13.1 Miles and Goal Achieved

At a little after 7:30 am this morning, I started running the Rock the Parkway Half Marathon. Somewhere around mile 9, I thought my body was going to cease to function. Heavy legged, I kept trudging through the miles, desperately wanting to slow down but perhaps more desperately wanting to make that sub-2:00 goal.

2015 Rock the ParkwayLet’s be clear. A two-hour half marathon is not going to get me a shoe endorsement contract. I won’t be picking up any awards even in my age group. Plenty of guys over the age of 50 can run long distances faster than me. But a two-hour half marathon is something I couldn’t have thought about two years ago. It’s 11:19 better than I did ten months ago. (At this rate of improvement, by the way, I’ll hold the world record in this distance in five years.)

When you’re running a two-hour race and obeying the rules against earbuds, you have a lot of time to think, and this morning I put that time to good use. It occurred to me that running such an event is something like a metaphor for the Christian life. The parable of the sower could be adapted as the parable of the runner.

Some of us run fast, like the guy who won this morning at 1:07; some of us are slow, maybe still on the course now as the shadows gather outside. But the key to Christian life is that we prepare ourselves to run our best race and then keep the legs turning over even when lungs and heart and muscles scream for us to stop.

In his second letter to Timothy, Paul uses this same metaphor, recognizing that he is approaching the “finish line” of his life:

For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness,which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:6-8)

The key to this understanding of living in Christ is that a PR, a prize, or an impressive finish time isn’t the key thing–which is really good news to me. Whether you run your race of life fast or slow, a long distance or short doesn’t really matter. What matters is that you run your best race, that you keep pushing on toward the prize even when the temptation to stopping screams into ever cell of your life.

That’s what I had time to think this morning.

Let Mercy Lead

Pointed the wrong way at the starting line of the 2015 Great Plains 10K.
Pointed the wrong way at the starting line of the 2015 Great Plains 10K.

Tomorrow morning, just under twenty-four hours from right now, I’ll be crossing the starting line of the Rock the Parkway Half Marathon, my second race at that distance. A year ago, when I ran Hospital Hill, I basically just wanted to finish respectably. This year, I will feel that I have dropped the ball–or perhaps the baton–if I don’t break two hours. Succeed or fail, I’ll report here tomorrow.

On my longest training run, thirteen days ago, I did something I rarely do when running outside. I listened to music. Rich Mullins, a favorite of mine for many years, sang a song that I’d never really thought about.

The lyrics struck me powerfully enough as I made my way through my last couple of miles that I replayed the track. Here’s the chorus of “Let Mercy Lead.”

Let mercy lead
Let love be the strength in your legs
And in every footprint that you leave
There’ll be a drop of grace

Is there a better lyric for a Christian runner? My prayer for tomorrow and for my every endeavor is that the strength in my legs is not my strength and that the legacy of my footprints is not simply my work.

Should the first verse and chorus of that song not hook you, the second verse surely will:

You’ll run the race
That takes us way beyond
All our trials and all our failures
And all the good we dream of
But you can’t see yet where it is you’re heading
But one day you’ll see the face of love

I know where my 13.1 miles will end tomorrow, hopefully somewhere before 9:30 am, but I do not know the destination of the truly important race I am running. That doesn’t matter. Tomorrow’s race is more of a ritual, an outward symbol of an inward struggle. I can run as far and as fast as I need to when I’m sharing the road with someone who authored the mercy that will lead and the love that will strengthen me.