A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of being part of the conversation between two runners. I am not a runner (that’s where the privilege part comes in). That these two runners, who have run MARATHONS would even associate with me, much less let me take part in their conversation, was truly a testimony to their kindness. For the record, “taking part in” means I nodded and said “Wow” a lot.
The two runners, one a man I just met and the other a woman who is a dear friend, each had a story to tell of struggling while running marathons (both are seasoned runners). The gentleman told the story of reaching close to mile 22 and deciding he just wasn’t going to make it. Along came a cheerleader/motivator/pace runner (whatever is equivalent to an angel in the running world) and asked how this gentleman was doing. He admitted that he felt like he couldn’t do it and was planning to catch the next shuttle he saw to the finish line. The encourager reminded the runner of how far he had come, how relatively short the remaining distance was, and that there is no oval sticker that says 22. It was the encouragement the gentleman runner needed to dig deep, set his eyes on the goal, and finish that marathon. He is the proud owner of an oval sticker that says 26.2.
The other runner, my dear friend, told a similar story of one of her marathon runs. She had not been feeling this particular run, and she also entertained thoughts of stopping short. Another runner began running with her for a bit, encouraging her to keep going. After pacing with her for a time and reminding her of how far she had come and how relatively short the remaining distance was, the encourager moved on ahead. My friend finished her marathon and was surprised and thrilled that her encourager finished the race and then stayed at the finish line to cheer on my friend. That 26.2 oval sticker was certainly a validation of staying the course and finishing well.
Again, I am not a runner. Not in the physical sense anyway. But I will tell you that the planning each year for the annual Spencer C Duncan Make It Count 5K feels like a marathon. We start early, usually in September, to reach out to new sponsors, touch base with previous sponsors, and to review the previous event and make plans for improvement. There are reports to file, money to give away, things to put in storage, and pages of notes of things to do differently or better next time. By the time we get through the holidays (a very emotionally draining time), it is time to get serious about the upcoming event. There is planning, more planning, and meetings on a regular basis.
When May rolls around, we are in full operational mode. So many details to take care of, so many things to remember to do, so much time spent talking about the 5K that Dale and I have to make a conscious effort to talk about things other than the run. There are hundreds of phone calls, emails and messages, each of them important and in need of attention.
And sometimes, just sometimes, I want to quit.
I’m not proud of that. I’m not proud that I fight being jealous of people who get to plan a summer vacation without regard to the first Saturday in August. I’m not proud that I sometimes resent that our summers can’t be what they used to be: relaxing months of lazily meandering through the days, eating late and staying up later, never even giving a thought to what must be accomplished next from a mile-long TO DO list. I miss waking up and not being bombarded with the reality of our situation that Spencer will never come home and that we will never again experience life without that knowledge.
I cry when we receive a donation check. I cry when someone donates a service, or food, or ice, or time. I cry when I see a stack of finisher medals. I cry when I’m writing a blog. I cry when I think, “This is something Spencer would really like.” I cry when my husband is quiet and looking off into space because I know he is thinking about Spencer. I cry when I see Spencer’s brothers get a lump in their throats when there is something particularly poignant regarding their big bro.
And sometimes, just sometimes, I want to quit.
But the most amazing thing happens. Someone runs by and reminds us how far we have come and how relatively short the distance is to the finish line. One life. That’s all any of us have to make a difference. Some have a shorter distance to cover from start to finish, but even if our time is 100 years, that’s a relatively short amount of time in which to make a difference in this world. However far we’ve come, the distance to the finish is continuing to get closer.
Sometimes, just sometimes, we need a reminder.
Sometimes, just sometimes, we need someone to whisper in our ears encouraging words to remind us to keep going. And you know the truly awe-inspiring thing about those who come along and encourage us? They are running this race, too. They are the ones who help carry out the details. They are the ones who give up time with their families to sit through meetings. They are the ones who hand us Kleenex when we cry, throw their arms around us when we feel like we can’t go on, and they are the ones turning around to cheer us on. They are grieving, too. This is their marathon as well.
There won’t be an oval sticker on August 1 to validate this accomplishment of making it through one more year of planning, preparation, and execution. But there will be a dog tag. And its message will be clear: MAKE IT COUNT.
To our friends, family, community, and our sponsors, THANK YOU will never be adequate. You are our encouragers, our running buddies, our pacesetters, and our finishers. Thanks for choosing to run with us.
~Megan Moore Duncan