There are a lot of things I thought I'd say in life before I had the chance to say "I just ran a half marathon."
Some examples that jump to mind:
I arrived downtown Richmond yesterday morning filled with more uncertainty than anxiety. Then I saw waves of runners filling the streets and rolling together toward their individual starting lines. They looked like real runners. They were dressed more for a mission than a Saturday morning run through town. They did stretching routines in the middle of the parking garage that bent arms and legs and unidentifiable body parts into formations that would demoralize the most confident of yoga instructors. It was then I became anxious and my uncertainty turned to a frightening and is it too late to back out now certainty of one thing. I was out of my league.
I caught one of the waves of runners exiting my garage and followed them to the starting line. It wasn't hard to know when we got there. We were suddenly surrounded by a mass of runners spilling into a sea of brightly colored running shirts, each with a bib and running number proudly attached to the front to let everyone know why they were there. I had no idea where any of them would find room to walk, let alone start running 13.1 miles. Or more. Then, out of nowhere, in a small parting of the sea, these two shepherds appeared.
Ok. Shepherds might be overdoing it a bit, especially if you know these two clowns. But believe me, these were the two guys I needed to see at that precise moment. Scott Menzies and Tracey Outlaw are as selfless as men come. They immediately put aside everything they had going and made it a personal mission to make sure I set out on my first half marathon with fun in mind, not fear. And I'll say here, thank you to both of them. Mission accomplished.
I settled into the back of Wave K for the start of my half marathon. Our wave marched forward to the starting line on Broad Street like we were in a parade. I was tempted to start waving, but didn't see anyone else doing it so I broke out some of the yoga moves I'd picked up in the parking garage instead. I'd heard somewhere you should stretch before these races anyways. Then it was like someone waved a green flag and our parade shifted into high gear. We were no longer marching; we were off and running for what all of us hoped would be 13.1 miles.
As we began running, I wondered what everyone around me's story was. Surely they had one, some reason that made more sense for them to be out there doing what we were doing in 30 degree temperatures than a love of running or a spirit of competition. Were they raising money for something they were passionate about? Were they running with hurt in their hearts to honor the loss of a loved one? If not, were they running to support someone who was? There were over 15,000 people out there running with a story of some kind, and yet for a few hours, we all shared one story. I found that powerful.
I knew my day was going to hold something special 5 miles into the race. In my training - and as always I use that term loosely - I'd never made it more than 2 miles without having to settle into a brief walk. But yesterday, at the 5 mile mark, I was still running. No thoughts of walking. A short while later we entered Bryan Park. We were nearly 6 miles in and for the first time I was feeling it. I began walking up the steepest hill we'd faced yet. I picked that point of exhaustion to remind myself I hadn't reached the halfway point yet. An untimely reminder I can only explain as a hallucination. Just then I looked up and a large man ran in front of me with a familiar shirt on. I read the words spread large and wide across his back - Because Meg ran for Him.
I resumed running. I was overwhelmed by emotion at that point. It wasn't an emotion that seemed to be triggered by the moment itself, but an emotion all it's own trying to get in on my race. I thought of Meg at that point, wiped a few tears out of the way, and moved on. I know I picked up a running partner in Bryan Park. Maybe it was a large man wearing an inspirational shirt. Maybe it was much more than that.
I wasn't far out of Bryan Park when I got a text from my wife Katie and our boys. The boys were great all day long sending me cheers and pictures to root me on. As a Notre Dame fan (home of the famous "Play like a champion today" mantra), this was definitely one of my favorites.
It was with this particular text that Katie, who'd been keeping up with my mileage and time, told me I was on pace to finish under 3 hours. In my training I'd figured I would finish in 3 hours and 15 minutes or so, which was safely under my goal of the 4 hours the race guidelines allowed. But it was Katie's text, along with some nagging from my new race partner, that got me thinking I might just be able to accomplish something bigger than I imagined. Granted, no one was going to be waiting with a large podium and check and trophy for a time under 3 hours, but to me, it was my chance for a victory within a victory.
So I started paying attention to my pace. Up until mile 11 I was sure I was going to beat the 3 hour mark. It was then, though, that 2 more miles started sounding more like 2 more states. My legs felt like someone was throwing knives into them from the growing crowd lining the streets. I'd stop to walk a bit, but each time I did it became harder to start running again. My legs would stiffen and feel hopelessly weighted to the street. Impossible to pick up. I never once thought I wouldn't make it, but suddenly that 3 hour mark was at risk, and it had become more important than simply finishing.
I could provide an artist a detailed description of the lady standing on the corner directing us to the final downhill stretch home. Less than a half mile she shouted with a smile. I bet mine was bigger. As I approached the finish line I saw the large digital clock on top. The bright red numbers blinked 2 hours and 58 minutes when I crossed underneath. (I would later learn my actual time was 2 hours and 53 minutes).
I'd done it, and faster than I imagined I could.
A good buddy of mine reminded me with a message during the race yesterday of an old football coach who once drove us in the back of pickup trucks 10 miles or so out into the country and told us to run home. His idea of conditioning, I suppose. I got out of the truck I was in and ran for a few hundred yards at best, but quickly realized I wasn't going to be able to run all the way home. Coach drove by every so often and implored me to pick up the pace, but I walked. All the way home.
I used that experience my entire life as the reason for why I couldn't run long distances. In church today, though, I was reminded it really wasn't a reason, but an excuse.
We talked about the kind of excuses we use to avoid doing things we know we should do. Of course I was in church, so the context was a conversation about the excuses we create to avoid doing what God wants us to do. But as I sat their listening, I couldn't help but wonder if that wouldn't have been the message Meg would have delivered to the family of Megsmilers who ran the various races yesterday. No excuses.
And through all I've learned about Meg, her message wouldn't have focused on just the excuses we use not to run. She would have challenged us to get rid of the excuses we use to convince ourselves not to volunteer at our local school or church, to take food to the local pantry, or write a thank you note to some unsuspecting person who touched our lives. She would tell us no more excuses for failing to spend time with our families.
She would tell us to quit finding excuses for not finding a church family.
It's amazing what happens in your life when you erase the excuse that once convinced you you couldn't run a half marathon. You start pouring through the rest of your life, eraser in hand, anxious to find the next one to wipe out.
It was an amazing weekend with the Megsmiles family. Those of us who were here and those afar. Together I think we can wipe out a lot of excuses in the world, and in doing so, keep the memory of Meg Menzies alive and well for countless races to come.