The Race Set Before You
Today in church, I was reminded of the hardest marathon I have ever run. We are studying Hebrews 12, where the writer advises us to prepare for the race set before us.
We are reminded of those who have gone before us and are now our witnesses. We can gain comfort by reading their words in scripture because they ran their race and endured to the end where they earned their imperishable crown.
As I sat there listening to our pastor teach, I couldn't help but remember the race and how it's a perfect analogy for what the writer of Hebrews meant...
Good shoes, a good training plan, and good health are needed for marathon training. I live in Phoenix, so an October marathon meant training all summer.
All summer in Phoenix.
Yuck. What was I thinking?? I did it, but swore I'd never do that again.
Signing up for a marathon requires commitment, but to register for the most popular marathon in America requires a little bit of luck. Because the Marine Corps Marathon is so popular, you have to enter the lottery and hope your name is selected.
I was selected that March of 2014!
My father was a Marine and so was my husband. I was a Marine Corps wife, so the Corps means something to me. But I knew running the marathon was nothing compared to what they had endured during boot camp. I had to finish for them because they finished for us.
My uncle had run the race before, so he advised me of the course. "It's hilly, so prepare..." and I did prepare. But you can't really know the course until you are on it.
Training for a race always has obstacles to face and this one was no different. During my summer training, I did run up hills to prepare, and in the process blew out one calf muscles. I couldn't even run half a mile! As I wallowed in self pity, I knew there had to be something that could treat such an injury. I sought out the treatment, followed doctor's orders and rode my bike instead of running. For 9 days, I didn't run. That's torture for someone in training! But obeying doctor's orders paid off and I was able to resume running on schedule.
But that wouldn't be the only obstacle in the way...
The night before the race we were in a car accident. Yes, the night before. Blessedly, no one in our vehicle was hurt. The driver at fault was hurt and flown to the hospital. We were a little shaken up and exhausted from sightseeing in DC all day, but I went to bed and awoke rested and ready to head to the staring line.
The next obstacle? Finding the starting line. Sigh.
Washington DC is a BIG city and because this race is so popular, there were 30,000 people also trying to find the starting line. After almost 2 hours of driving and searching, we finally found the place to park and the shuttle to take us to the starting line. I'm so glad my husband was with me. I would have talked myself out of the whole thing, I was so stressed!
But we made it to the start and that alone felt like a huge accomplishment! And then it dawned on me that I still had to run 26.2 miles. Oh yeah!
The Race Set Before Me
Finally, I was on the course. Yes, it was hilly just like my uncle had warned. In fact, as we ran through Georgetown, we had 7 miles of hills! But oh how I loved that run. Georgetown was spectacularly beautiful with the architecture, the little shops that lined the route, and the fall leaves fluttering through the air. And the cool air! Mind you, it was still about 104 degrees back home, but it was a balmy 60 degrees that morning. Awwww....
As we entered DC, we ran by the Lincoln Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, and headed toward the Washington Monument. My legs began to ache. I knew I was getting weary. Of course, my body was revolting and wanted to quit.
And that's when we entered "Memorial Way" where the Gold Star Moms are out, encouraging us to run our race. Here they were to encourage us when we should have been hugging them! It was moving.
Enlarged photographs of fallen Marines lined the route. Some were pictured holding their babies, others were in combat fatigues, and others were pictured in civilian clothes just grinning in life. As I gazed into their young faces, a surge of pride rushed through me. Tears filled my eyes and I knew I couldn't quit. I wouldn't quit. I had to keep going.
I had to keep going for all of them.
The mantra during the whole race is "Beat the Bridge" because if you don't, you'll be stuck on the other side of the draw bridge waiting for a ferry to come take you to the rest of the race! No one wants that, so I pushed it and ran my fastest 20 miles ever. I made it to the bridge and crossed it on time.
The last 6 miles were excruciating because all my energy was gone. But, as usual, there's one last surge of energy at the end and I pushed through. When you approach the finish line, the whole area is full of Marines cheering you on. Yes, I know they are probably ordered to be there on a Sunday morning, but they aren't ordered to clap or cheer. Yet, they do. They encouraged us on even though they themselves had endured boot camp for 13 weeks. No one cheered them on.
Finally, I could hear the cheers and the music and that's when I knew I was near the end. One last hill greets you at the end (leave it to the Marines to put in one last hill at the end...) complete with signs painted on the ground encouraging us on:
Beat the Hill!
"Okay, I'll dig deep. I'll dig deep.." I thought to myself and pumped my arms. But after a while, it seemed like the hill went on forever!
"Who put this hill here?" I huffed. "Who's idea was it to have this stupid hill here at the finish? I hate this hill!"
One last sign was painted on the ground:
Funny Marines. Hilarious.
There it was, the finish line. As I crossed, I saw my husband and smiled for a few photos then made my way to where a Marine Corps officer waited with a medal. He placed it around my neck and I couldn't help but cry.
I cried because it was over, because he was so young, and I cried because so many Marines didn't make it home.
When you finish the Marine Corps Marathon, you finish at Arlington. You finish at the base of the Iwo Jima Memorial, that stalwart statue that epitomizes the fortitude and reputation of the United States Marine Corps.
I cried because what I had just endured was nothing in comparison to what that Marine, what my father, and what my husband had endured to become Marines and have that eagle, globe, and anchor pinned to their uniforms. They endured marathons everyday during boot camp: physical and mental marathons that they couldn't quit if they were to become Marines.
I was overwhelmed with gratefulness for all those who had endured and that my race was finally...finally...over.
And that's what the writer of Hebrews meant.
We have the martyrs and the saints who endured the race of life all around us, encouraging us to continue. We have their testimonies to read so we can know the course and all that it entails.
But even so, those who came before us do not want us to focus on them. Like those Gold Star Moms cheering us on, they are there to point you to the finish line where the real reward lies.
Those who came before us point us toward Jesus, who endured so much more than we ever will.
While I was running the marathon, the streets were lined with people cheering us on. Imagine enduring such a race with people spitting on you, threatening to kill you, mocking you, and throwing stones at you.
Jesus endured that and more.
I had my husband at the finish line. Jesus was abandoned by His friends at His finish line.
Our life race is unique to us all. You could ask 100 marathon runners about their experience and you'd get 100 different stories. We shouldn't compare our races nor boast in them. Instead, we should use our races to encourage those who come after us. Like those marathon coaches who run back to find their teammates and encourage them, explaining what's to come on the course and informing them of water stops up ahead.
Those of us who have experienced much must use our testimonies to encourage others. After the race, I couldn't imagine keeping quiet about it. I am so glad I spoke up in Bible Study today because my story of completing the Marine Corps Marathon analogy encouraged many in attendance.
Looking to Jesus
The whole point of running the marathon for me was to pay tribute to the Marines. But the whole point of running this race called life is to focus on Christ waiting for us at the end.
And when He places that imperishable crown onto our heads, we will immediately remove it and place it at His feet in adoration and worship because, as the author and finisher of our faith, He, alone, has earned it.
What I have learned?
Endure to the end.
Run the race that is set before you.
Looking, always, to the Savior at the finish line.