|My friend Danny ran with me!!|
I was #948 in the Franklin Classic this past Monday morning. Nobody special—just another guy in the crowd. One of a thousand others who braved the early morning start time and the physical challenge of the race. We started as a giant clump of anticipation, and after the starting gun, spread out like a giant amoeba on a long, long road. Heads bounced up and down around me, and little kids raced by. I kept saying to myself, “Hold back, pace yourself, pace yourself.” More kids zoomed past by me. The run was actually quite fun—the energy high all around me. But the best part was at the end, as complete strangers cheered as I crossed the finish line…my first race. My practice race. See, I’ve never been a runner—actually more of an anti-runner. Running was the one thing that I put into the “impossible” category. I’ve tried running before, but was always met with way too much back and knee pain. Not to mention the “L” word—laziness.
But earlier this summer I felt something developing inside of me. It was a desire for an adventure—something really big, something crazy, maybe even a little dangerous. Then a friend told me about the Chicago Half Marathon he was running on September 12th and my heart jumped. That was it. My adventure: running a half marathon.
So I’ve been training all summer—running nearly 250 miles through all this crazy heat we’ve been experiencing. This has unquestionably been the most physically challenging experience of my life. But so much of the battle has been in my head. The “I can’t” or the “I won’t be able to” or “That’s impossible” or “I need to stop…” There have been some really tough days—I’ve cried, I’ve winced. And some really great days—goosebump-inducing runs and even tears of joy shed. I’ve developed strength and confidence I never knew I had. I’ve lost weight! And I’ve uncovered some amazing camaraderie among other runners.
I started telling my story to friends online, even though there were days I didn’t think my story was worth telling; I was just another runner, and everybody knows a runner. So what’s so special about my story? I believe my story is special because it’s mine. What I was doing wasn’t necessarily unique, but my perspective certainly was. And suddenly what I was doing became bigger and more significant than I had ever imagined.
It began with a couple of people who encouraged me as I posted about reaching running milestones. I was fearful of looking like I was bragging—"Look at me! I ran 3.2 miles today!“ I quickly let go of that when I realized I really needed the encouragement I was getting from this handful of people. I couldn’t worry about who might think I was bragging. So I began to take post-run videos of myself—capturing the raw emotions and realizations I was having while running. I was testifying! Testifying to the power of going after something you think is impossible. And my hope has been that in the process, others would be encouraged to tackle whatever is in front of them.
But training for the big race hasn’t been the only thing I’ve been working on this summer. Over the past four months, I’ve been completing my first ever CD. Seventeen years ago I moved to Nashville from Minneapolis with the dream of recording a CD of my music. And there have been months and years of crying, praying, waiting, singing, writing, crying, recording, praying… Throughout this journey, I’ve heard every kind of feedback that a person can hear: "What a voice! You’re gonna be huge!” all the way to, “You’re so average you should just join a boy band.” Even well intentioned people tried to discourage me from dreaming too big, and focus on doing something that would be easier. All the while, I’ve chosen to listen to the voice inside of me saying: “Don’t give up!”
I didn’t. And I couldn’t be more proud of the result. I feel the same way about my running. It’s as if all those 17 years have been encapsulated in my summer-long journey to Sunday’s finish line—interestingly enough, two days before the release of my CD.
I had no clue that one of my songs, “Pilgrim Man,” would play such a big part in the story. The chorus says, “Pilgrim man don’t give up, though the road may be long and the journey hard. You are not alone and God will carry you. Hold on Pilgrim man, you’re almost home.” There have been people who have written me and said they ran their last mile with that song on repeat. There have been many days when I actually sang those words to myself, especially as the heat and humidity and pain and exhaustion were pressing down on me from all sides. The response has been overwhelming. Some people have even been inspired to start running. But people are finding hope in the message, even if they’re not runners. This blows me away.
People are finding strength they never knew they had. And we’re all finding out that we’re not alone. Not matter what we are going through, there are always going to be opportunities (and very valid reasons!) to quit and give up. But I’m choosing to be one person who waves a giant flag out front and says, “You are stronger than you realize! Don’t give up!” We all need to know that we’re not alone, and that there is great value in not giving up, no matter how much we might feel like we should.
Each person who crossed the finish line last Monday in Franklin, as well as each who finishes this weekend in Chicago, has an amazing story to tell of how they made it there. As I cross the finish line of my first half marathon, I’m sure I’ll be crying tears of joy—knowing it is still possible to defeat the impossible, no matter the obstacles.
Mark Smeby is a singer/actor/runner based in Nashville. His first CD, Pilgrim Man, is releasing on September 14, 2010 via iTunes and the trunk of his car.