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I was just along for the run

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By Moreland Jeff

 

I’m always up for a challenge. You name it, within reason and common sense, and I’ll probably give it a shot.
I’ve been like that since I was a kid. The only fuel I’ve really ever needed was to have someone tell me I couldn’t do something.
I was always a fast runner as a kid, but that was while playing a sport. I cared nothing about running long distances just for the sake of running. In fact, I hated it.
That’s why nobody was more surprised than me a couple of years ago when I realized I was becoming a distance runner.
It all started innocently enough while doing photography work for a company out of Texas. I traveled to some marathons in several states, taking photos of the participants. I often talked to some of the runners after the events, and I remember talking with a lady after she had completed her most recent marathon. That’s a 26.2-mile run, and one much longer than I ever cared to consider. I told her I just didn’t see how she did it, and that it was very impressive. In my mind, I can still hear her saying, “It’s hard, but you could do it if you really wanted to.”
A challenge? No, she wasn’t challenging me. But somehow, I found myself making it a challenge.
Within two weeks I was running a mile at a time around my neighborhood, and that quickly grew to 5K races, which are 3.1 miles long. I’d been running for just more than a year when I ran my first half marathon, a 13.1-mile race, and I did three of those within six months, and two in less than two weeks.
What was left but the ultimate challenge? That’s right, a marathon, a 26.2-mile run.
Crazy? Perhaps. Necessary? I sure thought so. It was a challenge I had made to myself, and I began to train for it.
In April of this year (2016), I began a training program and spent many hours leading up to this past Saturday, Sept. 17, when I would run in the U.S. Air Force Marathon at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.
I had altered my diet, sleep and just about every other activity to prepare for this challenge, and I was determined to succeed.
After a lot of good advice from friends who run, and several who have run marathons themselves, I was determined to just finish. It wasn’t about a particular time, it was going to be an accomplishment just to make it across the finish line.
When race day came, I was up before 4 a.m., even though the race didn’t start until 7:30 a.m. It was just impossible to stay asleep because I was so excited to get started and achieve this goal. Runners were told to arrive no less than an hour and a half before the start, so I was there just after 5 a.m. Unfortunately, the weather was threatening that morning, and lightning delayed the start of the race until 8 a.m., so that meant even more standing around and waiting to get started.
Finally, the storms cleared and it was time to go. The gun went off, and I was in a pack of more than 15,000 runners starting what would be a long, hard day.
Despite my training, as the race went on, I had some pain in the hamstring muscle of my right leg as I approached the 13-mile mark. Along the way, there were hydration stations with water and Gatorade at every mile, as well as some medical tents for runners who may have health issues. By mile 13, the pain reached the point that I had to visit the medical tent and have my leg iced and wrapped. As they are required to do, the medical staff asked if I wanted a ride back to the finish line.
No way. That meant your day was over, and you would not finish the race. All of that training would have been for nothing.
After being treated, I continued to run, and I got back into a groove again, at least until about the 20-mile mark, when my other leg began to cramp and my left hamstring muscle tightened up and cramped badly. At the 21-mile marker, I once again stopped at a medical tent for treatment.
With both legs iced and wrapped firmly, I had two options. I could accept that ride to the finish line, or I could keep on going. Although I had two options, I really only had one choice. I wanted to finish this race, and I had logged more than 1,400 miles over the past two years building up to this point.
With 5.2 miles to go, I once more ran, and this time, my legs were fine for a while. I actually enjoyed the feeling that I was almost there, and as each of those mile markers appeared in front of me, and I then left them behind, I felt more and more certain this was going to happen.
Finally, I could see it; mile marker 26. That meant I had less than a quarter of a mile to go.
The Air Force Marathon has a unique finishing area, and runners get to the finish line just outside the National Air Force Museum. Along your final .2 miles, there are about a dozen old planes lining the way, and it’s a beautiful site to see.
The pain was there, and it had spread to my knees and my shins, but I ran as hard in that last stretch as I had in the first few steps of the race. I crossed the finish line with a few tears flowing down my face, knowing I had accomplished something special.
When all was said and done, I finished in 6 hours, 17 minutes and 26 seconds, and I was the 1,716th runner to cross that finish line out of a group of 15,000. I didn’t finish in first place, but I certainly feel like I won.
I admit that running 26.2 miles was the toughest thing I’ve done in my life, along with the training that led up to it. But I learned something about myself.
Was it that I could do anything if I set my mind to it? Well, partly, but there was more. It wasn’t just about me and how I ran.
Before the race started, I prayed to God for strength and the ability to run that race not only for myself, but to somehow glorify him. I’d been praying that prayer for months, and I guess those injuries actually helped. If I’d finished injury free and just tired, I would have thought it was something I had done. But I know that through the prayers I prayed before and during the race, (and believe me, they became more frequent as the miles piled up) it was all about what God did in me. I was just along for the run.