Lessons from a Marathon

running(Long, I know, but hopefully you’ll find it worth the read)

I told someone, running a marathon must be a lot like childbirth…right afterward you say, “I’ll never do that again.” But then, time and the joy of the experience cause the pain to fade and you say, “I think I’d like another go at this.” Perhaps that is a crude illustration, but it really does describe my feelings when it comes to running 26.2 miles simply for the challenge and accomplishment. As I was running on Saturday, I asked myself again, “Why am I doing this?” The answer I came up with is…”for the sake of the challenge” and, to some degree, “for the glory of God.”

I can’t help but see the parallel to life in this experience. I know…I see the glazed look in your eyes and the zoning out you’re doing about now, but, please stay with me. I do have an important point to make and I believe something that may be significant to you.

In 2003, I set out to run my first marathon. I trained for 36 weeks in the cold, the rain and through the pain. I had never attempted anything like that. I was not in very good physical shape, but was able to run long distances without gasping for air by the end of April. Our approach was a run-walk (beginner’s strategy) and my goal was simply…to finish! We engaged our “strategy” and, though grueling, achieved the goal. I remember distinctly as we came to mile 25, suddenly being overcome with emotion and thinking, “I’m actually going to do this! I can’t believe it!” What a rush!

A man of 43 years, I thought in the days following the race, “I’ve achieved this goal. I can check it off my list and move on.” I would continue to run, but no more marathons.

Over the coming years, I would continue to run and would enjoy running in 5k’s and 1/2 marathons. Then, in 2007, my friend who had recently become interested in running, said he wanted to run the marathon in April 2008. That checklist came to mind. I didn’t have to do this again. I have done a marathon. But there is that childbirth thing that was at work and, after some thoughtful consideration, I committed to join him in this endeavor. Then came the training…early Saturday morning runs, weekday morning runs and cross training. This time it was different…I was in better physical condition from working out and I was a part of a group of Christian runners who run to bring glory to Christ.

Enter the trials of the journey…at three weeks prior to the race, we had our 20-mile long run. This would be the longest before the marathon. I had begun having trouble with my left knee, hip and foot…excrutiating pain when I ran over 15 miles. I was beginning to wonder if I would be able to continue. A visit to the orthopedist revealed that I had arthritis in both knees…a blessing of getting older, she joked. My options were 1) quit running (not really an option), 2) prescribe an anti-inflammatory medication (OTC hadn’t helped much), or 3) cortisone shot in the knee. Seeing how the race was only two weeks away, I opted for 3. The 12-mile run the following Saturday revealed that the shot had helped, but not yet relieved the pain entirely. The following Saturday, the 8 mile run was better. The week of the marathon, I ran 4 miles on Tuesday pain free. Rest was the theme for the remainder of the week.

Come race morning. Up at 4 a.m., dress and heading out in the pouring rain for LP Field (Titan’s Stadium) where I would park and ride the race shuttle to the starting line at Centennial Park. FCA Team Endurance met for prayer at 6:20 near the gear check stations. Randy Riggs (my running partner), Bob Lewis (1/2 marathon first-timer), John Baker (FCA Huddle Leader), Phil Gordon, and three ladies from the area and from Idaho, circled up for prayer under a huge tree while the rain poured down. We prayed around the circle…asking for God to grant us strength for the race ahead and to receive glory from our performance that day. Each of us prayed and the Spirit was evident in His presence with us. What a blessing.

As we broke up the huddle, we each went to our respective starting corrals. Randy and I were in 11. Finally, the rain ceased and by the time our corral was ready to be released, no rain fell at all. It turned out to be a perfect morning for the race.

By this time, the excitement was mounting and the adrenaline was flowing. There’s something about 30,000 people setting out to run a race through the streets of Nashville that gets you pumped up. Not to mention all the people lining the streets cheering you on. It was a blessing to see some familiar faces along the way to cheer and keep you going.

I felt good…very good. No knee pain. Lots of energy. I kept saying, “Thank you, Lord. I feel good. This is great!” And it did…until mile 18. That’s when I began to experience muscle cramps in my legs. I was careful to maintain good hydration, but for some reason, I wasn’t getting enough. My goal was to finish, of course, but I had also set a goal to run the entire race and to finish within the 4 hour range. Up through the halfway point (13.1), I had stayed on pace with a pace between 10-11 minutes per mile. Now, in the second half of the race, I was faced with the reality that I would not be able to continue that pace. I had to stop three times to stretch muscles and walk several segments. But, although I had to abandon the idea that I would finish within the four-hour range, there was one thing I was confident of…with God’s strength, I WOULD finish!

Reaching the 25 mile marker, I prayed, “God, I ask that you give me the stamina to complete this last 1.2 miles running.” He gave me the strength and I finished. I had set an alternate goal in the second half of the race to finish under 5:20 so that I would at least be no more than 1 hour off my original pace. I crossed the finish line at 5:19:37! To make it more eventful, I heard my name announced as I crossed the line. The highlight was seeing my wife and daughter at the finish cheering me on.

So, what’s the point? This time, I didn’t have the wave of emotion that I encountered the first time I ran. Instead there was just a calm sense of accomplishment…of satisfaction and, I suppose joy. So here’s the point:

I learned and am reminded that…

1. Life as a follower of Christ is hard sometimes, but the strength doesn’t come from me, it comes from Him.

2. There will always be struggles to keep on going, but this life is a marathon, not a sprint, and it takes pacing yourself, keeping your eyes upon the goal and depending upon God to get you there.

3. Anything worth having is worth working for. Nothing of value in life comes easy and, if you are willing to work hard, make some sacrifices and not give up, you will achieve your goals and bring glory to God in the process.

4. The greatest battle we fight is in our own minds. In a marathon, the thought of quiting may pass through one’s mind, but it must be immediatly dismissed as the voice of the “enemy.” Life as a believer is the same thing…win the battle in the mind and you’ve won the battle for sure.

5. There will be setbacks along the way. But don’t beat yourself up over them. Get back up and continue from where you stumbled.

Psalm 37:23-24

The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord,

And He delights in his way.

Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down;

For the Lord upholds him with His hand.

6. There will be those along the way who will encourage you. Be an encourager too.

7. There will be a great multitude to cheer you across the finish line when you reach your ultimate goal–heaven.

Hebrews 12:1-2
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

So…I guess that’s the point. Life is a marathon. It isn’t easy, but it’s worth it to live with the goal of heaven in mind. That goal can only be achieved through a relationship with Jesus Christ. He is the “race course” we must follow (John 14:6), and He has given His all to provide the way for us to “win” this race of life (John 3:16; Romans 6:23, 5:8, 10:9-10). I hope you are in the race and have the finish line in mind. Don’t lose heart, don’t give up, and know that His strength is the strength that will get you to the finish.

Now…I think there’s a marathon in Memphis this December….

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