XXVI

I hopped out of the car and into the parking lot of Dodger Stadium with Will’s parting words ringing in my mind,

“I’ll see you at mile 2.”

The sun was still hidden and people were slowly trickling into the corrals. I checked my gear and ate my last Clif bar as I began stretching. Around me, students gathered in their friend groups abuzz with excitement. I saw a handful of people in ridiculous costumes preparing themselves for their runs with extra baggage. To my right a gentleman probably three times my age was stretching sporting his Legacy bib with pride.

The anticipation of the race welled inside of me. Ready or not, the day was here. The plan had been researched and I had definitely trained… perhaps not to the level that I should have, but it was too late to worry about being under-prepared.

Bunched up like sardines, the runners’ sweats and security blankets were being launched into the sidelines as the sun rose and the announcer proclaimed the start of the race. I quickly made my way to the left side of the current of runners and found my pace as I remembered the warnings that I had heard from all of those who had gone before me. As the anticipated downhill path from the stadium unfolded before me, I managed my pace to a slower rate as I engaged my core and controlled my speed so as not to over-exert myself.

I might have been afraid earlier, but now with the adrenaline pumping, I felt good about this race.


The banner for the 4:00 hour pace was right in front of me as I ran through the streets of Los Angeles. As I passed mile two I looked to my left for a Starbucks that Will was waiting at. Sure enough, I saw him as I ran by and motioned over to him. He joined me and asked me how I was feeling. I told him that I felt great and we continued to run side by side as we listened to our own inspirational podcasts and playlists.

The notorious hills that the LA Marathon is known for came in quick succession and we blazed through them. Volunteers for the first few water stations extended their hands laden with water and Gatorade and we cockily ran past them.

As the sun came into full prominence in the sky we adjusted our outfits and removed the outer layers that were only needed for the first few miles. We locked onto the banner that had the pace we wanted and we held our pace with the determination to finish in a speedy fashion. I motioned to a sign that a volunteer was holding and Will and I laughed as we ran on. The sign read,

“If Trump could run, so can you”


The moment of truth was quickly approaching. 12.5 miles was the farthest I had ever run due to complications with my knee and traveling interfering with my training schedule. As we hit that mark, what had been written on the wall transpired just as I had feared.

Even though I had taken it easy in the weeks leading up to the race in order to allow my knee to heal before the race, my knee started to act up and by my mile 13 I was in serious pain.

Hobbling over to the sidelines, Will and I met Dina and Diana with open arms as they presented us with an assortment of water and snacks to help us replenish our electrolytes and morale.

While I nibbled on some Triscuits and a banana or two, Dina asked me how I was doing. I said that I was dying and she replied,

“You’re doing it! Honey, you’re already further than you have ever been”


I stumbled over to the sidewalk around mile 16 and collapsed as I tried to stretch out my spasming quad. As Will handed me half of a banana that he had in his backpack, I grimaced in pain. The banana tasted of nothing but pain and salt as I stretched the problem muscles.

At that moment a group of middle-schoolers walked by making jokes as middle school guys do and one of them saw me and we made awkward eye contact. He saw the pain and regret written on my face and said,

“Hey man, you can do it.”

Will looked at me and said, “You heard that? Let’s go!”


By mile 18, my brain was assaulting me with analysis and reports of the knee pain, shin splints, muscle spasms, sunburn, foot pain, and the ever-lengthening time it took to travel a mile.

I turned to Will and asked him, “How do you keep going even when everything in you wants to quit?”

Will shifted his headphones to the side and thoughtfully looked ahead as he considered how to answer my question.

“You just have to think about the people you have inspired and the people rooting for you and find strength through their words and support. I think about all the time and effort that went into reaching this moment right here right now. Think about the rewarding feeling you’ll have once you reach the finish line. It won’t matter how long it takes as long as you set yourself out to finish even if it means walking the whole way, but you gotta stay determined”

At that moment I remembered all the people I had told about running the marathon. I was reminded of the encouraging texts that my friends had sent me earlier that morning. They were appreciated in the morning, but now they were a reason to complete what I had said I would. I remembered how afraid I was of not being able to finish the race.

“Just keep putting one foot in front of the other,” I told myself as we limped on.


“I’ll catch up to you man,” Will said as he peeled off to the side to use the restroom and stretch. I moved my head slightly in acknowledgment as I continued to painfully walk. He had peeled off to the side a few times before and each time he had done just as he had said and caught up to me. But this time at around mile 21, I wouldn’t actually see him again until the end of the race.

