On August 13, I received an email from a friend offering me a bib for the New York City Marathon on November 1. My friend’s company was one of the corporate sponsors, and they had a few open slots. You have to understand - entry to the marathon, like many other aspects of life in the City, is extremely competitive. There are only three ways to run: win the lottery, run 9 races (plus volunteer for another) or raise thousands of dollars for one of the approved charities. Plus, there is the registration fee of $255. All of that was being waved, and I was offered a spot on the starting line without all that hassle and absolutely free. I couldn’t pass it up.
But before I could say yes I had to have a difficult conversation with my wife Lily. We have a toddler, and my wife is in graduate school with Saturday classes. I had already agreed to watch our son every Saturday through the fall. I love taking him in his jogging stroller for short runs over the Brooklyn Bridge, but he wasn’t about to abide 20 miles! Around that time, a kind and generous friend wanted to encourage us by helping us with childcare. She wanted to cover a babysitter for 20 hours each month for us. Her creativity and generosity made the marathon experience possible for me. It felt a bit extravagant to be paying for a babysitter so that I could go on my long runs, but if you’ve ever experienced the joy of running you know it’s priceless. Not to mention physically and spiritually renewing, which I’ll write about in my next blog.
With the approval of my wife and son, I began to set up a training program. I had eleven weeks until the marathon and I hadn’t really begun training in earnest. I had ten weeks to get in shape and one week to taper.
I quickly realized that I couldn’t do this alone and began to train with two local running groups. One was faith-based and one was not. Team World Vision raises money for clean water projects and other global needs. Orchard Street Runners is a running club on the Lower East Side that brings a passion to their running and socializing. We meet for tempo runs (6:00 to 8:00/mile pace) and then head to An Choi for pho and tiger beer. I really enjoyed the physical and relational aspects of both teams. World Vision was a gathering of other believers who wanted to run for a good cause. During our long runs, we were able to talk about our churches, our faith and life in New York very openly. OSR was amazing as well. I’ve made some friends on that team, and plan to continue to train with them through the winter. Midway through those runs, the topic of work would often come up. Most of my teammates were surprised - perhaps shocked is a better word - to hear that I am a pastor. Responses included, “Sorry I’ve been cursing so much,” and “Is that a real job?” But we were inevitably able to get past that hurdle and start talking about faith. I guess most of my teammates felt that they had a captive audience, since we were usually four or five miles from home. Most took the opportunity to ask a member of the clergy a question they’ve long thought about. Now I can check off “Explain the Trinity while running 6:30/minute miles” off my bucket list. I always had a great time engaging in the conversation with them and sharing my hope.
My training came together and slowly but surely I got in shape for the marathon. Running through all five boroughs was one of the greatest experiences of my life. It’s truly a day I will never forget. The crowds make you feel like a rock star. The energy of the city is absolutely unmatched. When you come off the 59th Street Bridge and into Manhattan, running north on 1st Ave, there’s a wall of sound that takes your breath away. It’s absolutely exhilarating - I hope everyone can experience something like that in their lifetimes. The friends and family (and random strangers!) that came to cheer me on got me across that finish line. Your whole body wants to quit and the exhaustion plays with your mind. But I had a joy that couldn’t be squelched and I just kept moving, over the rolling hills of Central Park and back toward the finish line. I sprinted the last hundred meters, crossed the line and felt my legs seize up. I couldn’t have run another step. Fortunately, I didn’t have to. They were putting a medal around my neck and trying to force me to smile.
In my next blog, I’m going to talk about the new lens God gave me for the city as I actually ran the marathon.