The Richmond Half Marathon
I remember signing up for my first distance race. The Richmond Half Marathon back in November 2014. I did it after getting caught up in the wave of emotions pouring from the runners coming to Richmond that fall to honor Meg Cross Menzies. The day I signed up I'd been reflecting on this scripture:
Like many people I'd been moved by Meg's story. When she died I wrote this article: God's Newest Angel, One With Years of Experience. I signed up for that first half marathon believing this angel had set a race before me, one that was pointing me to Jesus. I confess, though, me of little faith thought the angel had lost her heavenly mind. Who points an overweight couch potato to a half marathon? But Meg clearly felt emboldened by her newfound connection to the greatest miracle worker ever.
I eventually crossed that finish line on race day. It wasn't pretty. It wasn't pretty when I crossed. It wasn't pretty when I hobbled a mile or so to where I'd parked my car. It was ugliest of all the following week when I felt like every handicap parking space in Hanover County should rightfully be mine.
That's alright, I kept telling myself. You did it. And you'll never have to do it again!
The Richmond Marathon
To the many friends I've been blessed to share this running journey with, that has become somewhat of a punchline: "I'll never have to do this again." Because by the time I signed up for my first full marathon 2 years later, I'd run several more half marathons. All of them out of state. One of them as far away as Missoula, Montana.
To be honest, signing up for the Richmond Marathon wasn't a response to another prompt from Meg. It was actually quite self centered. It was ego driven. It was burying once and for all past failures in my life. Things I'd messed up really bad as well as things I'd never taken on for fear of messing them up really bad. This marathon was about finishing so many things in my life, including that first half marathon. It was never lost on me that it was only "half" a marathon.
So, I went into this one thinking about taking care of me.
finished with anything. Not if he can use it for his purposes.
When I crossed the finish line I felt and heard God's voice. He put a scripture on my heart, one that just happened to be printed on the back of the shirt I was wearing that day. 2 Timothy 4:7 says, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." God was about to completely steal my running journey and use it to help others keep fighting, finishing and keeping the faith. And he wasn't asking me to accept that - he was demanding it.
The Podcast Interview
As part of God's plan to begin encouraging others through my running journey, I started a podcast. I interview runners or people in the running community who have inspiring stories. My hope is these stories will shine light on folks who might need it.
through the mountains of northern Georgia. If there was only the 100 mile option, this race would have been in and out of my mind as soon as Jenny was done telling me about it. But the race also offers 50, 35 and 17 mile races.
Long after our conversation was over, The Georgia Jewel kept popping into my mind. I had no idea why. It was just one of those nagging whispers that have come to predict something crazy is about to happen in my life.
Registering for the Georgia Jewel
2018 has been a crazy running year. The year started with a did not finish at the Houston Marathon. I lined up hoping I could keep up with the 6 hour cutoff pace, a pace nearly an hour faster than my only previous marathon. But at mile 18 my hopes were dashed. I couldn't keep up. My record against the mighty 26.2 dropped to one victory against one might Texas defeat.
A little over a month later I had an opportunity to get back in the win column. Several friends were headed to Little Rock, Arkansas to tackle the Little Rock Marathon. At the last minute I decided to join them. Little rock had a much more forgiving 8-hour cut off. If I could go down there and conquer that race I could get back on the winning side of this marathon thing. And after 6 hours and 45 minutes on a rainy, hilly course, that's exactly where I ended up. Back in the win column.
Then comes March. The end of March and the annual Run the Bluegrass half marathon in Lexington, Kentucky. A race that has tried not only to defeat me twice, but not so subtly tried to kill me just to make sure I never came back. It's one of the most challenging courses I've ever run.
This March felt different though. After Little Rock my running only improved. I felt strong coming into Lexington. I thought I could run my fastest Run the Bluegrass, and by the time I got there, I started thinking I could run my fastest half marathon period.
I need to pause here and tell you one thing all three of those races have in common: my friend Nicole. She was there when I got drug off the course in Houston. She was there cheering me on at the finish line at Little Rock. And on Run the Bluegrass day, knowing I had a goal of running my fastest half marathon ever, and knowing she was plenty fast and inspirational enough to help me make it happen, she was lined up next to me determined to make it happen.
