Sunday, March 22, 2009

Marathon: The beauty, the challenge, the lessons, the blood, the sweat, and the tears...

3/15/09 The Day...that I had anticipated and trained long, tedious hours was here. This was the day that I had prayed for, dreamed about, and desired to come to fruition. I was excited to run this race because I felt like God had given me the ability to run a marathon, and I wanted to glorify Him through it. In addition, I wanted to run this race for those people in this world for whatever reason are not able to run a marathon. It was GO time!

Grant and I woke up at 5:00 am to make sure we would be at the marathon site on time. We walked outside to a chilly, windy morning of 20 degrees Fahrenheit. The frigid wind coldly chaffed our faces as we found a taxi and drove to Gyeongbok Palace. We arrived and were swallowed by the huge crowd of over 30,000 supporters, runners, and race coordinators/volunteers. Race advocates stated that there were around 25,000 runners running this year. This race attracts a lot more Korean men than women. For every one woman there were four men. This race is considered an international race but there were very few foreigners.

We quickly tried to figure out what in the world we were supposed to do. We found the baggage claim and dropped off my sweats. I DID NOT want to take them off. It was so cold! Good thing I was wearing tights and my pink fleece from the Boatwrights! Grant and I took some quick shots in front of all of the historical sites around us. Next was finding out where/when I was to start. By observation we figured out that there were 5 heats in the race and me, being a first time marathoner, was in the last heat. Each heat was about 5-10 minutes apart. I was in heat E. Grant and I parted ways and he gave me a good luck kiss and told me where to look for him during the race! My anxiety and excitement began to grow as I was disconnected from all forms of English speaking communication. Then, I found a sweet Canadian girl, who had already run this marathon twice, and a nice Turkish fellow. They alleviated a lot of my fears through their encouraging and reassuring words of things I already knew.

My heart began to race with exhilaration as the first few heats were off! I began to thank God for giving me the ability, the blessing and the experience of running of a marathon. Soon, our heat was at the starting line, I was near the middle of the large heat of E. And in an instant, without realizing when they said go since the announcer was speaking in Korean, we were off!

The cold air started to feel soothing as my body warmed as I began to take faster strides.
The sun gleamed down through the tall, large, and overbearing business buildings. My breathing and strides became one in their unity, and my body began to feel of the pattern of my running pace. I was feeling incredible! I paced myself as I had been told over and over again not to start the race out to fast. I ran my first mile in 7 minutes and 30 seconds which was a typical first mile for me during training. I started to run each consecutive mile after that between 7:30-8:30. I was thoroughly enjoying myself. I was passing people right and left trying not to get stuck behind people.
About mile 4, I got to see my sweetie. He took some really good pictures with our new camera. I was really excited to see a friendly face that I knew. I quickly took off my pink fleece which was a mistake later on during the run because I was starting to get extremely warm. At this point, I was up there with the D heat.

I continued to run my pace and felt the warm sun tickle my arms and back. I got trapped a few times behind very slow runners, but then I found a really good forerunner who paved the way and helped me keep a good pace. I followed the Korean runner through the crowd and soon I had two or three other Korean runners following me. I eased into my pace and listened to the music that was dancing through my ears.

As I rounded mile 10, the roar of the Korean drummers sent my heart and body into overdrive. After looking for Grant, I finally saw him, but, he did not see me so I stopped and yelled his name. He nodded at me and took some pictures. I was hoping to get to talk to him, but he was a decent distance away, so I began on my way. At this point, I was up there with heat B and C, and I was still feeling amazing. Grant saw this and decided not to meet me at mile 14 because of the fast pace I was keeping.

