by Suzanne Behr
I never thought about running a marathon until January 2001. At that time a good friend of mine said she was going to run the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon. I thought it would be special to run in the inaugural race to honor the Murrah Federal Building bombing victims. I had also talked with two other friends who had run marathons in November. I was impressed with their accomplishments to say the least. The more I heard about marathons, the more I liked the challenge of it. I certainly wasn’t drawn to running 26 miles for the love of running, but the seemingly impossible challenge intrigued me more and more.
If I ever did want to run one, now would be the time. I had dropped out of my MBA program for a break, so that gave me the time to train… and I knew the older I got, the more difficult it would be! So I took the plunge and started training. All the experts say that if you stick to the training, you can run a marathon… but I started late. For novices they recommend at least four to six months, I had 14 weeks—and even less than that when you add up all the days I couldn’t run due to many challenges I faced those weeks including calf strains, my bad knee from two ACL reconstruction surgeries, and never finding a good pair of running shoes that fit me (I returned four pairs and ran in my very old ones!, to name a few. Just the previous summer, I couldn’t even run a mile due to the pain in my knee from surgeries. In spite of these setbacks, I ran about 300 miles in those 14 weeks—my longest run being 21 miles, three weeks before the marathon. I owe a lot of thanks to my great running partner, Grettel!
The Day of the Race
Well, you’re not going to believe it—but I came just one minute away from not finding Grettel at the start of the race, and therefore almost having to run it by myself! I had stayed at my friend’s house in OKC for the weekend, and we ended up leaving late to get downtown. Grettel and I were going to meet at the sunrise service at the Memorial, but it was too late for that. I called her cell phone, but her husband said that she had already left to make her way to the starting point, that she would be near the four-hour starting zone. I panicked a little, but I still had 25 minutes to find her. I walked through the crowd for a while without luck. I jumped up on one of the police station’s roadblocks and scanned the crowd (about 3,000 people!)—no Grettel! I yelled her name, “Grettel!!!” No one looked in my direction. I hadn’t even tied my running chip onto my shoe yet or put on my running number. I figured I’d better get that done before the gun went off, so I worked on the chip, and got my number pinned on. By now I had maybe a few minutes to find Grettel, and I was panicking a little bit more. I couldn’t believe this was happening! I should have given myself more time to meet her. The emcee was giving us instructions, then introducing the singer of the national anthem. Yikes! I prayed quickly, “Dear Lord, please let me see Grettel!” I jumped back up on the roadblock and desperately looked for Grettel, who’s tiny! At about the third line of the national anthem, one of the runners leaned forward in his line of runners and there she was! Did my heart leap for joy or what? Now I had about two minutes to maneuver my way through the solemn, silent crowd of runners holding their hands over their hearts… “Excuse me, I’m sorry, excuse me sir, I’m so sorry,… ” No one smiled… until I put my arm around Grettel—we embraced like long lost sisters. I thanked God a million times over for letting me see her through the thick crowd.
Literally one minute later the gun went off and there we went on our journey through Oklahoma City. The weather was perfect, 60 degrees and sunny, low wind, low humidity. We had a big hill at two miles, but it didn’t even faze us. We chatted some and felt good. Our pace was around 9:40 minute/mile (my goal was 10 minute miles). We got to mile 6, and Grettel wanted to run 9:30s, so we picked up the pace, and surprisingly I held on and felt strong. We ran through some beautiful neighborhoods with East Coast-looking homes with large manicured lawns. People were on the roads cheering us on everywhere, which really helped. Some had gotten out their guitars and trumpets to play, while others got out their stereos. One group of teenagers formed a band and were playing in their driveway.
Grettel and I kept going and were “looking strong” as my friend Forrest kept hollering at me along the road. When mile 10 came up, Grettel wanted to go to 9 minute miles… I drew the line there! I told her to take off and that my prayers from behind would push her along to victory (she wanted to PR—personal record—which meant for her to beat 4 hours, 14 minutes). Her last words to me were: “Keep your pace.” I kept repeating that to myself—just keep your pace, keep your pace. Everything was going great, and Lake Hefner looked pretty in the sun with green grass beaches—it was mile 14. I was past the halfway mark.
