The Ultra

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There is an emotion so deep and strong that is built inside each one of us that is brought out only in very momentous occasions of our lives. I remember feeling it when I first met Matthew and our eyes spoke to each other for the first time. I also felt it when we got married, and when I kissed each of our five children for the first time. This is a super-strong God-made emotion that surpasses intention or want. It’s real, it’s alive. I haven’t put my finger on it yet, but I had it this weekend.

This weekend was incredible. We set up camp on the lawn between Lloyd Hall on Kelly Drive and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Our tent was right near the sign that said, “No tents beyond this point”, and the Philadelphia Water Works. It was a clear, blue sky. No humidity.

My man set up our tents before heading up to the start line. The kids and I hung out and it just then hit me, “What on earth are we doing here?” My mind couldn’t wrap around the idea of what Matthew was doing and I wanted to enjoy every second and at the same time skip to the end and have it all over with. We walked to the start/finish line of the 8.4 mile loop and saw Matthew cross, looking strong. A couple hours later Will & Rebecca arrived which encouraged me so much. We chatted, played, and drew his name on the sidewalk with chalk, hoping to encourage his tired body the next time it crossed that way.

 

By the 3rd lap, something revolted and Matt took a bit of a hard hit. Perhaps not enough nutrition early on, perhaps a lot of things. He rested for about 45 minutes, and when the nausea had worn off he hit the ground running again. After the 4th lap he was allowed to have pace runners with him, to keep his pace, encourage him, carry his water, whatever he needed.

Our good friends, Patrick and Mary June arrived and MJ set off as his first pace runner for lap 5.

     

Before lap 6, we enjoyed a bit of a break with Matthew before he and Jonny P took off. It was also at this point that he met Dave & Orpha, who were going to run with him through the night. It was incredible to experience this fellowship in something so grueling and intense, with people we’ve never even met before!

By the time the 6th lap was finished, it was about 9:30PM and he put on his reflective vest for the night running. Lap 7-8 Orpha ran with him, and he was hitting some walls. She carried oranges, water bottles, bananas, M&M’s and chips all at the same time, while keeping up his pace and pushing him to go on. Meanwhile, back at the camp, the kiddos had gone to bed. However, some children from the one tent had laid hold of some chocolate covered espresso beans, which were eaten by all, and therefore the children in aforementioned tent did not sleep for a very. long. time. We laugh now. At midnight a different race began, and each runner was lit up with glow-sticks and reflective gear for the “Midnight Madness Run”.

By lap 9 it was close to 2AM. Dave ran with Matt and experienced some crazy moments with him when he got a bit delusional and unsure of where he was and what he was doing. Again, he held a couple oranges, bananas, and water bottles. That became a joke among the pacers. It was really intriguing how Matthew became more and more child-like and vulnerable as the hours went on. He was determined and yet was so weak and vulnerable and had to trust what the pace runners told him. But the mental blocks were there and to ease them we did what we could. One of those things was to carry oranges, because he was a bit paranoid that the refueling stations would run out. We figured that he ate about 20 oranges in all.

Laps 10-11 Patrick ran with him. He hit some really hard walls there. It was a bit after 7AM when he came around to start his last lap. Earlier that night, around the 7th lap, he told me that he was going to run 12 and that he wanted to run the 12th one with me. He was pretty emotional about it, and so I knew that I had to do it. I had brought my running stuff with me just in case, but wasn’t really planning on running at all, since I hadn’t run since May because of an injury. When the sun came up, I laced up my sneakers, nursed Betty, and headed to the start line.

He took a ten-minute break, but shook off the lure of the showers to keep going. His brother Will arrived to run the last lap with him as well, so the three of us set off. He was hurting pretty badly by this point. I was just amazed by the physical and mental stamina he found to get through that last lap. There was nothing left, absolutely nothing, except the thought that he had to finish, he said.

I’ll never forget seeing that quarter-mile marker. There was a click in his brain that went on, since he had told himself he would run the last quarter-mile. After a fast, painful walk, he changed to an even more painful run to finish off, marking 101.5 miles total. It was a strong emotion, building up inside of me. Watching him hurting, being one of the people that pushed him through the pain and didn’t try to soothe it, was hard. Knowing he would feel broken and beat for days afterward, was hard. But it was worth it. I’m so proud of him for setting an incredibly specific target and hitting it bulls-eye, no question, no wavering. A sky-high, seemingly impossible goal and reaching it dead on. Finishing. Not just saying he’d do it, but actually doing it. That is something that could change the world, if everyone set out to accomplish exactly what they said they would do. I’m inspired. Is it hard? Um, yeah. Does it hurt more than anything? Um, yeah. Is the reward worth it? A resounding yes!

I was so incredibly awed by another thing this weekend. The unsparing servant-like attitude of each of the pace runners. Seriously, who would wreck up their sleep schedule, exhaust themselves and their kids, and selflessly give, with absolutely nothing in it for themselves? Who would do it for a friend, and especially for a stranger? I was dumb-founded with this thought all weekend, and I’m still incredulous. I can not wrap my head around it. What a great example of what Christ did for us: serving us, giving up what was easy, doing what was hard. Can we wrap our minds around it? I know I can’t. I keep saying “thank you” and it doesn’t seem a fit enough word.

This crazy-deep emotion builds up in me when I think of Jesus, who ran the race before us. I’m thankful my faith is not built on emotion, but I know that it sure is beautified and enriched by it! This is a feeling of God’s pleasure in you. What Adam must have felt when he looked at Eve. What Noah felt when the ark door opened and he saw dry ground. What Sarah felt when Isaac kicked in her womb for the first time. What people feel when they have accomplished something they know God created them to do, and they do it well. A painting, a garden, a delicious meal. An intricate surgery, a solitary climb, a height-defying jump. A letter, a photograph, a song. To do things that to others may seem impossible, but with God all things are possible. That’s what God wants us all to experience.

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7 thoughts on “The Ultra

  1. What a powerful tribute to your man! You inspire me – Amy – you were phenomenal! The way you supported him is just incredible.

    Thank-you for allowing us to be a part of this. Love you – Mj

  2. Amy – thanks for sharing this account! Glad I could be there for at least a little of the time before we had to be off on our own adventure. Well-written. So proud of Matt, too.

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