Knowing that the circumstances of life are generally our best teachers over time, it is important that we learn lessons—life lessons—from what we experience. For me, there were several key insights originating from the training process, leading up to the actual 26.2 mile run, at Kiawah Island, December 15, 2001.
The motivation to write this paper comes from a bible passage, which has deeply impacted me and therefore caused me to pay attention to times like my recent marathon experience. The text comes from the book of Mark 6:33-52. The account is the feeding of the five thousand. During this miracle Jesus multiplied the loaves and the fish, distributing to the hungry crowd with the disciples’ help. The uneducated and untrained followers of Jesus had a first-hand experience in His power to provide people’s needs, and they were part of the deal.
Immediately following this auspicious event, the disciples climbed into a boat to cross over to Bethsaida. A storm approached in the middle of the trip, and the bible states that these mighty men were “straining at the oars,” fighting against the wind. We all know the story of Jesus walking on the water, which is what happened next, but we often do not remember that in this passage it states that He intended to pass them by! Read it! Why would He leave the disciples to an impending disaster? My belief is that He expected them to know what to do, based upon what they had already learned, through the feeding of the five thousand. Once the disciples cried out in panic and frustration, He stopped, calmed the winds, and climbed into the boat. It was plan B, to be sure. A very different outcome than what He wanted, as described in the following verses.
Verse fifty-two reveals the lesson behind this circumstance; “for they had not gained any insight from the incident of the loaves, but their heart was hardened.” What an indictment! Of course, none of us would want any permanent record of this sort to be published, particularly in the bible! Consequently, if we really “get it,” we become motivated to learn from our “teachers,” the circumstances that we face on a daily basis.
All new runners establish incremental goals as a part of the training process. My first introduction to running was with my wife’s (Janet’s) “great idea” to take a running class with Kim Schwartz, her close lawyer friend, to have some form of exercise throughout the week. I laughed at her leaving the house early on Saturday mornings to run, thinking how nice it was to sleep in.
My thinking changed when I went to cheer her at the finish line of the Atlanta Peachtree 10K Road Race, July 4th, 2000. It was at this event that I realized the significant accomplishment of a six-mile run. When she crossed the finish line I said to myself, “I can do this, it can’t be that tough!” So running commenced for
me the following week, with the first goal to run two or three miles without stopping. I found out that this goal was a little too lofty since after about a half mile I was so badly into oxygen debt that I had to walk to recover. The reality of my lack of conditioning became apparent.
By October I was ready for my first race (and my second goal)—the Peachtree City Classic 15K (a 9.3 mile run). Successfully finishing this race prompted me to enter the Chieftain’s Road Race 15K at Berry College, then on to the Atlanta Half Marathon (13.1 miles), Thanksgiving morning, year 2000. On the day of the Half Marathon a larger goal was born. Our small running group toyed with the idea of running a marathon. Since I still had some energy to draw upon following the Atlanta Half Marathon, I thought it possible for me to run a 26.2 mile race, even though Janet had determined that the Half was (then) the ultimate limit.
The Learning Process
For beginnings, determining personal thresholds and body needs are among the first real lessons. In a painful way, I found out that having the right shoes and the correct inserts are very important to be able to do long runs. Thankfully, Dr. Perry Julien, the renowned podiatrist and runner, helped me to determine this fact when I visited him with my first running injury on April 9th, 2001. At the bottom of my patient information form, revealing the real reason of the visit, I wrote, “I want to run a marathon!” My first introduction to this running medical maven was a knock on the examining room door followed by his comment, “We’ll get you ready for that marathon.” I’ll never forget that
magical and inspirational moment. Excitement rushed through me like the first jump into a cold swimming pool on
a hot day. I learned that similar to a car that needs alignment in order to drive properly and avoid tire wear, so my knees and ankles required the proper shoes and inserts to keep my body in line and my forward motion.
