Five years ago, at this time, I was midway through a grueling 28-week training schedule for the Walt Disney World Dopey Challenge. Preparing for this challenge was exhausting and exhilarating. The run was being hosted on my 45thbirthday weekend, and involved completing a 5K, 10K, ½ marathon, and marathon over the course of four consecutive days. The most exciting part was that the marathon was on my actual birthday, so the thought of having six sparkly medals draped around my neck sounded like a great idea when I registered for the event. I had run one marathon and many ½ marathons prior to this crazy endeavor. I thought I knew what I was getting into, but somewhere along training mile gazillion, I realized how wrong I was.
Venturing out into new territory is scary, especially if you have no idea what’s ahead. But venturing out into territory with preconceived expectations and then having all those expectations disintegrate, well that was terrifying.
The number of times I wanted to quit were countless.
My feet were tired, my body ached, and I dreaded running in heat, rain, and freezing sleet. I detested when the wind blew too hard and the bathroom stops were too far away. Mentally gearing up for 4 to 5-hour runs was tough, because the reality is, I am a slow runner. In fact, if you saw me run, you might call me more of a shuffler. Regardless, I kept to the schedule and made my way to start day at Disney World.
Renner and D’Souza note, “For explorers, surviving in the unknown is only possible with the support of others.”Thankfully I did not run all those unchartered miles alone. My husband agreed to join me in the endeavor, and along the way we met a new friend who was doing the Goofy Challenge (1/2 marathon and marathon back to back) and needed running partners. The three of us would head out each weekend for long runs. Accountability, encouragement, and having freedom to vent frustrations along the way were key components to succeeding in the adventure.
Another layer of community was added when my husband and I felt led to raise funds for our friends’ ministry. We knew what we were doing was crazy, and we believed people would join us in making that crazy extra good. Over 100 people gave funds and on the morning of the marathon, we woke to discover we’d achieved our goal of raising $16,000. The thought of not running the marathon crossed my mind more than once that morning. I knew just because I’d felt excellent the previous three days, 26.2 miles was no joke going to be hard.
When we arrived at the start line at 5:15am, it was 68 degrees hot with 90% humidity. Vastly different conditions than which we’d trained. At mile 4, I had to slow my already slow pace as my body began to physically shut down. By mile 13, I was forced to walk the rest of the way. Knowing many were counting on me and cheering me on, I kept moving even as the tears rolled down my face. My disappointment was immense.
Still, at the pace of walking, I was able to visit with my brother (who also did the Goofy Challenge) and interact with other struggling runners. I shared my extra food and water supplies and prayed with those who were in tears, as they struggled to finish. I didn’t know if any of us would actually finish, but I believed it possible. By Grace, hand-in-hand with my husband and brother, I crossed the finish line and earned all the sparkly medals.
More important than the medals are the transformative takeaways. I learned steady physical movement leads to deep internal silence; battling the demons of doubt and despair can end in victory; goodness and grace reside in the hardest of hard, transforming what seems unbearable into something altogether holy; asking for help, counting on others, and celebrating each mile-marker passed is integral to adventuring well; and lastly, slowing to the pace of grace provides serendipitous moments where the veil between heaven and earth is removed and the love of God is poured out in the most unexpected ways.
 Diana Renner and Steven D’Souza. Not Knowing: The Art of Turning Uncertainty into Opportunity. (London, UK: LID Publishing, Ltd., 2016) 148.