I started to get really hungry about mile 13 and kept looking for a refreshment station with food. As I started searching, I found a Korean husband and wife who were generously handing out what looked like juice. I was hungry and didn't care what they gave me as long as it would help sustain my blood sugar levels. I chugged the juice down and soon realized that it was not juice but ginseng. It revved my body up enough to keep me going. At mile 14, a Korean man anxiously and abruptly came up to me and asked me several times in a very, broken English accent: "Did you run into a tree, did you hurt your arm?" He pointed to my right arm and continued to ask me this three or four times. I kept trying to reassure him no my arm is fine, "I'm okay." He finally gave up, and I kept running not thinking about what he said because I had previously had a small bruise on my right arm. I was relieved to find that at mile 14.5, they had a refreshment station with choco pie(a yummy Korean Little Debbish chocolate cake) and bananas. A yummy mix!

I stopped for a restroom break at a gas station up the road a little bit from the refreshment station. I went and glanced in the mirror and saw a shocking sight. I had blood all over the back of my right shoulder. I was curious to see where this blood was coming from so I looked under my arm and saw a bloody, two inch abrasion that had been caused by my MP3 holder on my arm. I wiped off the blood with water and toilet paper and went on my merry way. I soon began to feel the sting of the abrasion, so I showed one of the medics my arm. and they gave me some petroleum jelly which helped stop the bleeding and sting.

I was still feeling well overall except for a very annoying pain I felt in my right groin and knee. I kept pushing through the pain trying not to think about it(because the week before the marathon, my right groin had been a little tight). However, around or between miles 15 and 16 the pain in my groin and knee began to intensify, and I began to grit my teeth and could no longer ignore the pain. The pain level had started out at 5 and was now an 8.5! My groin muscle finally had enough and tore. Also, my knee began to swell internally and fill up with an immense amount of fluid to the point that I could barely bend my knee. Which as you runners out there know, it is very hard to run if you can't bend your knee. I felt as if my leg was being split in half and there was no relief in sight. I couldn't stop and ask for somebody to massage my groin. What was I going to do, ask one of the Korean volunteers/medics to put icy/hot on my groin? No, if I had pointed to my groin they probably would have thought that I needed to use the restroom.

It was thoroughly frustrating not being able to tell anybody what was going on with my leg. Each step I took I felt the muscle pulling even more. I was beginning to feel as if my leg was no longer attached to my hip, however, that thought did not last long because of the sharp, excruciating pain that surged through my leg that reminded me of my injury.

I began to question why I was running this race. Feelings of defeat tried to crawl into my thoughts. I began to get mad and wondered why God would allow me to get injured. I had trained so hard, I had stretched well, I had iced the heck out of my knees, groin, and shins, I had given this race up to Him, I had eaten very healthy, and done everything possible and plausible to prepare my body and mind for this great event. Why was this happening now? I'm young and athletic, why me? God began to quietly whisper to me that He was in control, and that I was not. Of course me being me, I continued to ask why? I felt as if God was telling me that all the lessons I teach you and the growth I want to see is NOT about your comfort. Darn! I wish it was sometimes! My race just goes to show you that no matter how well you train or work for something, you don't get to decide how it turns out, He does. Just like how we can't be good enough or do enough good things to get into heaven, but unlike the injury I endured during my marathon, we have a choice to choose Him, and He accepts us just as we are. Broken, bloody, weary, sweaty, injured...just as we are. However, my choice during this race came with finishing the race. My aching leg told me to quit and to give up and try again next year. I could have quit at mile 16 and not many people would have faulted me for doing so. There were ambulances patroling the whole race passing me left and right. I could have taken the easy way out of my predicament. Nonetheless, my mind and heart and body would not let me quit. This was my time to let God shine through my pain. This was it, do it or die...

Through many painful strides, stretching, a little bit of walking, and an awkward running stance, I finally made it to the Olympic stadium without the help of the rapturous 20 MPH headwind that hit me around mile 19. Through tears of relief and severe pain, I hobbled to see the Olympic rings that valiantly aligned the stadium. As I ran through the Olympic Stadium, I felt a burst of renewed vigor and strength and quickened my pace as I passed several people before the finish line.

I finished, not with the time I wanted...but with a new since of how God always has a plan even if it is hard to see the why in the plan. "In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps" Proverbs 16:9.