When people cheer at races, I have to try really, really hard not to bawl. Weird, I know!
Not because I’m unhappy, like oh these poor runners, but because I’m emotional and reflective. It requires me shutting up because if I cheer, too, my voice will crack and everyone nearby will look at me funny and go what’s that girl’s problem? Races are supposed to be exciting! Energetic! Races are upbeat! It’s a gorgeous day – why are you crying?
But there’s no way I can listen to the cheering without getting emotional. I can’t stand next to other race observers who cheer for every person that runs by – even if they don’t know them – without crying. Because that’s what happens at races.
And that’s what gets me.
Last summer my dad ran a 10k. My mom and I did not run. We brought Caribou Coffee and stood on a corner near the end of the race route to watch. It was the first race I’d observed.
(I’ve run in one 5k, but I was too stinking exhausted to make many intentional observations along the way. But I did hear a lot of cheering.)
Waiting for dad to appear, I was shocked by the amount of encouragement from every race onlooker.It would be silent for 30 seconds, the breeze stirring the trees, no runners in sight. Then, suddenly, a runner would appear out of the woods – and all the people around me would put their hands together. You can do it! they would yell. Good job! You’re almost there! Their voices warm and hopeful. Run home, run home!
The clapping, whistles, and cheers combined with the poor, grimacing runners (who just give a thumbs up, maybe, or just nod – it’s all they can do!) puts me over the edge.
When I cheer at races, the parallels of running to living life hit me like a hippo falling from the Willis Tower. No wonder there’s so many movies on runners and athletic teams: victory is one of our favorite story lines.
Runners pushing to the finish line make me think about life and death and living well. I hear the dear-hearted onlookers’ cheers like they are the cheers of friends giving their friends a push to get through tough times, or just a little reminder that they believe in them. I think about how we need our friends. We need them!
And we also just need people to cheer for us – anyone – because life, like long races, is hard.
This past Saturday morning, my Daddy ran the Maple Grove Half Marathon, his longest race ever: 13.1 miles.I was already teary-eyed in the car on the highway driving to the race. (Sad, but true.)
I stood close to the end. Maybe it’s silly, but watching the runners circle the corner on their last three tenths of a mile was one of those little golden moments I wanted to capture forever in a slideshow, or a picture box. I wanted to bottle up the moment and drink it later, when I need a little reminder of how wonderful it is to be cheered for in dark, grueling moments.
Most of the runners were dying at this point. I’m talking, just about ready to lay on the pavement and throw their shoes at the race officials, or pay a thousand bucks for a helicopter to swoop down and carry them to the finish line. But these runners were hell-bent on finishing, too. That’s where the moms, dads, grandparents, and kids on the sidelines had to step in with all their lungs, their best funny comments, their biggest smiles, and their heartiest clapping. They wanted the runners to finish, too.
One of my favorite parts of Saturday was finally seeing Daddy: sun-worn, sweaty, sore. And getting to cheer for him (and thankfully not crying!).
And lastly, my other favorite part was watching a mom and her two little kids wait for their dad to run by.
When he finally did, he was shirtless and a nasty, sweaty mess at mile 12.9. He picked up the baby in the stroller and kissed it. He kissed his son. And he said, “Hey buddy, want to run with daddy?”
Then he stripped the kid’s shirt off (it was a little boy, don’t worry), threw the shirt at amused, proud wife, and grabbed his kid’s hand. And took off down the road, the little kid giggling, the dad worn and beaten and happy as heck. And the wife cheers like she’s the proudest woman on earth. And I’m thinking of all the times Paul compares living to athletics in the New Testament: when he encourages the believers to run the race marked out for us. When Isaiah says one day, we will run and not grow faint.
You guessed it: I was teary-eyed.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. Hebrews 12:1