Today, I embarked on my very first triathlon, the Heart of the Lakes. 1/2 mile swim, 19 mile bike, then 5.5 mile run. It's technically called a long course, but it's just shy of an international distance. This is a tri that gathers people from all over Minnesota, so a lot of local talent. My friend Kari and I headed out in her little Geo Tracker when it was still a little dark out, when the fingernail moon plus a planet still lingered over the blushing east. The IPod kicked into gear with triumphant music, and we were happily sipping our coffee. I felt ready.
The weather was perfect, with the course being a beautiful tour through Minnesota countryside, and the people were so friendly - volunteers, fellow triathletes, and spectators all. Kari, who is a veteran with this sport, showed me the ropes - transition areas, entrances and exits, how it all works. I was so pumped. An 8 o'clock start for the elites, and my wave would jump into the water 20 minutes or so after that.
I wasn't too driven to get a specific time, which turned out to be a good thing. The swim was sloshy on the way out with all of those swimmers, and I was gasping in the cooler water, hard to get my breathing regular. (Remember that part for later.) I did finally find my stride, stroking easily and joyfully all the way through to the sandy-bottomed return at the water's edge.
Running up to the spot where I had carefully laid my gear earlier that morning, I whipped my wetsuit off and headed for transition for the first time. This is where things got interesting. That air I dragged in on the swim? It gathered into a stitch in my side when I hopped on my bike. Hm, that's odd.
That little cramp came to me at mile one of the BIKE, developed into a whopping pain, and didn't leave until I trotted into the finish line on the RUN about 2 hours later. It became so debilitating around mile 1 and 2 of the mile that I could hardly breathe, much less run. As the tears streamed down my cheeks through transition and the first half of the run, I had to give up my dream of finishing fast, and I began to wonder if it wouldn't wise to lay off altogether. The sag wagons were all keeping an eye on me, communicating the difficulties to each other of "Abbey, number 521" by walkie-talkie.
I was pleading with God this whole time to lift this heavy burden. Why did I have to suffer under this, when my muscles and conditioning were happy and healthy, yelling 'let's get ON with it!'? Then, I thought of the Apostle Paul's struggle - much more significant, I sure - with what he calls his "thorn in the flesh."
"A thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming too elated. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me...for when I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)
Regardless of what Paul's "thorn in the flesh" actually was (theologians LOVE to bandy that one about), I know for certain that this race suddenly meant more than just finishing a race. It was a spiritual discipline as well as a physical, a training for future trials, a great reflection of the race we all run when we have trusted in Jesus Christ as our Saviour, and we have to learn how to trust Him when life becomes...interesting.
This is where the rubber meets the road, the shoe tread hits the pavement, at the water's edge when you've just got to jump in and do it. He was there for me, His grace sufficient in the torrent of tears, tearing pain, and disappointment.
Actually, I had a great race. Thanks for asking. : )