The Sophomore Slump

The thought crossed my mind yesterday that I was writing self-fulfilling prophesy.

Turns out that thought knew what he was talking about.

I ran, by my standards, a pretty impressive first 15 miles. At the halfway point of the race, I clocked in at 2:03:36. Mind you, this is 34 seconds slower than the fastest full marathon ever run, but I was still pretty pleased.

"This is going to be great," I thought. "Even if I slow down to a ten minute mile pace, I can still finish this sucker off in the low 4:20s. I just have to avoid that wall."

Well, the wheels came off a few miles later and I careened into that wall a good six or seven miles earlier than I did last year. The problems started with a miscommunication about what I needed when I stopped with my team (that’s right, I have a team; I couldn’t do it without my team. I am not just saying that because they’re all related to me) a little after mile 15. I needed Gatorade and another packet of energy chews. All they had was water.

"No big deal," I thought.

I thought wrong. My excellent pace in the first 15+ miles combined with that missed fueling opportunity meant that I had written a check that my body could not cash. I began run-walking in downtown Nashville. I saw all the happy people in the half marathon finish next to me while the marathon course went another 9 miles. I confess that, in the moment, I hated those happy people with a white hot intensity and yet I wanted to be among them so badly.

It was hot. My body was gassed. I felt weak. Back in my high school running days, I likely would have just pressed the gas as long as I could (of course I mainly ran the 800 meters back then) and I would have been found passed out alongside the road. I try to be more cautious of that now. It’s one of the many benefits of having a wife and son that kind of like having you around.

I loped past a medical tent. And this is where my brain starts playing good cop/bad cop with me.

Good Cop: Turn around. They’ll check you out. They can get some fluids in you. They’ll either tell you that you need to stop or give what you need to go on. At least you’ll finish.

Bad Cop: Yeah, you’ll finish as a pansy. You think the guy that ran that first marathon in ancient Greece had (whiney voice) medical tents?

Good Cop: No, and he died.

Bad Cop: Yeah, died a hero. Plus they named the race after him. Get going, kid, they might name a race after you.

Good Cop: They didn’t name the race after him. They named it after the battle he ran from. Do you even know that guy’s name?

Bad Cop: Well…no.

Good Cop: Exactly. Idiot.

So with hopes of people running a 17.5 mile Chrisathon for years to come dashed, I turned around and went back to the medical tent. The macho thing to do was to stick it out and not admit that I needed help. The macho thing to do would have been stupid. So they checked me out, got me some Gatorade, salt packets, and some pretzels. I borrowed a phone to let EA—who was waiting for me down the line—know that I hadn’t died.

And after being there for about 15 or 20 minutes, I started back knowing that my goal wasn’t going to happen and that my saving face goal of beating last year’s time wasn’t going to happen either. But I wanted to finish even if I had to walk the last 8+ miles.

I mixed walking and running the rest of the way. EA walked with me through the 3 mile Valley of Death that had destroyed me last year and it was wonderful to have her as company (plus she now gets to say that she has participated in a marathon). She was glad that I stopped for help. She mentioned that more people should do that in all areas of life especially ministry (so if that ever becomes a blog, it was her idea). And she was glad that I kept going. It was another reminder of how lucky I am.

After the Valley of Death, EA got back in the car with her dad so that she could meet me at the finish. I pressed on. Even though I was much further back than I would have liked, there were still people cheering us on. In fact, because I was farther back, their encouragement seemed even more sincere. It was as if they were willing us to the finish.

I also got to encourage the people going the other way—those that still had five miles to go—that they were doing great. They were. A large portion of the population can run a marathon, but you still have to put the work in, you still have to stick it out when it’s hot and you’re tired, you still have get your mind to clear all sorts of hurdles telling you that you’re not good enough or that near-dehydration doesn’t happen to people that spend Saturdays on a couch.

As I ran in, I was surprisingly upbeat and about more than just the fact that it was over. Even though I was crossing a little under 40 minutes later than I did last year, I was glad that I stuck it out. There were moments in that tent when I just wanted to hang it up. I’m thankful that I did not. And I’m thankful for the people, the electrolyte-heavy beverages, energy chews, and, yes, God for making that finish possible.

So that’s my sophomore slump. Everything didn’t go according to plan and it was even miserable at times. Yet I am still glad I did it.

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