In early October, 2010 I took a drive over to St. Paul to watch part of the Twin Cities Marathon. I’ve done this before, so I knew I would be inspired. What I also got was a perfect example of the power of encouragement.
Not long before this I decided to take up running, again, so I paid attention to all things running. Naturally, I couldn’t let the Twin Cities Marathon go by without taking notice. October 3rd turned out to be one of the most beautiful days this fall had to offer. The sun was shining brightly and the leaves seemed to be at the peak of color. I picked a spot just shy of the 24 mile marker and waited for the lead runner to come by. When Sergio Reyes from California was running (and, yes, I do mean running) up Summit Avenue, he was preceded by a fire truck, two policemen on motorcycles and a trolley car packed with volunteers. The crowds along Summit Avenue cheered and clapped for this amazing athlete while admiring his long stride that showed no signs of slowing. Less than 15 minutes behind him was the women’s leader Buzunesh Deba of Ethiopia. I was struck by her strength and speed – and, again, no signs of wanting to slow down. I took a lot of pictures of these early finishers. It’s impossible to be unimpressed with where their years of training have brought them. It was so exciting to watch.
As amazing as these early runners were, the true inspiration came about two and a half hours later. The crowds had grown even more along the 22 – 24 mile markers as hundreds of slow, tired runners trickled by. I wondered if somewhere along the way, when muscles got tired and stiff, if the temptation to stop and go no further was a voice that was loud and unrelenting. But then, a chorus of cheers, bells and music would ring out, encouraging each runner to keep going. “Keep it up! You look good! You’re almost there!” were the encouraging words I heard so many times and yelled out myself to exhausted runners. It was powerful to see the impact of those cheers on these runners. Some would pick up their pace. Others changed the look of agony on their face to a grateful smile that morphed into determination. You could almost see their mind make the decision at that point, “I will not give up. I can do this!” Even though I had yet to run a marathon, I think I had a sense as to how they feel.
Encouragement has the power to change one from wanting to give up to believing and knowing one can accomplish his or her goal. Six years later, I have run seven marathons and have found myself benefiting from the enthusiastic encouragement of others. It is the cheers and support that I have received from the marathon crowds that inspire me to do the same for others. Interestingly enough, the act of cheering for other runners increased my resolve to persevere to achieve my goal. If I’m going to be out there encouraging others to not give up, I better make certain I do not give us as well.
Everyone needs encouragement – both in our faith walk and in our athletic endeavors. God does not mean for us to walk our journeys alone. One of the ways He shows His love to us is through the loving acts of others. Soak in the encouragement you receive from others. It’s a powerful tool to keep you moving forward and focused on your goals. There will be days, of course, when that encouragement is not there. The world around you will seem disinterested and self-focused. When that happens, find someone who needs your cheers and support. You will be amazed at the impact your kind and encouraging words have on them. Then, you will discover the impact that experience has on you! My prayer for you is that God will show you your cheerleaders, your encouragers. I pray they are louder than the temptation to quit. I assure you, the reward you will receive at the finish line is far greater than any pain along the way.