I clearly remember the night before last year's event staying up until about midnight worrying if my heart would explode the next day. The next morning, I awoke, only nerves guiding me to my pre-race coffee, oatmeal, and banana. Over breakfast at about 5am, I couldn't tear myself away from my bible. I recall reading Hebrews 12:1-3 over and over again:
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.Reading that took away my apprehension, reminded me that if my heart was going to explode, it was His will. If it wasn't going to explode, that would be His will too. If I was going to die (which I sort of thought I might, knowing how big my aortic aneurysm was at this point), at least I was going to die running a half-marathon, and glorifying God.
As Ali (my now-married former roommate, inspiring runner, and in general awesome person) were milling around the race start, I had this odd compulsion. People were going to know I had heart. We wandered around the volunteer desks, seeking a sharpie. I had Ali draw a giant sharpie-heart on my arm, with the word "surgery survivor" overtop the red heart. (At least I think..looking back on finish photos, even the sharpie couldn't withstand my sweat..ewww). It's funny how a badge of honor like that made me take on the race with renewed purpose. I prayed and thanked God the whole way, completely aware that each mile was a gift.
Comparing that experience with this year's couldn't be more different. I've had open-heart surgery, but rebounded and healed impossibly fast. The gift to run and race, when instead my heart should be exploding had now moved on to the gift to survive and thrive. I've fearlessly trained faster, longer, and harder for this year's race, with a longer goal of the Marine Corps Marathon in 8 more weeks. I've started to obsess over training plans, race paces, and race day nutrition when before I would have been happy to just toe the line and finish. I've got a lofty time goal (2:15 is lofty for me, anyways), and I'm endlessly staring at race pace bands.
It's been easy to get caught up in all of these goals and expectations I'm setting for myself. It's been entirely too easy to forget where I've come from in the past year, and how God has indescribably blessed me through this race, successful surgery and healing, and letting me get back on my feet again.
It's interesting to me that going into this race Venus Williams drops out of the US Open citing an auto-immune disease as the culprit. It's a poignant reminder of how fragile our health can be. I've still got my underlying autoimmune disease, and it can be a constant struggle to maintain my energy, stamina, and even optimism. The great days of health and fitness I have are little gifts in and of themselves - I can't bank even on having these.
And despite the heart surgery, despite the autoimmune disease, despite everything else that piles on and stresses me out in life... I run. "I can do all things through Him who gives me strength."
It's my prayer that I have more opportunities to share my testimony this weekend than I can imagine, and that God would use me to lift up and give hope to others.