Life lesson number one–when you trivialize what appears to be a small issues, you set yourself up for big problems. This revelation caused me to pay attention to what my body was telling me through pain, and to extrapolate the
outcome if left unattended, over the longer haul. This little lesson taught me the meaning of being anticipatory. Since that time I have learned to apply the principle at home, work, as well as in the running context. Now, for example, whenever I notice my boss displaying signs of anxiety with respect to my work, I anticipate the likely outcome of that adverse trend, and deal with it before he comes to me. So far, so good.
I experimented early with my long runs to ensure that once I got to the “production” long run (marathon training long runs), I would be free from other small issues, which could turn out to be show-stoppers for the 26.2 mile race. I enjoyed pain-free running and wonderful long runs of twenty, twenty-two and twenty-four miles.
Our running group met with Coach Roy Benson, an Atlanta-based running sage, to get some marathon training input. Following that commissioning meeting, I made a commitment to preparing according to plan, and not to cut corners in an effort to make the process easier. “No pain, no gain.” I followed the schedule with impeccable precision. Everything looked good. I marked off each day in my running log with the actual mileage and how I felt. I planned my entire running week, weeks in advance. I remember telling my wife, “the next three weeks are very heavy running weeks,” just to manage her expectations about the schedule. Since my training schedule called for so many miles to be run during the last portion of the program, I split some of my daily runs into morning and evening segments.
On one particular morning run, I notice a pinch in my left ankle. I thought that I had simply tied my shoes too tight, as that was the sensation I experienced. I thought that I could simply “run through it,” as it was not that bad. (I know—I failed to apply life lesson number one above). The results were devastating. Prior to this injury, my Yassos (800 repeats, when extrapolated, can be an accurate determination of your marathon time) were between 3:12 and 3:20—good enough time to qualify for the Boston marathon, at least for a guy my age! Being optimistic I thought that I would be okay; WRONG! I set up an appointment with Dr. Perry Julien to review the situation. X-rays were taken, and Dr. Julien advised me that it could be stress fracture, and, although not conclusive, only a TC99 bone scan would tell the real story. He allowed me to do a trial run under very strict conditions (e.g. no medication, which would only mask pain), as a test. I passed! Consequently, I thought the issue was pretty much resolved. Wrong again.
Even though I made it through the 2001 Atlanta Half Marathon with a PR (personal record), my performance put the icing on the cake regarding my injury. Following the Atlanta Half Marathon (three and a half weeks before the Kiawah Island Marathon), I was unable to run more than a couple of miles before hurting so bad that I was limping. So what is one to do? The answer is obvious…call Perry Julien and Coach Benson, the running and sports medicine sages.
Coach Benson assured me that if the original problem was due to tying my shoes too tight (he acknowledged that it happened often), then to unlace the top of my shoes, give my ankle a rest, and ultimately run the Kiawah Island Marathon. His prescription was to wait for a few days, run two to three miles each day followed by an eight-mile run the Saturday before the marathon. Since I was well conditioned, running the Kiawah Island Marathon should still be doable, even with the minimal amount of training. “Bag the original plan,” he said.
I also had a follow-up appointment with Dr. Julien. He confirmed, in his own words, the same instructions that Coach Benson articulated. The plan was to do a few miles a day—everything should work out as planned.
From Bad to Worse
I ran my next two miles at the track because it was flat and measurable. Once I finished that short run, I knew I was in trouble. I was in pain—so much pain that I limped for the next two days. I waited for four more days before trying again. Same story—two miles of running yielded two days of limping. I faxed a report to Dr. Julien, in a discouraged
state of surrender, thinking that it was all over for the marathon.
By this time my entire thinking process changed regarding the race. Now, my mission was not to complete the 26.2 mile run, but to make sure that everyone else on the team (the running group) had the best time of their life. To be honest, this was a hard transition to make, but I knew that if God were bringing these circumstances my way, there must be a reason why. We proceeded to make posters for all the other runners, and wondered how God would turn this situation around for our benefit and His glory. I did not want to fail to keep my heart soft, so that I could learn the life lesson embedded in this “hardship,” and gain the insight needed to help me through the next challenge I would face (remember Mark 6:33-52). I finally was able to make that transition, and developed a real enthusiasm and excitement for the rest of the team in their first marathon. I was going to Kiawah to be a support! Hurrah!
