Running on Faith: The Marathon

When you train for a marathon, there\’s a lot of stuff you need to account for. You\’ve got to train like crazy to get your body ready for the thing. You have to mentally prepare yourself for being on the road for several hours. You have to plan what to wear, given the fact that marathons here in Colorado might have huge changes in temperature and weather. You need to make sure your running bib\’s just right, you\’ve got enough food in your pockets and you\’ve put Vaseline on anything that could conceivably chafe.

Oh, and it helps to bring your running shoes.

Emily, my daughter, forgot hers. We were staying overnight in Denver for the Colfax Marathon–her first–and she brought everything else she might ever need for this or any other marathon: hats, gloves, shorts, sweatpants, Ibuprofen, Pepto-Bismol and safety pins. But she left her running shoes at home. She discovered it at 4:30 a.m., just 5 minutes before we were to drive to the starting line.

When you\’re running for 26 miles, shoes are a big deal. Sure, I\’ve heard of folks who run marathons barefoot and say it\’s the best. But let\’s face it: Those people are crazy. When you\’ve trained six months for one running event, you know how cantankerous your feet can get. The least you can do is give them some expensive shoes in which to cantanker.

She must\’ve felt sick when she figured out her mistake. I know I did. Months of training, I thought. Her first marathon, down the tubes, I thought. There\’s no way she\’s going to be able to finish. No way.

What I actually said was, \”Oh.\” And then, \”That\’s kind of a bummer.\”

Because really, at that point, what can you do? You\’ve either got to race or go home, and we weren\’t about to go home. The last thing Emily needed was her father to freak out.

Fortunately, my wife had a pair of old sneakers with her (pictured above, at the starting line) –just a size-and-a-half smaller than Emily typically wears. Sure, they weren\’t the most comfortable things. Sure, they were five years old and had the tread of a 1953 inner tube. But they were a better alternative than Emily\’s flip-flops.

For the last few months, I\’ve talked about how training for a marathon reminds me sometimes of our journey of faith. It requires discipline. Patience. We might suffer aches and pains along the way. And we get to experience a lot of joy, too: The gentle thrill of running, the fun of spending concentrated hours with someone where all you can do is talk, the wonderful feeling you get when a long training run is over.

Most importantly, you have the thrill of knowing, in the end, you\’ve done something pretty worthwhile. You\’ve been a part of something pretty special.

And when you\’re training for a marathon, the actual marathon is, you know, kind of a big deal: The proverbial carrot at the end of the stick, the fresh-baked donut after a six-hour hike on Pikes Peak. In my little catalog of running/faith metaphors, finishing a marathon would be, I suppose, akin to getting to heaven–the shiny medal being the equivalent of God telling you, \”Well done, good and faithful servant.\”(Only when we reach heaven, I hope we won\’t be quite as sweaty and achey.)

I was not really prepared to figure out a metaphor for forgetting one\’s shoes. But maybe I should\’ve. After all, I\’m sure she\’s not the first. Unexpected things happen to lots of runners. I know one runner who tripped during a marathon and knocked out a couple of teeth–and still managed to finish. I knew another who started bleeding from his nipples. (Yeah, remember that Vaseline? Important stuff.)

Maybe the lesson here is that, sometimes when things go a little crazy–either through your fault or just by happenstance–we\’ve got to lean on God. There\’s nothing more we can do. We\’ve put in the time and effort and energy. But in the end, success or failure is out of our hands. We must sit back, enjoy the experience and let God do His thing.

Those moments can be liberating, in a way. We cling so tightly to our own agendas and place so much trust in our own plans. it\’s a strangely great feeling to unclench our hands and open them to the heavens, ready to catch what we may.

When I heard Emily left her shoes, what I said was, \”Oh.\” Perhaps that translates to, \”Thy will be done.\”

The story has a happy ending, by the way. Emily\’s substitute shoes carried her through all 26.2 miles. She ran almost the entire way. And while her feet were hurting by the end, they didn\’t hurt nearly as much as I feared. Be it by God\’s grace or the wonderful resiliency of 19-year-old feet or a combination of both, Em made it to the finish line and accepted her well-earned medal. If I hadn\’t been so tired myself, I would\’ve hoisted her over my head in celebration.

The finish line didn\’t look anything like heaven for either of us. But for her, two words seemed quite appropriate: Well done.

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