I remember praying to God that He would somehow supply me with the energy and resolve to somehow make it through this run. I actually switched my high intensity playlist to my worship playlist at one point. Mighty to Save came on and I definitely laughed at the irony of really really wanting to be saved.

In the words of a certain doctor, we were definitely in the endgame now. The 4:00 hour pace keepers were long gone. No one was running anymore. I was surrounded by people who were literally limping their way to the finish line. The groups were long gone and everyone was alone, but all of us made one big wounded collective.

We now greedily grabbed water and Gatorade from the volunteers as we tried to somehow fool our bodies into thinking that they were capable of finishing this torture. Genuine “thank-yous” were given to the cheery volunteers as they reminded us to stay hydrated. People we had never known or met cheered us on as we hobbled our way down the road.

“You’re almost there! Momma didn’t raise no bitch”


25.6

Keep walking.

Keep moving.

My thoughts were short.

I had to use all of my focus to just keep walking.

I looked to my right.

Is that my sister?

Mary ran from the sidelines to walk beside me.

In broken sentences, I communicated to Mary how I felt like absolute shit. I told her how everything hurt and how under-prepared I had been. I told her how embarrassing it was that I had to basically walk half of the marathon. After empathizing with my pain for a second she immediately encouraged me.

“You know, I’ve been here for hours and I’ve been walking around and the finish line is right around the corner! I wasn’t sure if you were still running because mom, dad, and I have been tracking your location but then your location disappeared and I wasn’t sure if you had given up. But good job Paul! Even if you did walk, you still ran and walked 26 miles! You can do this! Finish strong! I know that after this point, I can’t walk with you anymore, but I’ll see you on the other side of the finish line!”

She peeled away to the left hand side of the street and I mustered whatever I had left in me to run to the very end. Not much faster than a leisurely jog, it took everything I had to keep going. I heard someone cheering me on saying, “You got this Paul!” and as I looked to my left I saw my sister on the other side of the fence sprinting with me to the finish line.


The second I crossed the finish line, I was elated that the ordeal was over. I instantly felt all of the pain in my body hit me at once. A volunteer saw me and put a medal on me and said, “Congratulations on finishing!”

I just remember taking off my shoes and sitting on the pavement for a hot minute processing all that had happened in that 6 hours and 40 minutes.


As I turn 26, the events of the marathon are still fresh in my mind.

Life oftentimes feels like a marathon.

A race that we are under-prepared for but that is happening anyways. Sometimes we feel confident and cocky and sometimes we feel defeated and we want to quit. Sometimes we get encouragement that we don’t really need in the current season, but it is vital to our survival later on. There are people who we meet that encourage us even though the time we have with them is short. Occasionally someone we might have biases against initially will provide some of the most needed encouragement. Friends and family play a pivotal role in helping us maintain our resolve. Coaches and mentors may not have the answers for us or be there for us all the time, yet they provide insight into how we might overcome the challenges we face. Comparison may at first seem like the way to gauge one’s success, yet when the smoke clears you realize that the only thing you are competing against is your own perception of what you believe is personally achievable. Our bodies often fail us along the way. Sometimes, what is at the end of the race is not why we run the race. We fail to appreciate where we are in life and are more obsessed with achieving some sort of milestone or goal. We judge ourselves the most harshly without seeing how far we’ve come. Occasionally the gifts or technology we rely on so heavily are stripped away and we are forced to create our own inspiration and reason for doing what we are doing. Insight from others can help us prepare for the ideals of life, but each one of us is different and what works for one person is not always as helpful or helpful at all to others. There are a lot of discouraging things that happen in life, but dwelling on them does not give us the resolve we need to continue moving forward. Many times the darkest moments and the moments of desperation are when we acknowledge the need for the Divine even though it’s clear that even in the good times it is the Divine that provides us with the physical and mental ability to live our lives.

Life oftentimes forces us to develop grit as we struggle to place one foot in front of the other even when the odds seem impossibly stacked against us.

If an injury prone guy like myself who didn’t make the high school track team twice, who rarely finishes anything he starts, and is allergic to his own sweat can finish the marathon…

Imagine what you can do.

Then stop imagining, and go do it.

 

 

3 thoughts on “XXVI

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