From Unbelief to Faith!
To my utter amazement, I received a call the Wednesday before the marathon from Dr. Julien’s office. The call came from Shelly, one of Dr. Julien’s assistants, who had also recently completed her first marathon. She said, “Dr. Julien want’s to know if you can come in tomorrow (Thursday) at 1:45. Can you come?” While she was speaking, my
mind, in a state of disbelief, was trying to reconcile why a doctor would call me and ask me to come in, when I am only one of many patients whose “injury” could hardly be classified as an emergency. How did I end up even registering on his radar screen? “Of course I will come in,” I replied.
Dr. Julien took one last x-ray and stated that he still was not completely sure about what was going on, and he gave me three or four choices from which to pick. Feeling uncomfortable about my ability to judge, I asked him what he would do if he were in my shoes (literally). He stated that he would not run at all until marathon day, and then “go
for it” once he reached the start line. He cautioned that if the pain raised to a level five, on a scale from one to ten, then to bail out of the race and we would deal with the issue once again on Monday. In fact, he asked that I fax him Monday morning with the results. I was concerned about the state of my conditioning, but he had no concerns. I got
excited at the prospects once again, and converted my unbelief to faith with respect to those things that appeared impossible. Once again, I was relying upon the sages that God had placed around me, to help me make the right decision. Trusting other’s judgment even in light of my current experience–that was the act of faith.
I woke up race day morning, strangely wishing that this hour had not come. I did not want to face the disappointment of having to bail out prematurely, and fight the battle of discouragement all over again. Wow, I actually got in touch with my emotions! My mind told me that the last four times I had attempted to run, even for just a couple of miles, I ended up limping for days. I was very aware of the high risk of failure, which I faced that day. Both Elinore Meadows and Linda Wartes, two of our running group members, asked me at the start line how I felt. My
response was, “Nervous.” I was nervous because of the uncertainty of the day’s outcome, not because of the race itself.
The race was delayed for ten minutes for some reason. When the gun finally did go off, we all began our mild trot, crossing the start line, for the 26.2-mile trek. I ran with Laura Gallinari at first—one of our team members with a similar pace. I remember marking off the miles in my mind. Mile one—no pain—Praise God! Mile two—no pain—feels good! Mile three—oh no—I remember this feeling, just like the one I experienced the last few times I attempted to run. Even though I was talking with Laura, my mind was thinking, am I going to have to stop at mile four, or mile eight? (I had studied the race map to determine where the medical tents were located, just in case I needed them.)
The pain seemed steady, and did not get so intense that I had to stop. Later in the race, around mile twelve, I caught up with Jayne Nickell, our other marathon-running team member. Since she is a nurse, I mentioned that I had planned on taking some pain medication to try and help increase my chances of making it through to the end. She scolded me, as if I were a noisy child in a library, and said that I should take no medication but rather endure the pain, and bail out if necessary. Somehow, I knew she was right. In fact, while I was running with her a mile or so later, I experienced some shocking, lightning-bolt type shooting pains, from my ankle area all the way up to my upper left shin. Fear gripped me. I thought I would have to quit at the Half Marathon finish line. However, the shooting pain strangely subsided when it was time to decide whether to continue with the second half of the marathon race or stop. I felt good enough to keep going.
On a scale of one to ten, my pain ranged from the two to four zone. When asked by Eric Meadows, (Elinore’s son, who rode a bike and stationed himself at several places in order to encourage us), how I was doing, I mentioned that
the pain was still manageable and that I could continue. There were very few people running the marathon compared to the half marathon, which made for a lonely last half of the race. But, at mile seventeen, I realized that something
else was missing.
Somewhere before mile seventeen (and to this day still a mystery to me), my ankle pain left completely. Even though the rest of my body, and especially my knees, were complaining about the length of my run (having missed several key long runs), my ankle finally felt okay! My confidence skyrocketed and I finally became hopeful at this latter stage of the race that I could indeed finish, and complete one of the most daunting personal goals I had ever made.
