As a 19 year old girl in the USMC living in Southern Spain, I had a dream to run a marathon. In fact, I was going to run in Marathon; Greece! The Marine Corps team was excited until we learned that it was sponsored by the Greek Communist party. The marathon dream faded and life marched forward.
As the years passed running remained a joy to me and so in my fortieth year (when I made a conscientious decision to focus on joy) I began to train again for the 26.2 mile race. It was April, training was going great and our family was in Laos supporting our girls’ soccer team. One morning on a run through Vientiane, I turned my head to catch a landmark to find my way back to our hotel and I fell off the end of a sidewalk seriously damaging my left foot. Russell carried me and my swollen ice-packed foot for 5 days until we returned to Thailand where doctors confirmed the torn tendons and my lessons in walking with crutches began. I did not know if I would ever run again. I did not lose heart but did shed a lot of tears and was taught the lesson of how physical training is good for some things but training is godliness profits not only this life but the life to come…one of the many verses I covered now that I sat in my garden instead of worked in it.
I began to condition in the pool since I could not put weight on my foot. Several months later I was so thankful to lace up my running shoes and do the first lap around the kiddos’ soccer field and eventual regained flexibility and strength in the injured foot. Shortly after my birthday this year, an idea came to me that this was the year for my marathon—I was turning 42 and the race is 42 Km so it just made sense! J I discovered that Chiang Mai was having a marathon the end of December so in September I found on-line marathon training for 16 weeks and excitedly I charted out what would be my course for training.
The training was wonderful. A group of ladies began to join me in the pool for water-aerobics so that became fun cross-training. Each day that I would run I logged in my distances (and sometimes my times) and each week the distances grew as would my endurance and love of running. Chiang Mai is beautiful and I was truly blessed with some awesome scenic runs in new territory, some through mountains, parks, zoos, city streets and other times on long flat stretches through rice fields. Training also provided runs in weather that I might not have naturally chosen to run in—down pouring rain, hot sun blistering afternoons, and cold see-your-breath kind of early mornings. God also blessed me with a friend who likes to run like I do and we enjoyed many long runs together talking about life, praying about life and running through the stunning creation that made up our life.
Because the training lasted for over 4 months this meant that I ran outside of Chiang Mai as well. October found me loving runs through the most beautiful time in Michigan with the smell of fall, the brilliant richness of the changing colors and the crunch of leaves under my feet. Finding a suitable place to run in Bangkok had me running laps around the parking areas of the mall where our Thai-boxing friend was competing for the world championship. Most recently while in China I was captivated by running through Green Lake Park in Kunming. The park was alive with the magic of migrating seagulls from Siberia. Each step was a panorama of various music styles as people practiced Tai Chi to tradition Chinese music, line dancing to country music, some enjoyed the tango, while others exercised with flags and swords or played badminton or basketball. An incredible treat for all the senses and an i-pod had no purpose on a day like that! I told Russell this morning on the way to the marathon that the actual race was all bonus as I have so enjoyed all the training leading up to this day…but that is getting ahead of myself so I will go back just a day or so J.
After Christmas in China I had one last 10K run with my running partner and then she presented me with a “marathon box” filled with goodies for the race…special power bars, raisins and cranberries, Gatorade, counter-pain, and wheat pasta with a delicious home-made sauce. After dinner and my evening walk with Russell, Isaiah joined us for watching the motivating movie “Chariots of Fire” and with my clothes all laid out for the morning (I chose orange so no one would run me over J), I was sleeping peacefully almost as soon as my head hit the pillow. This was a real answer to prayer as the night before I was up each hour running the race in my mind.
The alarm went off at 2:45 am, I read back over the admonishment from Hebrews 12:1-2 about running the race with eyes fixed on Jesus, read the encouraging note Hannah left on the white board and by 3:10 we were on our way to the middle of the city’s moat at Tha Phae gate. Deciding what shoes to wear was a challenge (both were orange so either would work with my shirt J): the Nike’s were great for arch support but in long runs blistered my toes, while the Thai brand gave plenty of toe room but lacked in support. I went with the Pan’s and joked with Russell that who knows, maybe a local rep would see me run so fast and hire me on to represent their shoes… promising career option ? J
Tha Phae gate area was alight with a million paper lanterns and the smell of counter-pain filled the air which was thankfully not as cold as I had thought it would be. We registered for the race and were blessed with getting to pay the local Thai rate (maybe they noticed my Thai shoes J). Russell pinned my racing number on my shirt (40-for age group and 7 for individual) and even though I’m not big on stretching, I pretended to stretch out until we lined up behind the start/finish line. Russell took photos; I was all smiles by now no longer nervous but just so excited to really be there.
