Every footstep was taking me further away from where I had started. Looking down the winding road in front of me, the asphalt seemed to disappear into eternity. Little ants of people dotted the path to the destination I had to reach before I could return home. Not only did the road continue to stretch out like a heavy piece of silly putty on a hot day, but the pain in my legs began to bring doubt as to whether I would be able to continue the forward progress. After all, I was only 6 miles into the marathon and the turnaround was still 7.1 miles away over several more hills.
I decided in order to make it to my destination; I would have to bite off smaller goals. Running between aid stations seemed like a feasible way to make slow progress. One mile at a time I sledged through the run, further intensifying the pain in my legs and hips.
Several breakdowns later I saw a growing crowd of people which was a sure sign that the turnaround was near. I would soon be heading home. That’s when it all changed for me.
The pain in my legs suddenly became a distant thought to the excitement I would feel in a couple of hours when I crossed the finish line. Still biting off one mile at a time, the dream of reaching the finish became more and more of a reality. I could barely contain myself as I crossed mile 23 and knew I only had a 5K left to run. Mile 24….2 miles left. ‘That’s only the distance from my house to the beach!’. 1 mile left. ‘That’s a walk in the park!’ And then I could see it. The Ironman banner that I had dreamed about running under for 12 months now. The huge crowd of people began to grow in front of my eyes. I was going to finish!!! An Ironman forever! With both hands in the air I ran the last 50 yards through the grandstands of people and broke through the tape. It was one of the greatest moments of my life.
Crossing the finish line, I knew I had run the best race I could have run. I exceeded every goal I had set. I pushed through the pain and finished in the top third of the field. And better yet I felt great! Well, my legs were not working so well, but I was on an emotional high that has still not ended. I am forever changed by the experience.
I have had a week to reflect back on Ironman and what a joy it was to race this race. Through my thoughts I have been constantly drawn back to a verse I have quoted numerous times on this blog.
Hebrews 12:1-2 (NASV)
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
I started to really meditate on the fact that eternity is our finish line. Quite literally. Although we are not trying to get there first, we are indeed in an endurance race called life. I am drawn back to the road that seemed to stretch out in front of me and the intense pain I felt at moments of the race. It is very much like life. We often are in places where we cannot see the destination. Sometimes we can’t see the next aid station, but we somehow have to have faith that it is there. God promises to be our aid station and get us through each day, but sometimes we just want to give up anyway due to the frustration of it all. That’s when we need the ‘finish-line’ perspective.
The most powerful thing about the finish line is that you suddenly forget about all the pain it took to get you there. The joy is quite literally so overwhelming that you forget about all else. This is the promise of eternity with Christ, and I think I finally got a taste of what this will be like through my experience at Ironman.
I guess if I could pass anything along to people out there through my experience, I would leave you with three simple thoughts:
1. The finish line is better than you could possibly imagine provided you have ran your best race
2. Make sure you stop each day to refuel at the spiritual aid stations. Spend some time with Christ every day and he will give you life
3. Pain is temporary but very real. We must focus on the small goals to get us through the enormous obstacles we face in life. God will take care of the rest. It’s all about faith and perspective.
Hebrews 12:1-2 (The Message)
“Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!”