During the last half of the marathon I observed one runner collapse, others walking, and a few running but struggling so much that you could see it in their faces. And yet, I was still running! To me it seemed like a miracle. Once I crossed mile twenty the nervousness that I had acquired at the start line actually vanished. While not wanting to be over zealous, I did feel like I was truly going to be able to finish this race. Relief!
Blessings along the Way
For anyone who has run a marathon, they know how important the infrequent cheers from water station volunteers or other helpers along the way can be. They come at a time when you are just weary from the sheer distance of your journey. I soaked up every bit of energy from the “way to go” cheers I received—it didn’t matter if I knew them or not—they were all very important to my success.
At mile twenty-two I saw a familiar face. It was Kim Schwartz! She was holding Oreo cookies in the bottom of her tee shirt and asked me if I wanted a snack. I took her up on the offer! A little sugar goes a long way. She said that Janet was waiting for me about a mile up the road. That mile, in reality, was two and a half or three miles up the road,
which seemed like a marathon in itself.
My wife, as promised by Kim, was waiting just before mile twenty-five. I saw her in the distance and waved my hands. What a wonderful sight! When I finally arrived at her location, she began to run with me, thinking that she would remain with me for a minute, and then return to cheer the other running group members behind me. When I said that I really needed her encouragement, she decided to run the rest of the way with me, up to the finish line, now only a little over a mile away. It turned out that the other half marathoners in our group provided that same encouragement and support to the ones doing the full marathon. What a blessing!
The last mile was the hardest mile I had ever run. Since I had missed three and a half weeks of training leading up to the marathon, I really was not in the same condition as before my injury, making this race somewhat more difficult. When I finally approached the finish line, I had inexpressible joy, pleasure and gratefulness in my heart; simply for being able to cross the finish line and complete the race. At that moment, I envisioned myself crossing the finish line, falling on my face before God, and giving Him thanks for enabling me to complete my personal (very personal) goal. I was so grateful to God for helping me finish the race! I wanted the world to know that God made this happen for
me, and in the process he used people like Perry Julien, Coach Benson, my running group and other close associates to encourage me along the way. The fact is I would not have run the marathon had I not received the call from Dr. Julien the Wednesday before the race, asking me to in come for a visit. (Thank you Dr. Julien).
The Secret to My Success
I actually did discover the secret to my success when I returned to our villa, after the race. I noticed my cell phone had that infamous red light flashing, which usually meant there was a problem at work, for which I would have to immediately solve. (I am an IT Director—that should say it all.) To my surprise, it was my daughter Erin leaving me a
voice message at 10:17 a.m. – somewhere after the first half of the marathon. In this message, she told me that she was leaving for an outreach to some local projects, which had been planned by her cell group (home group from church), and that she knew we would be racing at the time she placed her call. She said that she was praying for me, at that time, and for the rest of the group. She was praying that we would all be doing really well. My calculations tell me that this was somewhere just before mile seventeen!
Erin was just as emotionally and spiritually invested in this event as I was. She knew how much it meant to me personally, and somehow I think she also knew how important it was that I complete this personal goal. She also knew that it was my desire to learn the lessons that God intended to teach me through this circumstance, as I had confided in her regarding this matter earlier. She had just the right response—prayer. In fact, I know that I had many people praying for me with regard to my marathon. My boss and his wife, my pastor, one of my employees and a few other significant people around me took it upon themselves to pray for me and for my success during this event.
I am convinced that the One behind all of this was my Heavenly Father, using this circumstance to teach me more about life and His principles. After all, He uses all of our experiences, whether good or bad, to do us good in the end (Deuteronomy 8:15-16).
Well, as stated earlier, this is all about life lessons. I would hate to think that I went through all of the ups and downs (and all arounds), for no reason. I have a deep conviction that these experiences have and will be used to ultimately contribute to my success through future challenges, if I can avoid the awful condition of letting my heart be hardened. So, knowing that, I have reviewed this marathon experience and catalogued the lessons that I believe I have identified, with the hopes of remembering these principles as long as I live.
