Chrissie Wellington, four-time Ironman World Champion, just published an article for CNN: “Train your brain, then your body.” It’s wonderful that this highly accomplished athlete is sharing some fantastic advice on mentally training for a race.
As I read this article, for some reason I was reminded of the book, “The Grace to Race: The Wisdom and Inspiration of the 80-Year-Old World Champion Triathlete known as the Iron Nun,” by Sister Madonna Buder. A good friend sent it to me a few months after Noah passed away. Sister Madonna is another amazing athlete. At the age of 75 she became the oldest woman to compete in the Ironman World Championship. Below is one of the many inspiring passages in the book. (I hope it’s ok that I’m copying this excerpt here.) In this chapter Sister Madonna writes about the deal she made with God and how four angels helped her during the 2006 Ironman Championship.
“Aside from the usual competitiveness involved in this famed annual event on the Big Island of Hawaii, I had my own special reason for wanting to finish. My nephew Dolph had died the previous month, quite unexpectedly. (It wasn’t until six months later that the coroner’s report said the cause was heart disease.) So I had been asking God for some kind of confirmation that he had died at peace and was in the right place. I made a kind of deal with God: If I could finish this race, I would know my nephew was at peace. That thought was in the back of my mind as I struggled through the ocean swim, and it was on my mind now, as I did my best to keep pedaling through the torrents of rain.”
“I got back on my feet and struggled onwards in the darkness, toward the turnaround. With about six miles to go, I was out there alone when these four angels appeared from the opposite side of the road, running in the dark. One had no shoes. One had only thongs. A husband-and-wife team were the only two with running shoes. Imagine my surprise when one of them asked, ‘May we accompany you in?’”
“[The wife said] ‘Do you see that stop sign ahead? Do you think you can start running when you get there and then stop at the next signal to walk again?’ They kept pushing me in this manner.”
“…I begged my angels, ‘Can’t I just walk until we get to Palani Hill, and then I’ll start running down it a mile and a half from the finish? Since we’ll be back in civilization it won’t matter if I collapse.’ They were firm. ‘No, you have to do a bit more running before you get there.’”
“When we got to the top of the final hill, I started extending my legs for a downhill run. They yelled a last admonition, ‘Oh, good, don’t stop! Keep going, even when you get to the bottom of the hill!’”
“How did they know I always stopped at the bottom to walk the next five miserable blocks on the flat until I hit Alii Drive and then gave it my all to the finishing chute? Even without a wristwatch, I sensed this was going to be a fight against time. It was then I realized this was the opportunity I had been looking for. If I could cross the finish line in time, I would know that my nephew was at peace and in the right place.”
“As soon as I made that bargain with God, I had the strangest feeling as if I were dangling between two realities, losing touch with my body and being conscious only of my momentum. I sensed a presence in the dark over my right shoulder, intimating that what I was doing was unreal. It was like make-believe.”
“Usually the Hawaiian Ironman marathon finishes under an arch, but now I saw that they had built a plank that required you to run uphill. How sadistic could it get? But I gave it my all in a last surge. ‘Oh God, please keep this body moving!’ When I topped the finish, the crowd was wild, as well as the announcer.”
“I was the last official finisher, the oldest woman on the course, and I had beat the cut-off time of 17 hours by a mere 57 seconds. ‘Thank you, Lord,” I breathed. ‘Now I know my nephew is in the right place.'”
Needless to say I highly recommend reading this book. I think it’s got something for everyone.