Friday, September 30, 2011


Last weekend I ran the Akron Marathon. I wasn’t fast, but I wasn’t last. And even if I had been last, I would have been OK with that if I had finished under the allotted six hour time limit. I don’t know what happens at six hours – maybe lions are released to devour those last runners or perhaps cars are encouraged to run them over – but I am guessing that some runners might choose those options over continuing to run.
Those who have completed marathons have been known to make some fantastic claims:
“And now I’m finishing a 26-mile race. Damn! This is better than winning an Emmy.” Oprah Winfrey
“It’s like tacking PhD at the end of your name, getting married, having a baby. Your life will never again be quite the same, and regardless of what the future brings, you can look back and say, ‘I finished a marathon.’” Hal Higdon
“If you want to run, run a mile. If you want to experience another life, run a marathon.” Emil Zatopek
“I’ve learned that finishing a marathon…isn’t just an athletic achievement. It’s a state of mind; a state of mind that says anything is possible.” John Hanc
If you have run a marathon, you can decide whether or not those quotes reflect your own experience. I am still processing how I feel about it all but I know I can relate to this quote:
“I have run a marathon. Okay, so it’s been done before. But not by me.” Cliff Temple
I don’t think a 26.2 tattoo is in my future, although I wondered about the young woman with “13.1” tattooed on the back of each leg. Was I supposed to add those up and get “26.2” which would identify her as a marathoner or was she saying she was a half-marathoner? It wasn’t the first time I have been confused by a tattoo.
I have mixed feelings about buying one of those 26.2 stickers for the back of my car. You know those kinds of stickers, don’t you? Some say MB (Myrtle Beach) or OBX (Outer Banks) or HH (Hilton Head). Those bumper stickers tell the world that the driver likes those places – that they have vacationed there and would like to go back again. But if I put a 26.2 sticker on my car, would I be saying “I ran a marathon one time” or would I be saying “I run marathons all the time.” I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea.
Like most people who have run a marathon, I said to myself during the last few miles: “Never again.” I knew I wasn’t going to quit, but I am not sure whether or not I’ll ever do it again. But doesn’t the Maui Marathon sound great? What about the Big Sur Marathon? Or Napa to Sonoma? That kind of scenery just might be worth it.
One thing I learned last weekend: 26.2 is a long distance. It seemed longer than I imagined it would be. And running 20 miles in training seemed a lot less to me than running 26.2 miles in the race. All I knew is that I had to keep moving ahead. I could not stop.
Some of the things that helped me keep moving ahead were the cheering crowds and the volunteers who handed out water and GU. It would be hard for me to overestimate their importance. A few (like my wife and some church folks) knew me, but most had no idea who I was. But they were there to bear witness to the fact that on a Saturday in September I was attempting to do something very, very hard. Some called out my name (it was on my shirt), while others shouted: “You can do it.” Their belief helped me to believe. And those volunteers handing out water seemed to be living out that parable of Jesus about those who gave food to the hungry and water to the thirsty. By the time I came around, the real athletes were long gone, and I was clearly among “the least of these.” But the volunteers and the crowds welcomed me as if I really counted. That was very powerful.
How have you been supported in those rough times of your life – those times that seemed like they would not end – those times that seemed even tougher than you had imagined they could be? Even though it may have been your burden alone to carry, were there people along the way who offered you what you needed when you needed it – encouragement, support, prayers, cheers, food, water, belief? Did strangers as well as friends assist you? How have others helped you get to a better place?
Don’t underestimate how significant your support can be to someone experiencing a challenging time. That time of testing might be self-imposed or it may have fallen on the person like an avalanche of bad circumstances. The person might be someone you know very well or they may be a virtual stranger to you. But they can use your support. You can’t always bear their load for them (no one could run 26.2 miles for me), but they need to know that they are not alone, that someone is bearing witness to their struggles. You can let them know that they count and that they will get through it. Your belief can help them to believe. You can help them keep moving ahead.
The day after the marathon, a young man named Kevin worshipped with our church. He was from Midland, Michigan and was in Akron to run the marathon. I am guessing that most out of town runners were doing something else rather than being in church the day after running those 26.2 miles. But not Kevin. When he shared his story, I knew why. He told me that the shirt he wore during the marathon was covered with signatures that people from his home church had signed the week before. Those signatures were their way of being present with Kevin as he ran his race far away from home. When he saw those names, he knew that they were praying for him and rooting for him. Those names helped him keep moving ahead. He knew he was not alone on that 26.2 mile course.