Thursday, October 01, 2015

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner: My Half Marathon Adventure, Epilogue

So, I finished my half marathon.  13.1 miles completed in 3:11:24, well within my goal time of 3:30.  As I was running my route around the beautiful environs of Schroon Lake, I thought about this final post in this series.  I was going to review my training, the hours of running, the blisters, bone pain, mental challenges. Throughout those 3 hours, 11 minutes and 24 seconds I composed a most wonderful and inspiring post, peppered with some witty comments and hilarious dog stories ('cause, hey, I gotta be me).  All that changed on the ride home at a rest stop on Interstate 90.  While we were eating dinner, my sister/chauffeur/rehab trainer, Jean was checking her email when she let out a sad "Aww" and told me our friend Mike had died Sunday morning.

Mike had battled brain cancer for a couple of years. Some would say he lost his battle.  Those that knew him and read his Facebook posts throughout his treatment would say he'd won, no doubt about it.  Or as my pastor would term it, he died well. It seems to me that all Mike's life up to his cancer diagnosis was training for a long, difficult "race" through the trails and trials of treatment. He must have trained staunchly because he ran strong up until the very end, living faithfully for his Lord and Saviour.  Though in his final days his ability to communicate was severely limited, he still proclaimed the power of the Gospel by his demeanor through such difficult times.

While he underwent hours and hours of treatments, Mike would pray for different friends and family members and post those prayers on Facebook.  People I know who have had cancer are amazed when they hear this. They say if they did have any energy to pray, they prayed for themselves. Jean and I were once recipients of his prayers.To this day, I feel honored!

There were hundreds of people from all over the world praying for and cheering on Mike, most fervently his wife and two daughters.  There were a lot of people cheering me on and praying for me, as well.  My sister and my Aunt Joan who accompanied me the 400 miles to the race...and back again.  Anna, whose performance in last year's marathon I witnessed, which inspired me to attempt this run.  My brother who supported me...with teasing, and his wife who supported me by telling him to be nice! Brenda and the Barblings, Adiel, Mindy, Michelle and Joe, Fran, Ali and Dave. y coworker, Julie who knew my training schedule better than I did!  Facebook "Likes" and lots of texts over the last few weeks.  My Internet friend, Stacey who recommended The Runner's Devotional and who's blog posts  about her races - athletic, medical and spiritual - stirred up lots of thoughts in my brain and my soul. And I can't leave out Lucy who dragged me forward (usually after a squirrel) when my legs didn't feel like working anymore. Or Dora, who was so happy to walk with me during my cool downs, bright-eyed and waggy-tailed.

Both Mike and I have had lots of people (and dogs) in our corner.  But there were still many long stretches we each had to travel on our own, many silent miles where there was no one shouting encouragement, many "dark nights of the soul".  Still, it's said loneliness is a state of mind. "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?" (Jer 17:9) Our emotions quite often lie to us, giving us a dysmorphic view of reality.

"A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother." Prov 18:24 That would be Jesus, AKA Emmanuel, meaning God is with us. GOD with us - "...a very present help in trouble" (Ps 46:1) who promised to He would never leave nor forsake us (Josh 1:5). THIS is the reality the enemy works to make us forget.

After I heard about Mike death, I recalled a portion of the morning's race.  At about Mile 2 I could hear loud cheers coming from across the lake.  I smiled thinking about how they'd be cheering for me when I got to that point.  That point was around Mile 4, where the race route crossed the campus of Word of Life Fellowship, a Christian ministry and camp.  There were almost a hundred kids, counselors and leaders yelling and cheering for me.  "Way to go #770 (my bib number)!"  "Lookin' good!" There were even a few who yelled out "Keep going, Barbara!!" It was surprising and heartening  to hear my name! Apparently, race officials hand out rosters of racers for that very reason (Note to self - if I ever do anything like this again, fill out the application as Barb). As I ran by, I joked to one of the leaders that I was "surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses" (Heb 12:1). Sitting at that roadside rest stop, I was struck by the thought that while I was hearing my "great cloud of witnesses" Mike was hearing the real thing, angels and saints elated to see him cross the finish line, yelling his name!

The other day, my dad called me to see how I was feeling (I was sore) and to tell me he was proud of me (I got teary-eyed). On Sunday morning, Mike's Father, Abba said the same thing to him. And that is why I continue to "run with endurance the race that is set before me" - to hear the words "well done, good and faithful servant".

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