This weekend I had the chance to watch my dad run his first ever marathon. He ran a half marathon last summer, but decided that this year he wanted to up the ante. That being said I think many of his friends and co-workers (and also my mother) had some reservations. My dad didn’t take up running until his late thirties or early forties, though he had been a long time cyclist. He also suffers from asthma and isn’t always careful about factoring this into his fitness goals. A few years ago he had to take a month off from running to heal a ligament strain in his knee. While he continues to be fit, he is also noticing pain in his knees, shins and hips as he ages. (That’s life over fifty). But I admired his tenacity. He followed a training schedule he found on the internet and talked to other runners. Over the summer he got up very early in the morning to run before it got too hot. Instead of his usual runs around the neighborhood he drove to areas with better running paths. It was a ton of work and very physically taxing.

The day of the race wasn’t too hot, but very humid. There were four exchange points where supporters gathered. (They were called exchange points because that was where the relay runners exchanged positions). We didn’t make it to the first exchange due to the early hour. My husband, daughter and I met my mother, sister and brother in law at exchange point #2, arriving just in time to see my dad run past. My brother-in-law even ran with him for a while to help encourage him and pace him. We drove to the next few exchange points, each time waiting and hoping he would be OK. I think we were all worried he would have a cramp or injury and give up. But he kept plugging. At the final exchange point my daughter and I walked and ran with him for a few paces. He was tired, his shins and knees hurt and he was fairly certain one of his feet were bleeding. But we kept cheering him on.

My dad didn’t play sports growing up. He’s generally doesn’t enjoy organized sports. In fact he joked that by entering a marathon he had accidentally joined an organized sport. As we waited at the finish line the excitement built. When we finally saw him coming down the street there was a rush of adrenaline. I almost wished I could run with him. He finished in less than five hours. Not a world record, but significant for a man running his first marathon at age 54. Initially I think he was just glad that it was over, but eventually I hope he’ll see how amazing this is.

We all have goals for our lives. Many of those goals involve training and discipline. I will probably never run a marathon but I want to finish my first novel and develop a daily writing habit. Finishing the race is a huge moment. I wasn’t quite sure why I was so excited until I realized that I’ve rarely been a part of a major accomplishment in my father’s life. I was there when he got his Master’s degree, but I was so small I barely remember it. I did get to be there when he installed as associate pastor of a church. But this was different. I watched him train, I saw him struggle. I remember him wanting to give up and I was there when he crossed the finish line.

As we run our races in life, we aren’t alone. Those who love and support us are running along side us, pacing us, cheering from the sidelines and celebrating our victories. As a Christian, I think a lot about my spiritual life as a race. I love Hebrews 12:1.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”

Next time you want to give up remember all the supporters you have cheering you on, both seen and unseen.