis, a friend would appear at the side of the road to keep cheering me on. one wrote a message to me personally in chalk in the middle of the street. others were part of a brass and drum band belting out some great dixieland marches. the cowbells made a couple more significant appearances, one right before the last turn.
my right nipple started bleeding, and i just didn't notice or care.
my right quad cramped up three blocks before the end, and i just didn't let it stop me.
my vision was blurring along with my brain, and i just didn't give a damn.
by the time i made the last turn onto the Higgins Street bridge, the totality of my being was whacked out beyond rhyme and reason.
and in spite of everything - and perhaps BECAUSE of everything - i just kept going.
and when i hit the downhill stretch to the finish, i even lengthened my stride into what felt like the sprint of my life. and the fatigue and the pain and the strain just seemed to disappear as i lunged through the line.
and then it all came back. and my chin began to tremble. and while others were whooping it up, i was weeping.
letting the tears trickle down with the sweat.
letting the fears be drowned out with the love.
letting all i was thinking and all i was feeling
converge with all senses and Spirit for healing.
at least in that moment.
but sometimes, moments like that are enough to keep you going.
beyond the finish line of one race. and onto the starting line of the next.
because the races come and go.
but the journey continues.
the journey towards the ending that is really a beginning.
the journey that we travel alone, but not alone.
and as i sit here in my favorite chair, with my limbs still aching and my mind still racing, my body recovering and my soul reflecting, i breathe a silent, sacred 'thank you'...
that amidst all the bells and whistles, the actions and distractions along the way, the River keeps flowing.
that while so much in the world and our lives seems to bear witness to its absence, the Presence keeps growing.
that in seasons of life where the weight of challenge and confusion, doubt and despair, pain and shame threatens to stop us dead in our tracks, the Spirit keeps blowing.
on this day.
and the day after.
(me & T celebrating finishing Half Marathon #2 :)