Angel on the Run

Category: Reflections

By Ivan Cordoba

How did I get myself into this? My knees felt as though ice picks were stabbing them from every side. I passed the 10-km marker. Only 11.243 km to go—only!

I had taken up running after a friend had run his first marathon. “It will be a great experience!” he assured me. “It” was the 15th Rio International Half-Marathon. I wasn’t so sure. I’d always preferred adrenaline-pumping team sports to slow, laborious distance running and the monotonous sound of my own feet pounding pavement.

Finally my friend persuaded me to meet him at the registration office. There I saw hundreds of runners who had come from all corners of Brazil and many other countries to register for and take part in this event, and I spoke with a few of them. One man had been running marathons for over 30 years. He told me about some of his experiences, and his enthusiasm was contagious.

The only way I would actually do this, I reasoned, was if I went through the initial pain of paying the registration fee. While that wasn’t a lot of money for most of the other runners, it was for me, a full-time volunteer. But if this turned out to be the life-changing experience the seasoned contender promised it would be, it would be worth it. I decided to give it a shot, even though the race was only one month away and I was out of shape due to a general lack of exercise. I put down my money and signed on the dotted line.

That month I trained whenever I could. It was hard to bring myself to run after a full day’s work, but every time I thought about quitting I would picture that registration fee flying away and put on my running shoes.

The day came, the starting signal rang out, and like stampeding buffalos, 15,000 runners jostled for position. For the first few kilometers, everything was wonderful. I felt as light as a bird in flight as I zigzagged between other runners until I had left many of them behind. The perfect spring weather and the sight of Rio de Janeiro’s beautiful beaches to one side had my mind soaring. What was all the fuss about? This was easy! I could already picture myself crossing the finish line in Chariots of Fire fashion. I waved to the crowds that lined the streets as though they were cheering for me alone.

Then it happened. With a little more than half the course still ahead of me, the pain I had felt in my knees during training was back!

“You should stop!”

“If you do, it will all have been in vain!”

As those two voices in my head argued it out, I kept going. Meanwhile, more and more of my fellow runners were slowing down and dropping out. The midday heat was taking a toll. I was sure I would be next. I couldn’t feel my legs anymore. Dozens of senior-citizen runners passed me. I had no more pride to go on. I was not going to finish.

Just as I was about to give up, a young woman glanced over as she passed me. She was going only a little faster than me, but keeping a steady pace in contrast to my own rapidly decreasing one. She seemed very determined to finish the race. I struggled to catch up with her and then hold to her pace. Hope returned. Soon we were chatting between gasps for air. I forgot the pain in my knees. It still wasn’t easy, but I finished the race—and even within the time I had set as my goal. I’m sure that if it hadn’t been for that young woman, I wouldn’t now have a finisher’s medal hanging on my wall.

That experience got me thinking about life’s race. At times it’s easy and everything seems beautiful. At other times the heat is turned up, and pain, exhaustion, despair, and a host of other negatives set in. But God is rooting for us, and if we look to Him for help, He will do whatever it takes to help us make it to the finish line. He also likes to use us to help each other make it, like He used that “angel” to pace and encourage me. Unlike the athletic competitions of this world, life is a race that He means for us to run and win together.

As the apostle Paul wrote, “Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2).