And make it happen we did. By about 2 1/2 minutes, I ran my fastest half marathon ever.
That race was a huge confidence builder for me. I didn't know exactly how big until last weekend.
At the Little Rock Marathon my friend Nicole and I started joking about running the Georgia Jewel 35 mile race. Running through the mountains. Becoming ultra marathoners. Daring greatly. Chasing limits that could only be reached with God's strength at our backs. We joked about it. Then we were mysteriously serious about it.
There was a point at mile 11 at the Run the Bluegrass when my friend Nicole sensed I wasn't going to make it. She'll never admit she was sensing it, but I knew she was. Which is why she forced my hand. Dared me to come 11 miles into our shared goal to set a personal record and quit before pulling it off. She left me no doubt that was absolutely NOT her intention, and basically told me to get it in gear or leave Lexington with nothing but regrets.
I'm grateful for that. In hearing that story you get to know a little bit about just how she's built. A fighter. A scrapper. And a say you're going to do it you'd better do it kind of person.
That's why last Saturday when I got a message from her that included her paid registration for the 35 mile Georgia Jewel ultra marathon, I knew that was her way of saying we're done talking. It's time to tackle what we set out to do.
And so last Saturday, I registered for my first ultra marathon. On Saturday, September 22, Nicole and I will tackle 35 miles of trail and about 5000 feet of ascending mountains to cross the finish line. I have no doubt, when she senses I'm about to pack it in at mile 25 or 30 - what?!?!?!? - she'll let me know good and well we didn't come all the way to Georgia not to finish our first ultra marathon.
So for the next several months, through the long and hot dog days of summer, you can be sure - I'm going to have Georgia on my mind.
Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.
In order for you to fully understand my 2018 Run the Bluegrass (RTB) journey, I have to tell you about my 2015 RTB journey. It was my second half marathon ever. I was ill prepared. And it was the first time I'd ever run over hills the likes of those on this rural Lexington, Kentucky race course.
To be exact, 32 relentlessly rolling hills that offer up everything but a level running surface. Back in 2015, when my buddies helped me across the finish line in just over 3 hours, I swore I'd never run again. Several days after the race I started to wonder if I'd ever walk again.
Then, and arguably still now, it was the hardest race I'd ever run.
But eventually I did find a way to walk again. To my surprise, I also found the will to run again. In fact, before returning to RTB for a third time last weekend, I'd run 2 marathons and 9 half marathons since that race. A running death sentence averted, if barely.
I came into Lexington looking for a fight. My 2018 running year started with a bust when I picked up a "did not finish" at the Houston Marathon. But fueled by that failure, I went to Little Rock and ran my fastest marathon about a month later. Granted, it was only my second one, but when you don't finish your previous race you'll accept any kind of fast.
After Little Rock, I went on to run my fastest 5k and 10k races. This planted a seed - it was possible I could run my fastest marathon, 5k, 10k and half marathon in one month if I could somehow run my fastest half marathon ever at RTB. Only, I knew how impossible that possible was. Last year I brought my RTB time down to 2:48. But my half marthon best was 2:27. Was it really possible to shave another 21 minutes off my time?
If I was willing to fight that course the entire 13.1 miles, I thought it could be done. And so, in my mind, a mission was launched.
Run the Bluegrass is always a family afair for my Megsmiles family. We got the race weekend started with a dinner at Malone's. Me and my plant based diet had fallen on hard times in the days leading up to the race, so as long as we were on the outs I decided to have some steak and shrimp. It had been awhile and I happen to think it was the perfect pre-race meal to tackle the big fight ahead.
In the week leading up to the race, Lexington had been inundated with rain. When I arrived Thursday it was raining, and there was intermittent rain and gloom all day Friday. All signs pointed to a cloudy Saturday if not rainy. That's why, when I made the trek up the hill to the parking area on race day, this scene was a thing of beauty.
When I saw that image, I knew God had something special in store for the day. I'm a believer that God whispers. He whispers through our friends at a pre-race dinner. He whispers through a sunrise. And I was about to find out he whispers through friends who run with you.
