Monday, June 19, 2006

FW: Running the Race or What lies within

Running the Race or What lies within


June 16th in South Africa is a public holiday - Youth Day. It is the day on which the world famous Comrade’s Marathon is run, each year. For those who don’t know, the Comrade’s Marathon is run each year between Durban and Pietermaritzburg. Each year they change direction, one year starting in Pietermaritzburg (The Down Run) and the next in Durban (The Up Run). This year was an Up Run. The distance is 87.5 km.


My friend, Blessing, competed for the 8th time this year, and though he was disappointed not to have won a Silver Medal he did get a Bill Rowan Medal with a run of 8h 56min. Naturally, I was keen to watch his progress. As he is not one of the front runners, the chances of seeing him on TV amongst the thousands of runners were slim, but I could at least chart his progress, via the Comrades website, which I did.


On the home page of the website, there is a quote: “What lies before us and what lies behind us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” Ralph Waldo Emerson.


I cannot be sure of what Mr. Emerson’s intended meaning was, but may I share what I understand by the statement and share with you some insight I gained from these words?


Firstly, I felt that the quote is indeed apt when connected to an ultra-marathon such as the Comrades. To compete in the Comrades takes a great deal of preparation, and athletes generally train for a year before the event so as to be at peak fitness on the big day. There is the physical training, each day going out for lengthy runs to build up the physical stamina needed for the run. There is the mental training too. The runner has to prepare himself to endure and to push on through the pain and the tiredness that they experience during the race. They have to focus on their goal, which differs from person to person, according to their own experience and their purpose in running.


I am not entirely sure what Bles’s purpose in running the race is, (though I’m sure he will let me know when he reads this,) but there was another person whose progress I was interested in, although we have never met. His name is Paul Dolman. Paul competed on Friday too, and I am pleased to say he completed the marathon in 11 hours and 53 minutes. Paul has made history as the first person with Cystic Fibrosis to compete in the Comrades, or as far as we are aware, any ultra-marathon. His determination is an inspiration to us all. If you are interested in reading about him, go to this link:

May I suggest you do not miss this story!


Bles told me that the night before Comrades, he didn’t get a wink of sleep as the hotel where he was staying in Durban had a very loud disco that kept going until the early hours. He was also feeling a bit nauseous and the combined effect of exhaustion and nausea affected his running and slowed him down – but it did not stop him! He had a goal in sight and he kept pressing on towards it.


Paul said, "I almost baled out half-way. It's really hard, too hard to even describe. It's like a nightmare after 70km. The road's long and helluva winding. You start wondering why the hell you are doing this to yourself, but the spirit of the race keeps you going."  Well Paul, it’s not the spirit of the race, my friend, but the spirit within you – that amazing  faith and determination that made you press on, despite the difficulties. You certainly are an encouragement to us all. I was most inspired when Dr Graham told us about you at Bible Study.


While the Comrade’s Marathon is a race in the sense that we all want to know who the first man and the first woman across the finish line are, everyone who completes the distance before the cut-off is a winner of sorts. The first man and woman across the line get the biggest prizes for their efforts, (lots of money!) but with Comrades, as with many other ultra-marathons, there is a medal for everyone who finishes before the final cut-off. For many, it is not about speed, but about persevering, keeping going to the finish. The majority of athletes are proud to achieve a bronze medal, (by getting in before the 12 hour cut) but the next time, they try to break the 9 hour cut. This wins a Bill Rowan medal, in memory of the first man to win the race, in that time. If they make it before seven and a half hours, they win a silver, and the first ten men and first ten women in, win gold medals.


My point here is that you cannot win anything unless you keep going. For the runner, it is he or she against the road. All the facilities are there to help them on their way, like refreshment stations, and medical tents to help with those who are struggling, but at the end of the day, it is the athlete who has to run the race.


I am reminded that our lives are likened to a road race – or maybe more likely an undulating cross-country-cum-obstacle-race. Without question, life sometimes throws unexpected and debilitating circumstances our way. We may be confronted with sickness or disability in ourselves or our loved-ones. We may find ourselves out of our depths economically. Our marriages or businesses may be in tatters. We may have to deal with family or friends who have made unwise choices, or who have fallen foul of the law. We may be victims of crime, and have the added insult of seeing the perpetrators acquitted as a result of a “technicality in the law.”


How does one pick himself up in such circumstances, and continue with the race of life? Some don’t, and simply “bale” – we call it suicide. Either the person becomes so overwhelmed, they lose perspective and try to kill themselves, and sometimes; succeed; or they simply check out mentally. They close down mentally and spiritually. The common terms for such an experience are “burn-out” or “a nervous breakdown.”  Fortunately with much love and professional care, people who have had such breakdowns have been able to recover and return to their lives. Other people deal with the pain in their lives by succumbing to addiction to drugs, alcohol or other destructive behaviour patterns. These things are understandable, but they are not the answer!


The truth is that as we run this race that we call life, there will be things that slow our progress, and it may be necessary to walk or even crawl on occasions, but we must keep pressing on towards the goal that lies ahead of us. To use another race as an analogy, when athletes race over hurdles, if they knock one or two over accidentally, they don’t give up, and they are not disqualified, but the knocked hurdles will slow their progress. The athlete does not dwell on the felled hurdle, but keeps running towards the finish line. Bad things will happen, but we cannot allow what has happened in the past to impede our progress forward. Neither should we allow the obstacles ahead of us, real or imagined, to make us give up altogether. We need to keep going, believing that when circumstances demand it, we’ll have the necessary strength to keep going.


Everybody who sets off at half past five in morning at the start of  Comrades, believes that they can reach the finish line within the twelve hour time limit.  If you started that race with the thought that you might not make it, I believe you are already defeated. You won’t.


So in summary, like the tough ultra-marathon, life demands perseverance. Perseverance is born out of resolve. One can only have resolve if one has purpose.


Do you know what your purpose is?


There will be refreshment stations along the route, and even the odd medical tent. There will be coaches and seconds to give the necessary advice and encouragement. There’s nothing weak or wimpish about taking advantage of the facilities that are provided. In fact, you’d be crazy not to take advantage of them. They are there to help you keep going so you can reach your goal. .


Remember, only one person can run the race for you – that is you.


As a Christian, the inspiration behind my purpose and what gives me courage to persevere when the chips are down is the knowledge that Jesus has gone ahead of me, and is my guide and mentor. He has left me with a task of bringing the Good News to my fellow contestants in the race of life.


I wish you all fitness and stamina for the race that lies ahead of you.



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