The Road Less Traveled

I recently ran two half-marathons.  The first had 2 participants and the second had 4,500 participants.  I should also probably mention that I ran these two half-marathons back-to-back on the same morning.  Please allow me to explain. For the last sixteen years I have looked forward to running the Madison Marathon in Madison, Wisconsin, a race that is always run the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend.  My wife, Holly, runs the half marathon and, because we both graduated from the University of Wisconsin, it provides us a great reason each year to return to a place we love.

This year I had another reason to be excited about the Madison Marathon.  I was going to be running it with my nephew, Dave.  This race would be his second marathon and I knew he had been training hard for six months to get ready.  I, on the other hand, had not put the time and miles in to my training that I usually do when training for a marathon due to an especially busy work schedule.  So my plan was to run the first few miles with Dave and then let him go on ahead as I slowed down to make sure I would be able to finish, fully expecting that I might have to walk part of the way.

Dave, who lives an hour and half south of me in Illinois, and I talked regularly over the last month as we prepared for race day.  Our plan for race day was set.  What we didn't ever consider, and therefore certainly did not plan for, was that the marathon would be cancelled 36 hours before it was due to start.  But that's exactly what happened.  Friday afternoon, the race officials announced that the full marathon would be cancelled due to a projected high temperature of 95 degrees.  The half-marathon would still be run as scheduled at 7:00 AM on Sunday morning, because the shorter race (compared to a full marathon) would allow the runners to finish before the high temperatures set in.  The two thousand runners that were scheduled to run the full marathon were encouraged to join the half-marathon runners and to be content with the shorter distance that day.

I was upset for myself about the cancellation 36 hours before the race, but I was especially upset for my nephew because he had put in so many hours and miles into training for this event.  Dave and I spoke on the phone and it wasn't long though before we came up with a plan that would allow us both to still run a full marathon, albeit in a rather unorthodox manner.

On Sunday morning Dave and I arose at 3:45 AM.  Just over an hour later the two of us departed from our hotel on the Madison capitol square, off to run our own half-marathon before the official half-marathon would begin.  The first pre-dawn miles were amazing.  We saw more deer than people as we wound our way along the Capitol City Trail.  As the sun rose we began to see and hear numerous sandhill cranes.  Given that it was Sunday morning, I turned to Dave at one point and said, “Now this is going to church!”  It was truly one of the most special, sacred running experiences I have ever enjoyed.

We arrived at the starting line of the official half-marathon two minutes before the gun went off.  The quiet and solitude of our early morning run was gone as we were now being joined by 4,500 other runners!  Dave and my wife went on to have great runs.  I struggled and had to walk much of the last several miles.  I had used up my best energy running with Dave in our first half-marathon.

Even though I walked through many of the last several miles of the race, I still had a smile on my face because I kept thinking about “going to church” earlier that morning. When I finally crossed the finish line, I knew I had completed a full marathon that I would never forget.

And did I mention that the Sunday that we ran our back to back half-marathons just happened to be Pentecost Sunday?  This day for me was a reminder that the Spirit continues to show up in ways that we can neither expect nor predict.

     My nephew Dave writes a blog and has written a great column about his experience of our non-traditional marathon--complete with photos!   I encourage you to read it--you can find his column at