The Eleventh Mile Climb

During my second half-marathon, located in the steep hills of the Laurel Highlands, I learned a secret of running: You have more strength than you think and it doesn’t come from training or preparation, but from your own determination.

There are times in life we feel inadequate or overwhelmed. Often, our capabilities are limited by our own minds. Self-preservation causes us to look at life and say, “I can bear this, but never that. I can cope with this, but never that. I can endure this pain, but surely not that.”  We pose boundaries on our test, sometimes before it even begins.

Yet, when a greater trial or burden comes our way, we find a way to endure. How? Only by God’s strength and grace, step by step. The problem with our human minds is that we look at situations as a whole and not one step at a time. We take one long gaze at the mountain and feel faint at the thought of conquering it. We act as though we are running a whole race in an instant.

Of course, anyone who attempts to run this way will fail. That foolish person will collapse under the strain of an impossible feat. But one step at a time? That is doable. You can endure much more than you think if you put energy into your next footfall, rather than thinking of the many miles ahead. Will it be uncomfortable, even painful? Of course. But you do have the strength within you. It comes from a determined mind and purposed heart to follow God to the end.

On this particular half-marathon, the first two miles included a steep climb to the top of a ridge. Never had I trained on inclines so steep or long. I managed to keep a running pace, but by the top, my legs were already feeling like jelly, and I still had eleven miles left.

Having already reviewed the course online, I knew there was a much steeper eleventh-mile climb that lasted almost to mile thirteen. My mind raced to the hill that I hadn’t reached yet and I immediately felt defeated. In that moment, I contemplated stopping. I didn’t feel prepared; my legs were not strong enough for this race.

But I kept on, saying to myself, “I know I can at least run this mile here in front of me.” On I continued, repeating this to myself across flat stretches and slight dips, tripping through the rocky trails that wound through the dense forest. By the time I reached the eleventh mile, I was sore and my ankles were throbbing.

Suddenly, I was staring up at the dreaded hill. It was an awesome and overwhelming sight. Up the muddy trail stretched, curving out of view. The runners ahead were bent at the waist, bear-crawling when the path grew too steep to run. I heaved for air and wondered if this would be where I failed.

Yet I didn’t want to fail, so I endured. Charging at the hill, I determined to finish. That climb was the toughest physical and mental challenge I have ever encountered as a runner. About 500 feet into the incline, running was no longer an option. The ground was slick with mud. Every step took monumental energy. After fighting to gain a few feet of progress and slipping every step, I became mad at that mountain. This would not be the end.

I passed by a young man who had shot out ahead in the starting mile. He was clearly a seasoned runner, but now he crouched, looking up defeatedly while holding a cramp in his side. It occurred to me that even the young, strong and fit will be challenged by the race. At some point, everyone looks failure in the face. “Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall. But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:30-31)

I became fixated on the finish line. Each step, I thought of the satisfaction I would feel in receiving my medal. This would not merely be a race I had run; this was a race I had fought for! At long last, I reached the summit and looked back down at the beautiful view of the autumn foliage. I wasn’t done running, but that medal was as good as mine. You see, once I determined to finish, there was nothing great enough to discourage me. Even though I felt weak in those miles, I was proving the strength of my resolve.

We all have those eleventh-mile climbs. There are days of pain and frustration in life. Sometimes we look ahead and see only a steep trail ahead. We must keep climbing. We must do what we can today, in this mile. We will reach the summit and enjoy the view. We will taste victory. It will be by the strength of God within our hearts. If we resolve not to fail, and rely on Him to bring us through, we can endure anything. You can endure anything. “And He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  Therefore, I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then am I strong.”  (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

– By R Smith