Finishing the Race Together

In early August I emailed several close friends and family inviting them to join me in my third half-marathon.  I had an irresistible urge to invite specifically those who would otherwise never pursue such an endeavor on their own.  In particular, I desperately hoped that my two sisters would accept the challenge — both because I wanted us to experience this thrill together, and because I knew beyond a doubt they could do it, even if they didn’t think they could.  Happily for me, perhaps begrudgingly for them, they accepted.  In their own words, here are their stories.

Erin, 28, Ballard resident, Mars Hill Church Wedding Ministry Director and Biblical Families Administrator:


I have never been particularly athletic; in fact, one of my favorite things to say regarding myself is that “I’m built for comfort, not speed.” 

Throughout my formative years and into my early twenties I was overweight in varying degrees, at most when I was 14 and about 170lbs.  I used to fake ankle injuries and asthma in order not to run the mile in PE.  I simply couldn’t do it, and had no desire to.  I’ve grown up a lot since I was 14 and now take care of my health and myself.  Thankfully I weigh quite a bit less than I once did.

When Abby invited me to do the half-marathon with her, I thought it should be pretty easy because I “run” three miles on the elliptical three times a week at the gym.  So I put my sneakers on and ran a mile near my house.  I didn’t get a quarter mile before I had to walk.  “What the junk!” I thought.  “It’s supposed to be just like the elliptical machine, what is going on?”  It took me over 20 minutes to do that first mile.  I was ashamed.  “There’s no way I can do this,” I thought.  “Forget it – I’m going back to my routine.” 

A few weeks later during our family vacation I agreed to do a mile with my sisters.  Abby promised to keep pace and not speed ahead.  Abby has the spiritual gift of encouragement and she wields it well.  I didn’t feel like a failure.  I decided to train – I wasn’t committing to the race, just training.

I diligently followed the training schedule.  The longer runs I tried to do with Abby or Sam because I’ve discovered I do much better with a buddy.  The first time I ran five miles, I thought it was going to kill me.  By the time I got to seven, I was actually handling it, dare I say enjoying it.  I even signed up for a 5K with a gal in my community group.  I pushed myself to keep pace with her and nearly, literally, passed out at the end.  I did it in 33:40, which was phenomenal for me.  I was so excited to know I could finish a race — I started to think maybe I could do the half-marathon after all. 

It occurred to me recently that I have prayed for the ability to run (albeit very few times) and God gave that to me.  My heart has totally changed toward running.  There are days when it’s hard to get up in the morning to run; and there are days that I don’t run as far as the schedule dictates, but most of the time I get up and run.  I’m now running 15 to 20 miles a week and thinking forward to a half-marathon in the summer and a few 5Ks before that. 

I have realized this is perseverance.  In the Bible, this is what Paul meant when he told the Corinthians and the Hebrews to run the race that is set before them.  Praise God for teaching me the practical example of actual running so that I could understand what that means in my spiritual life.  In both running and life, it is about discipline, choices, setting the course and reaching for the goal.  Paul says that I am striving for an imperishable wealth and therefore I do not run aimlessly.  However, I cannot simply show up and expect to achieve it – I have to build up, train, be self-controlled and disciplined.  I had no idea. 

The day of the half-marathon was a great day, but by the time it arrived it was no big deal.  I had trained well for it and knew I was ready and could do it.  Somewhere in mile eight, I looked at Abby and said, “I’d do this again, it’s kind of fun.”  Around mile 10 I got really hungry (I mean really hungry), which I’m told is a good sign but all I could think about was bacon and coffee.  My biggest takeaway has turned out to be not the medal I received, but the implications and practical expressions that running has in my spiritual walk — or run.  Praise God! 

Sam, 22 (it’s her birthday today!), Woodinville resident, graphic design student, Red Robin waitress:

If you are expecting inspiration, you can close the web page now.

This experience was…trying, to say the least.  I am not a long-distance runner.  I figured, “Alright, I can do this.  It won’t be that bad; training will be annoying, but I’ll build up and do it and lose weight and it’ll be rad.”  Wow, was I sorely mistaken.  

I did the first few training sessions and got a little better, but I couldn’t do much midweek training because of work and school overtaking my life.  Training three times a week turned into just one big run per weekend, and it was awful because I wasn’t building up the endurance I needed.  I began to look toward weekend runs with disdain and dread.  During one such run (a 10 miler with my dad) I broke down and cried as I ran, totally believing that I looked like the biggest idiot this side of Kansas, running down the insanely busy Avondale Road sobbing and telling my dad I couldn’t do it.  However, my embarrassment stopped the tears pretty quickly.

Flash forward (because all my training runs were heinous) to the race.  I had just gotten back from Arizona for Thanksgiving with my fiancé and his family, and had to wake up at 0-dark-thirty to get to the race on time.  We got there and started the race with 18,000 other people, and I found myself thinking, “Hmmm this isn’t that bad, everyone’s running and walking, so it’s alright.”  

Miles one through four were OK, five through seven were painful but manageable, eight through eleven were hilly, and twelve through 13.1 a mix of, “Please Lord, shoot me down right now,” and “OK, I might actually finish this thing.”

My goal was to survive, but my mother gave me a better goal:  to beat Abby across the finish line.  Now please realize that had this been a real life goal, it would not have happened.  Abby has done this a million times and has been a runner forever.  Erin has never run, yet picked it up with the grace of a gazelle, and my father has completed a marathon.  Needless to say, they all could have easily left me in the dust.  So as I panted and tried to die every other mile, they stayed back and walked with me so I didn’t feel so lame.  I wish you could see all the emails from Abby since August: each one was signed, “Finishing the race together.”  And finish together we did, purely by the grace of my sisters and father who sacrificed an awesome time in order for me to push myself to the finish line. 

So just after mile post 13, Erin said, “Ready Sham? Lets do it!” and I turned to Abby and said “Gotcha dude!” and took off.  I am a sprinter.  I like sprinting.  Even after 13 miles, I can sprint.  So, I blasted past her and heard Mike screaming my name from the crowd as I blazed through the stadium (yes, we had an entire cheering section) and crossed the finish line not only in front of my family, but before the first marathoner crossed as well.  After crossing, I got a piece of tinfoil (heat blanket) and got a warm welcome from not only Mike, but my mother, my fiancé, and my best friend, who surprised me by giving up a day of snowboarding to come see me finish.  

It was a cool finish, but now I am being begged by my sister Erin, my mother, and my best friend to do it all again in June.  I don’t think so, people.  Muscles I didn’t know EXISTED hurt right now.  By the way, our time? 3:09.  Rockstars.


I am so proud of my sisters!


Filed under The WORD (Faith)

4 responses to “Finishing the Race Together

  1. I absolutely love it. Abby, I noticed your blog when randomly checkup up on people on Facebook, and you are so much fun to read! And your sisters are AWESOME.

    • abbyreph

      Thanks Jess! I bet you have a story similar to theirs given that you are now runner-extraordinaire 🙂 I appreciate you reading!

  2. WBO Biggest Fan

    Way to go, Berger girls! I am so proud of you two and glad that I was able to be there as you crossed the finish line.

    Next up: the Seattle Rock n’ Roll Marathon (okay, or the 1/2 Marathon). You in???

  3. Amy

    Ladies….this was a fantastic tri-effort! Congrats on finishing Sam & Erin and I have to say there was perhaps a small tear forming in my eye seeing the picture your mom took of you all finishing together. Miss you! I’m in next time!

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