On January 18, 2014, I went for a run. I joined thousands of runners from across the country who were running to remember Meg Cross Menzies. Meg was a local woman who was hit and killed by a motorist while out on a training run for the Boston Marathon. I planned to run a few miles that day. I wanted my coming out of running retirement party to be a painlessly brief one.
That was my plan. But somebody else had a completely different plan.
In the four years since that run for Meg, I've run nearly 3,000 miles. I've run 2 marathons and 11 half marathons in 6 different states. I even ran a half marathon in the Cayman Islands. Last Friday, I celebrated my birthday by running 27 miles. My longest run ever. I'm not sure what happened there. Somewhere along the way I traded birthday beers for birthday miles. His plan, not mine.
I've conquered running milestone after running milestone. Every one of them has caught me off guard. In fact, for years I cursed the thought of milestones that pushed me even a single drop of blood, sweat or tears out of my comfort zone. And those crazy distance runners? I had a special kind of disgust for how lazy and uninspired they made the rest of us look.
But today, with each new milestone, I begin dreaming of the next challenge.
And somehow the next challenge has taken me from the relatively flat streets of my Ashland, Virginia home to the rocky and mountainous trails of northern Georgia. Because this coming September I'm headed off to run the Georgia Jewel.
The Georgia Jewel is a 17, 35, 50 and 100 mile trail race through northern Georgia mountains. There will be waterfalls, rocks, caves and gardens. And oh, there will be intense climbs that will make my previous 3000 miles feel like a runaway ride down a long hill in a red flyer wagon. Luckily. I'll only be running the 35 mile race.
Trust me, I never thought I'd use 35 miles and only to describe my running life.
Now this whole Georgia Jewel experience - you can call it crazy, fate or whatever you want to really. I call it God's crazy plan. Back in December I interviewed my good friend Jenny Baker on my TwoTim47.com podcast. And really, back then Jenny wasn't a good friend. She was a complete stranger. I was introduced to her online as a runner and didn't like to eat a lot of meat. At that time I was starting to admit I was a runner and was toying with the idea of giving up meat. An idea, by the way, I considered a thousand times more insane than I once considered the idea of running a marathon.
This is part of the online interview my friend Harvey Lewis did with Jenny that caught my eye:
1) In a sentence or two what do you love most about running?
Running allows me to connect my mind and my body which allows me a chance to hear what both are saying and benefit from the communication. While running I realize how strong and capable both are while also understanding what my body needs to function as I age. It's an incredibly empowering feeling!!
2) Are you vegetarian or vegan? How long? What motivated you to make the switch?
Franklin (my hubby) and I like to call ourselves "plant-based". After having my second kid, I felt physically slow and sluggish. My gut health was all over the place as was my energy level. I decided to cut meats and most animal products to see if it would help.
3) Has eating vegetarian impacted your athleticism? In what way?
It's affected my athleticism tremendously! After a few weeks of detoxing my body started responding positively. My energy level rose, I felt strong and faster and my gut health was way healthier (in other words my poop was awesome)! I worried about nutrition during my ultra runs and quickly realized a lot of the truths I believed about fueling my body for performance were really just unsubstantiated myths.
After reading that excerpt I knew I had to have Jenny on my show. She was a great interview. (Interview with Jenny Baker - Co-Author of War on Normal). Jenny's spirit is contagious. She lives to pour herself into others and that came out loud and clear in our interview. Ironically, though, one of the pieces of that interview that was only quietly mentioned and hardly featured was Jenny and her husband Franklin are the race directors of the Georgia Jewel.
You see what God's doing here now don't you?
I ran another marathon after I did that interview with Jenny. I also gave up meat and went on to run my fastest half marathon ever. And in the process I started obsessing over what's next. It had to be something bigger and further and seemingly more impossible than anything I'd ever taken on.
That thinking was constantly interrupted by a quiet voice - at least as quiet as Jenny Baker can get - saying Georgia Jewel. Georgia Jewel.
I interviewed Jenny recently to talk about my decision to make her race my first ultra marathon - (listen to our conversation here).
I asked Jenny what I might experience when I tackled this new challenge. In answering, she told me what she experienced in her first trail race. She said, "I remember feeling like a lost boy in Peter Pan. Truly, for the first time in running, feeling free and alive. And it was play."
She told me quite confidently, "You are going to have 35 miles of playing in the woods. You are going to feel like a kid again."
In starting to prepare for this race, I've taken my family on a few local hiking trips lately. It's my way of spending time with the family and secretly scouting places to train for this crazy adventure. As I've watched my boys in these settings I've begun to wonder if they might be pictures of my own Peter Pan moment Jenny seems to be predicting I'll experience on those trails in Georgia.
I've had a lot of people tell me. People have written it in the books I've been reading. They say once I run on the trails I'll never go back to running on the roads. I don't know how true that is. But after spending time on the trails the last couple of weekends I won't be surprised if that turns out to be the case.
The reality is God has called me into this running journey from day one. Every race I've run he's had a bigger plan for that race than I've had. I simply wanted to run, God greatly wanted to touch lives. Somewhere along the way I saw what he was up to. I started accepting his plan for my running as my own. Because I did, I find myself looking ahead to the Georgia Jewel and imagining what God has in mind. He usually doesn't give me many clues, but he doesn't seem to mind if I try to figure it out without them.
I read something lately that made me wonder if it might not be a part of God's plan for this race. In the article - Could Trail Running Be Your Church - Christian Hawley writes:
We need to feel small. We need to recognize we are part of something grander, and bridge the ever widening gap between a vague spirituality focused on the self, and Bible idolatry obsessed with a calcified point-of-view.
I've always freely shared that running has been a real spiritual journey for me. I've talked with God more the last 4 years while running than I did all the years of my life before then combined. The key is I talked with God, not at him. We talked a lot about what was going well in my life and not what I needed God to fix in it. I think he liked that, because he kept giving me things to do that made me love my life more. Most of the things he gave me to do had to do with loving more people around me.
There's a powerful scripture in the bible. Jesus is talking to his disciples who've demonstrated a lack of faith. He says to them:
"For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you."
Jesus is very intentional here about giving us the imagery of one of the smallest things imaginable - a mustard seed - against the backdrop of a giant mountain. He makes this point that as small as we are, as little as we think we have, if we at least have our hearts pointed in his direction nothing in life is impossible.
Here is something I've learned, though, along this spiritual running journey I've been on. We have to go to the mountains in this life if we want to see him move them. Whether it's John's Mountain along the Georgia Jewel course, the homeless downtown or that person in your life you've never forgiven - if you're going to see those mountains move - you have to take your mustard seed sized dose of Jesus with you and go to that mountain.
I think that's what this Georgia Jewel is about. God wants me to feel like a mustard seed. He wants me to look up that long and seemingly impossible climb up that mountain. He wants me to feel like I don't have near enough. So that in the very moment I'm standing at the top of that mountain looking out over his beauty, his awesome and mysterious creation, he can say:
"I'm always enough. You bring your mustard seed, I'll pack the rest."
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