I continued to run strong and was encouraged by those who knew me who were watching from the sidelines (the witnesses). They were great. They’d holler and scream for me for 30 seconds, then hop in the car drive a ways down, wait for me to show up again, holler and scream for me again for 30 seconds, hop back in the car… over and over again! All for a few 30 second shows. At this time, around mile 17, I was starving! And there was nothing on the course to eat. I could tell my energy was low. Most marathons have oranges, bananas, power bars, etc., but this one lacked. I did get some orange slices at mile 19, but that wasn’t enough.
By mile 20, I was on pace for a 4 hour 17 minute race, but I knew I was getting drained. The last 6 miles of the race were the hardest. Thank God I never hit the “Wall”—if you do, all you want to do is stop and sit down in the middle of the road, you don’t care—but it was like my endurance just ran out. It went home and said good-bye and left me behind. I had to walk, so I did, but fast. At this time my quads and the sides of my thighs were burning (from my old shoes). I ran some, walked some, ran some, walked some. Soon I knew my ultimate secret goal of 4 hours 20 minutes would not be met. That was OK, I could still make 4:30. It was hard to push on—no one was making me do this. I could stop at any time. I was breathing more heavily and my legs and feet were really hurting, but I didn’t stop.
Hebrews 12:1-4….“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”
WelI, I was shedding some blood on my toes and feet, but they were too numb to notice at the time. I didn’t run the whole last 6 miles, I might have even walked a third of it as I had to stop from time to time, but I kept on. I knew the goal set before me was worth it (how much more worthy is the goal of reaching heaven and God’s loving arms?). I tucked my head and kept on. I missed the beautiful scenery at this point, but could only focus on what it took to finish. Celebration would come later. I looked at my watch every so often—it told me I was getting close to that 4 hour and 30 minute mark. Finally, I thought, if I wanted to make it, I have to sprint the last 500 yards! Ouch! My legs said no, but my heart and brain said you will move! I took off running with my eyes fixed on the finish. I ran and ran, pushing my legs with my mind; pushing my mind with my heart. Finally, across the finish line I went—the beautiful chirping of my shoe chip timer signaled I could stop, which I gladly did. My race time was 4:29:35, just 25 seconds under my goal of 4 1/2 hours! (I do have a propensity of procrastinating till the last minute, in this case, the last few seconds!)
My first thought was: “Thank you God.” Strangely enough, my second thought was “I’m starving!” I received my medal at the finish line and literally bumped into people as I was hurriedly and clumsily making my way to the tables of food. About 15 minutes later, I found Grettel and we embraced again—a victor’s embrace. She came in at 4 hours 10 minutes! PR’d!
I met up with other friends who also finished the race. We were all very proud of ourselves and stood there telling each other our stories of our good times and our bad times, for we all had experienced both in this race and in life. I finally made my way over to the free massages! Yes, that felt good—could you please do that for 4 hours 29 mins and 35 seconds?! I had steak for dinner.
So, this was my marathon race. Yet, we all have marathon races in our lives. We all run long races that we thought were only going to be 3 miles, but turned out to be 6. And then when you got to mile 6, they told you it was a 9-mile run, and then when you reached the 9-mile marker, you found out you were in a marathon! What kind of marathon are you running?
My other marathon has been one of trusting God with my life—every part of it—my career, my finances, my singleness, my loneliness, my dreams that seem too far away to ever come true. But despite what I see or feel or what I don’t see or feel, I’m committed to finishing the race of faith. I’m going to “keep my pace,” persevere, make my body and mind obey my heart, and set my eyes on the author and finisher of my faith. It’s this other finish line that motivates me to run. And the rewards far outweigh the bagel and banana I got after the OKC run! Thank God, He sends His grace to support us during the race in the form of orange slices, neighbors, music, and good godly friends—some of whom actually run with you and others who pray and encourage you along the way.
Suzanne Behr is currently the R&D Manager at Sercel-GRC in Tulsa, OK. She holds an MBA and MS Degree in Engineering, as well as a Certificate in Theology and Ministry from Princeton. She has written and led Bible studies for most of her life and founded and directed a college women’s mentoring program for five years. She is an active member at Church of the Holy Spirit Anglican. Suzanne is originally from New York, but has lived in Tulsa for many years now. She is most passionate about making God’s Word relevant to young adults and today’s culture.