The race known as The Ironman Triathlon is one of the most physically demanding of all athletic pursuits. A competitor is allowed 17 hours to complete this arduous three-part race. It requires the contender to swim 2.4 miles, bicycle 112 miles, and run a marathon of 26.22 miles!
The half Ironman, dubbed Ironman 70.3, is also a body-punishing event, but requires the contender to endure exactly half the distance of the full triathlon. For this challenge, the athlete must finish the course within 8 hours and 30 minutes or be disqualified.
On December 12, 2021, my granddaughter, Gillian entered the Ironman 70.3 competition being held in Haines, Florida. During the previous twenty-five weeks, she had been cross-training in anticipation of the strenuous contest. The first three weeks of preparation were relatively light, but she knew she must pick up her efforts and train vigorously in the weeks that remained. Her workout routine was up to two hours daily, and additional hours were done on the weekend. Gillian knew that she would be competing with veteran challengers who had completed or won the race in record time. Her personal goal was to finish in much less than the allotted time.
On the day of the race, Gillian had a cheering section which included her mother, sister, two aunts, and a friend. Her supporters yelled encouragement, clapped, rang a clanging cowbell, and prayed for her endurance. They knew that the Florida heat and humidity would take a toll on all the participants.
Gillian finished the swimming and had bicycled the 56 miles. She was running the last two miles of the 13.1 mile marathon. Though sweaty and exhausted, she was still intent on persevering to the end of the course. Remarkably, her recorded finish time was 7 hours and 31 minutes!
I was in awe of her unyielding determination and her amazing achievement. I reflected on what she had accomplished, and remembered what the Apostle, Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth. His letter is recorded in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (Complete Jewish Study Bible): “Don’t you know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one wins the prize? So then, run to win! Now every athlete in training submits himself to strict discipline, and he does it just to win a laurel wreath that will soon wither away. But we do it to win a crown that will last forever. Accordingly, I don’t run aimlessly but straight for the finish line; I don’t shadow-box but try to make every punch count. I treat my body hard and make it my slave so that, after proclaiming the Good News to others, I myself will not be disqualified.”
The Prophet, Isaiah also wrote words of encouragement for those who might grow weary and want to quit because of their pain. In reference to God, he advised “He invigorates the exhausted, he gives strength to the powerless. Young men may grow tired and weary, even the fittest may stumble and fall; but those who hope in Adonai will renew their strength, they will soar aloft as with eagles’ wings; when they are running they won’t grow weary, when they are walking they won’t get tired.” Isaiah 40:29-31 (Complete Jewish Study Bible).
The Apostle, Paul certainly understood physical pain. For sharing the gospel, he had been punished by severe flogging. He had been battered with stones, beaten with rods, and left for dead. During his travels he was bitten by a poisonous viper and shipwrecked four times. As a mentor to Timothy, Paul summed up his own life which he knew was about to end. “…the time for my departure has arrived. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. All that awaits me now is the crown of righteousness which the Lord, “the Righteous Judge” will award to me on that Day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for him to appear.” 2 Timothy 4:6-8 (Complete Jewish Study Bible).
The “race” which Paul mentions is a well-known metaphor for the Christian life. He encourages us to put forth our best effort and run with endurance, as we go the distance in the course set for us.
Run well in your heavenly race, knowing that the Lord Himself is
cheering you on to the finish line.