I wasn’t sure what to expect when I set out on my last run. I planned to go 20 miles, my longest run in my Chicago Marathon training, but anything was possible. While I knew I had the mental strength to persevere, I wasn’t as confident about my physical capability. Sure, I’d run 20 miles before, but not three weeks after an ankle sprain. This one had left my foot black and blue, too swollen to fit my shoe over and had me hobbling around in a brace. After having missed out on critical training runs to rest, my normal confident, cheerleader self who says things like, “Yes. I. Can.”, was thinking, “I think I can? I hope.”
When I geared up for my run I wasn’t sure if it would be one of those extraordinary days when my legs would feel powerful, my lungs efficient and my mind free. I wondered if my ankles would feel normal and allow me to meet my goal. Or, perhaps it would be one of those days (like a couple I’ve had this season) when I enthusiastically set out to tackle a long run and then everything comes to a screeching halt when my ankle suddenly gives out and I’m lying by the side of the road bleeding with my leg throbbing in pain.
“What would happen today?” Sure, there was some subconscious fear of the unknown. But I didn’t acknowledge it outright. It manifested itself as nervousness, the usual pre-long-run butterflies. Except this time I could barely even eat my breakfast. I was focused on the task ahead and tried to not let the four-letter words, doubt and uncertainty hijack the positive outlook I knew I would need in order to meet the day’s goal.
I set out feeling good, reminding myself to go slow. The experts seem to all say to run thirty seconds to a minute slower than the pace you want to run during your race. My first mile always seems to last an eternity as I anxiously anticipate the many miles ahead. Yet my watch always proves it to be my fastest as my eager mind doesn’t always quite know how to slow down my legs. The next couple of miles felt easy, though each step was deliberate as I analyzed and surveyed how every piece of my body was feeling, especially that ankle that three weeks earlier was too painful to even walk on. As I passed mile three I could see that today the ankle pain I expected to make things challenging, wouldn’t be the problem. Instead, unexpectedly, it was my feet.
At first the pain was dull, but I knew it would get worse because it was the same feeling I had experienced many times before. It was a sharp shooting pain in the balls of my feet. The pain I had always attributed to my (ahem)… bunions. With each step it was as if knives were cutting my feet from my big toe to my pinky and then down the arch. “This long run is going to feel even longer today,” I thought.
The view that approached called me to stop and regroup. The horses there were shrouded by the morning mist. I couldn’t help but take a photo because I knew the fog would lift by the time I returned to this point at mile 16. As I stood for just a moment soaking in this fantastic view, the pain was unexpectedly quiet.
I carried on to mile 10 where I stretched for a minute before turning back to complete the second half. The pain grew more intense and at mile 13 I decided to take off my shoes to remove the toe separators I’d been wearing. My friend Kristen met me at my mile 14 and I followed her the last 6 miles back to my house. Unexpectedly, small talk with a close friend has a way of quieting the voices and erasing the pain. I couldn’t have finished that last stretch without her leading the way. THAT is a true friend.
So obviously, I need to figure out a different solution for my shoes in the next three weeks, but after this run I was reminded of something much bigger.
Expect the unexpected. Not just in running, but, more importantly, in life.
If you’re like me, tomorrow’s possibilities (or sometimes impossibilities) float around in your head and keep you awake at night. I like routine and order… the expected. But, lately I often find that the “thing” I fear most ends up being the easiest one to conquer. It ends up being a non-issue. There is usually some other hurdle or sometimes even a fantastic reward in store that I hadn’t even considered yet that presents a new, unique path or even just a moment of complete gratitude. When you fear one thing, somehow, life has something else completely different in mind for you next to challenge you in a new way or to offer you an unexpected minute of happiness, to remind you that you are not in charge.
This year so many new and unexpected opportunities have unfolded right before my very eyes. This blog. Running marathons. A new job doing work about which I am extremely passionate. And so much more. My faith assures me that every new unforeseen challenge is somehow part of God’s plan.
So “What will happen today?” I can’t wait to find out!
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