Lessons from a marathon

Two weeks ago we walked out of church and heard cheering a block or so away. Curious, my husband and I headed down to Pearl Street to see what was going on. Turns out, that day was the first ever “Boulderthon” – the inaugural half and full marathon for Boulder – and we were right at the finish line. I was in heaven! I stood there and cheered for a while for those just coming in, and then we walked around a bit to see everything that was there.

The energy in the air was electric – just like I remember from all of the races I had run in the past. Watching all the runners with their medals, it was like walking among my “tribe”. I knew what they had done to get here. I knew how it felt to finish, that sense of accomplishment and euphoria (and tiredness, yes). All worth it. I remembered with fondness how my ex-husband Jon and my kids would stand on the sidelines, watching and waiting with signs to cheer me on. One of them, the kids even ran the last 200 yards with me to the finish line. I’ll never forget that, I still have the picture of all three of us sprinting to the end.

If I’m honest, being in that race environment again made me miss my running days. There was always something about the distance training all leading up to a race that I always loved. I think I’ll volunteer to help next year since running them any more isn’t an option 🙂

Although I’m never normally good with analogies, there were all sorts of spiritual parallels I would think of in those early morning runs. Quite often, the passage at the start of Hebrews 12 came to mind:

“…. let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith…”

It often reminded me that the life of faith wasn’t a sprint or a “practice run” just for fun. It was purposeful and required sacrifice. For those of you who have never run a marathon (or are close to someone who has), let me just first say it takes a ton of work, training and fueling your body right, and you never train for the full 26 miles, usually just to 22 or 23, so the last 3 or 4 miles you are pushing yourself. You expect that.

You research the place you are running, you train in like-conditions if you can (meaning.. don’t try for a marathon in, say, Colorado, if you live at sea level, unless you train with one of those masks that teaches your body how to be more efficient with less oxygen. Or practice running in as best you can in the heat (a hot gym?) if you’re running in Florida and you’re not used to the heat. That kind of thing).

You practice on hills and you do sprints. You get up early and often have run 15-20 miles well before anyone is up having breakfast. You ice your legs, you roll them out and stretch, and you prepare mentally for what it will take. You may or may not follow a training plan, but either way, you probably do not just hop out one day and think “I’m going to run a marathon today”.

The day of the race – I daresay that everyone starts of with a ton of energy and excitement to get going. And why not? heck, adrenaline has been pumping in your veins since you got up at 4am to eat and let your body do its thing before you line up at 6am for the race start.

And no matter how much you train, no matter how much you prepare, it’s anyones guess what will happen out there. There could be moments along the course – at least there were for me – where you might wonder if you can really finish.

My first marathon was in Madison Wisconsin. I, like everyone, had trained all thru the Chicago winter, and maybe some 50 degree days in spring. It was May. We expected it to be still fairly moderate that time of year, maybe no higher than 70 given the year we were having. No one was prepared for the 90-degree day we were handed. People were dropping like flies everywhere: heat exhaustion and dehydration was evident for even the most seasoned runners. It was brutal.

Although this is true in any race, it was true in that first one more than anything: you had to pace yourself to finish. There was no room for pushing yourself for a PR (personal record) that day. Finishing was the goal, and it meant you had to stay at a deliberately slow pace, and stop from time to time to give your body a chance to rest and refuel.

Yes, that race took some perseverance.

According to dictionary.com, perseverance is defined as “steady persistence in a course of action, a purpose, a state, etc., especially in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement.

The willingness to keep going when things are hard. Towards a specific purpose. In this case: finish the race I had trained for, no matter what it took.

I learned how to self talk myself through a long stretch in the sun with no tree in sight. When to walk…and keep walking. What a very tight IT band could do to your ability to walk at all. How to let people cheer me on (the community came out with sprinklers and ice pops.. it was GREAT). How to keep going, and let go of any hope of having a time that I had trained in.

The course took me 4 hours, 38 minutes (I never said I was fast). But I did it. I crossed the finish line. My beloved Sadie decided I was the most delicious salt lick as I sat down to take off my shoes…. and a cold bottle of water never tasted so good.

Back to our passage. The writer of Hebrews is using the same race parallel here, only they are making the case that we are all called to run a race – of faith. The translators of this passage says the author is calling for perseverance on the “the race marked out for us”

I’m sure the writer meant the collective “us” as those who profess Christ and seek to be a part of his redeeming work in changing the world – but there is also a very personal element here.

In the Greek the word is actually I, me, my.

Let ME run..the race marked for ME.

My race. not someone else’s. The one for ME. You have a race, one marked for you.

I have to choose to keep going. So do you.

My race is going to be different than the person’s next to me. So is yours.

Just like that race in Wisconsin for me – sometimes we hit things in life that we never expected, things that we thought we were prepared for. Sometimes we hit stretches that are long and dry and nearly unbearable. When you do, take time to rest. Let the ones around you sit with you and massage your tired feet, your weary and cramped muscles. Let them cheer you on. Eat some carbs. Drink something refreshing. Pay attention to what your body needs.

Then, when you are ready, get back up and keep running.

It’s not a competition, and we all get to cheer each other on. Young, old, abled and seemingly not abled – we all have a place in this. Don’t ever think anyone can take you out of it, and don’t give up. Your life is YOUR RACE to walk, or crawl, or run. Or do all three in different seasons. But you will finish, you know that, right?

You’ve got a pretty good coach: the author, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

Blessings, my friends!

By Tama Nguyen

I'm an avid reader, tea drinker, and outdoor adventure seeker. I am convinced that God is still out to fix this broken world, and He uses us to do it. Chasing after things that matter...

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