I knew the 2012 ATL marathon course was going to be hilly. I had been cautioned by several veterans of the race and had driven a portion of the course to get a feel for it. In my training I had run a lot of hills to prepare and felt my conditioning was where it needed to be on race day.
Indeed, despite the rise and fall of the course, I felt strong at mile 16 when I spied my beautiful wife and daughter in Piedmont Park cheering me on. I stopped briefly to discard the hat and gloves I had shoved in my pockets shortly after the chilly start at Atlantic Station. I took a quick stretch, touching my hands to the pavement, and soldiered on, gulping down some carb-rich GU as I continued.
I had been fairly conservative, running comfortably enough to ensure I'd have sufficient energy to push through to the end and felt like I was on track for a 3:45 or 3:50 finish, well ahead of my sub-4 hour goal. Then came mile marker 18 and a twinge of pain along my right knee.
I moved off to the side and stretched out a bit more, noting that some of my leg muscles were much more taxed than I had realized. Confident I had averted injury, I pressed on. Within a 1/4 mile, however, the pain returned along my knee and shot up into my hip. I sort of "limp-ran" for a bit and reminded myself that pain and function are separate from one another. It wasn't long before function joined pain and knocked me to the side of the road again for more stretching as I simply could not go on.
I must have looked pretty bad because one of the course volunteers asked me if I needed a medic. I assured her (and myself) I was OK and started on again. This start-and-stop went on until mile 20 where I somehow found a combination of a steady pace and a firm grip on a water bottle that allowed me to keep going without letting the pain sideline me again.
The timers at each mile marker showed me I was slipping back precariously close to my sub-4-hour goal and the 3:55 pace group passing me at mile 24 confirmed it. After a very long last uphill climb I rounded a corner and finally saw mile marker 26. Passing that, I pushed with all I had left and did what felt like sprinting, but probably looked like limping, through to the finish line. The time I saw on the clock was 4:00:59.
I knew that my official time did not start until I crossed over the start line and hoped it had been at least a minute later than the official time. For better or worse, despite my "B" group starting position assignment, I had actually started near the back of the "C" group. Sure enough, when my official time was posted, I had snuck in at 3:59:49. Just 11 seconds to spare!
I realize that people endure much more important and serious obstacles than I did in meeting my race-time goal. But I've never had a clearer picture of the fulfillment of one of God's promises than I did that day. There were many times I was tempted to stop and give up. I prayed to God to take away the pain and allow me to run as I had trained to do. And while the pain did not disappear, it subsided just enough for me not only to endure and continue on, but to achieve my goal.
1 Corinthians 10:13 "No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he’ll never let you be pushed past your limit; he’ll always be there to help you come through it."
I'm so thankful for a God who never goes back on a promise. My success in this race, and anything I do, is a testament not to my endurance, but His faithfulness.