I was in the sixth or seventh grade when I realized I was not only an average athlete (at best), but that I also don't perform well under pressure. We had a ping pong table in our basement in Kellogg, and my younger brother, David, and I played often. I honestly felt like my ping pong skills were comparable to David's at that age (he has since surpassed me by quite a bit), but I noted that he consistently beat me, although, at least in my memory, not handily. I remember observing on one occasion that even if I had a lead, as the end of the game drew near, my nerves would get the best of me. David, on the other hand, tends to thrive under a pressure.
When it comes to athletic pursuits, my tendency to fold on game day has continued to torment me throughout life. As it turns out, adrenaline is not my friend when it comes to competition. (For some reason I can channel adrenaline in positive ways when it comes to singing or public speaking, for which I am grateful.)
So, as I approach race day this Saturday, my first half marathon, I have tried to set my expectations low. First and foremost, I want to finish. Everyone who hears me say that automatically assures me that I will finish, and short of some sort of injury, I know that I very likely will. I have completed every long run I have attempted in the last 12 weeks, including a 10-miler, two 11s, and, last Saturday, a 12. Not only have I finished, but as the runs have increased, my mile pace has continued to decline, so that my 12-mile pace was 35 seconds per mile faster than my 4-mile pace was 12 weeks ago. That's not a dramatic improvement, but I find it quite surprising and incredibly satisfying.
Still, I am reminded of how well my marathon training went 11 years ago, and how much I still struggled on race days.
It's been a good time to be memorizing these lines from Psalm 91:
I will not be afraid of the terror by night,
nor of the arrow that flies by day,
nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness,
nor of the destruction that lays wait at noon day.
Obviously, I have not entirely banished fear, but, ultimately, I choose hope. I place my hope in the God who gave me life, and who has, I believe with all my heart, guided me and strengthened me throughout my training. I hope to finish with a smile (thanks, Pastor Ralph).
P.S. Who am I kidding? Just finishing will not be good enough. I can break 2:10. I can. I may not, but that is definitely my goal. I will be satisfied with 2:15. I will be thrilled with 2:10. I am tired of being 0 for life on athletic pursuits. 2:10--I'm coming for you!