A Heaven-Sent Text Message Gave Her a Second Wind

She had never run an intense Ragnar Relay trail race before. She wasn’t sure she could do it—then she received an unexpected Bible verse.

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Posted in , Nov 25, 2021

A woman running uphill; photo: Getty Images

I was at a Native American reservation in California, two hours from the nearest big city. A desert landscape of scrub brush and rocky slopes extended in all directions.

I was here to run. And I was pretty intimidated.

It was November 2019, and I had just arrived at the Ragnar Los Coyotes trail relay race. The annual race is a grueling multiday relay through the rugged beauty of Los Coyotes Indian Reservation in San Diego County.

More than 200 runners were here, camped out in a small city of tents. I knew no one. Everyone looked way younger—and fitter—than I was.

My husband, Tom, thought I was nuts when I signed up.

“Let me get this straight,” he said. “You’re going to fly from North Carolina to California, meet up with total strangers, drive two hours into the mountains where cell phones don’t work and there’s no running water. Then you’re going to camp with those strangers while competing in a multiday relay race?”

Now I was asking myself the same question. I gazed at the sleek, toned athletes setting up their tents and chatting about past trail races they’d run.

I was 58, a former teacher and stay-at-home mom of two grown kids. I’d been a recreational runner for years; I’d even competed in races. But I’d never run a trail race in my life. Nothing like this. Some runners travel around the world to compete in big-name marathons or off-road races in spectacular locations. Not me. Family came first.

The previous year, Kate, our younger daughter, had gone off to college. Suddenly I was free to try a bigger adventure. When an online moms’ running group advertised this rugged race on the other side of the country, I jumped at it.

My training would be considered a joke by the elite runners here. There are no big hills in my North Carolina town. If I wanted to run up a hill, I’d have to go to a parking garage.

Neighbors watched and wondered as I slogged through two runs a day in the August heat. One pulled up beside me in her car and asked if I wanted to sign up for a text message group she hosted that sent daily Bible verses to members’ phones.

“Sure!” I said. I needed all the encouragement I could get.

Like right now. I felt alone in this remote landscape. I couldn’t even call Tom or the girls. No cell service.

I joined my relay team. We were eight women from around the United States selected by the moms’ running group. I was the oldest by far. We gathered around the tent where we’d sleep during the race. We talked about the course, three loops of increasing difficulty with a total elevation change of nearly 4,000 feet.

Each member of the team had to take turns running each loop. It would take more than 24 hours for everyone to complete the entire course.

Ping!We looked around. The sound came from my cell phone.

“Did you just get a text?” one of my teammates asked.

“I did,” I said, puzzled.

I was even more puzzled when I read the message. It was a Bible verse. From Isaiah, chapter 41: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

”It was my neighbor’s Bible verse group text. How did it show up on my phone? It was evening; she usually sent the texts in the morning. And there was no reception here.

“It’s a Bible verse,” I said.

“Let’s hear it,” someone said.

I read the words aloud.

“Now that is something to think about,” another teammate said.

“Five minutes to start!” our team leader cried. The discussion ended, and we scrambled to gather our things and head to the starting line.

I was runner number five on the team. It was getting dark when I began laboring up the rocky trails of the first loop. I had to walk and grab tree branches to haul myself up the steepest slopes. What if I fell? My headlamp slipped. I kept running.

First loop.

Second loop.

I tried to nap in the tent until the final, toughest loop. Day was breaking as I set out. Oh boy, the first two loops had been a warm-up by comparison. Almost immediately I had to walk, too discouraged to run up trails that seemed almost vertical.

Runners passed on either side. My lungs burned. I wanted to stop.

“Left foot, right foot,” a runner chanted as he zipped by.

I stopped and caught my breath. The verse from Isaiah sounded in my head: I will strengthen you and help you.I wasn’t alone; God was with me. I can do this, I told myself. All I had to do was move my left foot, then my right foot.

I got going again and picked up speed. I pushed onward. All of a sudden, I heard cheering ahead. My teammates were hooting and clapping as I crossed the finish line.

We waited for three more runners on our team to finish. As the last one approached, we ran onto the course and joined her across the finish line. We hugged each other, our dusty faces streaked with tears. We took photos with our medals, packed up our campsite and headed for San Diego.

As soon as my team members and I got back in cell range, all of our phones started buzzing. Mine lit up with multiple texts from Tom and the girls, asking how the race was going and sending me encouragement.

None of those texts had made it through.

Only one did. The one I’d needed the most.

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