Marathon Momento – Focus on the Finish

In Uncategorized on October 26, 2009 at 5:38 pm

Four months of training for the Chicago marathon, introduced me to the runner’s world:  five am wake-up calls, diet monitoring, Glide – body lubricant, shorts with zippers and fuel-tank elastic bands for storing Gel packets.  Race-day welcomed me into all kinds of interesting observations.  What do runners do when all the porto-potties have 100 ft lines before  a race?  How do you dress for 30 degree weather?  What do you do with your warm-up clothes when the race begins?  When is it appropriate to pee in public?  Shouldn’t a runner dressed as the grim reaper be running at the back of the pack?  I’d like to take a couple of posts to share the most significant reflections that I took away from the race.

Focus on the Finish – Not the Crowd

I jumped the fence into the starting corral at about 7:17am.  I was still 600 yards from the gate where the race begins.  Each runner – from the two hour Kenyan crew to the six hour trotters – had a chip attached to their shoe laces to measure when they crossed the start line.  For those at the back of the starting corral, it took as long as 1 hour for the crowd to filter through to the start line.

Even though I registered for the 3:30 minute pace group, I had jumped the 5 foot, chain-link fence, to join the herd for the 4:30 pace group.  This means the people around me intended to run the full marathon in 4 hours in 30 minutes; a pacer carried a stick flagged with a white circle labeled 4:30.

When our group first emerged from the starting gate, sensors buzzing with the passing chips, 20-30 guys peeled off from the street to relieve themselves against the wall.  I suppose ladies had to wait until they reach the first set of Port-o-lets.  As I moved through the crowd, fans lined the streets cheering for all the runners.  Some runners, like myself, placed a name tag on the front of their shirts to inform fans.  Each new fan greeted me/us with an untiring enthusiasm: “You are doing great”, “Josh, way to go” and “Looking good, Josh.”

My goal in running the marathon had been to finish strong and finish healthy.  Among those I’d known to run a marathon, several had warned me about risk of running the 26.2 mile race.  Those that took the race lightly were injured: blisters, lost toe-nails, chafing, knee and ankle injuries. I was sure that I wanted to continue running after the race.  So, I adopted a training schedule to prepare.

I averaged 25-35 miles a week in training.  I flew over 2000 miles to attend the race.  And I noticed how much I enjoyed the compliments from fans.  As my attention drew to the nature of the comments I received, I noticed a desperation setting in.  My initiative to keep moving forward was dependent on my focus.  The cheers from the crowd ebbed and flowed.  So, I found myself listening for the next cheer.  And when it came, it did not encourage me toward the finish.

The presence of the crowd reminded me of community – specifically a faith community.  A place of encouragement and support – at its best.   I wonder about my focus in such a community.  Am I waiting to be appreciated or am I focused on the calling I’ve been given?  The perils became evident during the race.

As I focused on the cheers, I found my energy flowed away.  When my mind focused on the finish line – healthy and strong – I pressed on.  Running the race without acknowledging the supporters was hollow, too.  So, I ran in the tension of having my gaze and focus set on the finish line, while remaining present to the call of the crowd.

Enter paradox.  The crowd does not matter.  The crowd matters.

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