Life Lesson #1 – (as stated earlier in this document) When you fail to pay attention to small issues, they could (and probably will) turn out to be big problems down the line.
1. When you notice even something small going wrong, take the time to make corrective action to avoid larger problems. This can be applied to married life, raising children, succeeding at work, and yes, even achieving personal goals like running marathons.
2. The key to detecting small problems before they become big is being anticipatory in nature. I am sure that all great leaders have this insight working for them—to be able to anticipate the likely outcome of an action or
statement before it happens, and making whatever course corrections necessary to avoid an undesirable outcome.
Life Lesson #2 – Do not give up early in the struggle to achieve goals. Just because the situation does not look as promising, or as easy to achieve as when first conceived, giving in too early means that you could be missing the ultimate blessing, or possibly the opportunity to see God move on your behalf. Failing to give God the room to move in difficult circumstances may mean sacrificing the ultimate goal
1. When times get tough, determine what other resources you have before you capitulate. In this case, fervent prayer, calling on those who are sages in the respective areas, and leaning on the encouragement (and sometimes hard-to-believe words) of your teammates, can really make the difference. It may be the difference from succeeding or failing.
2. Endurance has a greater application than simply running many miles in succession. In some cases, endurance means maintaining emotional balance when things aren’t going your way. In order to succeed, emotional endurance, during difficult times, can be more important that physical endurance.
Life Lesson #3 – The test of hardship can yield blessing if you determine ahead of time to learn the lessons required to “pass the test.” Having an unyielding belief that “God causes all things to work together for good to those that love Him and are called according to His purpose” (Ro. 8:28) is an important mental and emotional posture to maintain to ultimately succeed.
1. Coping with circumstances that are less than what you expected requires emotional and mental energy to process. When (not if) hardship arrives, it is imperative that an attitude of “I can benefit from this circumstance” be present. Only then can you look for the silver lining and insist on being better as a result. This is the attitude of a winner.
2. When we become “emotionally hooked” in the midst of hardship, that is the best indicator that we are in the wrong place. When we are “hooked” it demonstrates that we are evaluating how this hardship affects me (being self
centered). Discipline yields strength—and oftentimes at personal discomfort. To be able to set aside our own ease, comfort and pleasure to be able to learn something new takes the discipline of an athlete.
Life Lesson #4 – The power of fervent prayer really does change things. Do not underestimate the productiveness of prayer. It is time well spent. The casual inquirers do not appear to be the ones to move God’s heart to act—those
who labor in prayer seem to be those that make the needed connection with God. The underlying belief is that God is involved in every aspect of our lives, as long as we make Him a part. God has the power to deliver, and the resources available to assist in even the darkest hour.
1. To fail to acknowledge God in those things that seem small and insignificant is tantamount to saying, “We can handle this one, God.” An assumption is made and we therefore act independently, versus being dependent upon Him
for all our daily needs.
2. Fervent prayer does have the power to change outcomes, particularly when we discover God’s desires and initiatives through the prayer process. A good definition of success is finding and working with God as a co-laborer to
achieve His goals. While His goals may be very different than our own goals, this process gives us what we need to know where true success lies— fulfilling His will.
Life Lesson #5 – There is a beneficial dynamic in teamwork. Teamwork gives one the added strength of numbers, if cultivated and maintained as a positive reinforcing resource. Without teamwork, it is impossible to get the type of
leverage desired to accomplish great goals.
1. To cultivate teamwork, the individuals constituting a team must have the latitude to “be themselves” in a safe environment. If we seek people who are perfect, in order to serve our own needs, we will never develop a team.
Teams consist of imperfect people who just happen to be good at fulfilling a specific role. Once this type of latitude is granted, the members of the group can combine resources to have a larger impact than what they could have
ever achieved on their own. This is synergy.
