Home Stretch

When I was growing up, my dad ran marathons. A LOT of marathons. He’s got a hoard of race medals that would rival the collections of most Olympians. Seriously, if you tried to wear all of his medals at once, you’d probably need to keep a heating pad on your neck for a week afterwards. In fact, he is the first (and to my knowledge, only) holder of the title “King Marathon Man,” which is among the highest of honors daughters can bestow on dads, right up there with Grillmaster and Ultimate Hawk Spot Champion—but those are stories for another time.

I’ve lost track of the exact number of marathons Dad has run, but it’s a big number (especially to me, the gal who walked the majority of the one and only 5K I “ran” and still felt like a limp noodle afterwards.) It seemed like he and his group of running buddies were always training for one race or another. They would meet together at ungodly hours of the morning several times throughout the work week and then again on Saturdays for their training runs. But don’t be fooled by the word “training.” These practice runs were nothing to sneeze at themselves. We’re talking up to 18 miles here. Sometimes more.

I loved Dad’s Saturday morning runs, but it was mostly for selfish reasons. While he’d get up at 3:30 or 4 in the morning, my Saturdays began hours later when he’d come home from his run. My sister and I shared a bedroom that was directly upstairs from the garage, so the rumbling of the garage door opening was our signal that Dad was home. It was an obnoxious, deep hum, the kind of sound that made guests freak out if they happened to be in the room when it happened, but Claire and I were so used to it that we hardly took note of it. We could even sleep through it.

Except, of course, on Saturday mornings. And that’s because the garage door opening meant Dad was home, and Dad coming home from a Saturday run meant he had brought donuts. It was a wonderful tradition. Rare were the Saturdays that dad came home without a box filled to bursting with sugary decadence from Krispy Kreme, or, even better in my opinion, Top Spot, a local bakery that I will defend to this day as the makers of the best blueberry cake donut in existence. And boy did Dad ever know how to pick out good donuts! Those Saturday morning boxes weren’t your average, run of the mill half-dozen glazed, half-dozen chocolate iced that your boss brings to the office to appease you after he sets a 7:30 a.m. meeting—no sir! These post-run donut boxes were stuffed with a glorious mouth-watering cacophony of sugar-saturated flavors: old-fashioned, maple-iced, chocolate cake, pink icing with sprinkles, donut holes (which were almost always still warm, *drool*) and of course, my favorite and most beloved blueberry cake. Combine that with a tall, frosty glass of milk that had been stuck in the freezer for a few minutes to make it, in Dad’s words, “so cold it hurts goin’ down,” and there you have it: the true Breakfast of Champions!

(Good grief, I’m making myself hungry just thinking of it. Dad, if you’re reading this, SEND DONUTS!!!)

So with all that deliciousness in mind, you can imagine the scene when the garage door rumble echoed through the upstairs rooms on a Saturday morning. Somebody would raise the call of “Dad’s home!” and four pajama-clad little girls with bed head would go thundering down the stairs. While Dad, the hero of the hour, retreated to sooth his sore muscles with a well-earned soak in the jacuzzi, the four of us descended on that little white donut box like a pack of hungry wolves, eager to divide the spoils.

And when I say we divided the spoils, I mean it literally. It frustrated Mom to no end the way we hacked each donut into bits and pieces. “Why can’t you just make choices?” she’d say when she’d see our plates, dotted with halves and quarters of different flavors of donuts. But I think that’s because she grew up an only child, and therefore had no concept of what kind of trouble could arise when there were four sisters and only one pink-with-sprinkles in the box. Nobody would dare take an entire donut—the best solution was to get out a knife and get chopping. Everybody always got a little bit of everything. Except of course, the cinnamon roll. That one was off limits. It was Dad’s sacred portion, his favorite, and nobody dreamed of touching it. After all, he was the one who had just run an unholy number of miles and probably burned off the cinnamon roll’s calories three times over.

“How far did you go today Dad?” I asked one morning around a mouthful of donut as Dad joined us at the kitchen table, his warm cinnamon roll oozing gooey frosting and his icy milk stein in hand.

“Twenty,” he said, like it was no big deal. It must have been very close to an upcoming marathon if the training runs were getting that long. A marathon is 26.2 miles long. I asked him, if he was already going 20 miles, why not just add that last 6.2 onto the end? It couldn’t make that much of a difference, right? But Dad shook his head and assured me that the last little bit DOES make a difference, and a big one at that. The home stretch, with the finish just almost in sight, is often the hardest part of the race.

Now, I’ve never run a marathon, and quite frankly, I never plan to. But I think I’m starting to get an idea of what those final 6.2 miles feel like. I’m not in the middle of a race, but you might be fooled into thinking I am, based on my stiff and sore muscles, swollen feet, and near-constant trying to catch my breath. You see, I’m 8 months pregnant. (Ha! You can’t blame me for the excessive donut nostalgia now, can you!?) My due date is 6 weeks away, but it may as well be 600 years.

But you’ve already gone 34 weeks, you might be thinking. Surely tacking on another 6 couldn’t be that much harder, right?

Ha ha. Sure.

Even though it’s already February and my countdown only goes through March, sometimes I feel like I’ll never ever make it. Thankfully, in this endurance test, there’s not an option for me to flop on my face on the side of the running trail with a dramatic moan of “Just go on without me!” which is what I’d be doing in a real marathon.

No, much to my relief, my Little Guy will keep growing at his own pace with little to no input from me. And since God is in control of Little Guy’s birth, I know he will come at exactly the right time, whether I feel like I can make it there or not. Psalm 139:16 says that God has all of my baby’s days already written down, even though none of them have happened yet. It’s a comforting thought—God knows my body is tired. He knows that every passing day is yet another uphill climb and I feel like I’ll never make it. And He knows exactly what day and time I’ll cross the finish line. He’s taking care of Little Guy, and He’s taking care of me.

There’s no medal waiting for me when this marathon is over. In fact, I’ve been told I can expect even more sleepless nights, weird aches and pains, and haywire hormones in the weeks after having a baby than in the weeks leading up to it. But every time I feel Little Guy’s squirms and wiggles (and there are a lot of them—he’s a VERY active wee one) I am reminded that this race is so worth it. God gave me this baby, and I can trust Him to give me the strength I need to be his Mommy. The thought of me and John holding our mushy, squalling, red-faced baby boy for the first time is what I’m counting on to propel me through every staggering step (or waddle, as the case may be) of the Home Stretch.

But if you think it would help to bring me donuts, you know, I wouldn’t refuse those either.

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