This five-part series of posts is unapologetically Christian. But, whether you are Christian, atheist, or don’t know what you believe about God, I think you will find in them food for thought and principles for personal growth. There are so many parallels between running an ultramarathon and the daily struggles and joys of our lives.
Friday’s theme was Spiritual Diligence and Endurance (Never give up until the race is won!).
“I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). “… but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved” (Mark 13:13).
On the first day of my race, the area was hit with record-breaking high temperatures. I knew beforehand weather was supposed to be hot, but it got even hotter than any of us expected. Many runners were overcome with the heat and dropped out of the race. I had a secret weapon against the heat—my homemade ice bandana. It had a large pocket to hold ice, and as I wore it wrapped around my neck, the ice cooled the blood running through major veins there.
The first part of the race went well. The ice in my bandana lasted from one aid station to the next, and I was able to keep a good pace. But the stretch between the third and fourth aid stations seemed long. I kept thinking, “I’ve got to be getting close,” but around each corner I saw only more trail stretching on and on ahead. All the ice in my bandana melted, and there was still no aid station in sight.
I had not realized how much I was being cooled and aided by my ice bandana. After the ice completely melted, I tried to continue with the same effort level, but I started feeling hotter and slowing down. Suddenly, I was blindsided by heavy dizziness and nausea. I staggered on a few steps and then sat down on a rock with my head down.
A couple of lady runners stopped to ask if I was all right. I told them no. I felt weird and not good at all. They stayed with me, and after a few minutes, I was able to get up and walk with them toward the aid station—one ahead of me and one behind me. I felt like they were angels of mercy.
Finally, I reached the next aid station and my family crew. I was so happy to see them! They immediately began to take care of my needs. I laid down in the grass (no chiggers there at least!) and my crew put ice in my bandana and got it across the back of my neck.
I knew I couldn’t stay on the ground long, but it felt heavenly to lie down. After about twenty minutes, I was able to head down the trail again. However, my digestive system did not recover well, and I ended up fighting nausea most of the rest of the race.
It was hard to run feeling nauseous, but even more serious was that the nausea shut down my ability to take in fuel. I was only able to trickle down a bit of liquid calories and occasionally eat some candied ginger. I knew I was falling into a calorie deficit, but I just couldn’t get more into my revolting stomach.
The nausea started to ease off a bit as night fell, and I thought the worse was over. But it did not cool down as much as predicted during the night, plus I hit a section of trail with a lot of hard uphill climbing. The nausea came back with a vengeance. I was so discouraged! The trail grew rougher with larger rocks and potholes. My stomach was churning. My attitude was crashing.
I was reduced to hiking, and the distance between aid stations seemed so far when I was moving so slowly. I started feeling like I was stuck in a nightmare of darkness, rocks, and nausea that would go on forever. My legs felt sore and tired, and I wasn’t even halfway yet. I knew it was totally impossible for me to continue like this for another eight hours. I resigned myself to failure. My race was unraveling, and I seemed powerless to stop it.
I was a mess emotionally by the time I reached the next aid station. I sat down in my chair and started crying. I told them how miserable I felt and how I could not keep going when I couldn’t eat. Then I cried some more. This is when our daughter Elizabeth offered a beautiful prayer asking for angels to be with me as I ran.
My crew took care of my needs and reminded me that I only had to make it to the next aid station at the turnaround before I could pick up Aaron as my pacer. Then they told me to get going and kicked me back out on the trail. It seemed harsh, but my crew did exactly what I needed them to do. They had propped up my sagging attitude and told me I was capable of going on.
By the turnaround, I was feeling a bit better, plus it was so encouraging to know Aaron would be with me the rest of the race. I was convinced that if I stayed cold enough, the nausea would stay away, so I played freeze-out the rest of the night, but still the nausea came back a THIRD time near daybreak. Aaron said it was because my stomach was so empty, so at the next aid station I made a valiant effort to eat and managed to get down some chicken noodle soup.
I still had some rough fatigue and nausea. I don’t know how many times I told Aaron, “I don’t see how it is possible for me to finish!” There were still so many miles to go! Aaron always told me to just put one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward.
The nausea and lack of fueling had slowed me down significantly, and I was beginning to get close to the cutoff times. If you don’t make it to an aid station by it’s cutoff time, you are pulled from the race and not allowed to go on. By this point, everything was blurring together. We just kept going on and on and on and the trail stretched out forever in front of us. I knew I needed to push as hard as I could to keep ahead of cutoffs, but I felt so tired.
At 83.7 miles, we reached the Elk Creek aid station. I was a few minutes past the cutoff time, but they let me go on anyway. The trail out of Elk Creek continued steeply uphill for quite a ways. I started hiking. I felt okay for a few minutes, but the climb seemed to drain the last bit of energy from my body. I tried to run on a few less steep stretches of trail, but I couldn’t make my legs go. Then I started feeling wobbly even hiking, like I might fall over. My body had simply run out of fuel. I told Aaron that I could not run any more. He said that was okay, just keep putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward. So I did.
It seemed to take an eternity, and of course, getting lost added to our time, but I DID reach the finish line at Woodle Field. I was past the final cutoff time and not an official finisher, but I did finish!
I had lots of formidable obstacles in my race, the biggest ones being heat and nausea. Then there were steep, long hills; the rough, rocky trails; my tired, sore muscles; and the long, dark hours of the night. Remember, Jesus said that in this life we will have pain and trials. He tells us to expect it. There will be many obstacles in our path, and we must choose to endure or quit. Will we believe God’s Word and press on, or believe the lies of the devil and give up?
I remember one of the lies the devil tried on me when I was a teenager: “Why even try to do what’s right? You’ve already messed up so much, it doesn’t matter what you do now. There’s no way YOU are going to make it into God’s Kingdom anyway. So you might as well just do whatever you want.”
But the truth of God’s Word says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18).
Or how about this lie? “God doesn’t love you. If He did, He wouldn’t let all these bad things happen to you!” But the truth of God’s Word says, “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you . . . but rejoice” (1 Peter 4:13). “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth” (Hebrews 12:6). Like Abraham, after we patiently endure, then we will obtain the promise (Hebrews 6:15).
I prayed diligently over my race at Black Hills 100. I asked two things specifically: That it would not be too muddy or too hot. I knew these two things could make the race much more difficult. I don’t know why God chose to say no to my request and allow it to be so extremely hot. But I do know God is in control and I can trust Him.
I don’t know why it seems that some people are called to run a rocky and steep course in life, while others run a smoother path with fewer hills. I don’t know why some people have lives full of pain and tragedy and others have less suffering. I don’t know why God calls some people home at an early age and others live long lives. But I do know God is in control and we can trust Him.
We often think that this life is what it’s all about and that’s why we get so frustrated when we have troubles and trials. But it’s really about eternity. That’s what God is looking at. He’s thinking about the moment we cross the finish line into eternal life.
I endured through 100 miles (actually about 108), because I knew crossing the finish line would be worth all the pain and hardship. When I finally reached the finish line, it was a celebration! My family cheered for me, and it was a time of joy and deep satisfaction.
So it is a time of joy and celebration when a faithful follower of Jesus finishes his race and crosses the finish line of this life and enters into eternity. “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17).
If we use every ounce of determination we possess and lean upon the strength of Christ, each one of us can endure to the end faithful to Jesus. Then when we cross the finish line of life, this is what we will hear: “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord” (Matthew 25:23).
My 100-mile race at Black Hills is something I will never forget. The most important things I learned during that race are the lessons that apply to eternal principles.
“Wherefore, seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1). Now get out there and run your race!