I had to beat Oprah.
My running partner Don King (no really, that’s his real name) told me that Oprah had run a four hour marathon. Sure, she had a personal trainer, nutritionist, coach and aerodynamic hair designer to give her an edge, but for my first marathon I figured if Oprah could do it, I could do it.
Don & I had started training for the Vermont City Marathon, following all the advice we could gather from running magazines, the internet and Don’s friend Biekman. The more we ran together, the more I began to wonder about this Biekman character. We’d be cruising along at mile seven or eight of a fifteen miler and suddenly Don would shout out, “My friend Biekman says ‘find a pretty girl and follow her’”
The fact that it’s only me and Don and empty miles of tree lined asphalt didn’t seem to register with Don . He was hearing from Biekman. He would swear to me that Biekman was real and that he had run 38 marathons and Biekman knew everything there was to know about running. But I found it odd that the only time we would get a word from Biekman was when Don had been running a while and was nearing that runner’s high resulting from breathing your own breath, swallowing your own sweat and the mental anguish of being in the middle of a very long run and you have a very long way to go. That’s when we’d hear from Biekman.
As we neared the marathon date, we had a final long run before starting to cut back to be ready for the race. As we ran along, we were discussing racing strategy and what it would take to beat Oprah. On one particular grueling uphill stretch, Don blurted out, “My friend Biekman says, ‘start out slow and slow down.’” I tried to look in Don’s eyes to see if they were rolled back in his head or if one pupil was larger than the other, but he was staring at the ground right in front of his feet as he ran. I waited a minute, to see if there might be another Biekman revelation or maybe for some clarification on the last utterance. Don just kept at his steady pace, eyes on the ground.
He had dropped the hook and I had to bite.
“Start off slow and slow down?”, I questioned.
“What?” Don asked, looking up at me. His eyes looked pretty normal, but they had this stare as if I had said something crazy.
“I thought you were supposed to start off slow to warm up and then pick it up.” I challenged. Don looked down at the ground again and resumed his pace, while I looked for an emergency call box, wondering how I was going to explain what was happening to my running partner.
Don broke the silence, “Biekman says, for their first marathon, too many people go out too fast, like they’re running a 10k. They get all caught up in the “race” and all the energy of the people around them. By mile 16 their toast is burnt. You gotta run with your head more than your heart at the beginning and pace yourself. Nobody cares how you started if you don’t finish.”
I don’t know where the voice was coming from in Don’s head, but it was starting to make some sense.
“You gotta have a plan and a pace”, Don or Biekman or whoever the voice was continued. “You can’t get distracted & caught up with everything going on around you or you’ll end up running someone else’s race. Your plan, your pace, your race.”
I wanted to ask the Biekman voice what he thought the Dow Jones was going to do in the next few months, but I thought that would be pushing it. Besides, he was on a roll, and with eight miles to go, I was good with the entertainment.
“Start out slow and slow down is about keeping your pace, running your race. It’s about staying strong the whole time. At mile 20, if you’ve got a lot left in the tank, then you let it go and let her rip. Until then, you have to resist the urge to surge or you’ll burn up. No one cares how impressive you were for 25 miles if you don’t finish.”
In a final prophetic tone, Don muttered, “That will be our strategy. Start slow and slow down.” I was waiting for clouds to part and angels to sing, but all I got was the steady patter of Don’s pace with his gaze returning to the ground.
And that was our strategy. We started off slow and slowed down. At mile four, the crowd we started running with thinned out, just inviting me to pass and I began to pick up the pace. “Slow down.” Don rebuked in his best Biekman voice. I settled my pace back down next to his. At mile 13 I was feeling the agony of all the runners passing me and the thought of finishing behind Oprah slightly accelerated my pace. “Your pace, your race”, came that haunting chant, and I eased back to our agreed upon pace. And so it went, me trying to pick it up, Don reminding me to keep the pace. Somewhere around mile 16, it started to sink in.
No one cares how impressive you were for 25 miles if you don’t finish.
The thought of not finishing was a fear always kind of lurking in the back of my mind. I had seen pictures of runners who had collapsed along the way and heard stories of people who had dropped out a mile or two from the finish. The explanations were pretty much the same: started out too fast, pushed too hard, didn’t run the right pace.
I thought about that application for our run through life. I suppose the pace of the American Dream lifestyle could be more defined as “sprint and collapse” rather than a steady pace. We so easily get caught up in keeping up that we don’t realize we’re headed for trouble. In a culture where busy-ness is next to godliness, our eyes are distracted by the whirlwind of the here and now while the finish line slips from our view.
Like runners trying to catch us in their frantic pace, the pressures to have more, do more and be more constantly urge us to run faster. A faster pace is a seductive mistress, promising a reward that lies just around the next corner or over the next hill. So we pick it up, only to find that beyond the next hill or next corner is simply another with the same false promise and same pressure to pick it up, just a little more. And we’re so caught up trying to run at a pace that is not our own that we quickly lose sight of the finish. Keeping up consumes our energy and we don’t even realize we’re in trouble until it’s too late.
No one cares how impressive you were for 25 miles if you don’t finish. Your plan, your pace, your race.
I’m thinking that’s what the prophet Isaiah had in mind when he wrote, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.” (Isaiah 26:3-4)
I have mixed emotions about the phrase, “God has a plan for your life.” Part of me thinks, “Well what if I missed it when I was seven and this whole time I’ve been blowing it?” What the heck is His plan for me? I have a tough time following my own plans, let alone trying to figure out and follow the one God has for me.
Isaiah tells me the plan: God keeps me in perfect peace. I like that word “keep”, as in “playing for keeps”. There’s something at stake and God wants to guard it, to keep it. That something is my peace.
Isaiah also tells me the how: a mind stayed, focused, fixed on God. It’s a mind that realizes, that trusts, that the God who created the universe is near and good. That my life is better focused on Him and run at His pace.
Finally, Isaiah tells me the why: the Lord God is an everlasting rock. In the race of life, God sets each one of us up with a pace, specifically catered to our unique personality and situation. When life goes crazy around us, when our pace seems out of step, when we’re angry or frustrated or lost or broken, God is our rock. He is that steady voice that reminds us that life is best lived at His pace.
In all this I think God is saying to us, “you start out by keeping my pace but it’s actually my pace that is keeping you.”
God’s Word, the Bible, has been described as a love letter to His creation. In it we find stories, commands, laws and promises. Though it was written by dozens of authors over thousands of years in many diverse settings, it has a simple uniform message: God is about keeping people in peace. In a world that fools us into running ragged, God offers a pace that gives peace.
So a little twist on our mantra would go something like:
Your race, God’s pace, God’s peace.
In the race of life, it is God’s pace that keeps us in the race all the way to the finish. It’s a pace that slows us down to listen and learn and grow in trusting the One who creates, sustains and gives perfect peace. God’s pace is simply taking Him at His Word to be near and be good and keep us as we run, trusting that the pace He sets for us will get us across the line in peace.
A question: will your current pace keep you to the finish?
A reminder: Nobody cares how you ran the first 25 miles if you don’t finish.
A Promise: Your race, at God’s pace will bring God’s peace. The Lord God is our rock.
It’s kind of like my friend Don using his Biekman voice to keep me at my pace. I not only finished,
I beat Oprah.
As you stay on the road, friends, may God’s pace keep you in peace.
I gotta run.