Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Learning How to Be Strong Through The Storms

Reading these words this morning has changed my day:

How is that?  Emily Quallen participated in the Arkansas Traveller 100, 2026 Edition.  Emily shares her experience in training and then her experiences with God out on the trail.  She has reminded me to invite Him not only into my runs, but also into my day.  I pray, I often think about, talk to God.  I don't specifically INVITE Him to be with me.  

I publish it here with Emily's permission.  She doesn't have a blog, she published it as a note on her Facebook page.

Thank you Emily for the reminder!  How often does the scriptures use the word "remember" in one of its forms?  We are so easy to forget.  God has reminded me using his lovely daughter Emily.

Emily Quallen finishing the Arkansas Traveller 100, Oct 1 - 2, 2016

Arkansas Traveller 100 Mile Race Recap
Logistics This was by far the most challenging mental aspect of the race. By the time we were done working everything out, I was praying for the run to begin if not for the simple fact that logistics would then be completely handed off to my amazing crew captain, Tori Plunkett. For someone who is a natural planner, this was a first for me to have most things be organized while in another state. My amazing friends at the Arkansas Wilderness Ministry spent hours gathering pacers, crew members, supplies, and a whole lot of patience for what was to come. I finally landed at the Little Rock airport the Thursday before the race, and we spent a majority of the remaining time buying food, meeting pacers and crew members, getting briefed on the race, and working out mile by mile logistics for personal needs. In total, between myself and Missy, the other runner representing the Arkansas Wilderness Ministry, we had two crew shifts to cover the 30 or so hours of running, and 6 different pacers to get us each through miles 48 to 100. Prior to arriving, I had easily spent hundreds of dollars, if not more, on flights, nutrition and hydration gear, shoes, clothing, and of course groceries for the 7 months of training. To balance 75 mile weeks with being a full-time student, a member of Army ROTC, a volunteer at a local ministry, and an occasional lab technician had been taxing to say the least. I was ready to be done and to have some semblance of a social life back.
Physical Aspects The longest training run I had ever done prior to this race was 50 miles. Yes people, 50 miles. Training for an ultra is not about getting close to the actual distance (depending on the race) as much as it’s about time on your feet, and learning how to run tired. Dog tired. I would attend events like weddings that went well into the night and then go run 27 miles alone in the dark. I would wake up Saturday and run ten miles up and down one mountain, ten up and down another, then get up Sunday and run 30 more. I would finish lab and homework on Wednesdays and cover my bed in running gear so that I would be reminded to go run a half marathon before I could sleep. I turned down many things and many people to spend hours alone with the road or the trail or the snow and God. He always has been and always will be my most constant running partner, without whom I would not be able to do what I do. I invite Him on every run, always, and He has never let me down. He was the one who gave me the strength. He was the one who allowed me to train on minimal sleep, while simultaneously working out with the Army, and still trying to get in climbing sessions and hiking with my friends. During the actual race, it was clear that all of those hours of mountain running (my most masochistic run being up and down a mountain four times to equal 44 miles of up and down), long nights on the road, and early mornings had paid off. I was having fun. In fact, the first 50 miles felt like nothing. I was amazed, and relieved. I picked up my first pacer at mile 48 and we continued to make good time until I dropped her off at mile 68. My next pacer would take me up and over Smith mountain which rises up to a whopping 1400 feet (which is actually quite a bit for starting at sea level) and would be the toughest part of the 12,000 feet of elevation gain offered by the course. That’s when things began to get tough. I had neglected to pop any of my blisters, because I was afraid that if I took my shoes off I wouldn’t get them back on (your feet swell horrendously over the course of 100 miles) and I thought I could tough it out until the end. By the time I picked up my next pacer at mile 84, I was seriously hurting. I was still the 4th place female, and was actually on track for an amazing time, but I knew that it would drop from there. At mile 70 I pulled my hamstring, and it had swelled up so tight that my stride was half it’s normal length. The flashlight in the back of my running vest had also chafed my back until it was bloody, requiring some