2. The context of a team must be selfless. If we are ever working in a group solely for self, we have transgressed the principles and rhythms of a team. Therefore, when one member suffers, they all suffer and work to garner the
resources necessary to move forward, even if at a slower pace. The support gained from a team gives each individual member more energy than what they would ever have on their own.
Life Lesson #6 – When facing a lack of experience, therefore resulting in less-than-best judgment, seek out the sages among you. God has gifted all men with a variety of talents. It is ludicrous to think that one person has all they need to succeed in any given area. Those who are most successful are those people that seek out the sages among them. A sage is a wise person who has particular skill in a given area.
1. Walking in humility helps one to realize that they do not have all it takes to get a job done. Those who succeed are not those who know it all, but those who know where to go to get the answer.
2. Seeking out sages can be counterintuitive. Oftentimes the advice we receive from sages may seem impractical and somewhat awkward. It’s only when we adhere to the wisdom of a specialist, and see the reward, do we finally acknowledge the value of a sage. Be careful not to write someone off as out-of-bounds, just because what he or she is saying does not make sense. This could be a telltale sign of a sage.
I would like to end by giving thanks to the following people:
God – first and foremost, it was His enabling power that gave me the physical, psychological, mental and emotional strength to complete the race, when everything seemed so out of reach. I am so grateful to God for His enabling mercy.
My Wife – I am very grateful to my wife for encouraging me when it seemed as though the marathon was not going to happen for me. She cleared my thinking by the comments she made, and she helped me to process the various ups and downs that came as a result of the on-again, off-again nature of managing my injury. My wife’s greatest assistance was running the last mile and a half with me prior to crossing the finish line. What an experience!
My Kids – My own children were probably my best cheerleaders. When I became injured, they were the ones who quickly went to prayer for my restoration and also helped by sending me encouraging notes and messages. They were right there with me, during the heart of my trial, evidenced by their emotional support and timely phone calls, during the race. You can’t ask for a better support mechanism.
Dr. Perry Julien – I would not have run the marathon because of the limitations of my own thinking had it not been for Perry Julien. He refused to let me use an injury as an excuse for not trying. In addition, by taking the initiative to contact me on two occasions rather than wait for me to find him, he enabled me to succeed. It was a rare form of
Coach Roy Benson – Coach Benson played a key role in my training, as he is one of the all-time running sages. His training approach and subsequent analysis of my situation gave me the instruction I needed to do it right. The lessons I learned by spending a little time with this man will last for a lifetime.
My Running Group – They were really the only ones who knew the severity of my disappointment. Since they themselves were invested emotionally and physically to complete their own first marathons, they understood the pitfalls of being prevented from completing that goal. They encouraged me and supported me in a way that no one else could do. I am grateful for the group of people that God gave me as teammates (Larry and Linda Wartes, Elinore Meadows, Kim Schwartz, Jayne Nickell and Laura Gallinari).
The outcome of my first marathon has produced in me, a very different person. I am forever changed. I guess the real testimony here is that I could have been the same person after crossing the finish line, had I not seen this as an opportunity to learn life lessons. From that realization I then think about how many opportunities I probably pass up every day, which could help contribute to my personal growth, if only I could have this same mindset.
Yes indeed—the circumstances of life are our best teachers. And like a drowsy student waiting for the school day to end, I could miss it all and fail the test if I allow my heart to harden. A heart in a hardened condition gets that way through the gradual process of ignoring life’s lessons through circumstances. The worst tragedy possible is that we lack the tools we need to succeed, simply because we did not learn the basic lessons–like those simple math problems in math class.
Every day holds something that we need in order to learn and grow into the individuals that God made us to be. We all need to go back to school and start afresh today—knowing that in this day, whether the circumstances be good or bad, are life lessons available to those with tender hearts, giving them power to live better and more productive lives.
God speaking to the Children of Israel, clarifying His motives:
“He led you through the great and terrible wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water; He brought water for you out of the rock of flint. In the wilderness He fed you manna which your fathers did not know, that He might humble you and that He might test you, to do good for you in the end.” (Emphasis added)