The final bit of advice from my friend was “You will meet yourself at mile marker 22”. He had encouraged me to try something really hard to challenge myself–run a 26.2 mile marathon. Even though I was in my fifties, I decided to try. I had been a runner all my life, starting in the eighth grade, and continuing through high school and early college. Through most of my adult life I continued to run for fitness. Most recently I had been running three miles three times a week. This would require considerably more effort, but if I did not try now, I would probably never do it.
My friend provided lots of good advice on what shoes and clothes to wear, especially for training in cold weather. He also advised me on what training schedule to adopt to run my first marathon. I was advised not to miss a day on the sixteen week training schedule designed to build up the mileage from my current level to a level adequate to allow me to finish a 26 mile marathon. On the day of the race, I was advised to not pass by the water stations on the course, and to eat the chunks of bananas and oranges provided for energy. Then there was this final piece of advice I filed away for future reference, as I did not know exactly what he meant. Turns out, mile marker 22 is a place we have all been at one time or another. When one gets there, he knows it.
The sixteen week training began, timed precisely to end with a 26 mile marathon in January in Florida. Day by day and week by week the distances on the schedule gradually increased. Each week ended with a long run, beginning with 5 miles, but increasing 1 mile each week until the long run for week 15 was 20 miles. Week 16 was a lighter schedule, intended to allow for recovery and energy storage for the marathon at the end of that week. Twenty miles was the longest distance possible for a beginner to run while training for a 26 mile marathon. To go any further would have broken the body down to a point it could not recover in time for the final event itself. As the distances grew longer, I found myself getting up earlier to allow time to train before going to work. The hardest part was getting up and putting on the running shoes each morning. It was also hard to run alone, but I could not find a running partner with which to train. I started the schedule running four days per week and resting three, but by following the schedule, soon found myself training five days and resting two per week. I was always thirsty and hungry during the day. I could eat anything I wanted in any quantity, and was still losing weight. In all, I ran 340 miles over the sixteen weeks of training for that marathon.
Please understand I am no elite marathon runner. Of the 3000 entrants who would run this marathon, only 50-100 might be considered elite. While several in that group might have a goal of winning the marathon, my goal, and the goal of the vast majority of the runners, was to finish or achieve a personal best time. I would clearly be happy to finish, as this was my first marathon.
The morning of the marathon the temperature was 35 degrees, cold for Florida. The forecast called for sunshine and warming into the fifties, so it seemed a perfect day to attempt a marathon. I was bursting with energy stored up in the final “light” week of training, and was in the best physical condition I could remember since competing in college track. I had no answer for those who asked how I would run 26 miles if the longest distance I had run in training was only 20 miles, but I knew I had followed the schedule and put in the required miles. I was confident the finish would take care of itself.
The start of the race was exciting with the gathered crowd cheering and the sunrise breaking over a beautiful sky. The first half of the race, 13 miles, was along the west coast line of Florida. The waters of the Gulf were beautiful, as were the homes along the road. The smell of salt water was refreshing and clear. As I ran, I quickly warmed up and began to shed the extra layers of old sweat shirts and t-shirts I had worn to stay warm until the start of the race. I took a cup of water at every mile break station, as well as an occasional banana or orange slice to keep up the energy. As we turned at the mid-point to start back to the finish line, I noticed a cool head wind that formerly had been to my back. The air temperature had not warmed all that much. Without my sweatshirt, I started to chill and stiffen. There was no extra energy in my body to stay warm, as the running required all the energy available. At mile 16, I noticed an overall feeling of fatigue. By mile 18 I was feeling quite fatigued, and by mile 20 I had slowed my pace considerably as I approached exhaustion. By mile 21 I knew I had run further than I had trained, and was not sure I could finish. At mile 22, I remembered what my friend had said. A voice in my head was telling me to quit. I would have to deal with that voice to go further. I was about to be introduced to the person in my head. I was about to meet myself.
So we all know the mile 22 marker. We’ve all been there. It’s that place where one is not sure he can go any farther. It is a place beyond one’s familiarity, training or experience. The journey to that point has been so difficult, one is not sure he can take another step forward. The physical strength is gone. There is no more fuel in the tank, no more patience or endurance for the pain, and the reward for finishing is becoming increasingly difficult to remember or appreciate. The mental energy is also gone, and there is no help on the way. Quitting is actually becoming a logical and quite acceptable alternative. Without ever having run a marathon, one knows the mile 22 marker. I was numb and ached over my entire body. My mind was telling me if I kept going I could die. How could I possibly run four more miles?
After Jesus had fasted forty days, the devil got in his face and tried to tempt/persuade him to give up his destiny. Jesus pushed back against the temptation to give up his mission by quoting scripture. I’m not saying running a marathon is a spiritual experience, but there may be more similarities than one would initially think. I do know God often uses things in the natural to reveal and teach us His supernatural ways.
I also can’t say I had the breath or the mental capacity to quote scripture, as I could hardly breathe, but I did think about David, who “encouraged himself in the Lord.” Fortunately, these scriptures were already deep inside and available as a resource to defeat that voice telling me to give up:
- 2 Corinthians 10:5- “we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” This speaks to the mental discipline necessary to push back against the limits in the human mind.
- 1 Corinthians 9:24- “Run in such a way as to get the prize.” In order to obtain the prize I would have to finish.
- Romans 5:3-4- “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” Suffering for a little while longer, and continuing to put one foot in front of the other was the only hope I had of finishing.
- Romans 8:37- “in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”
- Matthew 19:26- “with God all things are possible”.
- Mark 9:23- “Everything is possible for him who believes.” I had to have the faith He would help me finish. He wanted to teach me something that would be very valuable.
- Philippians 4:13- “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” Faith and perseverance would have to prevail over physical and mental ability if I was going to finish. My body was wasted. The strength to finish would have to come outside of myself. The training gave me a certain level of physical strength; but having those scriptures committed to memory beforehand gave me the strength to defeat the enemy speaking into my ear.
I did finish that race, one painful step at a time, over what seemed an eternity. Over the next few years I trained for and ran other marathons. Looking back, that training and testing was only groundwork for other challenges I would face outside the sport of running. It was preparation for more than one situation that would become so confusing, frustrating and tiring that only an answer from God would bring a successful conclusion. The spiritual lesson learned was that God is my ultimate source of strength, and He is there when the chaos is overwhelming. When I am in a crisis situation that goes beyond my own understanding, training, experience and ability, He is there to carry me over the finish line. Psalm 60:12 says “With God we will gain the victory.”
These scriptures helped me past the mile 22 marker. I hope they help you. I suggest you begin training on them by committing them to memory in advance of the trial.