improvisation on the part of the medical team. I hadn’t noticed it likely because your body goes into survival mode after the first ten hours or so (for me typically), making you much less aware of injuries and illness, sometimes dangerously so. My stomach and kidneys were still functioning well, so that was a huge plus, but it was time to go slow. My last pacer, Amanda, and I shuffled off into the night, climbing up yet another of the rocky forest service roads that never seemed to flatten out. When we hit mile 90, I thought I would be relieved. Instead, I was a mess, physically and mentally. Amanda was a huge blessing and as I began to fall apart, she read the entire book of Ephesians and some of Philippians to me on the trail. I honestly don’t know that I would have kept going without her; everything literally hurt that much. Ultimately, we shuffled very slowly into the sunrise, and eventually across the finish line. I have never been in so much pain for so long, nor did I realize that I had the capacity to get through it. As I crossed the finish line in 28 hours and ten minutes, two hours under the finishing cutoff, one of the race directors came up and congratulated me. “You’re a different person now”, he said. And he was right.
Spiritual Aspects In the past, running was always an escape for me. Now, it is a way to connect with the God that gave me the precious ability to do it in the first place. There is a great quote by Eric Liddell that says, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but He also made me fast! And when I run I feel His pleasure”. I may not be terribly fast, but I feel the most connected to God when I know that He is running right beside me, blowing the wind through my hair, and the air into my lungs. When I run I am not running away from life, but near to Him. It is because of this spiritual connection with running that I try to make a point to use it for His glory. My first ever 50-miler was a fundraiser for Officers’ Christian Fellowship, a national fellowship organization for military officers of all branches. This particular run was a fundraiser for the Arkansas Wilderness Ministry, a women’s backpacking ministry started by a dear friend of mine, Tori Plunkett. That being said, I also speculated that God had an additional, more personal purpose behind the race. And boy was I right. As the race progressed, I began seeking more earnestly why God was having me run it. At mile 61, He finally answered. I had hit the turnaround and was on my way back toward the finish, 39 miles away. It was getting dark, which was a welcome change from the heat of the sun. We had been running for about 14 hours or so (give or take). I asked God yet again why He was having me run the race, and this is what I heard: ‘if by suffering through this, you gain even an ounce of understanding of how much I suffered for you, then it will be worth it. Then you will know that you can trust me’. At first I didn’t quite understand. The concept made sense, but I had yet to suffer. In fact, I felt great! But when the suffering came, it was relentless. I remember crying out to God at mile 90, begging Him to take the pain away, any of it. He was silent, and I wept. He never intended to take it away. This was my chance, albeit not nearly comparable to the cross, to begin to understand just how much He loved me, just how much He had sacrificed for me, despite my sins. The pain grew, and with the encouragement of my last pacer, I kept moving forward. Every step was excruciating. Every rock I hit moved the skin on the bottom of my feet, not all of which was even still intact. My hamstring was noticeably swollen and getting tighter, but with the desire to truly understand as much as I could about the One who had saved me in so many ways, I kept moving. By the time I crossed the finish line, all I could do was take the few steps to a nearby lawn chair and then I was unable to stand for several hours. It would take another 24 or so before I could even put all of my weight on my feet (for about one minute at a time). I still cannot believe that I finished, and I readily credit it to God, my crew, my pacers, and some serious stubbornness. I still cannot begin to imagine the suffering that Jesus endured on the cross, but knowing for certain that it was significantly more than what I experience from 0600 on October 1st to 1000 on October 2nd, I do know that my God is a God I can trust. My God is a God of love. My God is a God of mercy. My God is more selfless than I could ever be, and I am so unworthy of the love He gives me anyways. After finishing, I wondered why He chose 28 hours as my time, when He could have extended the suffering even to the 30-hour cutoff. It was then that I turned to Matthew 28. This chapter of the bible describes Jesus rising from the dead, for He did not simply suffer to die. My God is alive. And because of Him, so am I.

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