I took a deep breath and offered a prayer for help. It was no longer about my time (which was going to be terrible) or how many miles left, but how much life I could live and give in those next five miles. When you hang out in the back of the race, there are no shortage of struggling runners, and I determined to encourage and uplift as many as I could.
As I walked uphill giving my lungs a breather, a brother and sister in their 50’s passed me. The man, red-faced and huffing smiled and said, “I’ve only passed two people today!” My pride flared and I immediately cooled it by smiling and saying, “Congratulations!” I saw his chest puff with pride. When I reached the top of the hill I passed the pair again. When he saw me he groaned, “Oh man!” I laughed and replied, “Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll be passing me again.” Sure enough, a couple miles down the road the pair leap-frogged me again. His eyes lit up as he passed me again. I yelled, “See, I told you you’d pass me again!” He threw over his shoulder, “I feel so good!” I laughed and replied, “Hey, if my purpose for running this today was just to make you feel good, it was worth it!” A little while longer I caught up to them and walked with them for a little while chatting and learning a bit of their story. I wished them well one last time as they stopped at an aid station and I continued on.
Around mile 12 I encountered a My Team Triumph group. As their website describes,
“My Team Triumph is an athletic ride-along program created for children, teens, adults and veterans with disabilities who would normally not be able to experience endurance events such as triathlons or road races. The participants with disabilities are known as “Captains,” and the athletes who have the honor of pushing and pulling the Captains on the course are called their “Angels.”
My Team Triumph is an incredible program, and I love to see the Captains smiling from ear to ear enjoying the thrill of racing. As Captain J approached I turned and caught his infectious grin. He asked the Angel pushing him, “So what’s our pace right now?” The runners cheered him on by name and he waved as if he were in a parade. I chatted with him for a minute, asking him how many races he had been in, and then cheered him on as they took off down the hill.
Suddenly I realized how much better I felt. I was stronger and happier. It wasn’t that my physical problems were gone and I could suddenly run a nine minute mile again. But my spirit was lighter and the race, though still not easy, was enjoyable. The more I reached out and offered kind words of encouragement – the more I ran the way of life – the more alive I felt. The way of death may feel good for a time, but the way of life is more meaningful and sustainable in the long run.
With two miles to go, I came upon a young girl who was crying with each step. A race official ran next to her for a minute asking, “Are you ok? Are you hurt? Is something wrong or are you just struggling?” The young man running with her answered, “She’s ok, just struggling.” The race official said, “You can do this! You are almost there. Only two more miles. This builds such good character and you will be so proud when you finish. Hang in there!” He headed to the sideline just as I caught up to the couple. I slowed my pace to match theirs for a minute. “You can do this. You are keeping a great pace. You are almost there! You’re a winner and you are going to make it! You will be so proud of yourself when they hang that medal around your neck.” Neither of the pair said anything. They may have thought I was a crazy person, but I saw the look on her face change from pain and panic to a familiar look of determination. I’ve been there. “Friend, you’re doing great. Keep it up!” I picked my pace back up, having no doubt that she was going to cross that finish line.
I think sometimes God forces us to slow down so we’ll walk with those who are struggling and wounded. So we’ll see them, understand their pain, and breathe life into them.
I determined I was going to run the last mile nonstop and finish strong. I picked it up for a half mile and then realized that if I wanted to cross on my feet and not puking on my hands and knees I needed another breather. I was disappointed, but unwilling to end up in an ambulance. I slowed for a minute as I approached the final turn and heard the band playing the final strands of “Don’t stop believing.”
Tears welled in my eyes for the second time in the race, but this time not out of selfish pride. Although it sounds cheesy to say I felt God speak to me through a Journey song, that’s what happened. As I approached that final corner of my 15.6 miles with “Don’t stop believing” blaring through speakers, I heard a small voice say, “Don’t stop believing in Me or in the dreams I’ve planted in you. You
get it now. So go and run with humility.” I let a tear slip down. I’ve been frustrated with many areas of my life, feeling I should be farther along, doing more, making more of a difference, using my gifts more, that things should just be different, and that I’m a failure. But no matter what I do, I can’t seem to change it. Without realizing it, I had been running with death in those areas, resorting to jealousy, despair, and pride. As I rounded that corner and pushed my legs to fly up that last half mile, I prayed with each step for the wisdom to choose life every day, in every area.
I saw my family and friends waving their arms and cheering (and T-Rex playing a game on an iPhone!). I made a beeline to give each of my kids a kiss on the head and then sprinted to the finish line. Ked said he was surprised at how good I looked at the finish. I smiled, telling him I’d explain the journey later.
Later that day, while resting my aching legs, I read this passage:
Praise the LORD! How good it is to sing praises to our God; for he is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting. The LORD builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the outcasts of Israel. He heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds. He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names. Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure. The LORD lifts up the downtrodden; he casts the wicked to the ground.
Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving; make melody to our God on the lyre. He covers the heavens with clouds, prepares rain for the earth, makes grass grow on the hills. He gives to the animals their food, and to the young ravens when they cry. His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the speed of a runner; but the LORD takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.
-Psalm 147:1-13 (NRSV)
It was never about the race. But God used the race to change me.
How are you running? With life? Or with death? Will you slow down to help those who are struggling?