And the day God breathed upon your still life, stirring into being the green leaf and the flower, bud upon the branch and light
upon your soul. Here you felt the earth’s air on your petals and your leaves, and squinted into sunlight, gazing high for heaven
until you felt the gardener’s hand gently turning soil and soul, and nurturing you, bud in radiant sun.
Cascading rain absorbed in warm earth turning, heaven of fragrance. What is that sound in the wind and dazzling light?
Oh, the sweet sound of your delight in God. Sometimes it is like the sound of running laughter.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Twists, Climbs, Drops, Rocks, and Roots

[My Chippewa Moraine 50K Ultra Marathon reflections]

Friday evening I was lying in a roadside motel not too far from my race location on Saturday morning. I was listening to the thunder crack, watching the lightening flash at the edges of the curtains, and feeling the wild shaking of the storm as the wind roared down on central Wisconsin. What would race morning bring? Some few short hours later I knew – drizzle. It was 5:30 am and I was preparing for my first 50K trail race - Chippewa Moraine 50K Ultra Marathon. Having identified the exact race location the previous evening, I checked in at the race about 6:30am and waited for our 8am start. I spent the time observing the other runners as they readied themselves. From what I could see many were seasoned veterans with a handful of trail newbies like me mixed in. The drizzle was replaced by just an overcast sky. Hmm, that could work. As we prepared to go, the race director told us the course was in excellent condition.

Over the next 31 miles I developed an appreciation of what “excellent” means. Just to help you out here, it means that trails will be trails, and they will have rocks and roots and mud and muck and brush and timber and – yes – breathtaking views and picturesque trails and the rich odor of the woodland and sound of birds and other wildlife and a thousand other things that cannot be described in words because they touch our souls and lift us right up close to God if we let them. This is trail running.

Our race director shook a cow bell and we were off, the whole bunch of us numbering around 150, down a hill, out and away from the Chippewa Moraine Interpretive Center on the Ice Age Trail. I was feeling good and was so glad to just be moving along. It only took us a brief dash over a meadow before we dropped down into the forest and onto the Ice Age Trail. What an amazing place. My watch says that over the 50K course I ascended 6862 feet and descended 6876 with an overall finish time of 6:41 hours averaging a pace of 14:38 per mile. I felt good about my results, especially considering that about 5 of us had made the midpoint turnaround and were on our way back when suddenly there was a general feeling of, “We have never been here before….” We were lost. A few moments later about 5 more runners joined us, having made the same wrong turn. We wandered around for 20 minutes trying to imagine where to go until we realized that we just needed to retrace our steps to find the error. Moments later we were off and cruising down the right trail.

This was a grueling run for me. I have never booked that much up and down in a single run, and I have never run that far. Plus, this was the first time I was representing FMSC and wanted to do my best for the kids. I ended up about 2/3s of the way back in the pack of finishers. But I’m very happy with this result. In simple terms – I finished the race. But there is so much more to the story. I got my trail rhythm at about mile 5 or so, and began to settle in to the steady flow of twists and climbs and drops and rocks and roots. We traversed the marshy areas on boardwalks and caught glimpses of each other here and there as we moved through the trees and brush. During the race I had my tunes along. I would listen for a while and then turn them off choosing instead to soak up more of the forest atmosphere, the sights and smells and feel of this wild enduring place, this vibrant heavenly canvas.

I was over 3 miles short of the turnaround when the lead runners overlapped us heading back for the finish. They were at least 6 miles ahead of me! Surprisingly, this did not frustrate or bother me. I had just been thinking about my running and God, and had been appreciating how He did not call me to be fast, but that He called me to be faithful. “Just stay the course”, I told myself. Over time however, the distance and growing fatigue in my legs and slamming of my toes in my shoes as I descended anything after about mile 23 did push me to new and exciting limits with the Lord. I felt could echo David’s heart:

If the Lord had not been my help,
my soul would soon have lived in the land of silence.
When I thought, “My foot slips,”
your steadfast love, O Lord, held me up.
When the cares of my heart are many,
your consolations cheer my soul. [Psalm 94:17-19]

So for me this was another indelibly rich experience of holding onto God with my fragile faith in situations that are so much bigger than me. And, oh yes, I found Him absolutely faithful, my Shepherd and my King.

Along the way, the other runners were encouraging and wonderful, and the numerous volunteers were all heart and help. In the last five miles I queued up my son Ethan’s music to take me into the finish. I love his music. It helps me when I’m struggling. As the finish area came into view some distance off, I broke into tears; so much joy. My Lord had again carried me to the end; He had allowed me to run for the kids at FMSC; He had taken me along another course in my journeys to know Him better and deeper and to reach higher for Him. He had helped me stay the course, my glorious, steadfast Lord. And now the race is over, but the trail goes on. I’ll be on it. I hope you’ll come along. There is so much to see, so much to experience. Sure there will be hills up ahead. We can climb them together. Sure there will be rocks and roots and numerous things to trip us up. We’ll run them together. Let’s run hard and true as we pursue Him -the greatest treasure in all the world. It’s just down this trail.


SteveQ said...

Glad I found your blog - if Chippewa doesn't inspire poetry, what would?

Henry said...

Thanks Steve. You are so right! Man, awesome beauty.

Abbey von Gohren said...

Yay, Dad! Way to go! Loved reading the story of your voyage through the woodlands.



Taconite Boy said...

Yea!!!! Well done Henry and beautifully written.

Chippewa said...

Great job Henry. I was the guy heckling runners coming up the last hill.

Hopefully you enjoyed the experience enough to come back next year.

RunWesty said...

Well done, nice report, great perspective.

Henry said...

Thanks RunWesty for checking out my report. You encourage me. Hey, more trails out there! Henry

Guy said...

Henry, I just found your blog, and I love your beautifully descriptive writing. Chippewa was my first ultra, and I believe I was in that group that got lost with you after the turn around; live and learn. Great race and awesome people!

Henry said...

Guy, Thanks for checking out my blog. And thanks for the company while we were lost in the woods. A great day! Henry

tri-mama said...

Well done Henry! Brian and I know Guy from tri club, we'll have to get together for a group run soon

Corrie said...

Congratulations Henry! It was a delight to read the story of your run and I have felt the way you did towards the end of my first marathon - wondering if I would ever make it to the end. God is so faithful! Looking forward to reading about your next race! Corrie