I made my way to the Megsmiles tent. It's a special place to gather before the race to share in each other's hopes and dreams for the day. I don't really know how unique running is as far as this goes, but the commraderie might be a bigger part of the race experience than the running. The running gives us something to bond over - the successes and failures and hill struggles - but it's the bonding that often produces the most enduring memories.
You want to talk about a bonding memory. This image will live with me forever.
Those three men there. They've become some of my best buddies in the world. And I wouldn't know one of them if it wasn't for running.
We were all grateful to have Sid Busch join us. Sid's a Navy veteran who's run over 200 marathons to honor fallen military veterans. He runs so their lives and legacies are not forgotten. John and Anthony are veterans themselves. So to be standing there with these three men, all such good and honorable men, it's a moment that transcends whatever race result happens that day; one that ensures victory. It's a moment that won't hang on a wall with the medals, but it shapes a heart forever.
Then it comes. After the dinners and all the pre-race bonding, race time comes. And we head for the starting line.
I'll be honest. This starting line felt different than any other. Likely because I had a large goal. One I knew was bigger than any running goal I'd ever tackled. I think the other part is I had someone running with me. That was a first. For 13 miles I was going to have someone at my side.
My friend Nicole, who originally contemplated not running the half marathon because of a knee injury, knew how much this time goal meant to me. When I was loosely talking about goals for this race earlier in the month, she's the one who ultimately made me say out loud that I wanted this to be my fastest half marathon ever. She's plenty faster than me and likely could have chased her own goal, but she made the decision to help me chase mine.
We finally got our call to start. The 2:30 pace group was in front of us. Nicole said we were going to pass them and never let them catch us. Never came out of her mouth with an intensity that set the stage for the rest of the day. Never once did I hear anything softer than "we are going to do this." No doubts. No waffling on the expectations. Just a constant flow of "we are."
My goal was to get to mile 9 in 1:35. I knew that would put me ahead of the pace I needed to hit my goal. Ahead in time to battle the brutal hills that define mile 9. But we actually hit mile 9 in 1:37:30. I was 2 1/2 minutes behind my dream pace. Which in the grand scheme of things, with only 4 miles to go, felt like a lot. My pace was beginning to slow and I know longer had the cushion I'd hoped for. If I was going to hit my goal, the last 4 miles were going to be hard miles.
I did have one thing going for me at mile 9, though: Meg
I didn't stop at mile 9 like I have my previous two races. No photo ops. No paying respects. I knew Meg would be fine with that. Meg was all about crushing everything in her path to get to that finish line. Hills, the competition - whatever got in her way. So I ran by, gave her a little pat, and with a little extra pep, motored up that first hill.
I'd noticed Nicole looking at her watch and phone more frequently. I knew she'd been receving texts from our friend Tiffany at the finish line who'd been following our pace and offering her instructions. Likely, tell him to pick it up! The more Nicole looked at both, the more I knew SHE KNEW we were cutting it close.
Yet, still: "we're going to do this."
The boost I got from Meg didn't last long. By mile 10 I was fading fast. I did what I've done many times running these races alone. I started setting plan B goals.
Nicole had her music on. She turned to me and said "overcomer" is on. I'll likely always hold that as the most beautiful piece of encouragement ever. Nicole knows my heart for God. She shares it. She knew that song was ALL about leaning on God when there's nothing left. It was one more way of saying "we're going to do this." Get your heart set on God right now. We're overcoming this.
By mile 11 I was walking more frequently. The goal looked as jeopardized as it had looked all day. And Nicole simply looked at me and said, "We didn't come all this way not to get this thing. You can rest in 25 minutes. You can sleep after the finish line. But we're going to do this."
I didn't know how. I was out of breath. Feeling faint. My head could only look down at my feet. But for the next two miles that girl just kept saying we are going to do this. We are going to do this. And she willed my body to do things I couldn't begin to get it to do. She created fight in me when the only material she had to work with was quitting. Because that's what I wanted to do. That's what I was thinking.
Give it up Nicole. We got close enough. Close on a really challenging course.
