I'm one of "those guys." One of those guys you see running all over town… in every kind of weather. I run when it's hot enough to fry eggs on the concrete and when it is so cold the ducks freeze to the ice on the pond. I run in the sweltering sun and in the driving rain. If I'm breathing, I'm out the door. I'm one of "those" guys.
And, I do triathlons.
I'm the guy at the beach who swims back and forth just beyond the breakers in the ocean with goggles on my face. I'm one of "those" guys. I am the guy you see riding his bike out in the country. I'm the guy who is in your way when you are hustling out
of town to get to the beach (please, don't hit me). I'm one of "those" guys.
I'm also married to one of "those" girls. She doesn't care much for triathlons, but that pretty little lady can run! If you live in Fayetteville, you've seen her. I run marathons, but that girl runs ultras!
Yea, she's one of "those" girls.
Over the years, I've learned a lot from endurance sports - a lot about running and triathlons, but even more about life. Here are just three lessons I've learned.
1. I've learned that suffering is part of life. That if you let it, it will distract you from your race. The Apostle Paul used the picture of a race to describe the life each of us is called to. You have a race to run and it's not the same race as the other guy. You have a race that is specific to you and I have a race that is specific to me. I'm called to mine and you are called to yours. In that race there will be joy and challenges; there will be opportunities and opposition; there will be temptation and suffering. The same is true of a natural race.
At mile 5, your knee may hurt, but, unless it is a major injury, you can't let that slow you down. You have to run your race. Three miles later, that pain is gone, but a pain in your foot replaces it. Six miles later, that foot pain is no more, but your hip feels like it might fall off. If you fixate on the temporary pain, your mind will convince you it is worse than it is. You might consider stopping or even pulling out of the race. I don't know how many times I have turned to one of my training partners at the start of a marathon and said, "This is gonna hurt." No one wants to suffer (I don't!!!), but the truth is that suffering is part of life. We just can't let our temporary suffering distract us from our race.
2. I've learned that life is best lived in connection with other people. Some people run or workout alone. Not me. I'm at my best when I workout in conjunction with other people. The occasional solo workout is refreshing from time to time, however my closest relationships have been forged in the crucible of training, especially in training for a race. Sharing the same goals, pushing each other to the limit, cheering each other on, these are the things of life! That's what friends do for friends in the race of life! On a long run or a long ride, we talk about God, marriage, kids, money, football, the best deals on cars and personal struggles of every kind. When I'm not
training for a race, I run with my wife. We plan the future, argue until she admits she's wrong (that's a joke - she's almost never wrong), talk though the calendar and solve the problems of the world. The government should pay us. Life is best lived in conjunction with other people.
3. I've learned the power of encouragement. I was running alone (my training partners were far ahead or far behind me) in a marathon a few years back, chasing a goal that was over my head and really hurting. My mind was working against me as I did the math on my time and measured
it against how badly I felt. I rounded a corner and there was a group of volunteers. One lady, who I had never met and who I would likely never see again, looked me straight in the eye and with firm determination called out, "NUMBER 1600, (that was my race number in that
particular race) YOU CAN DO THIS!" I felt the tears immediately well up in my eyes. How did she know I needed that so badly at that moment? Who put her there at the exact spot at that exact time? And, out of all the runners around me, why did she single me out? That encouragement was just what I needed at my lowest point; it carried me through all the way to the end. In the race of life, we are surrounded by people who are struggling in ways they cannot or will not articulate. It's amazing how one word of encouragement can give them the strength to carry on when everything else says they can't make it.
Life is a race and God has called us to run it with joy, in His strength, even when it's hard and we're hurting. He's called us to run it with other people, to build relationships with them along the way. And, He's called us to be generous with our kindness and words of encouragement toward those around us - those we know and those we've never met.
Michael has served as Senior Pastor of 8,000-member Manna Church for 29 years. He has run 19 marathons (26.2 miles) and two Ironman triathlons (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run) and innumerable races and triathlons of shorter distances. His wife Laura has run 16 marathons and two ultra races (50 and 75 miles). They have 8 children and 12 grandchildren.