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The sun tries to break through a moody sky at Virginia Beach.

“I’m older now but still runnin’ against the wind” — Bob Seger

It started out as an email. I get a similar email every year since my daughter and I ran the 8K of the Shamrock Marathon/Half Marathon Weekend in Virginia Beach while she was still in middle school. Since she’s nearly 22, and the emails have never before planted a seed, it seemed unlikely that the December 2020 email would.

Nonetheless, the seed was planted, wriggled, niggled, and forced its way through my gray matter until it could no longer be ignored.

Why not run a half marathon? Let’s see. There’s a global pandemic raging. My job is more challenging than ever. Life is busy. A back injury required me to step away from running for over three years. I only returned to running in May 2020. It’s hard. I’m 55, for heaven’s sake.

The list could continue. However, like a pesky fly on a horse’s rump, no matter how many times that horse swishes its tail, that fly keeps returning — so, too, did this crazy notion. Throwing caution to the wind, I downloaded the beginner half-marathon training plan, and I was, dare I say, off and running.

The Shamrock was virtual, but with in-person hybrid options. I did not have to travel to Virginia Beach; and in fact, when I initially registered for the event, I did not plan to go there.

However, since John and I were both fully vaccinated, and the pandemic — though not gone — was beginning to wane a bit, we decided to travel to Virginia Beach.

No more than 10 participants could be at the starting line at any given time, and participants were encouraged to wear a mask throughout the entire event, but required to wear masks at the start and finish line area. Water bottle refill stations were provided at designated spots along the route with social distancing requirements, and participants were encouraged to run safely, stay on the route, and wear their numbered bib visibly as a form of identification.

With an early wake-up on Friday, I was ready to run. However, the weather, like the rest of 2020 and 2021, offered an unplanned twist. Strong winds and storms had ravaged the east coast Thursday evening. Winds were around 33 mph, with gusts up to 50 mph, wreaking havoc throughout the town sending scaffolding and signs down, debris soaring, and flags flapping at right angles to their poles. Additionally, rain was moving back into the area and temperatures were dropping by the hour from the low 50s into the 30s. I could technically put off running until Saturday morning, but with an 11 a.m. hotel check-out, I would be short on time.

John did not want me to run for the sake of my safety, but I wanted the experience. This was what I had trained for! Throughout my training, I envisioned running along the Virginia Beach boardwalk, basking in ocean views and sunshine with a gentle breeze caressing my face.

In reality the day was cloudy, wet, and the breeze was not so gentle, but it would certainly qualify as a memorable experience!

In the end, I compromised by running on Friday but only for the 8K distance. While it broke my heart to not run the actual mileage for which I had trained, my instincts told me to respect the weather and my safety. I’d be running alone in wet, cold, and windy temperatures with random windborne projectiles. Given my natural clumsiness, there was a definite risk of injury.

There was no climatic build up of pulsating music. No welcome speeches and heartfelt prayer given by local clergy. There was not a gun fire start either. Show up with your runner’s bib on the outside of your clothing, mask on, and then, unceremoniously take off running. Push, step, step — the tempo began.

The first mile was like running straight down the steepest possible incline even though I was gliding along fairly flat ground. With the wind thrusting me forward, I could have sworn that either I had a superpower, or God was at my back not-so-gently imbuing me with momentum and speed. I giggled aloud repeatedly. At times, I windmilled my arms to keep from toppling forward. Meanwhile, sand bit and clawed at the back of my exposed calves and ankles.

Push, step, step. Then, came the turn-around point. Winds that had felt like the hands of God, now felt like Satan’s strongest snares. Was this what it felt like to push a football blocking sled? Push, step, step. Then rain began to fall, needling my face. My glasses were covered with droplets. Push, step, step, the cadence continued.

The race director drove up beside me in his warm truck. He was checking on runners. He offered words of encouragement as I headed toward the in-town section of the course, and said conditions would be less challenging.

Ha! False hope! The wind speed, along with the rain, increased. At the end of every block, between each building, a trapped swell of wind would send me sideways, running nearly in place to hold my own. Push, step, step. Water splashed out of my shoes with each step. Two more miles of this.

The final mile loomed ahead. Half of it would be more topsy, turvy in-town-running, and the other half returned me to the boardwalk again with the wind surging me forward once more.

Push, step, step. God at my back again. The Divine sure does have a sense of humor.

Finally, the Virginia Beach icon, King Neptune sculpture, was once more in sight at the starting/ending point. Push, step, step. I laughed all the way to him, pushed by a force greater than me. I didn’t resist. I welcomed the opportunity to work with it, rather than against it.

Push, step, step — the rhythm came to an end. There was no cheering crowd. No congratulations, high fives, or “Way-to-go” cheers. I started as I began, without fanfare or festivity. Nonetheless, I quietly knew what I had accomplished, from the taxing Saturday runs to the tiresome after-work-I-don’t-feel-like-running-but-I’m-doing-it-anyway runs, all of those moments had led me to facing down the storm’s winds, learning when to resist the winds of change and when to work with them; and the realization that even when plans go awry, God will have my back the entire journey. What a metaphor for life.

No. I did not run a half-marathon. Instead, I opened my heart to an opportunity that I most likely would not have ordinarily permitted. My reward was an experience I will always remember, and a first-hand lesson, like no other, about the ever-present power of God. And for that, I am eternally grateful.

Stephanie Hill is a freelance writer and a teacher at St. Joseph Catholic School in Huntington. She is also a lifelong resident of Lawrence County. She can be reached at hill992@zoominternet.net. Or you can check out her website, stephsimply.com.

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