“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”
I Thessalonians 5:11
A brisk November morning greeted us. My wife,Tracy, and I stepped out of our hotel into the streets of Philadelphia. A rather restless night of anticipation had led me to this point of pre-race anticipation and we jogged to the starting area at the Philadelphia Museum of Art which has the steps where “Rocky” runs up during his training (you’ll know if you are a Rocky movie fan). I was about to line up with 5,000 other runners at the start of a 26.2 mile race, my first marathon. I was pumped!
"Let’s go" I was thinking as the mass of humanity started slowly down the street. It was so crowded it was like being bumper to bumper during rush hour and the frustration of wanting to get out and hit my pace for the first mile was pressing me to look for openings to dart through. The first mile came and a disappointing 8 minutes was on the clock! I gasped, already a minute behind pace! The crowd however was thinning and I was able to start moving. At mile two, I had made up what was lost and was back on pace, crossing at 14 minutes. I was ready to roll, and I did ….. for about 12 more miles. I found myself settling into a 6:30 pace which felt good, my breathing was comfortable, I was running with a pack and found encouragement from my extended family at mile 4 and from my wife at mile 10. At mile 13, I crossed at 1:27. However, the lack of experience of racing this distance was catching up to me.
Although I had felt good through the first half, I had known that I ran too fast through each mile and I also quickly discovered that the aid stations were only distributing drinks. Tracy and I had thought that I would be able to receive oranges or bananas to replace energy stores in my body that were obviously being taxed. We had made an extremely big error. My body was trained to go at that speed, but it was quickly running out of energy. It started in my thighs. A heavy feeling was creeping in, making each stride harder to accomplish and each mile harder to finish. I was beginning to lose confidence. Perhaps you have been at this point in a season of life; discouraged, frustrated and just not sure how things were going to work out. Little did I know that I had not fallen to the depth of my struggle.
I fell away from my pack. I was slowing through each mile. My thoughts had changed from running a sub 3 hour marathon, to I hope that I can finish and I was only at mile 15. I had 11 miles to go and worse yet, I had exited the city where cheering and family support had carried me and had to run a 13 mile out and back to finish. I began to see the leaders of the race heading back for their finish. Where is that turn around!?! My legs were getting heavier and heavier. I received some casual encouragement from the crowds that we occasionally passed. They didn’t know me, but clapped and encouraged me. I was grateful but the struggle seemed to be winning. I eventually got to the turnaround in this town about 6 miles outside Philadelphia and even better, they had food! I was grabbing oranges like crazy. I didn’t care if I had to slow to eat them. I needed energy! Yes. I might make it.
Something that I had never experienced as a runner was starting to happen to me as I began my way back to the city. My vision began to get blurry. I tried to blink it away thinking that maybe it was just sweat, but it was getting worse. I didn’t know what this was and it took me to a new place; one of great fear and even terror. The runner in front of me was just a blurry image bouncing away. I could now hardly make out the road in front of me. "What was this!? God, help me. I am confused, scared, and hurting all over!" I felt like just collapsing. I vowed to never run a marathon again (I changed my mind on this). This is terrible. I felt like collapsing and just stopping. Surely someone would load me up in an ambulance or something and my family would find me somewhere, somehow!
I slowed to a walk and began to rub my eyes hoping that they would clear up. After a few minutes they seemed to begin to clear and I was approaching the drink station at mile 24. I now had my vision and a fresh drink and was only two miles away from the finish. I was going to make it. A flicker of hope lifted my spirit. I did not care at this point that my race time goals were out the window because I had just walked two miles at 16 minute mile pace! I had just gone through something that I didn’t quite understand, fought the great urge to stop and with God’s help, kept plugging away. "Maybe I could start running" I thought. I tried, but only made it about 4 steps. My legs wouldn’t respond. Trying to get them to move was very painful and I didn’t have the strength alone to work through that pain. I kept walking, thinking about my family who was I’m sure waiting, eagerly anticipating my arrival as hundreds of runners passed me. My projected finish time had come and gone. I had to just keep walking, praying for the strength to finish through the pain. I was sure one of my toe nails was coming off, my legs felt like tree trunks, but I kept going, one step at a time.
I want to encourage you to keep going. If you are struggling with life or things in life, I am writing to tell you that you are not alone and to not give up. Maybe a difficult season has you discouraged but God cares for you and this note is intended to lift your spirit. Maybe you have made poor choices, done poor planning or perhaps something totally independent of you is dragging you down. Being surrounded by people that can speak encouragement into your life and offer Godly support may be what you need. Paul was reminding the church in the first century, you are not alone. He gave them encouragement to take one step at a time; could this be what you need? Get involved and stay involved with a bible believing, Christ following congregation, and let God encourage you through the church. We all need some encouragement from time to time. “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”
I Thessalonians 5:11
A strange thing happened at mile 24.5 of the race. I’ll never forget it. Check in next week for the rest of the story!