No matter how I twisted or turned my right foot as it smashed against the pavement, my quad muscle persisted to twitch. I lifted my leg — it locked. I tried to push it back as I kicked out my foot — it recoiled. I need to finish soon, I thought. I don’t know how much more pounding my knees can take.
After a few hours of running, the 39 kilometer sign was planted in the ground a few feet in front of me, getting larger and larger as I approached it. Finally, it was behind me as I began to open my stride. Only three kilometers left. You can do this, E. I felt lighter as I pushed towards the 15 minutes in front of me, determined to finish this marathon in one piece.
A moment later I felt a tap on my left shoulder blade. A finger sprung in the middle of the bone as I simultaneously became aware that someone was running right on my heel. Did someone just poke me?
Mid-stride, I turned my head around and scanned the human that appeared to need me at a time like this. A quick glance of him, as my head clobbered from side-to-side, allowed me to see that his name was written in Greek, he looked extremely tired from what we had run thus far, and he was, uhh, motioning towards the crotch/upper-thigh area?
Seriously. There’s very little separating me from a medal and a hot shower, and I do not have time to deal with this language barrier while running to the finish. I debate acting like I don’t know what’s happening and running off. Picking up the pace and absolutely hightailing it through the city.
My mind races as I can see on his face that he clearly wants me to look down at my legs. His hands have sped up and, I mean, he is really waving circles around his legs.
I ransack every possibility and before my eyes meet my black shorts, I decide that I must have accidentally peed myself at some point during the last 24 miles and have no recollection. (Every runner is laughing at this right now, every normal human is disturbed.)
My eyes widen to see my upper thigh skin, raw — several specks of pale flesh have rubbed away and blood has emerged on the surface. I remembered the first few kilometers of the race; the sun rising, the cool breeze whisking and sending chills through my body as I ran which left me, well, numb. By the time it got warmer, my legs and body were on autopilot. I didn’t realize or think to look down and see that my shorts had wiggled up an inch too high, allowing my thighs to look like bloody, fresh salmon.
This epiphany happens in about 1.5 seconds and I mourn the loss of my legs, decide I’ll take more Advil when I cross the finish line, and am back to my original plan: ready to run off. An exhausted and eager-to-be-done Erica looks up to see the Greek man fumbling with a small side-zipper pocket in his shorts. I can see he’s rummaging for something and my patience is about to dwindle dry as he comes up with a tube.
He lengthens the gap between his thin legs to run up next to me, handing me an unopened tube of petroleum jelly — a cure-all to rub on my legs after I run, making it more bearable to walk in the coming days. I look at him and my mouth begins to open as my mind curses myself for not being able to pronounce thank you in Greek. Before I get out my muddled gratitude, he looks me in the eye and yells “GO!”
So I smile, and I go.
I coast through the last stretch and cross the line in Panathenaic Stadium wearing a stupid-happy grin with exhausted lungs, bleeding legs, my right arm holding a teal phone videoing the stadium (clearly giving away that I’m a millennial American), and a beautiful, unopened, fresh tube of petroleum jelly in my left hand.
You see a lot of kindness in the running community — individuals lining the streets, high-fives, families opening their homes — on the surface, this isn’t that surprising.
Here’s the thing, though: I really didn’t want this man’s help. I was running my own race; I wanted to finish. I have painfully learned, probably one-too-many times in my life, that sometimes I don’t know what is best for me. That my desires and my plans may not be the plan or even the ideal option for me. Sometimes God doesn’t give us what we want, but He gives us what we need.
And, moments after crossing the finish when the adrenaline wore off and my body caught up to me, my legs burned as they touched, so I gimped out of the stadium like a duck-footed linebacker, hobbling side-to-side. But, I had what I needed.
The second after applying the petroleum jelly I was able to walk normal (as normal as one walks after a marathon) and today, a couple days later, there are no marks to be found.
I don’t want to be stopped when my mind is made up. I don’t want to not get what I desire. I don’t know many people who have ever wanted their plans to get disrupted or their schedules to be shattered, but sometimes, that is what we need.
We do not realize how deep in we are, we do not grasp the pain that is about to bubble from our choices, we do not see the heartache around the corner, and someone is tapping us. We have a helper waiting behind us, running our race with us. And when we look hard in the mirror, sometimes we speed up. Sometimes we fake like our music is too loud in our ear phones and that whatever message God may be sending us, well, we are sorry, but we are too important and too fast and have too much going on right now to get it.
Lord, I am sorry.
Disrupt me, for your glory.
Destroy me, for your purpose.
Stop me, halt me, and bring me home where you need me.
You knew the pain that I had brought on myself before I was even made aware, and I wanted to reject you, to run away blissfully ignorant.
Lord, we are so sorry.
We are consumed with speed. We look at rejection as failure, while you look at it as a step closer to purpose. We determine who are spouses will be in our minds, make our own agendas, and make strides towards them, while you want to heal our brokenhearted bodies. We are too impatient to wait for zippers to move, too arrogant to not withstand barriers, too immature to believe You know best.
Go towards Him. Ask him to disrupt your life, to make you uncomfortable for His glory. Heartbreak sets us up for breakthrough. Pick up your cross and run towards Him. He knows the pain, and He is anxiously awaiting to give you a remedy.
For logistics —
PS. This past Sunday I completed my fourth marathon in Greece! It was surreal and such an honor to get to run the original route from Marathon to Athens, but more importantly, I have an overwhelming amount of gratitude in my heart that’s about to pour out. Buckle up.
Karen, Jen, Kelly — for informing me, encouraging me, and inspiring me. Raychelle, Julie, T — for Boston and being in my heart forever. Jackson — for everything, but mainly being an amazing travel buddy and popping my blisters. My family, friends, and entire heart 5,500 miles away — for staying up late and waking up early for updates. There will never be sufficient words for you all.
PPS. If you’ve made it this far, here are some photos.
*This site, E (ericaboden.wordpress.com), is not an official Fulbright Program site. The views expressed on this site are entirely those of its author and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations.