November 14th 2010 saw me “lined up” along with nearly 30,000 other people at 7:00 AM in 40 degree weather awaiting the sound of a gunshot. Participating in the San Antonio Rock N’ Roll Marathon & A Half was one of the most uniquely, inspiring, life-changing events I have survived to date. Walking 13.1 miles in roughly three and a half hours provided me with a significant amount of time to think and to pray. As my numb body perfunctorily repeated the motions I had been training it to perform for the last five months, I made a few observations about the similarities between my Christian walk and completing a half marathon bubbled up to the surface of my consciousness. I humbly share a few of them below.
Decide on the front end that you will finish.
Staring down 13.1 miles of anything can be daunting. Since the finish line is not visible for the first 13 miles of the race, you are literally walking by faith that it is there. As you go, your enthusiasm will wane, but your determination must not.
Measure your progress by a reliable, absolute standard.
A mile is a mile is a mile. There is no way around that fact. Even if you are from a country that uses the metric system, a mile is still a mile. Along the route there were many times when I thought I was farther along than I actually was. “Surely mile 5 must be coming up,” I thought once. Nope, the marker confirmed I had just come up on mile 3. It didn’t matter that I thought I had 8 miles to go at that point, I had 10 and that was that. The only thing relative about the distance left to cover is how the marathoner feels about it. Hmmm.
Celebrate every victory along the way.
Every mile marker along the way reminded me that I was that much closer to finishing the race. I raised my arms in joy or hissed out a “Yes!” every time I passed one.
There are some outrageously dressed folks who run half marathons. Enough said.
Take advantage of the encouragement you find along the way.
Thousands of people attend marathons – just to cheer! As the route took me through one neighborhood, I was moved by the sight of entire families standing in their front yards, early on that very cold morning, holding signs and yelling words of encouragement to everyone who passed their homes. The sight moved me to joyful tears.
Tend to small problems before they become big problems.
A full bladder and cramping muscles do not just go away if you ignore them.
Don’t measure your success by the progress of others.
Did I mention that I walked the half marathon? As a walker, I keep a decent pace. I walk a mile in about 16 minutes. But I am in no way considered fast. The fastest people in the race I never saw – except in pictures after the race. Runners and faster walkers literally passed me left and right the entire course. It made no difference as far as my progress was concerned. God bless ‘em!
The medal commemorates the journey, but the journey itself is the reward.
This is just another instance where the non-tangible trumps the material. This is not to say I did not enjoy receiving my medal or that I did not sleep in it Sunday night and wear it all day that following Monday.
A little encouragement goes a long way.
There is nothing like having an entire high school cheer squad yell out your name while jumping and leaping, or seeing your family clapping for and frantically waving to you as you pass by, having a fellow walker yell out, “Go girl!” or receiving the thumbs up sign in passing from a singer belting out Pat Benatar lyrics. All of these things happened to me on the route. Each one fueled my determination to finish. It was equally as invigorating to encourage those I passed or who passed me with a timely word. In my case, “Good job!” always garnered an positive response.
In a marathon with tens of thousands of participants, allowing everyone to run out at the same moment would be dangerously irresponsible. Therefore officials ordered the participants into groups called “corrals.” Each corral was released one at a time to start the journey, each with the same destination. As believers in Christ, we know that many have come before us and many will come after, but every human being stands before Creator God in the end.
If you can’t keep up, get out of the way.
You will only weather the trial in as much as you have prepared for it.
Medically speaking, completing a marathon or a half marathon is trauma to the body. Few people complete one without training for it. The better your training, the more smoothly the marathon is likely to go. In other words, smaller trials prepare you to triumph in the larger ones.
The mile before the finish line is the hardest.
Whether the cause is psychological or physical in nature, whether training or during the actual race, once I get to mile 12, everything starts hurting – my knees in particular. If I have chaffed, cultivated a blister, or knotted a muscle, at mile 12 I feel them all keenly. Thank God for the thousands of people who gather along that final mile to cheer and shout out words of encouragement! They remind me that on the other side of the pain is victory.
Stay the course.
Marathon routes are mapped out electronically and each participant is given a chip to record his or her progress. To go off course is to risk disqualification. To stop too long is to risk not finishing. On the eve of another race, my coach made a profoundly simple statement. She reminded us, “As long as you are moving forward, you will finish.” Words to live by.
Victory is sweet!
Upon crossing the finish line I was handed a medal. I felt very satisfied and quite frankly, extremely relieved. I had completed my task. The best part was knowing that I would get to see my family, who had left their cheering spot to meet me, and the folks I had trained with all season, who had already crossed over.
You’ll be surprised by who you see on the other side.
What I didn’t expect was to bump into my favorite Starbucks barista! After posing for my commemorative photo, getting some food, and limping over to retrieve my post race bag, which contained my warm, dry clothes, I heard a familiar voice addressing me. “Not many people from our neck of the woods here today.” I turned to see Troy, one of the most pleasant Starbucks employees I know. The first time I met Troy on a raining weekday morning, he informed me with a straight face, that water aerobics class would be starting in five minutes on the patio. He has been my favorite barista ever since. As we greeted and congratulated each other on finishing the race, I learned that Troy also had been training for the half marathon. Though we had covered the same route, roughly around the same time, we never saw each other until the end. It was a pleasant surprise for us both. I’m sure heaven will be full of such surprises, too.
Be blessed Family!