I never said that. I couldn't. Not to her. She gave up her race. Her day. And she didn't consider it a sacrifice, but an opportunity. An opportunity to help someone else achieve a goal. I'm telling you, that was never lost on me at any point during the race. Nicole smiled and laughed - and danced with Jesus, as she put it - and was totally in her zone helping make someone else's day. That in itself made fighting on mandatory.
I did fight on and at my 12, I finally knew: we are going to do this. I could hear the crowd cheering runners home. I could see the final turn in the distance. And then there we were in that final turn. I saw our friends, and then the finish line, and then with more kick than I think I've ever had with 100 yards to go, I ran home.
I looked at my watch: 2:25:37.9 - my fastest half marathon by over 2 minutes. (Side note: Nicole ran it in 2:25:37.7 - she was NOT going to let me beat her!)
The finish line was emotional. I knew I'd completed what I set out to do. My 4 fastest races, 4 different distances, all in one month. 4 years ago I was here wondering what I was doing in the midst of runners. I wasn't one. I was a survivor, but I wasn't a runner.
Today I felt like a runner. But you know, within seconds the runner in me started reflecting on the person in me. The runner was wearing one cool medal (very cool medal), but the person was overwhelmed by the bonds from the weekend. Bonds formed because a woman died and people captivated by her spirit adopted it instead of letting it die with her. A spirit of loving and giving and putting someone else's finish line ahead of their own.
Nicole and I talked about God nudges on the course. I think the biggest nudge came after the finish line. That's when it hit me that we all bond so well because we know what each other's dreams are, we know what each other's fears are and we know what each other struggle with. We know because we care and we ask. And then we dive head first into being a part of it. We don't do things like Run the Bluegrass to run to finish lines, we do it to run to each other. Wherever we are; whatever we might need.
God gave us that answer a long time ago. Not to run with each other, but to love with each other. StilI, I have to say, running is a very cool place to figure that out. A beautiful place to experience it.
Running the Bluegrass for Respect
Sign up and run the virtual 5K from now until May 1, 2018. The cost is $20. The 5th Annual Run For Respect VIRTUAL 5K RUN is being held in conjunction with the 6th Annual Run For Respect 5K at Pontiac Township High School in Pontiac, Illinois which will be held on April 21. All proceeds from the Run For Respect benefit Illinois Special Olympics and Pontiac Township High School’s Peers In Action programs.
Achieving resilience in the face of failure, perseverance in the face of adversity, is a central part of any ultimate success.
I hung that medal on my medal board as a place holder. It would hold a spot for the real Houston Marathon medal I was committed to going back and earning in January of 2019. In my mind, supported by the spirit of that medal, I could now live with my failed attempt at marathon two. I could peacefully wait on a second crack at it.
Only, I had no idea how soon a second crack at it was coming.
Because, as God often does, especially through this running journey of mine, he weaved Houston and Anthony and some friends I truly love together in a marathon story in a most unpredictable setting. Little Rock, Arkansas.
I wasn't going all the way to Houston to attempt my second marathon and come home without a medal. After all, this one was for the people of Houston who are struggling in the aftermath of hurricane Harvey. The purpose was too big; the support too strong. This journey had no room for failure. But in the end, that's exactly what I did. I failed.
"This journey had no room for failure. But in the end, that exactly what I did. I failed."
Norma refused to leave her home while the reparations were going on. One of the reasons she trusted St. Andrews to help her repair her home is they wouldn't take her from the only place she knew as home. To be honest, I thought her home looked chaotic and out of sorts. It was clear, though, Norma was filled with gratitude for her home and all everyone was
You run to where He needs you. Sometimes it's to a place of discomfort. Sometimes it's away from where we expected to be. The reality we often forget or don't understand is -we're running His race, not ours.
The pressure is compounded when you know you have to go and the body that's been so cooperative for months, like a stubborn dog, lies down and refuses to budge.
I knew from the moment it became clear I wasn't going to finish, shame wasn't going to be a part of my experience. My wife's text message set the stage for the response I'd receive from all of my friends at the finish line, and from all the friends and family who were following the journey on social media. She was the first to remind me the weekend was about far more than finishing a marathon. I think she also set the stage for a conversation I was about to have with God on that bus ride back to the finish line.
