Post by Steve Spoelhof
On May 4, I raced to qualify for the Boston Marathon. The Boston race requires certain time thresholds to be met by various age groups. As for me, the 50 year old cut is 3:30 for the 26.2 miles. Beat 3:30, you can register for the biggie, the Boston Marathon, with its rich history and the tragic finish line memory this year.
Lining up that 48 degree morning, I had planned to run 7:45 pace miles, to finish in 3:25. As the race progressed through 21 miles, I had averaged a 7:39 pace, slightly faster than plan.
In the 18-22 mile range, there’s an unfortunate physical and mental milestone derogatorily called “the wall.” The wall wrecks races. It’s indiscriminate in selecting victims to slow, cramp, or sideline. It’s plagued me four times before, causing anguish that messes with race planning, positive mantra, and mental fortitude. This time it started to remind me of its stealthy grip at mile twenty one.
As my cadence slowed and the legs grew heavier, a young man in a blue shirt passed by me. No one is moving fast in miles 20-25, the wall slows most. Blue shirt didn’t move quickly beyond me but was steady, visually stuck in front. So I resolved to hang on to him, letting his pace dictate mine, and staying within a few yards of his steady stride. My mental state wasn’t working math too well, but if I ran at least 8:15s, I’d hit my goal.
Blue shirt was simple to latch onto on the quiet road. He pulled me along until with a mile to go, he picked up his pace, and with this slight finishing kick, he disappeared.
I crossed the line with a grimaced smile. Finish line timer clicked 3:25:21. I paused, with my hands on my knees, thankful for completing the distance. This finished an 18 week training plan with a lot of early morning miles.
While relaxing on a bench near the finish, I saw blue shirt. Awkwardly rising up and calling out, “Hey blue shirt,” I stumbled over to this slightly confused young man. “Thank you” I said, “Thank you for pulling me through miles 21-25.”
He probably didn’t realize how important he was to me that last five miles, but I wanted him to know.
Blue shirt smiled and said, “Thanks for pulling me through 17-21.”
It was a brief encounter. Just two tired runners expressing appreciation and congratulations for a race well done. I don’t remember anything else that was said.
Isn’t that like the Christian walk? You’re cruising along, steady and confident, and then you hit a wall. A temptation, a setback, a death, a loss…
But then a blue shirt comes by. A friend, spouse, brother, sister, or even a mentor from afar, who reminds you that steady, unyielding effort will grind you to the finish. To another day, a fresh start, a new outlook.
- Who are you being a blue shirt today to?
- Are you aware of whom you’re guiding?
- Who is your blue shirt today?
- Have you thanked him or her for helping you push past a wall?
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 (NIV)
Steve Spoelhof leads the Development team at the Willow Creek Association. Jesus follower, husband to Valerie, and father to three great kids. Runner, biker, triathlete, and reader.