A week ago I ran in the 2010 edition of the Seattle Marathon, after running the half marathon the previous 3 years. I had tried a full marathon once last year, but it had had a less than satisfactory ending, having to walk most of the last 7 miles. This time I was determined to run the whole course, regardless of how long it took me to finish. I trained hard, running in excess of 1000 miles this year including several 21 mile trips around Dyes Inlet. The primary goal for this event was to run every step of the way, hopefully completing the course in under 5 hours. That meant that I had to average just under 11 minutes a mile, which certainly seemed doable.
Race day dawned cold but dry and with little wind; nearly perfect conditions. I started off at the back of the pack and just plodded along at what I thought was close to an 11 minute pace. Surprisingly, when I passed the first mile mark I found I was just under a 10 minute per mile pace, and at mile 2 I still was. This concerned me somewhat because I knew that going out to fast would kill me later. But I felt really good and relaxed so just continued. At the halfway mark I was still close to a 10 minute mile pace and on pace for a 4 1/2 hour marathon. Unfortunately, it was too good to last. I slowed down some over the next 7 miles and then hit the hilly portion of the course. The last 6 miles have more hills that the previous 20 miles, including a long steep stretch at mile 20. It ended up being the hardest 6 mile stretch of my life, but I kept putting one foot in front of the other and eventually managed to stagger across the finish line in 4 hours and 43 minutes. It was amazing to me how my body could feel so pathetic and at the same time my mind be so thrilled. I had done it, and within a couple of days was looking forward to the next one.
Paul’s use of the runner competing in a race (1 Corinthians 9:24-27) is much more meaningful to me now. While I was hours behind the official winner of the race, I felt like a winner for having entered and finished. The strict training required for that race is applicable for the spiritual race I am running as well. Am I as focused and committed to winning that race as I am a foot race that provides just a finishers medal and a tee shirt? Am I willing to see the race through to the finish, not only in the stretches where I am feeling good, but also in those where I am exhausted and hurting and the end is not yet in sight? How much is it worth to hear the master say “Well done” at the end of this life?