The gun shot at 4:00am and began what was my very first marathon. Having raced over the years in distances from 8-13 Km, I was familiar with the feelings of adrenaline and increased heart rate all the while remembering reading it was best to start off slow. Right before we began I spotted a petite Thai lady in my age group that always finished ahead of me at other races, and my initial plan was to keep her in my sights… that lasted for less than 4 Km J.
It was an interesting start running through the bar districts getting cheered on by those who were just finishing up their night on the town. We passed the Psychiatric hospital and I kind of laughed wondering if it was crazy to want to run a marathon but I was getting into my groove and was feeling good. My breathing was smooth and nothing hurt… it was super! Rounding a corner leading out of town south on the long canal road a tiny lady and her running partner passed me and I admired the ease at which she ran. Things were going great and I was so thankful. I started to begin my ABC prayers in which I think of someone whose name starts with A then pray for them, then on to B and so on. Well, the heavy breathing and loud footsteps of a herd of men began to distract me (noises like that make me tired too) so I zipped on ahead and began to chat with the lady with the nice pace. We talked along in Thai for some time enjoying each other’s company then she asked if could speak English because she was from Singapore so English was her first language and her Thai was not so good. We laughed and found out more about each other. Her pace was steady and strong and stretched me.
When we came to the 11 K mark, I introduced Russell to my new friend and he was surprised at how soon I reached that point as it was probably my fastest time yet. My vision was to keep in step with her, breathing in and out and chatting our way to the finish…I reasoned I would let her cross the line first as I was so glad for her companionship J What a treat it was to pass by so many familiar sites and God brought different days back to my mind…I could not believe I was really running a marathon—I was so thankful. I even remember thinking how I did not want it all to end too soon J
Well, that feeling ended way too soon and I had a lot of race yet to run! My pace dropped and I began to feel tired. It helped a lot to see Russell again and some friends from house church cheering me on and I was ready to begin sipping my sports drink which re-hydrated me and prepared me for the entrance to the king’s floral garden. For some reason, there were no lights lit within the large beautifully landscaped garden so turns were pointed out along the way by guards with flashlights. At this time I was running solo and thankful for the i-pod Russell gave me along the way which boosted my spirit. He bought the i-pod shuffle that just clips on my visor earlier in Dec for my training and what fun I have had as songs cycle through from old-timey gospel to German polkas to contemporary Christian favorites to love songs in Spanish. I came to a cross-road and was not sure which way to go when I heard a guard call my name and told me to turn to the right… wow, how did that happen?! Then I heard myself kind of yell out because I had tripped on the dark uneven pavement and thought my race had ended… I was so relived to catch myself and kept running on. The terrain through the garden-park was very hilly, twisty and unfamiliar as the only time I ran that area was back when the roads were dirt and first being build…and it was in daylight.
Time passed and I started to see racers back-track so I knew the turn-around point in the garden was coming. Another lady and I passed each other back and forth so I began to visit with her, but she did not speak Thai as she came from Malaysia (and ended up coming in runner-up). The sun started to come up and what a radiant glow it gave to the garden as I turned around and began making my way back through the different displays in honor of the king from various countries. Now I could see the statues that I had early said hello to thinking they were guards J. By now my legs where getting rubber-like and my throat was parched. I passed by my personal direction giver from earlier and now that it was light, I recognized him as our neighborhood gate guard from several years ago.
The movie “Chariots of Fire” about Eric Liddel passed through my mind and it hit me that Eric would not have run this race as it was on a Sunday. I pondered that for a while and my pace became slower and my head began to hurt. I passed limping runners whose legs had cramped up and sad for them and had an odd sense of gratitude for not experiencing that kind of pain….then began to wonder if and when cramping might come. Then just when I needed it, I saw my full crew up around a curve just outside of the garden. How happy I was! They lied and said I was looking great so I began feeling great again too. Hannah cheered me on. Sophie handed me a fresh bottle of sports drink. More photos were taken. Isaiah took up running beside me and my pace picked up again. I was proud to tell the runners that were passing us that it was my son running with me…one racer told me I should talk less J
We were now back on the long canal road with about 30 Km under my tired feet (maybe I should have chosen the shoes with better support) and another 12 K yet to go. Those were the hard kilometers. In my training my longest run was 33 K so this was all uncharted territory for me. With the i-pod turned off I chatted along with Isaiah as he patiently used his long legs for baby-step running.
