Saturday, April 17, 2010
You train. You get up early and you stay out late. The training is actually a part of the race. But it’s the portion of the race that no one but God sees or appreciates. You train so that you can finish the race and not be the guy at mile ten that the EMTs were loading into the aid-van.
Race day arrives and you realize that your training was totally inadequate. You didn’t eat right, you were undisciplined, unfocused and now you are unprepared. So you pray confessing your sloth and indolence and throwing yourself wholly upon the mercies of the One who made your legs, ligaments and lungs.
You run a course that has already been marked out for you. There’s very little mystery here and except for some small maneuvering from side to side when passing, there is absolutely no room for creativity. For the most part the route is clearly marked and at the points where there might be some doubt as to where to go, a smiling volunteer waves his arms and directs your feet “in the right paths.”
To deviate from the race course is to be disqualified. You can train, run, and cross the finish line. But if you don’t submit yourself to the map and instructions they emailed you, and follow the course they marked out with orange cones and yellow tape then your “finish” is recorded as a "DNF" (did-not-finish) and there is no prize for you.
You don’t run alone. You are always in sight of other runners. Sometimes you use the person in front of you to help you run a steady pace. And sometimes the person directly behind you is using you for the same. Sometimes you are spurred-on to catch up with the person in front of you. And sometimes you run faster to stay ahead of those behind you. It changes from minute to minute. But you are never running alone.
It hurts to run the race. And the hurt keeps moving around. Sometimes it’s your feet. Sometimes it’s your calves. Sometimes it’s your side. And sometimes it feels like your whole body is one big knot-o'-pain. But you keep running because this is why you trained. You trained so that you could keep going when your body says “enough.” You trained so that you could keep chugging away even when your tortured limbs are begging you to quit. You keep running because you want the prize.
You are the recipient of many kindnesses. Grace permeates the race. The course is dotted with people, some whom you know, and some you’ve never met. They give you water for free and Gatorade at no cost to your sweaty little self. And at the half-way mark they give you a small squeeze-tube of chocolate energy-gel. And always with a smile and words of encouragement: “Good job!” “Keep going!” “You can do it.” By the looks of these folk, they are racers too. But not today. Today they want you to finish your race and are glad to be there for you. They’ll race next time.
Music is critical. I am carried and calmed, energized and enthused by the words and music thumping in my ears. I cannot imagine running without music and stare in disbelief at the music-less runners around me. My iPod is strategically loaded with music to pump me up and prod me on. I find my slackening pace quickening to the likes of: “It’s all God’s children singing Glory, glory, hallelujah He reigns...Feeling stronger everyday…Route 66…I’m traveling down the road and I’m flirting with disaster…Life is a highway…C’mon and take a free ride…Roll on down the highway…Kryptonite…Vertigo…C'mon baby finish what you started…Smokin’”.
Miles eleven, twelve and thirteen are brutal. But the knowledge that the race is almost over, the prize almost won and the pain almost relieved, keeps you going. The pain is now at its peak, but it’s okay. Rest, relief and the prize are now within sight. You pass two guys half your age and smile at what it costs them to be passed by an “old guy.” But, you see, the race doesn’t always go to the strongest. Quite often it goes to the ones who are most accustomed to suffering.
The home stretch is, quite appropriately, a bridge; a bridge that takes the runners up from the realm of pain and into the realm of bliss; up from the lowlands of Riverfront Park to what now seems like the Celestial City of Wenatchee. There is no coasting at the end of the race, no “resting on one’s laurels.” It is a “fight to the finish” and a test of the runner’s resolve right up to the last hundred yards. But a few strides after the crest of the bridge the crowd becomes visible and the sound of their cheers becomes audible. As soon as the finish line comes into view the pain recedes and then, a few moments later, is forgotten altogether.
As you cross the finish line (and this was quite unexpected) your name is called over the loud-speakers. Someone has been keeping track of your progress around the course. Someone in charge of the race knows who you are, and as your tired feet cross the blue pad calls out your name. And seconds afterwards you are greeted by people that love you and are there to rejoice with you at the completion of your race. Some are simply there for love’s sake, and some have already completed their races and lingered at the finish line just to see you cross it.
(2 Timothy 4:7-8) I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.