On Marathons, Blogging, And Sucking it Up

Last week, I finished a marathon in Bend—a town that is apparently not at sea level, and that has a significant number of really big hills, elements I did not account for when I decided to run it. The timing of the marathon seemed fortuitous, though, as my book group was holding its annual retreat the same weekend, and in Bend. God wanted me to run that marathon, I thought.

Or wanted to punish me, turns out.

Oh, the first miles were easy enough. But about ½ way through, the race became more onerous than usual, and I began wondering why the heck I pay money for this experience. Am I a masochist? Does anyone really like this kind of voluntary suffering? What the hell is wrong with me?

Just when I almost gave up all hope, when I imagined exchanging running for a far more sedate activity, I saw a group of friends ahead, cheering me on with signs only a cynic who also teaches writing could appreciate.

Signs like this:


And this:

run for jesus


Even though I’d run plenty of marathons, no one had ever made me a sign. Sometimes, I’ve acted as if other people’s signs were for me, too: that one that said “We love you Mommy” was clearly intended for me, even though my sons hadn’t written it; the one that said “almost there!” was a little bit silly, but meant for me as well.

Turns out, though, signs created uniquely for a runner are really cool, as is having one’s very own cheerleader.

Only on one other occasion has someone volunteered to run the last miles of a race with me, and I’m still grateful to Staci for those six miles. In Bend, there was my best running friend, emerging from the sign-holding crowd, ready to run beside me through the hardest part of the race. Which she did beautifully, mind you, providing the right balance of encouragement, humor, and silence I needed to persist.

When a nearly-naked runner jumped into the race at mile 20, my friend had some great double-entendres at the ready to keep me laughing; when a much-older woman buzzed by me at mile 23, my friend intuited my mood immediately, and told me to stop feeling sorry for myself (but in the nicest way possible). Everyone, I decided, needs a best running friend willing to also be a last-painful-miles partner.

And then it was over, my support team friends meeting me at the end, walking me to the car, buying me potato chips and diet coke, celebrating later that day with bacon and pancakes. (Maybe it’s clear now why I actually run marathons: the after-race bacchanal of All My Favorite Foods.)

So here’s my excuse for why the blog has been silent for so long:

In many ways, this semester has been my Bend marathon. The first few months started out well enough, but about half-way through, everything became a slog: I was teaching too many classes, involved on too many committees, and my kids had too many activities to keep straight.

Every now and then, I saw people holding up signs (mostly metaphorical) letting me know I could get through, cheering me on to the finish; most definitely, there were people who came alongside, offering the support I needed. This included many of my students, who often reminded me exactly why I love my job, even when the air is thin and the hills are interminable.

Our semester’s finish line came on Saturday, at our university’s graduation, the first held on the new football field. The weather was beautiful, the graduation seeming more festive than usual, though that might have just been the jumbotron, changing the environment just a little. I sat with the faculty, next to a friend I’ve had for over a quarter century, stretching back to when we were both students at George Fox University, running cross country and track together.

It seemed impossible to believe that 25 years had passed since we were students, needing our own cheerleaders to help through to our undergraduate finishes. During college, and in the 25 years since, I’ve had people who came alongside me—teachers, parents, friends, a spouse and kids—and who assisted me by essentially flashing this sign:


I’ve had moments of despair, in this semester and at other times, when I wondered What the Hell? and Why am I doing this? At those moments, I’m grateful that there’s always been folks at my right elbow, guiding me along, humoring me, cajoling me, telling me to stop feeling sorry for myself already (but in the nicest way possible).

So I’ve reached another semester’s finish line, and the bacon, potato chips, and a donut or two are waiting, as well as long afternoons reading in the sunshine, visits from far-away family, and maybe—just maybe—the chance to pick up writing this blog more regularly again, especially as the blog-inspired book we’ve written is published in late July.

I’m also signing up for my next marathon. At sea level, of course.