Running and the Birth of Just Enough

A while back, I wrote a post about the time I almost ran a full marathon. Towards the end of it, I talked about how I would start training again, this time smarter and harder, so that I could accomplish my goal. Well, I’ve been working on it, and I thought I’d give an update on how it’s going.

Several months ago, I signed up for a half marathon to jumpstart my training. I needed a short-term goal to motivate me for the long haul. My wife and I actually both ran it, and she finished her first ever half marathon four minutes ahead of her goal time.

I wasn’t quite that good.

The first half I ran was two-ish years ago in Austin, Texas, and I finished it in 2 hours and 7 minutes. I was pleased with the result. I was hoping to finish in under 2:05, but mostly I was just happy to finish. That half was the tune-up for my full later in the year (the one that ended with me vomiting at mile 23 in some guy’s front yard), so the fact that I missed my goal time on the half perhaps should have been a sign for me to work harder to get ready for the big race. I really wanted to hit my goal on this year’s half (this time the goal was an even 2 hours) so that there would be no concerns that I was on the same path to failure as before.

About mile ten of this last race, it wasn’t looking good.

For those of you who don’t know, these races often provide “pacers”, people who run the race holding signs so that if you have a goal pace, you can run with them and make sure you get it. I started just in front of the two hour pacer, knowing that if I just stayed in front of him I would be golden.

The first seven miles were smooth. I was running with a very good friend of mine who I had not seen in a long time, so we were able to chat while we ran, catching up on each others’ lives and families and generally just enjoying each others’ company. But, alas, he broke off from me to follow the full marathon course, so I was on my own for the last 6.1 miles.

It’s hard to run alone.

It was at mile marker 10 that my pace slowed and the miles started eating at my legs and lungs. I was ready for it to be over, but there was still a ways to go. Somewhere before 11, a bad thing happened.

The pacer passed me. Easily.

I watched as he and his group blew by me, and a part of me sank. With two-plus miles left, this guy was getting farther and farther away, his little “2:00” sign bobbing amongst the heads of racers a couple hundred yards ahead of me by the time I passed the Mile 11 sign.

When I hit that point, I knew it was now or never. I started to push myself, lengthening my stride, focusing on my breathing, telling myself over and over “All things are passing, all things are passing.”

But when I passed the Mile 12 sign, he was still far ahead.

At that point, I was ready to give up. I slowed back down, cursing my big belly and Irish foot-speed, pissed at myself and my ancestors and the good people of Chipotle for contributing to what would undoubtedly be another failed run. I had given up completely on my goal of ever completing a full marathon, and I thought about stopping to walk for a bit since it was clear my goal was toast, but I decided the least I could do was finish without having to stop. I plodded along for the next three-quarters of a mile or so.

Shortly before hitting 13, I saw the pacer turn around and jog backwards, shouting something about finishing strong to those of us behind him.

I wanted to punch him.

As I rounded the last turn of the course, the finish line became visible at the top of a slight slope, and above it the big electric timer showed the official race time. Now, the race time isn’t the same as one’s individual time: the sponsors give you a little tag that keeps track of when you start and stop so you can know exactly how you did since everyone can’t cross the starting line at exactly the same time. I knew that I had started when the official clock was somewhere around five minutes. I squinted through my sweaty hair at the clock a few blocks ahead.

It read 2:04. I still had somewhere around a minute before my goal time would pass.

At that point, I busted into a sprint. The realization that I could still do it gave me a boost, gave me some strength, and I put my head down and gave it whatever was left. I passed the finish line exhausted, the clock reading 2:05-something. I knew that I was within a minute or so of my goal, but I didn’t know if I had reached it.

I grabbed some snacks and drinks that the sponsors provided and walked slowly back along the course to watch my wife cross the line. After she finished kicking ass and taking names, we made our way over to the tent where you turn your chip in and they give you your official time. The guy handed me my ticket. I laughed.

1:59:59. I beat my time by one second.

I learned a lot from that race, and there’s probably a lot of spiritual corollaries that I could draw out, but most people have stopped reading by now anyway, so I will just leave you with one.

In our faith lives, we should never give up, no matter who seems to be passing us or how far off heaven appears. As long as we’re in the race, we’re probably making more progress than we think. Just put one foot in front of the other, and trust in your training and the strength that comes from hope.

Now I don’t have to think about how I “almost” ran a two-hour half. Maybe I only had just enough, but just enough is good enough.

The full is in April. Pray that my training continues to go well. If I survive, I’ll let you know how it goes.

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