So, the picture above. That's me. I'm roughly 8 miles into the Patrick Henry Half Marathon. The heat index along this country road, completely naked to the morning August sun, was already in the triple digits. Along this lonely stretch the reality began to sink in. Maybe the photographer knew he was capturing it. This is as close to a finish line photo as I'm going to get today. I could feel the chances of me getting to the 10-mile mark under the 2 hour and 18 minutes deadline and allowing me the opportunity to continue on and finish my race escaping me with every laboring step.
Most days successful distance running is all mind over matter. But on this day, my matter was melting all over the back roads of Hanover County, Virginia. As spirited and cool as my mind remained in cheering me on, my body was overheated and hearing none of it. As expected, I arrived at that 10-mile mark 4 minutes late. I was loaded, without the assistance of a forklift, into the back seat of a thankfully air conditioned compact car and driven to the finish line. Talk about a sprint to the finish! Just not the kind I had imagined.
Now this wasn't just any race. It had been on my mind for years. (Everyone Looks Sane When You're Crazy Yourself). So coming up short was disappointing. But the disappointment was short-lived. I've come far enough in my always agonizing running journey to know the thrill of this journey is seldom found in the running itself, or even in crossing the finish line. It's discovered through reflections after the fact. When I consider the easiest thing I could have done this day was bail on the heat and call it a perfect day to celebrate the life of air conditioning. And couches.
But I didn't bail. The challenge was there, heavily supported by an east coast heat wave, and I said bring it on.
I'm a huge Tim Tebow fan. Not so much because of how he lives out his life of faith, as much as I respect him for that, but for his willingness to run head first into challenges. He took a lot of heat recently when he attempted to launch a major league baseball career after having not played the game since high school. But Tebow has lived his life paying little attention to reasons not to do something. He spends little time debating with himself or anyone else whether or not he's capable. No matter what it is. He just goes out and tries to get it done. Time and time again.
I think we'll ultimately end up in far more victorious places in our lives when we get out there and tackle something at the risk of getting tackled ourselves, than where we'll end up if we never enter the game at all. For his efforts, Tebow has received little interest from Major League Baseball. In fact, several executives laughed at the idea of him thinking he could play in the big leagues. (He did recently sign a minor league deal). I'm sure he's not where he envisioned he'd be when he took this baseball challenge on. But I'm also sure he wouldn't trade a second of this challenge or the endless list of them he's made a habit of taking on in his life for simply wondering if any of them were possible.
In the end, the Patrick Henry Half Marathon tackled me. But nothing can convince me I wasn't victorious. I don't have a medal from the race. Nothing to say I engaged it with a fearless effort. I only have this: I have one more reassurance that not every challenge in life was made to be conquered, but they are all there inviting us to take them on. To fight them with everything we have. And after we've fought enough of them, and we start spending less time in our lives fearing challenges and more time seeking them out, it's then we start marching through life feeling victorious.
Medal or not.