A Hero, A Heroine, and A Half Marathon pt. 3

December 6th is Ashley's birthday. This forever changed how Dana and I looked at Christmas. We always enjoyed the Christmas Season, but having a child of our own made it so much more meaningful. Dana always has the house decorated before Ashley's birthday and the celebration of birthday and Christmas keep us very busy the whole month long. Dana loves it. She is the Czarina of Christmas and decorates our home with a personal touch that always changes a little bit from year to year, but has her look all over it.

This year, my daughters added another tradition to our Christmas celebration. Ashley and Allyson wanted me to run the White Rock Half Marathon with them. It sounded like a great idea in July, but the night before the race, I was beginning to wonder what I had gotten myself into. I have to admit that where my daughters are concerned, I am one walking "YES" and I wouldn't have thought about letting them down. They had both trained so hard, and they were up for the challenge.

I had run "The Rock" back in 1995. That year I ran the full marathon, 26.2 miles. I had trained for five months, and logged over 500 miles, and competed in several serious preliminary races to condition my body for the event. Nothing prepared me for the 17 degree weather that greeted us that morning in Downtown Dallas. It warmed up to 19 degrees by the time we hit the run around White Rock Lake, but by that time the core of my body was feeling the chill. When I hit the wall, it was really an iceberg. I finished the race with the help of Dana. She met me at different intervals, and ran close to seven miles with me. She filled in for my training partner, Steve Simpson. Just before race day Steve developed kidney stones and could not run the marathon. He was courageous enough to start it with me, but after a mile or two I was alone with my thoughts for most of the day. Thank God for Phil Whittington who met me a few yards short of "The Wall" or 20 mile mark. He talked me through the final 6.2 miles to the finish line. Steve Simpson slipped in and ran the last few yards with me. We had been through too much together to miss out on the final steps of the race as partners. It was a great day, but it took its toll on me. The cold lingered in my body, and I couldn't get warm. I had to lead out in a Christmas service that night, and when I saw pictures I didn't recognize myself. It caused me to often say, I ran two marathons in one day...my first and my last!

With this experience under my belt, I knew what I was up against, and knew most of it was mental. I asked God to allow me to finish this race in good enough shape to continue my journey to health and fitness. I have lost 70 plus pounds since February, but I was still not pleased with my conditioning. I just did not want to fail to finish and end up with an injury that would impede my fitness regimen for the new year. It was a tall order, but God answered my prayer.

Dana and I picked up our daughters at 6:30 AM Sunday morning and drove to Fair Park in Dallas, Texas. We drove past a long line of motorists trying to get to the Fairgrounds. Traffic was backed up on I-30 for miles. I was fortunate to have been raised just a block from the State Fair of Texas. I knew back streets and access that got us ahead of the crowd, and Dana had talked her way into a VIP parking pass. By 7:30 PM we were in position, and ready for the 8 AM start. With over 22,000 runners, the staggered starts began closer to 8:10 AM but my heat did not get going until 8:45 AM. Unfortunately the girls were in a different starting group, so I was on my own again. This was fortunate for them, and not so bad for me.

I ran through areas of Dallas that marked the earliest stages of my life. The course took me past Gaston Avenue Baptist Church and Craig's Chapel. This is where I attended the Dallas Pastor's Conference with my father when he was President of that great group of men. He introduced me to the pastors that day, and Dr. W.A. Criswell took the time to give me a personal word of encouragement. I went by Baylor Hospital where I was born, and through Turtle Creek where my father took me to fish. I passed by old churches that I recognized by their names that I had seen on fast pitch softball teams I had competed against as a teenager.

In this day of perpetual and inescapable communication, we were able to find out that Jeff Sadler crossed the finish line in 1 hr and 9 minutes. I was at mile marker #5 when he did it. I was pleased to learn he was a Senior at Baylor University and a member of the Cross Country and Track and Field Team. Since the race, we have become friends on Facebook and reconnected with his college coach, Danny Brabham. He was my roommate at Baylor when we were both on the track team and living in Martin Hall. Danny was an All American at Baylor. My own athletic career reads more like a Greek tragedy.

I was feeling no pain until mile nine, and then I realized that I had been separated from the food supply that Dana had prepared for me. My quads (upper legs) were on fire and threatening to cramp up. When that happens the race is over no matter how much energy and wind I have left. I saw a little bakery up ahead, and ran in and took my place in line. I was a little conspicuous, but I was able buy a banana and apple and get back on the road without too much delay. As soon as I wolfed these down, and swallowed the rest of my liquid B-12, I was good to go.

The pain in my legs went away, but I was soon nagged by a blister on my right foot. This small irritation felt like a hot poker, and was starting to bother me. It played with my mind until I heard, a loud, "Slap!...Slap!...Slap!...Slap!" coming from over my left shoulder. I soon saw a young lady running with a dog on a leash. She had one good leg, and a metal prosthesis on the other. She was running faster than me! She had to stop occasionally to adjust the attachment to her leg, but she was motoring.

That along with plenty of other visible examples of inspirational people overcoming their own challenges pretty much ended any whining I had intended to replay to myself over the blister issue. I decided to focus on getting to the finish line, and enjoying what was left of the race.

I started noticing the signs people were holding, and the songs that the bands were playing.
A few of my favorite signs were...

  • "Run like you stole it!"
  • "Run On Complete Stranger!"
  • "I Love Holding Signs!"
  • "Pain is just the feeling of weakness escaping!"

I ran over to the guy holding the "Complete Stranger" sign and said, "I have been looking for you the whole race, we need to meet!" He was really surprised, and acted like he was glad to meet me.

The race finally ended, and it did not bother me that I was way behind my awesome daughters. They did so well. I was so proud of them, and not just a little pleased with myself. I didn't finish last, and I was passing people at the end. I was able to recover from my soreness and begin running again by Wednesday. I reached my personal goals, finishing the race, avoiding injury and sharing a great experience with my daughters on a beautiful day. We are already planning to enter another half marathon in March.

What a difference a year makes. A year ago Dana and I were in Fayetteville, Arkansas and she was recovering from her final surgery for breast cancer. 2010 has been a year of recovering our health and repositioning ourselves for ministry. We are grateful to be closer to our daughters, our parents, and our friends who have prayed for us for years. We look forward to 2011 with an expectation that God is up to something great in this world, and we are privileged to play a small part in it.