It’s been a while since I wrote a blog post, and I must say…I’ve missed you! Hopefully you all have missed me, too, and have been wondering where the heck I’ve been! I fell off the writing wagon a couple of months ago when I began working on a time-intensive project for the young people in my church. Even though I was not writing for the blog, I was writing a lot in that project, so hopefully, my writing skills have not disintegrated to the point of un-readable.
To get back in the swing of writing, I thought I would share a new running experience that—as usual—taught me something about life.
Back in January, I wrote a detailed summation of my fitness goals for the year, explaining not only what my goals were, but also how I arrived at my numbers (see Increasing Your Fitness Level Without Killing Yourself).
One of my goals this year is to run two half-marathons—preferably in different states and with a beautiful course—one in the Spring, one in Fall.
I did a lot of web research on the multitude of half-marathons in the U.S., and settled on an inviting one in my neighboring state of Missouri. I put out the word amongst my friends to see if anyone would like to join me, and I got three takers. Next, all I had to do was train—that is, run, run, run, incrementally adding a little more mileage each week to my “long runs” for about six weeks before the race.
There was a more convenient half-marathon scheduled in my local area the month before the Missouri race. However, since I had already participated in that race—it was the first “half” I ever ran back in 2011—I opted out of it, focusing instead on my desire to run a half in as many states as I could rack up.
Most organized races offer several options for participation, such as a 5K, a half-marathon, a marathon relay, and a full marathon. Several of my friends started talking about doing the local relay, which required four people to run four separate “legs” of a marathon. My first response when the invitation was put out to take part in the relay was dismissive, as I already had plans to run the half in Missouri the next month… And I would not be deterred from my plan.
And then the light came on! In my head, that is. What was I thinking???
Getting My Priorities Straight
I realized how askew my thinking was. Here I was putting my “goals” before relationship. The relay provided a great opportunity to do something healthy and fun and relational—and with people that I love! And I was going to miss it because of some optional goal? In fact, what would keep me from doing both the relay and the half? The relay distance fit perfectly in my training plan for the half. (Again, what was I thinking?!?!)
After seeing the error of my ways, I jumped on board. Someone had created a private group on Facebook for discussion about the various races, and for those doing the relay, it served as a forum to divide up into teams. I posted that I would like to be on a relay team, but only with those who had no ambitions for winning. This was, after all, about building relationship and not creating enemies. I didn’t want to relay with anyone who would be mad at me for being so slow!
There were three quick responders of like mind: my daughter, Misty, and my friends Jerusha and Jessica. To register, we had to name our team. We called ourselves the Internal Cheetahs. Meaning, of course, that in our hearts, we were awesome, elite, speedy athletes, but externally (in the real world)—well, let’s just say we were committed to finishing our respective legs of the relay (See Self-Perception for a fun anecdote on the contradiction between who we are and who we often think we are).
Running and Relationships
The day before the race, my team and I met up at the race expo to pick up our number bibs. After that, we drove the course as best we could (much of it was on trails that were off-road), locating the hand-off points where one’s race would end, and another’s would begin. This, in itself, was relationship building, as it takes a while to drive a 26-mile course.
The next morning, we met bright and early at the race site and milled in the crowd, trying to stay warm, while awaiting the start of the race. Misty was our starter, so we cheered her off, and then the rest of us, along with Misty’s children and another relay team member, Chanly, rushed back to the van to drive to a location about midway in her run route to cheer her on again.
This strategy was doubly fun because we had other friends on different relay teams and in the half marathon whom we got to cheer, as well. After Misty ran past us, and we had sufficiently shouted her onward and forward, we rushed back to the van and headed to the first hand-off point where Jerusha would be taking off.
We repeated this scenario—driving to some point mid-course for both Jerusha and Jessica and boisterously cheering them on—before rushing to the next hand-off point. I was the finisher, and most of my run was off-road (on a running/biking trail), so there was not a good place to drive to, cheer me on, and still make it to the finish line in time for my finish. However, my son and daughter-in-law, Jeff and Casie, had run the half-marathon that day, and they were long done before I was. They were waiting for me within a mile and a half of the finish, and as I approached, they started clapping and cheering for me. It definitely brought a smile to my face (and I’ve learned that smiling while running supposedly makes it easier). It gave me just the spark I needed to catch my “finishing” wind.
The cool thing about the course of this particular race is that the grand finale—the last hundred yards or so—is downhill. A fairly steep downhill, in fact. So even if you’re feeling pretty beat, you can sort of relax and let gravity take over! The not-so-cool thing is that on the other side of that steep decline is an equally steep incline—right at the end of a several-mile run. Not a happy sight for a weary runner.
I confess; I walked that hill. The whole time I was doing so, I was thinking about the finish line that was just beyond my sight. When I reached the top of the hill, I resumed a slow jog. By the time I started the decline, I could see, far off in the distance, the finish line. Lots of people were lined up on either side of the trail creating a kind of chute for runners to pass through just before crossing the line. I was still so far away that I couldn’t make out any of the faces, but I knew that some of the people in that crowd were my people.
My pace started to pick up. A new surge of energy began to flow within me. Someone in that “chute” of people stepped from the sidelines and pumped their arms in victory, shouting something indiscernible (I was too far away to hear), but I knew it was encouragement, I knew it was for me. I could feel the energy from my friends’ good wishes, from their enthusiasm and encouragement, from their mere presence at that finish line.
My pace increased yet a little more as I reached the lines of people. My well-wishers extended their hands for me to slap as I ran past, still cheering me on. And I finished strong.
What I Learned
1. I learned again the joy of collaborating with a team of people for a common goal.
I run several days of every week by myself, at my own pace, thinking my own thoughts. So the sense of community that I felt in this relay was in contrast to my usual running style. This lesson, of course, is an allegory of living life in community with people who have the same vision, the same values, the same “finish line” as me. Even when I “run” alone, I know that I am part of a bigger picture.
2. I learned the power of being cheered on.
As an “independent runner” most of the time, you wouldn’t think this would be of particular significance to me, but it was! My son, Jeff, a beneficiary of our traveling cheer team, also commented on how meaningful it was, and like me, he too was surprised at the positive effect it had on him.
3. Once again, I was impressed with that strong conviction that crossing the finish line made the race worth the work.
When you’re in the midst of the race—feet aching, heart pounding, muscles tensing—you press on because you have a goal. And because you don’t want to be a quitter. And in my case, because I was part of a team, I didn’t want to let my teammates down. Amazingly, as you near the finish line, it’s as if all those aches and pains and stresses on your body recede into the background, and you experience a fresh surge of energy for finishing strong. And you’re always glad you did!
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: running is an excellent allegory of life (See My Running Story). It’s a parable for how to live and how to finish. And thankfully, the “real race” is more of a relay than a loner run. We’re not in it alone.
Do you share life with people of like values and vision?