The faster you get to the finish line, the faster you can stop moving! With other athletes heaving and spewing up the entire contents of their stomachs around me—as we collectively shuffled forward, trying to get to that glorious finish line—this was the thought running through my head during the marathon portion of the Ironman Triathlon in Cairns last year.
Never before during an Ironman event had I contemplated pulling out of a race like I did that day. Never once during a race had I thought, That’s it! I’m taking up knitting! But for some reason that day was especially hard. The conditions were tough, and by the time I got to the run, I was hurting; my feet were blistered and burning. It was the hardest Ironman race I’d done so far, and I’d lost my mental focus. Physically and mentally, I’d had enough; I just wanted it to end. But there was no way I was giving up!
An iron distance triathlon consists of a 3.8-kilometre open water swim, a 180-kilometre cycle and a 42.2-kilometre run, because a marathon on its own isn’t hard enough, right? It’s one of the most gruelling one-day sporting events on the planet. It challenges your every ability and thought. It requires tenacity, perseverance, consistency, a little bit of crazy and a level of sacrifice most people don’t understand. To complete an Ironman triathlon requires a fighting spirit, a never-give-up attitude. But when you come across that finish line to the words “You’re an Ironman!” it’s worth it.
I first began competing in triathlons about six years ago. I’ve always been a runner, so I thought triathlons would be something fun to do. I purchased a bike at a sale one year and began training. Six years and countless events later, from sprint- and Olympic-distance triathlons to half- and full-Iron distance events, I’ve completed four full Ironman events and am in training for Ironman number five. That’s a lot of sweat and a lot of “Sorry, I can’t—I have to be up at five tomorrow—training!”
From the outside, the sacrifice and the huge amount of time spent in training might seem wasteful, even bizarre and ridiculous. Why would anyone do that? It’s a road not many people choose to travel.
And here’s what I’ve learned from my journey so far: it’s a bit like my Christian faith and waiting for Jesus’ promised return to earth. “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:1, 2).
To run any distance or time requires effort. It’s impossible to train for and to finish a marathon or an Ironman race without daily effort and determination and without a laser-sharp focus on the goal of crossing that finishing line. Effort is also required to run the race of faith, to stay motivated and focused on the ultimate prize (life eternal spent with God in heaven), especially in a time when it would be much easier to give up the fight and follow the crowd. So get up and run! Run with energy toward the ultimate prize. “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:24).
Athletes compete against each other in a race, or it isn’t a race. At the end, there’s but one winner who gets to stand on that coveted top spot on the podium. The difference between this and an endurance event like Ironman, particularly for amateur athletes, is that the race is not so much about racing against others as it is against yourself—against your own mind and thoughts. If you buy into the negative thoughts that creep into your mind, your race will be over. Learn to overcome them and you will get to that finish line.
In a similar way, the race of faith is an individual journey and ultimately, you are racing against yourself—your own mind, thoughts and temptations. It’s easy to buy into the negativity and to stop. The easy way out is to quit. But when negativity starts to sneak in—and it will—and when all you want to do is to give up, remember, “I can do all things through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).
So stay strong. Don’t quit. Don’t stop. Because that finish line is just around the corner.
Endurance demands persistence and perseverance. It requires mental and physical strength. It isn’t easy to keep going when your body and mind are screaming Stop! You have to be prepared to be in it for the long haul—it isn’t a sprint!
Endurance also requires consistency. You have to be consistent in daily training because it’s impossible to complete an endurance event like an Ironman race without training. That’s the thing about this sport: If you don’t do the training, don’t expect to get to the finish line (and let’s be honest, you’ll have only yourself to blame).
In an Ironman event you also have to be consistent during the race. You have to pace yourself and to focus on your own race rather than getting distracted by what other competitors might be doing.
The race of faith is similar in that to reach the end you have to be prepared to be in it for a long period of time. You have to be persistent and you have to persevere. This requires daily training: prayer, worship and meditation on the Word. Knowing why you started (why you first believed) and focusing on your goal and the prize ahead will help you to maintain focus and perseverance.
Is it easy waiting for the second coming of Jesus? Is it easy to believe in something our world doubts and mocks? Is it easy to be the odd one out? Is it easy to make the sacrifices required to stay true and faithful? Believe me, I know how hard it can be. It’s much easier to stop believing, to follow the world and to give in to temptation. But at what cost?
We’re very close to that finish line. So don’t stop! Don’t give up! Because in the end, it will be worth it.