“This is the race,” the woman said. As we had waited on our lunch food, I had gotten to talking about the leviathan dominating my anxieties: next month’s Chicago Marathon. After 5+ months of training, we were in our final, grueling weeks. The long runs on Saturday would extend to 16, 18 miles; peaking this weekend with a dreaded 20-miler, before slowly tapering off until race day on October 13th.
The woman nodded her head, having run two previous marathons, she understood the emptiness of the “you can do it!” slogans. Instead she offered me something I could really use: This last push of training IS the race. It’s now. When no one is there cheering, and you don’t know if you can continue and everything hurts. This is it. Race Day is just a celebration of all that’s come before.”
Since that conversation, I’ve had several double digit runs. At my fastest pace of 5 miles/ hour I’ve had ample time to remember the mantra: This IS the race. Now. When I don’t want to do this, and there are no supporters out there, and my knees are hurting and it’s getting dark. Now, is the race.
I’ve had time to glimpse the relationship to our spiritual lives too. I sometimes imagine myself doing something modestly great: like in a heated argument, I imagine saying the wise thing and saying it with so much grace that it calms the scene. Or, getting a call about an emergency situation, I arrive in a chaotic situation with a centered coolness that allows others to breath a little easier. In short, I imagine myself doing all these things that don’t really come naturally to my quick talking, fast acting, self.
To be the self I imagine being at those crucial moments would require a certain degree of training. “A long obedience in the same direction” to quote Eugene Peterson. That is the race the writer of Hebrews considers, when he writes, “…let us 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,
Race Day isn’t that powerful moment when you finally speak truth to your brother-in-law; It’s not that one big moment when you get the bad news, or are called to the bedside of a dying friend. Those are the culminations of many small preparatory moments. The real race is the everyday soft word. The turning aside from wrath. The resistance to greed. The intentionality of listening. And the determination to seek love.
It’s now. Today.
This is the race.
I hope I can remember that.