I ran my first marathon the year the classic movie Chariots of Fire was released, which may explain why I reached the 21-mile mark before catching up with a race walker—you know, one of those speedy pedestrians wiggling like they have a bunch of bees stuffed down the back of their shorts. Pretty humbling. Perhaps basing your form on an inspirational running scene is not recommended when the characters are doing it in slow motion…
Truth be told, however, I was just never that good. In another marathon I was somewhere around the 17-mile mark when I overheard the race winner being interviewed live on a local radio station being played on a spectator’s wireless. He didn’t even sound out of breath, while I was gasping.,
It’s also a bit discouraging to be overtaken by someone running while tossing a pancake in a heavy skillet, which happened in yet another event.
You could say I put the me in mediocre.
Despite my limitations, I still play the occasional Olympic gold-winning fantasy in my head as I plod round the neighborhood on one of my near-daily workouts (trying to look relaxed and limber when I come across anyone out and about). But for the most part I am content with being a true also-ran.
It’s the same in life: I’m probably never going to break the tape as a first-place winner in anything, but I am going to reach it eventually. And I have gleaned some spiritual lessons from my back-somewhere-in-the-pack marathon efforts:
- You may not make the podium, but everyone can earn a medal.
- Spectators can be kind and encouraging: be open to unexpected kindness from strangers.
- Chafing isn’t caused by other people: it’s when you rub yourself the wrong way in those sensitive spots. Lubricate well.
- You can find yourself matching strides with some of the coolest, strangest, funniest people. Take time to say hi and swap names.
- Some people who set off fast end up falling by the wayside. Don’t worry if you get overtaken: run your own race.
- Some people who start slow finish strong: don’t allow yourself to be swept up by a pace you’re not designed for.
- Race day is when your private efforts go on public display. It’s an open test of your secret training.
- There’s nothing like the sight of those special people in your life welcoming you across the finish line.
There’s something about running that is a true equalizer. Fancy shoes and gel packs aside, when everything is boiled down it’s just you, your legs, and your lungs. And your heart, of course.
Watching races, I cheer when I see the fastest and finest battling it out to be first to the tape. But I tear when I see the rearguard, huffing and puffing their way home. Even if it looks like they are moving in slow motion.