On the Side: January 2020
Stepping Into 2020
by Carol M. Shrader
After training for a few months, I met some of my dearest girlfriends for a Side By Side reunion weekend in Minnesota a few years ago. We ran a 10K together, and by “together” I mean we were all either IN the 10K or the sister-5K but our paces were varied, so the together part was definitely at the beginning and the end.
I have to tell you that from start to finish, the race for me was a big giant metaphor for the season of life we were facing that year—we were facing a huge spine surgery for my son. I agreed to the training for one reason only: I knew that my history with stressful surgeries can equal horrible eating habits and very little exercise. I needed to push myself, to have a goal for purposeful exercise. Running a 10K seemed the perfect plan.
And my training went well. Ok, so, maybe I did all my training inside the gym, on a treadmill where all my conditions needed to be perfect — right music, fan at the right speed and no one doing anything crazy like sprinting on the treadmill next to me to distract me from my pace.
Really, I was gearing up well to run a race where hundreds of strangers were beside me doing their own thing outside, with hills, winds and no control over the temperature, don’t you think?
Race day was actually glorious in Rochester, Minnesota. My girlfriends and I had enjoyed an amazing weekend and the race would be the culmination. I was fairly certain I was going to need to throw up as soon as the start whistle blew.
When it did, we all began our run. I was talking to myself—do not start fast. Find your pace. Find it and stick with it. But, oh dear goodness, when my people were briskly moving out of my sights, I began a slow panic. By the time we began the first uphill bend, I was not sure if I was too fast, or too slow, but I knew the crowd was super thin where I was and I began to panic that I would be last.
And with the first wave of panic and doubt, a horrible thought washed over me: If I was not strong enough to power through a mere race, how in the world would I run the race of Benjamin’s surgery and recovery? How in the world?
And so, I kept putting one foot in front of the other.
The course went around a lake packed with memories from our days in Rochester, it circled through the river walk that looped through the downtown area—up hill and down. I should interject here that those perfect conditions where I mastered five miles consistently on my treadmill at the gym did not include any hills. That was probably a big mistake.
The first hill was hard, but I powered through and ran up it. By the second, I was hurting and though I tried to run up it, I lost steam in mid-hill. By the third big hill, I gave in to a brisk walk as soon as I started the incline….and by the fourth hill…well, as soon as it came into my view, I started walking.
And even as I climbed that fourth hill, I was struck by how like my motherhood this reaction was. I powered through the first surgery Benjamin had with a “we-won’t-be-defeated” attitude. I hit a wall with the next big surgery for Mason and by the following year when Benjamin had to have that same surgery I had completely shut down—emotionally, spiritually and, yes, physically.
I was not feeling particularly proud of myself at that point. It was not helping that a dear little lady who was several age groups ahead of me, passed me. And I could not find a pace that could close the gap between us in spite of the fact that it looked for all the world like her feet were barely moving.
I began to berate myself for biting off more than I could chew—um, run. I should have just done a 5K. I should have trained outside. I should have cheered my friends from the sidelines. What was I thinking? And with each negative thought, my feet moved slower and slower. I was very near tears.
Dear Robin’s (our hostess for the weekend) family was popping up at intervals along the way. Cheering their mom—and her friends—and snapping photos (joy). I was mortified for them to see me so near crawling. But they were not alone. My dear friend Shelly popped up along the way. The first time, I just wanted her to be proud of me. The second time, I am fairly sure I told her to go away and just cheer the others. I was so embarrassed.
But my friend with a servant’s heart as big as Texas ignored my plea. Instead she came along beside me. She softly encouraged me and told me I could do it. And when my feet believed her and picked up the pace, she quietly turned and went back to her car.
But she met me again at the five-mile mark. I could no longer feel my legs. I truly was not sure I could have walked to the finish line at this point. And then I saw my friend. I slowed to a walk and she reprimanded me, but she walked briskly beside me for a few paces. Speaking encouragement yet again, making me laugh and telling me she believed I could do it. I sort of believed her. I found my pace and determined to finish strong.
As I turned what I prayed would be a final corner, I could see my precious friend Heather at the end of the block waving her arms and yelling that I was coming to our other friends. “You can do it, Carol!” she yelled. I was overwhelmed with emotion. My friend knew I would need her support to reach the finish line. She had completed the 5K and was prepared to walk backward on the 10K route to find me, to cheer me to the end, and there I was turning the final corner. The tears started to flow, and I was overwhelmed in ways I cannot describe crossing the finish line. I did it. And though it was ugly and awkward and an enormous challenge, I did it. And more importantly, the symbolism of crossing that line convinced me that I could be strong enough for my Benjamin that summer.
Cause here is the thing: I ran most of that race alone. The challenge to finish was as mental as it was physical. Just like my role as mom to my amazing kids. Just like my role to my amazing surgeon husband. I have to walk these mountains and valleys—no one can do it for me. But though my Side By Side sisters could not carry the weight of the worries for my Benjamin, though they could not fully understand the pain of watching him undergo surgery after surgery, they are always there. They are cheering for me. Encouraging me. And offering to hold my hand—and his. Shelly and Heather coming alongside me in my attempt at that 10K was a huge visual reminder of the way my Side By Side sisters have walked me through season after season. What a gift from God!
“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” (Hebrews 12:1, NIV 1984).
As we enter 2020, I am asking God to grant you sisters willing to climb every mountain and run every race by your side.
Carol Mason Shrader
Carol Mason Shrader has had a few blessed years with no surgeries for her children, but the memory of mountains lingers and the blessing of friends who do not leave her to climb them alone is a gift.