An Ultramarathon through Great Falls Park
2:45am, and my alarm ends the night.
I should want to sleep. Any other night I would, but adrenaline is rushing through my body. It’s the morning of my first ultramarathon.
Immediately, I commence my perfected pre-race routine.
Down a glass of water, then start on a second. Scramble two eggs. Coffee. Three blackberries. Bathroom. Where’s my leg roller? Are these Hokas going to work out? Safety pins, bib, shorts. What would it feel like if one of these pins popped open mid-stride, mid-race? Wondering this is part of the pre-race routine too.
Ready or not, my sister and I sneak out of the house, under cover of night.
For months my spirit has been running in the dark, questioning the value of following that which we cannot see.
The glow of sunrise has not yet arrived.
A light fog rolls across the surface of the Potomac. The early light is still dim; the porta-johns are still clean.
Daylight arrives, faster and faster. Years ago, the ticking clock would have brought nerves.
Not today. After years of training, if anything is weird, it’s that running 31.06 miles is normal.
But there’s more going on here than a mere race.
“These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.”
The starting line—wave 1.
We take a lap around a field, then down a short pathway, exiting the park. The trail turns left, racing off through the woods; we chase it, falling into a rhythm, settling into the pace.
Mile one is devoured with barely a thought given to its demise.
A pack of runners block the single track trail. The pace is too slow by a full minute. Arrive in Great Falls in two hours, fifteen minutes. Run the six miles through the park in roughly one hour. And then the return leg, backtracking to the start. How long? 2:15? 2:10? 2:30?
It’s time to charge forward. “Nice work, good job,” they yell. The empty trail welcomes me ahead.
The trees stretch high above. The sounds of birds, the river, the chatter of aid stations make up the only soundtrack as thoughts of life’s uncertainties toss and turn like a river’s rapids in my head.
“It feels like you don’t care…. You said you know our needs before we ask, that your work is easy. You said you know when sparrows fall to the ground—but you didn’t say they wouldn’t fall!”
The sun pokes through the trees, through the spring leaves, burning away the morning fog.
A light rain drips down to the trail.
“Is it really worth living life based on something that happened two thousand years ago? Is it real?”
The quick, flat course collides with hillsides, running up, running down. Walking up, running down.
Ten miles down. The pace is right.
“Some Christians are killed for following; it doesn’t seem like this is the path to a best life now.”
Sweat drips from my arms onto the dirt below.
The lichen-covered rocks I pass are crying out—inaudible tones—but I feel their reflections of glory inside, and I run, I rest.
Aid station, mile thirteen. Great Falls Park. A friend is there to say hello as I grab a piece of orange. “I better keep moving before I eat everything!”
Six miles through the park. One hour. Keep moving.
I charge up a hill, passing a fifty-mile runner. “When you have it, you have it,” she says. “I don’t even know what mile I’m on,” she says.
Mile nineteen; the aid station. “Dude, this is so much fun.”
Just run back to the start.
Just run back to the start.
A hill going up—the endorphins came, and now the endorphins have left. Eleven more miles.
When faith no longer feels like caffeine, it can finally deepen. When faith no longer looks fresh like Instagram, we can embrace endurance—a hidden, unshakeable inner resolve to keep following, to keep running for the joy set before us.
Sport beans, for post-endorphin entertainment. Blisters, for late-race misery.
The trail, once cool and smooth, is now squish-squishing mud with every stride, and the sun burns.
“You know I really want a cigarette right now,” tutu lady says. We’re running the same pace.
“I want to jump in a swimming pool,” I shout back.
Mile twenty-six. Mile twenty-seven. On the trail, I just beat my first road marathon time.
My pace slows, becoming more unbearable than the distance remaining. Just keep moving. Can I finish in under six hours? Walk for five minutes to recover, then run the last two miles at a ten-minute pace.
The plan works. The last aid station—I maintain my stride. No water needed, I am so close.
Afternoon temperatures rise into the 80s.
One more mile. The right turn, the short pathway back into the park, the finish line loudspeakers. People wearing medals. Push.
Ah!! Left leg cramps.
I lay along the river bank, feeling dead. And yet, I lay along the river bank feeling alive.
It is undeniably real; this is so good.
The river’s rapids whisper eternal joy into my head; the Creator of nature’s beauty, of running trails, endorphins, and endurance, leads me to believe again.
The river flows on and on and on.
“And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
WEEKLY ACTION ITEM:
So, you've been saying for weeks (years?) that you'd get into running some day. Or maybe you're a runner already but you know someone who has said the same. This week, get out for a run, or another form of exercise. Don't think of it just as lost time trying to burn calories: lose yourself in prayer, or run with a friend and talk about your faith journey.
If you want to take this a step further, sign up for a race and start training to push yourself to a new level of endurance. Journal along the way about how running shapes your faith, or how faith shapes your running.
We'd love to hear from you too. If you'd like to explore these ideas further with a community of other professionals in American politics, consider applying to write with us.
Liberatus is a community journal about bringing truth and beauty to American politics from the inside, because people who work in politics are tired of dysfunction. Writers who join us creatively explore healing for work culture, communication, and personal well-being.
Journal Entry #108