Have you ever felt that you’ve missed out on something because you showed up too late? Maybe circumstances outside your control have prevented you from achieving or learning something you’ve always desired? Maybe you wonder if you should even bother starting or trying again.
This past Sunday I ran the Disney World Marathon – 26.2 miles in the 80 degree heat. A few years ago I never would have believed I could run a marathon. I was not a runner. And by not a runner, I mean I despised running 2 laps around a basketball court.
But on Sunday, I cried happy tears as I crossed the finish line. The moment was even more poignant because at 5:30 a.m. that morning, I feared I might not make it to the starting line.
A small group of friends and I stayed at a nearby hotel (non-Disney for the record) the night before the race. The hotel offered two early-morning shuttles for spectators and racers – one at 3:45 a.m. and one at 4:30 a.m. The race started at 5:30, so we figured the 4:30 bus should give us plenty of time to get there, even with heavy traffic, since the hotel was less than 2 miles from the starting line.
We dragged ourselves out of bed, most of us feeling like we had barely slept at all due to excitement and anxiety and the fear of oversleeping. I ran through my mental checklist and laced up my shoes, ready for an adventurous day. I got a little more adventure than I signed up for.
A group of us stood around the bus shelter waiting for our shuttle. Nervousness hung in the air as thick as the Florida humidity. Runners bounced on their toes or leaned on the shelter’s posts for support as they lightly stretched their hamstrings. A few of us tried to swallow as many bites of bagels slathered with peanut butter or chunks of bananas as our knotted stomachs would allow. Spectators casually stood around holding poster boards scrawled with encouraging messages rolled up in their hands.
4:35 a.m. and no bus. 4:40 a.m. and no bus. Finally, at 4:45 the bus rolled into sight, the air brakes heaving a sigh as the it slowed to a stop in front of us.
We hastily boarded and the bus pulled onto the street and came to standstill. Traffic crawled. But we figured we still had plenty of time to make that 5:30 start since we were so close to the starting line. In fact, we could have walked it had it not been o’dark thirty and for the heavy traffic and the lack of sidewalks.
5:15 a.m. I figured we had to be close and was sure we’d make it at least by the starting gun. Start. Stop. Traffic inched along. Then we passed a digital traffic sign in place for the event that I thought for sure said, “Marathon traffic turn right.” As we zipped past the line of cars turning to the right I thought, “Well, shuttle buses must have different access.”
Then the bus slowed and made a u-turn. As my body shifted to the side of the seat with the force of the curve, fear crawled up my spine.
A murmur rolled through the bus. Then a wave of panic crashed as the bus driver made a second u-turn and we sat in the same line of traffic we had been in 15 minutes prior. That same sign flashed a giant blinking orange arrow and snarled at us, “Marathon traffic turn right.” Our bus driver had no idea what he was doing.
5:30 a.m. The race had started. Fear now bubbled up my throat and over my lips. “What if we don’t make it? What if we are too late and miss the start of our corral?” I said to my friend Jen.
An older couple sitting in front of me turned around and asked, “What time does your corral start?”
“5:50,” I replied.
“You should be ok. It takes a long time for each group to start. Even if you have to jump in a group farther back, you’ll still get to start.”
The fear quieted down for a fleeting moment. Then a runner sitting across from me who had run the half marathon the day prior said, “It takes 20 minutes to walk from where the bus drops us off to the starting line.”
My stomach hit my shoes. I bounced my legs and shifted in my seat trying to put all my internal organs back in the right place.
What if we got there too late to start?
The next ten minutes felt like ten hours. My dri-fit shirt stuck to my back as nerves and humidity poured out my sweat glands.
Finally, the bus sighed to a stop and the doors squeaked open. The spectators sat patiently and quietly offered well-wishes of luck and speed as the runners bounded off the bus.
As my feet hit the pavement I heard the commotion at the starting line. The second group of racers was starting. Fireworks exploded in the sky. I was missing the party.
My running partner Jen and I exchanged worried glances. “Ready to warm up?” I asked her.
“Let’s go,” she replied.
We began to jog towards the tents and the sounds of the starting line. Volunteers along the way kept pointing us in the right direction. Past these tents. Around that corner. We could hear the starting line. With every turn we thought for sure we’d be there.
Sweat dripped down my cheeks. 5:45 a.m. and the humidity was so thick you could practically chew the air.
I asked another volunteer clad in a glow-in-the-dark yellow vest, “How much farther?”
“Around those trees, then you’ll be there.”
We rounded the trees and I saw a long row of porta-johns eerily empty of runners, yet by the smell, full of sewage.
We pinched our noses and headed toward the crowd of runners crammed into the corrals like cattle.
“Corral C! It’s your turn! 3-2-1 GO!!” Fireworks shot off again. That was our corral. Jen and I looked at each other and hopped the fence to join the mass of runners. I looked around at the bib numbers of the crowd surrounding us.
“Looks like we’re in corral F. This should give us enough time to settle down,” I said to Jen.
I wiped my face with the back of my hand and took several deep breaths. Slowly I began to stretch my calves and hamstrings.
“At least we made it,” Jen said.
The whole morning had been far from ideal, and the phrase “better late than never” had never felt truer.
We managed to enjoy the next fifteen minutes of fireworks as we slowly inched our way to the starting line.
5 hours and 10 minutes later, emotion choked my breathing as I crossed the finish line. The moment was even more significant since it was such a struggle to make it to the starting line that morning.
I can’t help but think about how many areas of life it can be easy to think that we’re so late to the game that we shouldn’t bother to show up. Whether it’s pursuing an education, or coming to faith, or changing a relationship, we can often believe the lie that it’s too late to start. Maybe you feel that the world has moved on without you and you’ll never catch up. Maybe you think you’re too old for “x-y-z.” Or that your health is too far gone. Or the relationship is too damaged. So why even bother to make the effort to show up to the starting line?
But you should. It’s never to late to start pursuing a dream, to fix a relationship, to grow, to change. Starting and trying is better than never attempting whatever it may be that your heart is longing to do.
So go take that class. Sign up for those lessons. Train for that 5k. Make those relational changes.
It’s never too late to start.
The thrill of starting – a video from the marathon starting line!