Grit: Get Uncomfortable – Get Stronger
October 2, 2019
“I have a question for you. How many of you are tired?” Hands go up all over. “Good. Go home. Get some rest and meet me at the gym before school tomorrow to lift weights. We are going to get stronger.”
Lessons From a Wise Soul
These were the words of my 13-year-old to his teammates after they lost their 8thgrade football game last Thursday. When we came down to the field after the game to retrieve him, his coach recounted this to us. We all remarked about how unique my son is. We were also all impressed by his wisdom. If we want to get stronger, we have to push harder. We have to get out of our comfortable places and work hard. We don’t get stronger from doing the same thing over and over. And we don’t get stronger without hard work.
Although not quite half way through my Super Woman blog series, the occasion of my half marathon this past weekend feels like a good place to pause and reflect. Oh boy, did I do a lot of reflecting out there on the course.
For those following my #roadto50 journey, Saturday’s run was the last for week 7 of a total of 18 weeks. I’m following the same novice program I first followed 16 years ago as I trained for my first marathon. I won’t set any land speed records or even personal bests this year, but my goal is to give it all I have, to toe the start line, and to cross the finish line, five days before my 50thbirthday.
Week 8 of the program suggests a half marathon. There is something different about going out for a run from your own front door and putting yourself into a race setting with an unknown course, the electric energy of the other participants and the blast of an air horn. Because of some conflicts with my calendar I searched for local races at the end of week 7 instead and I found the Red River Trail Run. A month ago when I signed up it seemed like a good idea, on paper. The reality of getting home late from a Varsity football game last Friday night and waking up at 4:30am to make the hour drive to the middle of nowhere at the Texas/Oklahoma border felt a little less like a good idea. But I signed up, so I went. That’s how I operate.
I’ve run lots of half marathons over the years and I’ve done many trail runs, but I’ve never done an official half marathon on trails. I didn’t spend much time looking at the race profile, simply took it for granted that, “Hey, this is Texas, it should be fairly flat. I’ll figure it out when I get there.”
I guess sometimes it’s just better not to know, but boy was I in for a rude awakening when the horn went off. Initially it was just regular trails and we all kind of got in line and ran single file. I expected a slower pace due to the terrain and finished the first mile over 12 minutes. I wondered what that would mean for my overall time. I didn’t really have a goal but thought 3 hours sounded like a good number. Completely random, based on nothing. LOL.
Then I ran mile 2 and mile 3 and the course became more technical – rocks, single track, hills, creek beds. My pace slowed down, my heart rate increased and my unofficial mantra became “holy crap, holy crap, holy crap.” As in “What on earth am I doing out here?”
Alright. Here I am – three miles in and in my head. The run was different than I expected – harder. So what was I going to do about it?
My mind was all over the place. But somehow my son’s Thursday night speech to his team came flooding to my memory and his words were ringing in my ears. If we want to get stronger we are going to have to work for it.
I didn’t sign up for a trail half marathon to have an easy Saturday morning. I could’ve been doing other things but I chose to be there. The experience would improve my running and get me one step closer to the Dallas Marathon. And most importantly, I was healthy, strong and able-bodied and I knew I could do hard things. I thought about the bar exam, 4 years of infertility and loss, carrying and birthing twins, surviving three boys in diapers, 8 marathons, a Spartan trifecta, hiking to the top of Half Dome many times…and more recently leaving everything we knew behind to move 1600 miles away to start a new chapter in our family’s adventure.
I knew on the “Grit Scale” I scored fairly high. I could push through hard. I was not going to let this course or this race get the best of me. I settled in with a new mantra of “Grit, Grit, Grit.”
With my new mindset, I felt the load on my shoulders lighten a bit. With no earphones to distract me, I had a lot of time to think. As I thought about grit and overcoming obstacles, I began to recount in my mind the stories of each of the Super Women I had written about over the previous 8 weeks. Their stories pushed me forward. Their triumphs inspired me.
I thought of my sweet friend Tara Jones who sacrificed her health and the better part of a year to carry my son John into the world as his surrogate. The sacrifices she and her family made blessed us with our amazing young man who is wise beyond his years.
I reflected on Julia’s Sweeney’s lost decade due to drug addiction and her overcoming obstacles from which many people never recover. Now married and raising a family, the lessons she learned through the dark days brought her to where she is today – strong and fighting for her husband’s health as he battles cancer.
I remembered sweet Chaela McCabe. Abused as a young child by the people who should’ve cared for her, today she is an incredible wife and mother of sons and has taken back her life – having lost over 130 pounds over these past few years – and she has learned to love herself and see herself as worthy of fighting for.
