Monday, May 12, 2008

It is the most compelling aspect of our human nature: all great adventures begin and are interwoven with the story. It's the personal story that motivates the adventure, fuels the journey and focuses the fortitude needed along the way. And unless a person walks through their days with reckless abandon and a complete lack of vision, she/he has just such a story worthy to be heard.

In my case, I can't truly pinpoint the opening paragraph of my story, but I know that several chapters down the road, it is story that is still unfolding, even as I prepare for my next marathon...

This weekend marks the fourth annual Fargo Marathon in Fargo, ND. It is a variety of races - from kids race to the grueling 26.2-mile marathon - that have witnessed all weather formations from snow to sunshine. It is also a gala event that in 2005 witnessed 2752 runners and presently, in 2008, has grown to over 11,000 runners. And each of them with their personal story to share.

They come from all corners of the United States, neighboring Canada and worldwide to run what many runners refer to as a course that is "fast, flat and friendly." However, beyond fathoming all the calories burned, miles pounded, Gu gel consumed and blisters popped, family members and friends of all these runners (including my own) continue to pose the question, “Why do it? Why come all this way to put yourself through this grueling adventure?”

The question into why one would engage in running is a personal inquiry that needs to be answered by each trail and highway sojourner... and it's written between the lines of their story. Some might surmise it is the subconscious need to run away from one’s personal dilemmas, obstacles and challenges of Life. Others might theorize that is the conscious act of substituting the physical race with those emotional/social “races” one cannot seem to overcome in Life. It has been along the quiet road of the thousands of miles I've logged in the past five years alone, where I came to the realization that my fellow runners/storytellers and I are running because of those personal challenges and emotional races of our life. It's an integral part of our personal story.

We come together to run because of loved ones. And personal challenges. And difficult hardships. And glorious dreams. But we run to face them head-on; to apply the seed of our accomplishment that germinated in a particular race on a particular day to so many other areas of our life. We run in spite our personal challenges and despite our difficult hardships. We run to ignite our glorious dreams and loved ones. We run to again redeem that youthful spirit that remains nestled in each of us. This is our adventure, our gauntlet, our cause and our legacy. For all these reasons because and so many more, perhaps, along all these miles, we were simply seeking a small morsel of personal redemption on the run.

To this day, one of my most endearing stories is that of a middle-aged male runner from Hawaii. He took the time to sign up early in 2007 so that he would be registered and adequately trained for the January 2008 Disneyworld Marathon. But with all great stories, the plot usually changes... and often times, without our permission...

Early in his marathon training, this gentleman, I believe, was the victim of an automobile accident that left him without legs, from the knees down. For many people, this might well be the last chapter of their story. But for this gentleman, it was the beginning of another chapter of a story that is far from over. He lined up on that early January morning in 2008 with all of his fellow marathoners. For he had committed himself to enter the Disneyworld Marathon and finish it. And finish it, he did, while captaining the racing wheelchair that took him across the finish line. That is truly a story of determination, fortitude and faith - and a story that must transcend into so many areas of his life and the lives of those with whom he shares his story.

Most recently, I had the opportunity to speak with a gifted and optimistic middle-aged teacher at my son's elementary school who has signed up to run the Fargo Half-Marathon this weekend. Her story is that of optimism, perseverance and hope. Following a community training run, she shared with me that her goal is simply to finish the half-marathon; just finish it. How many half-marathons had she run before? None, this will be her first. No, not her first half-marathon. It will be the first race she has ever entered. And her running partner? It will be the multiple sclerosis that has taken hold of her body. What a glorious and hopeful story that will continue to unfold in this teacher's life this weekend... and beyond...

My friend, you don't need to sprint, run or jog in order have a story. Your daily actions and journey are already penning the words. Each day becomes your legacy. Each challenge becomes a climax within a paragraph. Each crossroad becomes the opening lines in a new life chapter. Whether you realize it or not, that personal story is already being authored by you.

In the marathon or half-marathon race, pace is everything. Start out too fast and you won't have enough to see you through. Start out too slow and you're out on the course for too long and wasting too much energy along the way. It's a lot like our personal life and our personal story. This week I am re-reminded of a wonderfully short quote that simply states, "Life: It's a marathon, not a sprint." In that spirit, take your time to become more familiar than you ever have of the story that is unfolding within and around you, my friend.

As I line up again on the starting line of the annual Fargo Marathon, I will quickly remind myself of the glorious - and mostly unspoken - stories that are gathered around me. Pressing against one another on University Drive in those early morning brisk temperatures, I will almost be able to hear those stories speak. And when the gun goes off and the race begins, a new page will turn for each of us and the story will continue - built on all the chapters before.

For those of you standing on the sidelines and sidewalks cheering, watch carefully, and you may very see the runners' story in their eyes and determination.

To all my fellow runners and authors of their story, Godspeed and success in your journey.

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