We passed through an area that was thick in smoke which was hard on the lungs even with covering my face with my shirt. The racers were more spread out now and each kilometer seemed more like a mile. Russell had moved my cheering crew further ahead and encouraged me to keep the good steady pace saying I was right at my goal…my only goal at that point was to finish. J Up ahead of us was a Thai grandmother who for some reason was trotting down the side of the road with her arms clutching her purse. Laughing, I thought at least I should be able to pass this granny and when I did I told her she was a pretty fast runner, which made her smile J.
Isaiah said I should try listening again to some music but the morning noise and traffic had increased making hearing the songs a challenge. We counted off the distance and estimated how much longer yet to go, visualizing the course before us. Passing a market alive with the smells of Thai breakfast my stomach let me know food was something I did not need right then. A slow waltz started playing in my ears so Isaiah reached up and fast-forwarded the music to a peppy polka which helped some with our pace. When we got to the moat we knew the end was near. And I was so glad! Everything was hurting…even areas I had never had pain in were now crying out for attention. Isaiah reminded me of the passage from Isaiah 40 about running and not growing weary and God gave us strength to focus and run on.
Russell had dropped Sophie off and she joined us in the final 4 Km… all smiles, she said she liked our slow pace J. I gave up on the i-pod and with Sophie on the right and Isaiah on the left we maneuvered through the busy city traffic only once almost getting hit by a truck. The route took us from the top of the moat to a right turn going to the center of the moat then we saw Russell jogging toward us. He began blocking our traffic and my body guards and I ran forward passing the 3 Kings Monument. The cell phone rang and I heard Russell say it will be about another 5 minutes. That was music to my ears! He had me focus on a traffic cone marking our final turn and the running surface became a tricky brick-laid road. We made the turn and the finish line was now in sight!
I felt like a horse heading for a barn and renewed energy came. As Russell began singing out cadence …left right left, I thought back to the USMC days and how I first wanted to run a marathon and now I was about to finish one! Excitement built with each step and I surprised myself with the strong finish running right up passed Hannah taking photos and the young boy standing at the finish line handing out to me a golden finisher’s medal. Both arms up in the air, I was so thankful to God for the race, for the whole experience leading up to it, so thankful for my family and the loving support each one had shown to me and… so thankful that it was finished! J I laughed, I cried; my body shook. What a full day it had been…and it was only 8:30 in the morning!
After hugging everyone and drinking some wonderfully needed water I looked at the medal and with it was a card saying I had placed 3rd in my age group! Bonus on top of bonus! As we waited for the award ceremony Russell rubbed me down with counter-pain as all the muscles in my body had began tensing up and now that I was still I also started feeling the coldness of the morning. More friends from our house church came at the end and graciously listened to some of the race details. Soon I was up on the stage with the king of Thailand’s photo 20 times bigger than life as the back-drop. A Thai lady took first place (the one that always does J), a Malaysian lady in second, me in third and a lady from Sweden was honored for forth. The Thai winner led me to pick up a pink marathon T-shirt, we took a few more photos to remember the event and then we gratefully headed for home. A quick shower and we were back in the car again now on our way to house church. Arriving just a few minutes late everyone cheered me… how can I help but smile and be thankful. Yummy mango cheese cake, cinnamon rolls, and poppy seed cake never tasted so guilt-free! J
Thank you for indulging me; I know the time to read this all is almost as long as it took me to run it all. But as I decided that this was both my first and last marathon so I did not want to forget the many little details that made it all so special. And I wanted to share the joy with you. Thank you for running along side of me with your thoughts, prayers and encouraging messages all along the way. It is an experience I will never forget! To answer the question, “Are you sure you don’t want to run another marathon?” My reply: No need–this one was so perfectly wonderful and I have telos’ed (completed) my marathon dream…. But I do look forward to lacing up my shoes and continue to explore God and His creation as long as it pleasures Him for me to do so.
Chiang Mai, Thailand
30 Dec 2007