I recalled Danielle Burmaster’s battle as a “previvor in progress,” opting to take her health into her own hands when she learned she was a BRCA 1 gene carrier – marking her with an extremely high likelihood of developing breast and ovarian cancer. Rather than live in fear, Danielle took the courageous step to undergo surgery and beat the odds of developing cancer. And I met Danielle on a Spartan course – I know how strong she is.
Next I thought about my sweet friend Jaime Blanton. Born with cerebral palsy and mostly confined to a wheel chair, I thought to myself that Jaime would never be able to run the race I was running that day. She’d never experience these trails and look out over the beautiful fields and ponds. I commit right then to never take for granted all the experiences I was having out there – the sights, the sounds, the feelings. And I also thought about Jaime the Conqueror who, when the Middle School principal and his wife went to visit her sick son in the hospital, stood up onto her feet and praised God for them being there and for His presence and goodness over all circumstances. I owed it to Jaime to run with endurance the course set before me.
I reminisced about sweet Irene Tang. I wore my lime green tank that day hoping to channel some of her 50+ marathon mojo. And the fact that she ran these trail runs almost every weekend? She took on even more legendary status in my mind that day.
Finally, I thought about Carrie Leonardini and Christy DeShazo. Both found themselves in chapters of their lives that they never could have predicted – Carrie as a single mom raising two little ones, and Christy experiencing Traumatic Brain Injury that had her bed-ridden for 9 months. Today both woman give credit to God for overcoming their circumstances. They both live their lives today filled with joy and they both radiate light and love to everyone around them.
I ran for these women. I’m so grateful to know their stories and I know how much healing they have experienced in sharing their stories with others. It brings me back to the quote I have shared several times, “If you knew that person’s story you would love them.”
We all have a story. We all have challenges. We can make the choice to get uncomfortable, dig deeper and drive on and get stronger or we can quit. I chose strength on Saturday.
God Met Me Out There on the Red River Trail Saturday
With no music in my ears, my only company was the occasional runners I would pass or who would pass me. We were all running our own race. There wasn’t a lot of talking but there were a couple special moments on that course that I would be remiss not to share.
Shortly after taking on my “Grit” mantra and as I was recalling my friends’ stories over the next couple miles, I took a bad step and went down. With the unevenness of the terrain, I kind of expected it would happen at some point so I wasn’t terribly surprised. What did surprise me though was looking up to see a hand extended down to me, offering to help me up. I took the hand and said thank you and the runner continued on ahead of me. I had an instant revelation right there that that is how we should treat people. We should help each other when we fall. We should lift each other up. We should encourage each other and help carry each other’s burdens. It was such a sweet moment.
I continued on. Somewhere around mile 6 or 7 I began following a man in a blue shirt. I was about 10 yards behind him and I just kept steady with his stride. Out of nowhere he hit a root and he fell and rolled much like I had. As I got to him I extended my hand to help him up. He said he was OK but I offered again and told him someone had done the same thing for me just a couple miles before. He gave me his hand and I helped him up. I continued on ahead of him and saw him a couple more times at aid stations then lost track of him.
Sometime after the 2-hour mark, I realized I had 4 miles to go and if I ran fairly steadily (depending of course on what the trails would present to me) I could still finish somewhere around 3 hours. So I really zoned in and I ran and ran. Just after hitting the 12-mile mark I came into a clearing at the place where we had started the race. I assumed they were going to send us on for another mile, but much to my delight they told us to head up to the green flags and turn back through the finish arch. I increased my speed and I finished strong.
In the old days I might have felt cheated by that missing 1 mile but Saturday I felt just fine. I was happy to be done. I was proud of my effort. I again reflected on what it means to overcome, and what it means to get uncomfortable and push through. And I knew I was stronger for the experience.
One Final Note
Just as I crossed the finish line and they handed me my finisher’s medal, I looked up and saw the young woman who had extended her hand to help me up. I went up to her and thanked her. I recounted the lesson I learned about reaching down and lifting others up and I told her how I had had an opportunity just a few miles later to help someone else up and pay it forward. I mentioned how her action really spoke to me and how I intended to share that message in a blog I was sure to write about the race. She asked how she could find the blog and I told her my name. She laughed. She said Erin would be easy to remember because her name was Erin too.
About 10 minutes later as I was gathering my wits and thinking about heading out for the hour-long ride home, Erin came up to me and shared that she was out there that day with her dad and he had just crossed the finish. He came up to her and was telling her about his experience on the course and he mentioned that at one point he fell and then a woman reached down and extended her hand to him and offered to help him up saying someone else had done the same thing for her a couple miles earlier. She told her dad, “Dad, that was me. I helped her up then she helped you up.” Erin wanted to let me know. I knew God was out there with me every step of the way on Saturday and just because He is in every detail, the three of us had taken the time to share these stories with each other and piece back together the significance of the moment.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31