February 14, 2015

Athens Marathon 2014

The night before the marathon, not surprisingly, was a rather restless night for me. Those of us staying in the hotel together had gathered to pray before dispersing for the night, and while I had hopes of getting at least some decent sleep since it was early, adrenaline and nerves kept me up long after I actually crawled into bed. And then the fear of oversleeping kept me tossing and turning through the night, along with the incredibly loud street--trash trucks at 3am?! What?!

I gave up and secluded myself in the bathroom so as to have some light without disturbing Shauna, my roommate. I read Hebrews 10-12 and wrote the names of about 40 women Mission of Light had been ministering to on my left arm so that I would be able to pray for the ladies while running.

Finally it was close enough to time to get ready to go, so I dressed, gathered the few things I wanted to have with me for the morning, and headed downstairs to the hotel breakfast room, which was soon full of marathoners fueling for the big day.

We took taxis downtown to one of the bus pick-up points rather than messing with the metro that early in the morning, and we were glad we did. Hoards of people waited and shuffled onto the buses that lined up to take us out to Marathon. The sun was breaking over the horizon as we neared the destination. I can't even begin to put words to the emotions of the day, but at this point, I'd say "excitement" and "anticipation" were at their height!

It was a chilly morning but sunny--no rain in sight, praise the Lord! And what a cacophony of sound--music (instruments as well as singing), chanting, shouting...and a feast for the eyes--people in all manner of costumes, running groups, rows and rows of porta-potties (and endless lines before them), people stretching, walking, jogging, hopping...

Our team gathered together for a time of stretching, praying, and encouraging one another. We newbies gleaned last-minute tips from the experienced racers. Finally we were herding our way toward our starting blocks. Tirzah and I had decided to try running together--run 4 minutes, walk a minute. We wanted to pray together for the ladies on the street as well as the Mission of Light ministry and whatever and whoever else God put on our hearts. But I also knew that Tirzah had been able to put a LOT more time and effort into training, and I really didn't want to hold her back! My mindset at the beginning of the race was a "let's see what happens and take it a step at a time" approach, literally!

It was warming up to the point that I decided to shed my thrift-store fleece before I began running so that I wouldn't have to deal with it later on. About 10 minutes into running, I experienced some painful shin splints. Wow, not a great start...but praise God, within a few minutes they had disappeared and I was feeling a better groove with running.

Praying out loud with Tirzah is by far the sweetest memory I have of this experience! What a Spirit-led time this was. Snippets of songs and Scriptures came out naturally along with conversation back and forth, taking in the various sights and experiences of the race itself.

The time passed...the miles passed...with Tirzah's company and the Lord's strength and power, I found myself going far beyond where I had ever gone physically before. Longer than any time I've ever run before; farther distance than I've ever run before. Kilometer after kilometer, and we were still going...and going...and going! Finally we hit the hill portion we had heard so much about. And really? It wasn't that bad! I did have a few moments of feeling like I was losing my breath, almost asthmatic symptom-like, but I quit praying out loud and just slowed down and worked on breathing. Those moments were very few and not serious enough to make me worry...just enough to let me know that I needed to be careful.

What a joy to reach the halfway point! And then to get to the 3/4 point! Tirzah was doing so great, crossing to both sides of the street anytime she saw kids so that she could give them high-fives. The people of Athens who lined the streets were so amazing! So upbeat and encouraging! Bands played in various little towns...we saw a bagpiper at one point! The cheers of the crowds went a long way toward spurring us on.

When we had about 10K to go, Tirzah and I parted company so she could press on and see how well she could do. We had nearly finished the hill section, and I knew that at that point, I WOULD be able to FINISH!! I am so grateful to have had a running partner for the majority of the race. I doubt I would have made it so far--or at least have had as much fun!--if I had been running alone, as I had originally thought would be happening. God was so gracious...it was as if I had not had a back injury at all, and my foot gave me nearly no troubles, though I did have some severe calf cramps toward the end.

After I said goodbye to Tirzah, I turned on my music for the first time! Ted had put together a playlist for me, and while I cannot at this moment tell you a single song that played, I do know that my heart soared when I heard the various songs--the timing was always perfect, whether reminding me that I have a dear, amazing husband who is so in love with me or encouraging me with words of God's amazing grace that has set me free and can do the same for the captives for whom we had been praying.

I pretty much ran that last hour without stopping to walk, because the couple of times I did stop to walk...it hurt so badly to start running again! And I just wanted to FINISH! I had to stop for a few minutes to stretch out my calf and had a nice conversation with a Greek man who had already finished the marathon and was on his bike encouraging other runners. He has run the Rome marathon once and the Athens marathon 5 times! That impressed me, but I think I impressed him by telling him I was turning 40 and had 7 kids, lol.

The home stretch was amazing! The crowds...the music...a percussion band inside the last tunnel...catching sight of that stadium is a moment I will never, ever forget. My emotions were running full blast by this point! I was laughing and crying all at the same time. I saw some of our peeps in the bleachers--so awesome to have a cheering section! I was nearly sobbing by the time the sweet lady at the end put the medal around my neck. FINISHED!! Dear Jesus, THANK YOU!!

I learned that Tirzah had arrived not too long before I had. We located the locker rooms and I made it a priority to stand in COLD water for a good 15-20 minutes to ice down my legs as much as possible before getting changed. Oh, I was already hurting! I was thankful for my friend Lisa B's tip to put flip-flops in my runner's bag, as it was wonderful to change out of my running shoes. However, I did wish that instead of flip-flops I had brought my house sandals with the sturdier soles, as it was really hard to even just walk!

We gingerly made our way back to the stadium, where we saw our last 3 teammates, Libby, Grace, and Emily, enter the stadium, looking very joyful and not nearly in as much pain as I felt, ha! They walked a lot of the time, but we were very proud to have all made it across that finish line.

I remember hobbling with the group to hail taxis to get us back to our hotel. Some of the gals wanted to go out for dinner, but all I wanted was an ice bath followed by a warm shower to get my whole body clean again. I took advantage of the empty hotel rooms to use the tub all by myself! Some of the gals brought back Indian food for dinner, and we happily scarfed down a late dinner.

I was sooooo ready for bed, but unfortunately, that night was pretty miserable for me. I just hurt SO badly. Turning over in bed was agonizing, let alone hobbling to the bathroom (I was well hydrated, let me tell you!). I used ibuprofen and the muscle relaxants I had from my back injury, gently stretching as I could, but at one point I found myself in the bathroom nearly ready to vomit because the pain was just so intense. I didn't know how I was going to function the next day!

Looking back, this was definitely the low point of the whole experience! This is where the lack of training really did hurt me. However, the next morning, after a shower and some movement, I realized that I would indeed survive, and while it wouldn't be pretty, the worst was definitely over. Within 48 hours I was beginning to contemplate the possibility of running another marathon in the spring!! Oh, how quickly we forget, lol! I guess that's why women can give birth to more than one child!