Early on in 2017, I decided I wanted to run a marathon. In Africa. In Uganda.
So I started my marathon training. Every week I had to do one long run to slowly reach the marathon distance. Each week I would run a little further.
On these long runs I’d run through the villages, which can be very intimidating for a muzungu. Often when villagers saw me, they would drop everything and run to the road screaming, “Bye Muzungu!!!! Bye!!!!!!” To see a muzungu running attracts everyone in the village. One of my village students perches outside her house to see me run through the village. She explained to me, “It’s just not African. If you are running, you are running from someone. Running for fun makes no sense.”
I can tell you tons of comical stories from these village runs. I’d usually have a small posse of children chasing me. One time a four year-old chased me while holding a machete. That was horrifying and you can bet I ran especially fast that day.
But I’d like to share one particular run with you.
On one long run, I had a dear friend join me, biking alongside. As we chatted and exercised, a little boy joined us. This boy was different though. He didn’t grab my arms, run with a machete, ask five million questions, or laugh at me. He just started running with me in a sweater, dress shorts and dress shoes.
As we ran, I asked him questions. I found out his name was Ryan. He had just moved to the village from Kampala, the capital of Uganda. I asked him if he was a Christian. He said, “Yes. My family is all Muslim but my mother and I became Christians. But, don’t tell my father. He’d kill us.”
This sent chills through my body.
Friends, when Ryan said, “Don’t tell my father. He’d kill us,” he was completely serious. In this country, accepting Christ can be dangerous. My house mother just finished visiting a friend in the hospital who was poisoned because of her faith. And yet, here was this 8 year-old boy, bravely running with me, knowing that his faith could cost him everything.
Think of the most courageous person you know. Think of your own courage. I certainly did. And I fall short. I grew up in a loving Christian home. I went to a Christian school. The most danger I felt from my faith was when people would laugh at me for believing that the Bible is true.
Ryan put me to shame. He has the faith of a child and the strength of an ultra marathoner. Seriously, remember what he was wearing? A sweater, dress shorts and dress shoes. He ran 10 miles with me. No joke.
I know he’s not going to give up. I could see the conviction in his eyes.
Will you give up?
When you train for a marathon, will you give up? When you lose your job because of your faith, will you give up? When you face physical danger because you believe that Jesus Christ died for you, forgives you and gives you eternal life, will you give up?
I pray that you are convicted never to give up on this race.
Fast forward to my marathon.
November 11, 2017. Fort Portal, Uganda. Running the Rift Marathon.
I had talked two friends into racing with me. And, the families I work with in Uganda, surprised me and all came down to support me and spend the weekend adventuring with me.
I was one of maybe 20 marathon participants. My friends did the half marathon and the 10k. Everyone running there had fancy marathon gear: dry-wick shirts and spandex shorts, water backpacks, gps tracking watches, body taping and GU. I wore cotton leggings, my Uganda shirt, donut socks and a broken fanny pack containing granola bars, epi pens, and my music player.
In a normally rainy, cold and mountainous terrain, the sun shone hot all day. With a constant temperature of 80-90 degrees Fahrenheit all day and no shade on the trails, this race was beyond challenging.
It had rained the previous four days so the clay soil was slick and almost every tenth of a mile there were giant unavoidable mud puddles. Every half mile there were sudden and steep hills with challenging elevation changes.
The only road signs were small foot long strips of red and white ribbon tied to random bushes every mile or two. And the path was a combination of deer paths and rock filled village paths. There were two banana stations total and six water stations, most of which appeared at the beginning and end of the race.
But the views. I can’t even begin to describe to you what I saw. It was beautiful, gorgeous, jaw-dropping and heavenly. We raced in the valleys next to the Rwenzori Mountains and I confess, I stopped a few times because I couldn’t stop staring at the amazing work of God’s hand.
At one point in the race, one of the racers caught up to me and, pointing at his fancy gps watch, asked, “How far does your watch say we are?”
I considered pretending my watch was a smart watch and pushing random buttons and saying, “Well my watch says we’ve gone 20 miles.” But I didn’t. I just told him, “I don’t have a smart watch. But, I think maybe 20 miles.”
“Man,” he said. “Mine says we are just starting 14 miles. What a slow race!” And he took off.
He’s crazy, I thought. We’ve definitely gone 20 miles.
Then I saw the sign. The sign for 30K. That’s approximately 15 miles. I couldn’t believe it. I started bawling like a baby. But I kept running.
Then the medic truck drove past me for what seemed like the 20th time and handed me a water. I thought, do they think I’m dying or something? I gladly opened the water, I had been out of water for some time. I took a giant drink and….spit it out.
It tasted awful. Like ocean water. There was white powder residue on the bottle. So either they were trying to poison me or they really thought I was dying and put awful tasting electrolytes in my water.
I know this sounds ridiculous, so I will blame it on the heat and elevation changes. I started crying again. Sobbing and whimpering. That’s when I realized, I wasn’t ok. Marathons, heat and drastic elevation changes do things to your mind. I made myself walk to calm down and ate my last granola bar for calories my body was desperate for.
I’m so thankful God helped me rationalize what was going on with my body before I started hallucinating or worse. Many of my fellow marathoners were worse off than I. I heard reports of hallucinations, muttering, crawling, and heart attacks.
The sweetest part was the end. All the kids and families that came to support me were waiting at the last tenth of a mile to run to the finish line with me. The children grabbed my hands and yelled, “RUN!” So, I did. I was one of the few marathoners that ran to the finish.
Later a fellow marathoner came to me. “I just want you to know,” he said. “I’ve run marathons all over the world and this is the hardest one I’ve ever done in my life. When I heard this was your first marathon, I had to meet you. You are my hero.”
After the awards ceremony and banquet, my body shut down. I took a three hour nap to recover some energy.
The rest of the weekend was exciting. We took a Super Custom van down tiny paths on the sides of mountains on muddy terrain. We bird-watched. We ate pizza. We played way too much ping-pong. We hiked on volcanic crater lakes. We had baboons almost jump into the van with us through the moon roof. We hiked into the mouth of a volcano and raced out of it as the mudslide rains started pouring on us. We slipped and slid down the mountains. And I loved it. Every second of our tiring, muddy, bloody adventures.
God has given me so much perspective, life, and hope for the future. I’ve found exactly who I am and I have tasted the redemption of a God whose mercy and grace bring me to my knees on a daily basis.
I can say with courage, like my young friend Ryan, “I have the conviction of Christ in my eyes. I will not give up.”
Because, I ask you, how can I give up when He’s brought me so far?
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2