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Finishing The Race

Posted Jul 25 2010 12:00am
I wrote this back in 2003. I post it here as a reminder to myself to maintain balance as I train for my first ultramarathon. Post a comment and let me know what you think!

Finishing the Race

I lifted the blankets and slowly crawled from the warmth of my bed; the pleasant aroma of coffee filled my nostrils. I slowly made my way down the stairs. Just as I reached for the pot I heard, "Good morning, Dear!" I knew the voice was my wife's, but the tone was unusually chipper for that time of the morning. I turned and noticed a curious look on her face--like a small child trying to keep a secret bigger than life itself.

"Good morning," I responded. As she walked toward me--hand outstretched holding an unfamiliar object--I rubbed my eyes and tried to focus on the object. It was an odd-shaped thermometer, so I thought. "What is it?" I asked. "It is a pregnancy test," she replied. I paused for a moment and then slowly asked, "And what does it say?" With great enthusiasm she yelled, "It says that you are going to be a dad!" It is fortunate I had not yet reached the coffee pot; I probably would have dropped it!

As I started my second helping of bacon and eggs, the coffee began to kick in. The fog was lifting, and the implications of the odd-looking thermometer started to dance through my head. How was I going to keep up with a small child when I could hardly finish the lawn without taking a break? By the time I had finished eating, my priorities had shifted. Being available for my family--physically, mentally, and emotionally--had become my primary mission. To achieve this, I needed to get back into shape.

Running seemed like a good idea. After a couple of months, I was able to jog around the block without coughing up a lung! Although pleased with my progress, I wanted more. Maybe I would run two blocks, or maybe three.  I started reading books and magazines about running and diligently applied each tidbit of information. Whole wheat bagels and calcium-fortified orange juice soon replaced my morning bacon, eggs, and coffee. I had lost over 40 pounds and felt better than I had in years. However, my accomplishment was not enough. I needed an even bigger goal. I was starting to become obsessed. I set my sights on what I thought would be an incredible running experience: The Chicago Marathon.

Eighteen weeks before the race, I began a progressively difficult training regiment. I invested endless hours running through the early morning darkness. The marathon consumed my every thought, like a drug addict searching for the next fix. I taped a copy of the course map to my bathroom mirror, my office wall, and used it as a screen-saver on my computer. Everyone who would listen endured my endless chatter about the journey.

As training progressed, the time grew near for the birth of our daughter. The doctor advised a C-section because of some complications during pregnancy. This worked well, I thought; we could schedule the delivery around my training. God blessed us with a beautiful baby girl. I couldn't have been happier; all the pieces of my life were falling into place.

Adhering to my training schedule closely, I gradually reduced my mileage and increased my rest during the month before the marathon. My wife slept on the couch near the baby's room so nighttime feedings would not disturb me. She knew how important the marathon had become to me and was willing to sacrifice short-term to help me achieve my goal. It would be all worth it once I finished the race.

About a week before the marathon, my daughter became ill. We assumed it was a cold and would pass in a day or two, but the cold did not pass. A visit to the doctor failed to produce any real diagnosis; her condition continued to degrade. My wife decided to take her to the hospital for tests; she said she would call if they discovered anything. With that, I crawled into bed to continue resting for the big race.

The telephone rang about 6 a.m., awaking me from my slumber. I slowly reached over to answer. My wife told me they had been running tests most of the night, but still could not determine what was wrong with our daughter. I dressed as quickly as I could and rushed out the door. It seemed like a convention of "Sunday drivers" had somehow materialized in town, and they had the uncanny ability to change every stoplight to red.

Shortly after arriving at the hospital I found my wife in tears standing over the bedside of my little, pale daughter. Tubes, machines, and clear bags of fluid surrounded her. I felt an immediate sense of shame for not being there to support them during the long and lonely night before. My wife went home to sleep, and I took up vigil at the bedside.

Later that evening, I stared out the hospital window and I thought about the endless hours I had invested in my training. As the sun disappeared over the horizon, so did my dreams of running the marathon. I had overcome many challenges in preparation for the big race. Was it all for nothing? The journey had started with a noble purpose: to be available for my family. However, somehow the race had replaced the catalyst. I finally realized that reaching a point in my life where I truly understood what was important and changing my life in response was by far the most important race I could run. I returned to my daughter, and a deep sense of peace settled over me.

A couple of weeks later, as I was reminiscing about the sunset experience, I glanced down to watch my daughter playing on the floor. She completely recovered from her illness and was full of life and vigor. As I knelt at her side, she turned to look up at me. Her deep blue eyes met mine, and she softly smiled as if to say in an affirming way, "You did good Dad; you finished the race."
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