I thought it would be a good way to begin 2021 by race-walking a marathon (26.2 miles). I trained for it for about 6 months. I had finished seven marathons previously, from 1998 to 2019.
This marathon was different in several major ways. First, because of Covid-19, I was not sure that we would actually have an in-person race until a few days before the start. Second, this was my first race in which all the participants had to have masks or gaiters and had to have them on during the race whenever we passed someone going in either direction. Since this course was four laps of a park and had several loops within each lap, we were often passing people coming in the other direction. I had to pull my gaiter up and then put it back down hundreds of times. Third, I have never been in a race with a flexible starting time. Participants could start anywhere from 7AM to 11AM. Everyone simply had to finish the race by the 3PM cutoff. In every other race I have done, I have been able to find someone walking (or jogging) my pace and stay with them, typically for ten miles or more. In this race I never had anyone I could walk beside and talk with. That made for a lonely experience.
I started at 7:55 and so I had 7 hours to complete the marathon. My goal was to finish in under 6 hours. Of the seven I had completed, I had completed five of them in less than six hours, including my last one in March of 2019 (5 hours 41 minutes). I was not able to break 6 hours.
It was 37 degrees at the start with 10-15 miles per hour winds, making it feel like around 25 degrees. In every other marathon I have done, I have become warm after 2-3 miles even though the outside temperature has typically been in the thirties. But this time I never warmed up. I had planned to take off my windbreaker and wind pants and gloves after the first 6.55-mile loop. But I was not warm enough for that.
After three laps and 19.65 miles, I knew I would not break 6 hours. I had averaged just under 1 hour and 30 minutes for my first two laps, coming through the mid-point of the marathon in 2 hours and 58 minutes. But my last two laps were around 1 hour and 35 minutes each, or about 5 minutes per lap too slow. I finished in 6 hours and 8 minutes.
But I finished! I finished the race.
One of my favorite Scriptures is 2 Tim 4:6-8. Paul was looking back over his ministry and announcing that he would be martyred in the next few weeks. He said, “The time of my departure is at hand.” What a way to talk about your own death! Then he added, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” He then concluded with words concerning eternal rewards: “Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day [the Bema], and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.”
I received a small medal for finishing the New Year’s Day marathon. I will keep it. But the award I really want is the finisher’s medal that Paul talks about, the crown of righteousness. I want to rule with Christ in the life to come (2 Tim 2:12; Rev 2:26). I want to hear Him say, “Well done, good servant” (Luke 19:17).
Marathons remind me of the Christian life. We are running a race for Christ. If we endure to the end of the race, then we will win the crown. Marathons also remind me of my mortality. It is harder to complete a marathon now than it was twenty-two years ago. I wonder how many more I will be able to do. (I would like to complete at least ten.) And marathons remind me that the race requires the right mindset.
My thanks to Sharon for rooting for me. She left me notes on my shoes, in my car, on the door leading to the garage, and on my breakfast. She encouraged me and prayed for me. She rejoiced with me that I was able to finish—and without any injuries.
In addition, I told a few friends I would be attempting a marathon on January 1. Diane Boring, Bill Fiess, and Mark Gray all prayed for me and asked me after the fact how it went. All encouraged me that I was able to finish.
The prayers and encouragement of other believers is vital for us to persevere in the Christian race as well. Any of us who finish the Christian race and fight the good fight and keep the faith will have had countless people, especially our spouses, who encouraged us and who lifted us up to the throne of grace. We have a lot of other runners beside us in the Christian race. We are not alone in this key race.