In running, the finish line is often viewed as the big moment. After months of training and miles of racing, the clock stops. A goal is achieved - or not - but this race story is over. The runner moves on to the next race, the next story, the next finish line.
Running builds into us this idea of speeding ahead. Keep your eye on the prize, no looking back. As a result of that, if we're not careful, we can miss the much bigger stories that are often as central to our race as the training miles are. We can miss the life story often buried in the race story.
That's why I want to take a look back at my Georgia Jewel story. On the surface, it's a story of running my first ultra marathon. It's a story of tackling the most daunting physical challenge of my life. But in looking back, I discover a richer story. One that is pointing me toward a more meaningful finish line. Frankly, one I never saw coming when I registered for this race.
My Road to the Georgia Jewel
Back in August of 2017, I interviewed ultra runner Harvey Lewis on my podcast (Listen Here). Harvey has tackled some incredible distance challenges over the years. He's a former Badwater 135 champion. More recently he ran the 2,200 mile Appalachian Trail in the 8th fastest time known to man. But during this particular episode, I became more interested in Harvey's diet. He'd been a vegetarian for many years, and he gave his diet a lot of credit for his running success.
Later in 2017, Harvey did a series on Facebook featuring athlete friends who also adhered to vegan or vegetarian lifestyles. One of those athletes was Jenny Baker. I reached out to Jenny and asked her to be a guest on my podcast. She agreed to, and in December of 2017, I interviewed her. You can listen here.
During that interview Jenny mentioned she was the race director for an ultra marathon in Georgia called the Georgia Jewel. Jenny said she took on this role as a way of giving back to the community. She said that's what she wants her race to be about - giving back.
In February of 2018, I interviewed JP Caudill on my podcast. JP had recently completed the World Marathon Challenge. In the challenge, JP ran 7 marathons in 7 different days on all 7 continents. I was awed by his accomplishment, fascinated by every word he shared during our conversation. You can listen here.
That interview with JP sparked intrigue in me. It sparked a serious wondering of just how far I could push my own running limits.
A few weeks after that interview I ran the Little Rock Marathon with some friends. I joked with one of those friends, Nicole Williams, about running 7 marathons in 7 days. She suggested I was crazy. I think I believed her and started thinking about an alternative form of crazy. That's when I recalled my conversation with Jenny Baker and the Georgia Jewel.
A few weeks later Nicole and I were officially registered for the 35 mile Georgia Jewel.
Soon after that, I interviewed Kate Fletcher. Kate had recently run 100 miles at a local high school to raise money for scholarships for students who might not otherwise have the opportunity to attend college. I was moved by Kate's heart. So was GoFundMe - they came to her school to make a short movie about her fundraiser. Listen to my conversation with Kate here.
To be honest, when I first reached out to Kate it was because she'd run 100 miles. Since signing up for the Georgia Jewel I'd become more fascinated by longer running distances. I'd begun imagining just how far I really could run. But after interviewing Kate, I was much more captivated by her heart than by her running.
My friend Eddie Brown was captivated by both. He reached out to me shortly after my interview with Kate and said he'd taken up running. It had been years since he hit the road, but he was back at it. He also told me about his non-profit, Giving Words. Giving words supports single moms in central Virginia. He went on to tell me that Kate is a single mom and he'd discovered she could use some help.
I've since learned more about Eddie and Giving Words and Kate's needs. It's struck me how in my interview with Kate all you heard was a heart for giving to others. Nowhere in her did you hear a need for others to give to her. But Eddie said he wanted Giving Words to not only help Kate, but to honor her heart for giving to others. Eddie said he wanted to give back.
Why does that sound familiar? Give back? Isn't that what Jenny Baker said the Georgia Jewel is all about - giving back? She did. So that's what I intend to do with this race. I want to help Eddie give back to Kate.
I also want to honor Jenny's vision for the Georgia Jewel. When I cross the finish line, when I run my longest distance ever, when I check "ultra marathon" off my bucket list, I don't want that to be the end of this Georgia Jewel running story. I want that story to live on. What better way to make that happen than helping Eddie and Giving Words help Kate, and help breathe life into the lives of some single moms just looking for a break. Looking for their own finish line in life.
I encourage you to listen to my conversation with Eddie below. Since I'm running the 35 mile Georgia Jewel, I'm looking for as many people as possible to help me give back with a $35 contribution to Giving Words. A contribution that will go directly to helping them help Kate.
When you donate to Giving Words, you'll find a place to "add special instructions to the seller." In that box, please write "Georgia Jewel." Thank you so much for supporting and for giving back.
Click on the Giving Words logo below to donate.
The first time I went for a run, at least the run that ignited what I've come to call my "running journey," there were very few expectations. It had been years since I'd tackled a run of any distance. All the possibilities I imagined in that run were rooted in survival.
Something happened along the road of this journey, though. In the stillness of miles that seemed to go on forever, out of boredom if nothing else I suppose, I started listening to God. At first I was shocked that he still wanted to talk to me. After all, I'd spent years holding my hands over my ears every time he tried to tell me anything. But there he was. Talking. Overlooking years of a back turned against his voice. And there I was. Listening. And in an instant my life filled with possibilities.
Since then God's built a mission out of my running. I set my sights on the next finish line, he defines what I'm actually running toward. More often than not the finish line pales in comparison.
As I look toward my next big finish line, the 35 mile Georgia Jewel, God has put another mission on my heart. I can't wait to share that with you tomorrow. But once again, it's a mission born in listening. It's responding to God's whispers and being astonished at how he uses the wildly different miles of my running journey to weave into being one beautiful destination.
With my limited imagination I can only see a few hundred yards in front of me. I can imagine the finish lines and the medals and the ice cold coca cola to celebrate with. But my faith in God has put a magnifying glass on possibilities. It's turned footsteps into opportunities to serve, hard work into change that goes well beyond me.
The reality is, we are God's tools for changing the world. He's just blessed me with the chance to make running my tool.
Come back tomorrow to hear more about the possibilities God's revealed through my Georgia Jewel journey.
Life is like running.