I love cheering at marathons. There’s the bustling clumps of people all around you. People are excited and hopeful. Everyone seems like they have brought out their best moods. And for these few hours, the race is all you have to think about.
[Let me clarify and say I do not feel the same way about actually running a marathon so if you were planning on asking me to “train” with you or do a “sign-up” of any kind then you should just move along. Nope. Not going to happen.]
Besides, what’s a marathon without the support of the people watching on the side?
It’s a strange love of mine – cheering on strangers and friends – that has been running deep in my veins for quite awhile. I’ve markered up some pretty catchy posters, done some exciting self-food marathons along the way and once, I even jumped into the race to catch a falling girl who had passed out (but that’s another story).
The Nashville marathon is this weekend and it got me thinking about how sometimes it’s easy to overlook the people on the sidelines. You almost expect them to be there and they can go unnoticed unless the streets are empty or abnormally overflowing. But these are the people who are self-sacrificially investing their morning to (somewhat) boringly wait on a three second glimpse of a friend rushing by. It’s a fleeting moment of ‘hellos’, but so many runners have told me what a huge impact it makes to have people cheering for them every step of the way.
It’s something we as humans crave; the need for people on our sidelines as we run our life-marathon. Sometimes these simple, small gestures can make all the difference when you’re running uphill.
I recently heard a story from when my friend Kelli ran the Nashville marathon a few years ago. She had trained for months with her friend, carbed-up the night before and mentally prepared herself to take on her first marathon. Her friends knew that even though Kelli was determined and able, she would still need encouragement. So, they mapped out the route and split the group up. At every couple of mile markers, without fail, there would be a body, a friend, cheering for Kelli.
Life can feel like a marathon.
We’re putting on our tennis shoes and doing some mild stretches before taking off toward the finish line. Some days it’s easy. The mile is smooth and the wind is blowing kindly. Some days are not so sweet. The hill is steep and endless or you’re on a road full of potholes. And on those rough parts, it can mean so much to look to the side and see a cloud of witnesses cheering you on, posters in hand, pushing you forward. Sometimes these moments can be pivotal to your next step.
Some days I don’t bother looking at my the sidelines. The run is easy – I don’t need anyone’s help, I tell myself, as I turn up the music in my ear buds. But let me tell you, in the moments when your heart is weary, an empty sideline can feel almost deafening.
Kelli was hitting her stride during the marathon. Each mile ticked off getting her closer and closer to the finish line. She survived the painful uphill climb on 12th South, she turned onto Wedgewood and soon, she was passing through downtown Nashville. But around the halfway point, looking forward to seeing a friendly face wasn’t going to be enough to keep her going. There was too much left to go, there were some unexpected hills along the way and Kelli was growing weary.
Her friends on the sideline continued to scream words of encouragement for her but they could see from her face that she was struggling to continue on.
Then something amazing happened.
Kelli’s friend – the one who had trained with her – jumped the barricade. And in that moment, he went from the cheering fan to her running partner. In this selfless act of love, he came up alongside Kelli and ran the rest of the race with her. Then, a couple miles before the finish line, with her confidence up, he jumped back into the crowd and met the rest of the group at the finish line.
When was the last time you jumped into a marathon? We’ve done our minimal parts drawing up posters, sending a text with a smiley face, grabbing a cup of coffee every few months, but when was the last time we practiced loving so brilliantly big and selflessly?
We can learn a lot from Kelli’s friend; I want to be a friend like that. One who understands the weight of being a true friend. One who not just faithfully stands on the sidelines, but is willing to jump in to a race that doesn’t belong to me wholeheartedly, without a second thought. I think that’s where our minds can get the best of us. We second guess these impactful acts of love. Is it too much? Maybe they don’t want us to? Do we have time? We convince ourselves that we have our own burdens to worry about, our own marathons to run. But when it comes to living out Greater Love, no sacrifice is too much for a friend.
This weekend, I’ve carefully drawn out some posters which I’ll bring to my usual spot on the race path. I don’t think I know anyone who will be running but I’m content just doing my part yelling happy thoughts out to strangers. But in the meantime, I may start carrying my tennis shoes around with me. Because when the time comes that I see a friend struggling on their life-marathon, I want to be ready to jump in without hesitation. Head in. Heart full. Feet first.
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down his life for his friends.