I was looking out the window as we drove through the streets of Houston. That's when I
So I'll be back in Houston next January. I'll be chasing down the finish line that eluded me. And between now and then I'll continue partnering with St. Andrews Church as they seek to heal their community. I hope to check in on Ms. Norma, the beautiful kids at Lawhon, and the other families St. Andrews will touch between now and then. And I hope to experience the finish line feeling so many of my friends experience this time around.
So stay tuned. Or maybe better yet, book a flight to Houston.
Running a marathon will help you dismiss an unhealthy myth. One perpetuated by the running devils while we're chilling in our comfort zones. The myth:
"I don't need anyone's help."
When I committed to run a marathon the first thing I discovered was a few dozen friends ready to run with me, suffer with me, pick me up when I was down, drag me out of my comfort zone when it sounded more exciting than my current training run. These are the friends who lifted me up as I struggled through the final miles of my first marathon.
When I decided to run a marathon, I think the encouragement the experienced marathoners offered me most often was "running a marathon is more mental than physical." Maybe they told me that to distract me from the reality that my 5'9", 230 pound physique wasn't the ideal starting point for a marathoner. Whatever the case, I had a hard time imagining anything but the physical challenge of running 26.2 miles in a single running experience.
More than likely you're going to run a marathon because you've been inspired by someone else to do it. Maybe this article will be your inspiration. Here's the promise I'll make you, though. No matter who or what inspires you, the minute you cross that finish line, and possibly well before then, you are the one who's going to be the inspiration.
You'll have friends or family reach out to you to tell you they've started running themselves. Or maybe they've simply started taking long walks after dinner. But they are going to see you making a healthy choice, they're going to see a discipline in you they long for themselves,
Nearly 4 years ago I went for a run. Not the kind I'd been accustomed to, a mile or so on the treadmill to warm up before doing some "real" exercise with the weights at the gym. No, this day I went for an actual run. I ran with thousands to honor a young mom from our community who'd been hit and killed by a drunk driver while out training for the Boston Marathon. (A race, I confess, I knew very little about at that time). That day I ran for Meg Menzies.
If at any point in that run you or anyone as crazy as you had suggested 4 years later I'd have run 10 half marathons along with a full one for good measure, I'd have suggested your oxygen flow
I have often said running has improved my conversations with God. I've never really struggled with talking to God. But running has made be better at listening to Him. Sure, maybe that's because there's not much else to do but listen to God when you're running hours on end by yourself. But much like my wife, God isn't interested in WHY I listen to Him just so I DO listen to him.
So that's what I did. I drowned myself in coconut water, I ate as many pretzels as my rebellious stomach would concede to, and I rested. I woke up every half hour or so and did a self-examination - one question: could I make it to the starting line if I had to right now?
For most of the afternoon the answer was no. Trust me, the absurdity of it all wasn't lost on me. I've spent the duration of every stomach virus of my life wanting life to end, or at the very least praying for the anihilation of all forms of food. But here I was overlooking the merits of
When the race started I actually felt pretty good. Katie and the boys were standing on a corner just a few hundred yards into the race. I gave them a cheerful finger point to let them know "I've got this."
Through the first 8 miles of the race I did have it. I was running a solid 11:30 per mile pace that had me on target for a 2 and a half hour half marathon. That was the goal I'd set earlier in the summer.
But just as suddenly as my Thursday night dinner escaped me, that pace went down the drain. I began to feel hungry and weak. I knew I
In the end I got my redemption. The hook on my medal rack set aside for the Patrick Henry Half Marathon medal is now full. But like most of my races, I won't remember what I did as much as I'll remember the people who helped me do it and celebrate it. God has used running to weave me into so many awesome lives and stories. I love the way He allows his love to live out in me through each and every one of them.
In the end I got my redemption, but an awesome God used redemption to make failure a very beautiful thing.
Life is like running.
If we have friends running alongside us, there's no fight we can't fight, no race we can't finish.
22 Too Many
Faith And Running
Flying Pig Marathon
Kiawah Island Marathon
Little Rock Marathon
New Song Mission Possible 5k
Patrick Henry Half Marathon
Run For Respect 5k
Run The Bluegrass
The Hokie Half Marathon
Virginia Beach Shamrock Marathon