Sweat was dripping everywhere from my aching body as my legs screamed at me. Then, the cheering erupted. High fives and hugs dominated the moment as the gracious volunteer hung the heavy metal around my neck and wrapped me in a “space blanket” on that cold December day. My feet felt like weighty concrete but my heart was as light as a feather.
Perhaps it was the five caffeine-laced gel packs I consumed in my four hour 26.2 mile marathon run that kept my heart racing. Maybe my heart was light because, unlike the first unfortunate marathoner who died after his run, I knew I had successfully survived the brutal assault on mind and body. It’s possible that the light feeling was the result of the St. Jude cancer patients and survivors showing signs in the last mileage that read, “You’re doing this race for me!” Yet, I believe the biggest motivator was the accolades and praises of my training coach that made my runner’s high continue from the Memphis St. Jude Marathon all the way home.
Sure, Tough Mudders were a blast, half-marathons were fun, and sprinting 5K’s to a gold medal win was exciting, but they weren’t the same as that Marathon with Don. My friend Don was at least 10 years my senior and has run in the Boston Marathon, which means he is a high-level runner. His wife was also a cross-country coach, while he raised four cross-country running kids. This guy knew how to train me to run a marathon. Back in the day when I would proclaim, “I’m not a runner and I don’t like to run,” Don took me under his wing and educated me on all things running. I still don’t like to run, but I’m a proud runner today because Don’s patient training pulled me along to the prize and that amazing runner’s high.
Don’s secret training methods weren’t about buying Eliud Kipchoge’s record-breaking shoes or the latest breakout training routine. Don simply pulled me along and encouraged me every step of the way. For months, he texted me frequently to coordinate running schedules together. He helped me rehab through injuries and gently corrected my form, offering little tips along our journey together. During the long runs, when Don could tell my body was starting to give up, my training partner would always run two steps ahead of me, shielding me from the headwind, pacing me with his time, and constantly encouraging me with his words. Even during the race, Don would pull just a couple steps ahead of me, challenging me to quicken my pace, all until the last half mile, when he shifted behind me encouraging me to take the lead and the photo finish glory in the home stretch. I was ecstatic crossing the finish line because I had reached not only my goals but I made my training coach proud.
After multiple races totaling hundreds of miles since my marathon run of 2014, I’ve only been able to duplicate that runner’s high feeling a couple times, with one happening a few weeks ago. That lighthearted feeling lasted all day after the race and well into the week, except this time, it was me who crossed the finish line a half step behind a runner. My son, Gabriel (8th grade), had never run more than a 5-miler before he expressed interest in running the Sawbriar half-marathon in Jamestown, Tennessee. I was worried about whether or not a 14-year- old could accomplish this extensive distance, considering there just aren’t any real middle school cross-country options nearby to train him. So, every week, I monitored Gabriel and his progress while, sharing little tips that I have learned in my years of running. When we ran together on long runs, Gabriel was silently conserving every breath for his lungs and legs while I chattered away about life, running, and God to keep his mind from focusing on his aching legs and burning lungs.
On race day, Gabriel was visibly nervous about his first ever 13.1-mile race, especially since it was rainy and cold, but our prayer together with church elder Ty Webb at the starting line lowered his heart rate and helped set the stage for one of his biggest achievements in pursuit to date. Like my training coach had done for me years ago, I stayed two steps ahead for the first 12.5 miles. Then, as we sprinted to the finish line, my smile lengthened and my heart skipped a beat as I watched Gabriel out-run me by a half step, accepting the cheers, hugs, and high fives of family and friends. My achievement in the Sawbriar Half was not my personal record, but I finally duplicated that amazing runner’s high of 2014 as Gabriel lifted his award for first place in the under 18 division.
Friends, we may not all be called to run the road, but we are called in this life to be like a training coach like Don, patiently pulling other people to the prize. You may be called to focus on your family as you help a child set and reach their goals in family, education, or their career. Your calling may be toward a young person at church as you pull, train, and cheer them to reaching spiritual milestones. A struggling family in the community may be your aim as you patiently guide them through the trials of life. Whoever it is, remember that reaching those same milestones you’ve already eclipsed takes patient time in training, helpful and positive tips from your experience, and a lot of encouragement along the way. There are few greater joys than helping others succeed.
Now, who are you going to patiently pull to the prize?
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” – Hebrews 12:1