Almost two weeks ago, Taryn’s husband and I did something I never would have imagined ten years ago: we ran a half marathon.
Ten years ago the inaugural Fargo Marathon was run on a 32-degree day, complete with snow, rain and the omnipresent North Dakota wind. My future wife and sister-in-law ran the whole marathon while my widowed (future) father-in-law ran the half marathon with another future sister-in-law. I cheered the runners on with my future brothers-in-law and a single nephew while trying to keep warm.
Ten years later, the weather was slightly better (overcast and in the high-30s-to-low-40s) and roles were reversed. Paul and I ran the half marathon, as did my brother-in-law and new mother-in-law. I was the grizzled veteran of the group, having run exactly one Half Marathon, last September. The others were first-timers. Our wives cheered us on with our kids while my father-in-law, slowed by hip surgery, open heart surgery and age, “only” ran the 10k.
About 5 years ago I began talking about running a 10k or maybe a half marathon. Overweight with high blood pressure, I needed a reason to run but all I found were reasons not to. I was too busy, my knees hurt, running wasn’t my “thing”… Last spring I signed up for a 10k and ran my first half marathon in September, happy to finish.
I enjoyed the challenge and the run, so I upped for the Fargo Half Marathon on Mother’s Day weekend. My wife (and the mother of my children) opted not to run, so I had to do this one by myself. Luckily, I had piqued Paul’s interest enough to where he signed up and committed to running. Having an accountability partner, though a few hundred miles away, helped push me forward. At some point in my training, I committed myself to somehow shaving off almost 10 full minutes from my September race time and finishing in under 2 hours. I knew it was going to be hard and quite frankly – I didn’t know if it was possible, but I kept running.
The running was good for me, it was good for my family. It tested my resolve and forced me to be disciplined in my exercise, diet and the pace of my runs. It turned out to be good for my health too.
On race day, Paul and I got to run the first 2.5 miles together before deciding to make our moves. I comfortably passed the 2-hour pacer and continued pulling away. I had to smile to myself as I watched Paul pull even farther ahead – so much for the rookie taking it easy (1:46 finish time for him). I met my wife and Taryn along the course, who were cheering along with the kids, my nieces and nephew. Seeing them along the way provided a huge emotional and mental boost.
However, toward the end of my run the doubts as to whether my goal was possible began to creep in as I tired, my feet began to get sore, my back was aching, and my knee was stiffening. Offering up the aches and pains and struggles only gets you so far – in a two-hour run your biggest opponent is yourself. As I got closer to the finish line, I considered lowering my goal – just crossing the finish line, walk or run, was an accomplishment. There were no more family members along the path, my friends and family weren’t going to finish the race with me or for me – I needed to do it myself, and they’ll be happy for me no matter what time I made.
As the Fargodome got closer, with the finish line inside, I made up my mind to finish strong. I picked up my pace and rounded the north end of the Dome into the home stretch. I opened my stride as much as possible and pushed with all I had left. To my surprise I wasn’t squeaking in at 2 hours exactly – I actually had time to spare and crossed the finish line in a sprint at 1:57, shaving off nearly a full minute per mile and 12 minutes off my last half marathon. I had run well.
The training and the running on race day continue to strike me as incredibly similar to the spiritual life. St. Paul, of course picked up on this 2000 years ago. From the discipline, the communal support, the struggles and the ultimate fact that you’re the only person who can get yourself across the finish line, running is a profound metaphor.
Right before the half marathon started, I prayed for the grace to run well and finished that prayer seeking St. Paul’s intercession. After crossing the finish line and collecting my breath, I was handed my finisher’s medal. on the back was inscribed the following:
“Let us run with perseverance the race that is marked out for us” Hebrews 12:1
We all have a race that only we can run and the finish line for that race is Heaven. Its not easy getting to the finish line and there will be a million aches, pains, distractions and excuses to keep you from getting there. But nobody said it was easy. Just like running a half marathon, you’ll need perseverance and to run so as to win. And remember, “I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me.” Phil 4:13.
St. Paul, pray for us