It was about four kilometres in to the race when I decided to give up. I was 80% done, my time was within touching distance of my best, but my will was broken. Let me rewind a little bit and I’ll explain. This year I started taking part in parkrun; it’s a weekly 5km race that is open to all and takes place in parks around the world.
The first week I ran the race in 24:25, and felt like I had almost killed myself, but then I started to quicken up. The weekly run strengthened my legs and expanded my lung capacity. Three weeks ago I fell into my stride running behind a quick paceman; I finished the race in 21:23 and dropped onto the grass of the town moor a happy man.
I’m now used to running that distance, I can do so regularly and in a reasonable time, yet on Saturday I came moments from giving up entirely. I’d set off at a pace 17 seconds per kilometre faster than my best and by half way through the race I was hurting. I stopped a couple of times to walk for a spell then run again, but the third time I stopped to walk? I decided to give up. I was wrecked. I would wander to the finish, I thought, and not get my barcode scanned so no one had to know I’d failed.
Kipling said that if you could fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run, then you’d be a man. He never mentioned 21 consecutive unforgiving minutes. That wasn’t part of the bargain.
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
– If, Rudyard Kipling
It’s interesting that because of the progress made in my running I suddenly couldn’t stand the thought that I’d be getting a time that only three weeks ago seemed unattainable. I was only fighting this battle at all because I had come so far and yet in my mind? I was failing hugely. It’s amazing how quickly we forget how far we’ve come when the going starts to get tough. Like the children of Israel in the wilderness, we can forget what we’re running towards and moan about the journey.
It was at about the moment my head slumped that I heard a voice behind me.
“Come on, dude, you can do it, just keep going.”
A guy I’ve never met in my life ran past me, dropping his pace a bit to encourage me as he went. So I started to run again. I fell into a stride just a pace behind him and pushed myself to keep up. For his part he never took off and left me, just kept going at a steady and achievable pace. We crossed the line a kilometre later within a second of each other. He turned and said well done, I thanked him, and he walked off.
The guy in red, so willing to take that moment to encourage a fellow runner and then to help them to the finish line, reminded me of what we need so often in our walk with God. It’s an essential part of church community. We will often find ourselves in need of that person who will tell us to keep our head up and keep running, and we will often need to be that person for another.
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
– Hebrews 10:23-25
The temptation to quit usually occurs at the moments when carrying on would have the most benefit; when we’re being stretched, when we’re being challenged, when our character is being refined by trials. We can go through life wanting only the feeling of dropping to the grass and gazing at the morning sun with a new personal best to our name, but the truth is those moments only come when we keep running through the bits that hurt. That means keeping on placing yourself in a community where people will come alongside and encourage you.
When I crossed the line on Saturday, in spite of so nearly giving up, it was my second fastest race ever and only fifteen seconds slower than my best 5km. I’m grateful that someone was willing to spend some of their own race helping me to finish mine. I’m grateful for the fact that in church many people have done the same. And I’m hopeful, I’m hopeful that for some people I’m the one telling them to keep their head up and continue putting one foot in front of the other.
The fact is that in-spite of what I thought, I had the strength to continue the race. Let me tell you today that you have the strength to continue running; if you’re feeling like quitting it’s encouragement that you need and you’ll find that in community. If we withdraw from community we take ourselves away from where someone can come alongside and help us along, and we’re not present to do that for others. Let’s never be too focussed on our own race that we forget that we’re in it together, as a community.