By Brenda Black
Blood rushed to my legs and throbbing stabs of pain pierced either side of my shin bones as I pounded the pavement. Not even a few hundred feet into the race and I wondered could I stand the sting for three more miles if it didn't cease. I walked alone, determined to not give in, but to keep the pace and see if the pain would subside as I got used to the hard surface on this cool morning.
I had certainly trekked many miles down country roads and gone farther than three miles on gravel or through tall, wet grasses and briar patches in the woods this spring. Strength training had toughened up the calves, thighs and hamstrings and I could tell they would go the distance, but those shins – those burning shins.
I kept looking for company, a companion to walk with me and distract me. In fact, en route to this 5K event, I prayed for the Lord to bring someone along who traveled my speed so that God could use me to be their encourager. I asked for an opportunity to minister to someone who needed to know about God's grace and the love of a Savior. I even spoke those requests aloud as we journeyed to Sedalia. Yes, I arrived at the race with a friend. But she was a runner and me – no way! This was her big day, a chance to improve her speed since her last 5K a month earlier. It was her birthday and I promised to go and cheer her on and give her passion for endurance a whirl as well.
Once I got there, I was caught up in the pre-race ritual of lunging, stretching and trotting in place like a proud pony lifting knees high in the air. I saw my friend's excitement mount as she anticipated the call “On your mark, get set...” So I positioned myself behind the runners, but at the front of the walking pack, and caught the competitive adrenalin rush when the start line judge yelled, “Go!”
I pressed through that first mile, convincing myself the burn would subside as I warmed up. And it did. In the second leg of the race, I decided air wasn't all that important, but a deep breath now and then sure was welcome. Only a handful of walkers passed me as I coached myself to “just keep the pace.” In short order, I had closed the gap on most of those and ended up back toward the front with only a few contenders ahead of me. Then I glanced over my shoulder to discover the rest of the walkers were far behind. So there I was walking all alone.
With no one else to encourage, I cheered myself. “You can do this.” “Don't slow down.” “When we make that turn and head up that hill, speed up and pass a couple more.” “Don't quit.”
My beautiful friend had assured me that when she finished, she would back-track and find me and walk with me the final stretch. Right before the 3-mile marker, here she came, beaming from ear to ear and moving swiftly and lightly down the hill toward me. She seemed pleasantly surprised to find me so quickly and I was encouraged to know that I must not be that far from the end of the course.
As we topped the ascent, she coached, “Now when we turn this corner, you are on the home stretch, so you are going to kick it into high gear and walk as fast as you can all the way to the finish.” I huffed out a breathless plea, “I thought I already was.” The fit friend cruising beside me, demonstrated a hip-rocking, arm-pumping gait I was certain would dislocate something if I attempted the same.
But when I turned the corner and spied two ladies who just recently overtook me and two young women who never would let me catch them, something was triggered deep down inside and I hauled it! I flat-footedly flew past them to the finish line, leaving the couple of teens looking shocked and their hair whipping from my gust! The crowd was cheering and the emcee was saying something about how strong I was finishing the race. The rest is a blur – truly.
Then, there she was again, that energetic friend, greeting me on the other side of the finish and as thrilled for my burst of energy as she was for her own excellent finish that earned her a silver medal. I wouldn't have done it without her encouragement. I couldn't have done it had I listened to my body, more than the Spirit inside of me.
My prayers were indeed answered. God gave me someone to walk with, who would go my pace and need to know about God's grace and the love of a Savior. Myself.
No prizes were administered to the walkers and I have yet to learn where I actually ranked among the masses. But this I know for certain, I went to accompany and cheer a friend and potentially encourage a stranger. And I was the one blessed with the satisfaction of finishing well. It was a little taste of heaven – the greeting and celebration at the end of the course – that left me inspired to dig down deeper in life's race and discover that God has equipped me with just what I need as I face each day. And sometimes, we learn that there is a whole lot more we are capable of, if we just believe. His grace is sufficient and that's true victory.
“...I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me – the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace.” (Acts 20:24)