Monday, May 22, 2006

If you look closely enough at the sea of faces on the right, up in the upper left hand corner, you might be able to spot me. Click on the image to see a larger image. I'm there in the top part of the picture, above the START sign, wearing a bright orange top and a white running cap. Can't see me? That's okay, because I was never able to clearly identify myself either. And it's probably better that way...

I don't know know what I fully expected at the start, middle or finish of my first marathon, but there are several important lessons that I was reminded of along the way. And they are lessons you and I take with us and learn and relearn through every day of our life.

26.2 miles is a long way... or so I thought. Don't get me wrong, it's a long way by any standard, but it is much more manageable when you take your eye off the entire course and concentrate on that portion of the course that is just ahead of you. So often we are defeated by our own self because we spend too much time looking at the entire mountain of responsibilities, tasks, obligations, etc., rather than looking at that next footstep that will get us over the upcoming ridge.

When I trained to participate in this first marathon, I didn't think about the twelve weeks of tiered training or the multiple +15-mile progressive runs I would have to take. I took the trainings one at a time and I approached each mile of the marathon in the same fashion. It still amazes me how much ground you can cover when you simply live in the here and now.

The human body isn't meant to complete such a distance... or so I thought. In the 1980s I used to run quite a bit and the media was flooded with articles of how distance running was detrimental to the human body (i.e. impact on the knees, ankles, joints., etc.). Low-impact aerobics and in-line skating came on the national scene, many of us got busy and running took to the sidelines. Now research continues to prove that the human body, as a biomechanical machine, has the ability to rebuild itself and sustain itself over long distances. In Life, we often think that we're not meant to "stay in it for the long haul." In other words, there is always going to be some sort of irritation, pain and sorrow in Life's travels, but we were built to sustain ourselves through it. As author Max Lucado states, when he writes of our sometimes uncomfortable Life journey, "...This language we speak, it's not ours. This body we wear, it isn't us. And the world we live in, it isn't home." Life's race lies ahead for each of us and rest assured we can complete just such a distance.

Running a marathon is a personal accomplishment... or so I thought. This statement would seem true as there is no one else who is going to run the distance for you. It's all up to you... well, in a way. Except you have to take in account all those friends and family members supporting and praying for you. As well, you have to add to the list your family, who sacrificed with your absence while you were on your training runs and put up with your exercise regime and mood swings. As well, don't forget all the anonymous volunteers and well wishers along the street throughout the marathon route. A friendly smile, a cheer of "keep going" and "it'll be okay," and a selfless offering of water, Gatorade or Gu gel can do wonders to a weary body and soul along the race. For me, I was touched and motivated by two specific moments in the marathon: an ongoing conversation with a female runner from Minneapolis while we paced each other from Miles 6 through 14 and my brother-in-law Tim Jones who ran with me for 100 yards during Mile 25, encouraging me in those final steps. Could I have finished the race in total isolation of others? Most likely, but what a boring and uneventful journey it would have been. Life is so similar, my friend, to a marathon's demands. We all need family, friends and strangers cheering us on all along the way. And we need to be a cheerleader for all we meet, for we have no idea how difficult Life's race has become for each person we meet. We can boost the spirit by each smile, encouraging word and selfless act.

These are just a few of the lessons that I have dwelled on, long after crossing the finish line and my muscles have loosened. And the entire experience has touched me deeply.

Now take a moment again to see if you can identify me in the above picture. Never mind, you won't be able to find me and that's just the way it should be. We are a diverse people, indistinguishable from one another, in Life's race - simply running and cheering, cheering and running. And the point of the overall race is simply to finish. It's a personal and communal experience for those of us running and for those of us cheering on those running. Timed paces won't matter three weeks from now. Finish places won't be remembered a year from now. But those we've cheered on and those who have cheered us on will be taken with us to that final finish line. And at that point, we are all winners.