The last couple miles on the race course were marked with these huge, red, inflated marker things. The electronic mile markers were there (as they were at every mile) but now they loomed large and, well, RED in the distance. I loathed the sight of them. They felt so far away. Only three miles left. Now only two. And there were those stupid red thingies mocking me with their slower than slow approach.
I walked some. I ran along at a snail's pace. Every half mile or so the guys asked me if I wanted to walk. And for the last two miles? My answer was "no." Part of it was momentum: stopping seemed dangerous at this point. Part of it was just wanting it all to be over. Part of it was this stubborn refusal to let anyone down and part of it was wanting the bragging rights to say that I ran most of a marathon.
But most of it was because others gave. Most of it was because others believed in me. Most of it was for Africa.
Around the last mile or so John and Michael took off again to meet up with the film crew. As I slogged along with Paul the course seemed strangely peaceful and quiet. Spectators lined the street, cheering along and encouraging the runners ( I cannot recommend writing your name on your jersey enough. It feels SO GOOD to hear someone call your name and say "Good Job!" … even if they say, "Good job Marvin!" or "Good job Mantra!" Hey, this is LA, I'm sure there's a lady out there named Marvin or Mantra). Paul was glued to his phone for updates. I stopped at a port-o-potty to pee one last time and soon we came to a bend in the road and there before us was the last quarter mile.
To say I was blown away would be both literal and figurative: The sea breeze was kicked up to Gale Force on the last stretch of the course along the beach. Sand pelted us hard at some points, you could see people physically bracing themselves as they got blown to the left side of the street. The street was lined with barracades hung with sponsors signs. The crowd was shoulder to shoulder watching with great interest the ultimate portait of humanity dragging itself toward the finish (ha!). I couldn't speak, I was too tired. Paul told me that at the 26.10 marker John and the film crew would be waiting for me to pass. They wanted to film John as he finished and for me to be waiting there to greet him as he did.
Something was happening to me on that final stretch. I could see the finish materializing in the distance. I started thinking about this long journey I'd been on. The training and the new friendships I'd made with others who ran the 13.1 and then the marathon. I thought about running with my husband and how much it'd meant to me. I thought about running with Michael and Paul and how it'd all come full circle on this day in my life. I thought about Team World Vision and how it's changed my family's life. I thought about Africa. I thought about those kids on the road. I thought about you guys, about how you stepped up to the plate and joined me in this in every conceivable way: Most of you donating. Some of you joining Team World Vision and running your own races. Some of you sponsoring children. All of you cheering for me and encouraging me and holding me accountable. I thought about my children, about how I wanted to teach them about Jesus through the actions and choices in my life.
You guys. It was so worth it. It was so overwhelming.
And suddenly there was John and the film crew on the side of the course, clapping and screaming my name, John with tears in his eyes. Paul cheered with him, and as we neared the finish, he prayed for me. It was the perfect thing to do.
And soon after, exhausted, tears in my eyes, my heart throbbing with all the weight of it all, I crossed the finish line.
We knew John would cross in a few minutes, and because of security we had to figure out a way to say in the chute (uniformed security were moving people toward the volunteers waiting with medals, trying to keep the finish line clear). Paul blocked me as people finished all around us, fist-pumping and crying, limping and staring about in a daze. He is about a foot taller than I and could see when John was finishing with the crew. My instructions were to "go get him." And when I saw John cross the line with the crew I started walking toward him, not knowing what would happen.
He saw me. He jogged toward me. I burst into tears. And then so did he.
I can't quite describe how emotional I was in that moment of my life. And I am not a person who just bursts into tears all willy-nilly, especially when there's a camera crew filming the entire moment. But I couldn't help it. Those of you who have done a marathon know what this moment is like, especially if you've run that race with a specific purpose. You can hardly believe that you've done it, that it's all over, that the race has been run and you MADE IT, and throw your spouse into the mix? I challenge Chuck Norris to not cry like a baby, y'all.
And there we were. The wind whipping at us, a camera crew circling, blubbering and kissing with a marathon behind us. To say this has been a life-changing experience for our family would be an understatement. I will never, ever be the same.
Of course, my body soon quit on me. I limped along to the finish line tent, gorged myself on all manner of baked goods and sandwiches and Gatorade, limped to a friend's car where I promptly passed out, woke up in our driveway and unlocked myself from the sitting position and then somehow got into the house and into the shower, propped my knee up on a pillow in my bed with an ice bag on it and passed out for three hours (my mom and in-laws were such a godsend that weekend, you guys, I can't even tell you). On Monday I could barely walk. I was starving all day. Every time I sat down it took a good ten minutes to get myself up. It was comical … especially since my husband? Was totally FINE. In fact? On Sunday evening after the race he went to church and PREACHED A SERMON. And on the following day? Was totally, 100% normal. I could have killed him.
Then Tuesday came. My mom was scheduled to fly out that afternoon. At around 11 o'clock that morning we got the call that Melody had the accident and John went speeding away in his truck. Our life since that moment has been a blur of Melody's surgery and recovery, end-of-the-year preschool activities, readjustment to life. I turned 32. I registered for the Chicago Marathon in October (!!!). And a few days ago? John left for Africa. He'll be gone for two weeks. While he's there he'll be leading a team on a climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro to help kids in Africa get sponsored through World Vision (if you want to sponsor a kid, just enter "John Huddle" in the athlete field. More on this amazing opportunity soon!).
Life just doesn't quit over here.
I guess that's why they call it a marathon not a sprint, huh?
I want to end this by saying thank you. Thank you for all you did to make this race possible in my life. Thank you for all that you did to change lives in Africa. Thank you for giving the gift of clean water and being an instrument of God's love and provision in the life of someone else. Because of you, they will never be the same either.