Gilland: Running the race of life

Man running race

Someone once said, “Life is not a sprint…it’s a marathon.” More than a helpful cliché, this little saying points to a metaphor that affects not only the way we live today, but the way we view our entire lives. 

Sprints are races comprised of short distances that enable the runner to use their maximum power in one lightning burst of speed. Every fraction of a second is critical, because the sprint is over quickly. 

The winner is most often the one who had the fastest start off the block and exploded into an all-out, heart-pumping, muscle-straining dash. All of this while his or her eyes were looking forward to the finish line, which was already in view, perhaps only 50 yards away.

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A marathon is a different story all together. Unlike the sprinter running in a 50-yard dash, a marathon participant faces a distance exponentially greater at 26.2 miles. A runner who trains for this kind of race has to approach every aspect differently if he is aiming to complete such a feat.

I am the farthest thing from a marathon runner, but I have a friend who traveled from Orlando to New York to compete in today’s New York Marathon. He has completed dozens of marathons over the last several years, and if that is not amazing by itself, he runs them while carrying an American flag! 

He does this to honor the great men and women of the U.S. military, past and present, who fought for our freedoms, some paying the ultimate sacrifice for their service.

My friend would tell you that to run in such a race takes much preparation. Some of the obvious differences when compared to shorter races include the fact that you can’t see the finish line from the beginning. 

Also, you have to learn the level of pace that you are physically able to maintain. Unlike that sprint, you can’t invest all your energy at the sound of the starter’s gun. This kind of race takes a while—a long while—to run.

One also has to expect the unexpected in a marathon. Seasoned runners will often encounter a muscle cramp, or a phantom pain that they have never encountered before, forcing them to mitigate this little surprise that hadn’t shown up in previous races. 

Finally, a marathon runner has to learn to live with the extreme fatigue that ultimately sets in somewhere along the course. Such tiredness and the accompanying pain is not unusual—it is normal. The endurance of this factor while on the journey is often the difference between the one who finishes, and the one who drops out.

The apostle Paul understood these images and tied such a runner to those men and women of faith who are running in the race of life. As with the runner, we all face a course that carries obstacles and elevations, unexpected factors and pain, and that feeling that tells us we can’t make it to the finish line. 

Paul gives us some great encouragement in 1 Corinthians 9:24-26:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly…”

As we run this race of life, let’s take Paul’s advice and run to win, keeping our eyes on Him.

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