Last month, a bunch of the crew from BT Run Club ran the Perth Marathon. 42.2 kilometers is a long way and the more help you can get, the better. Because of this, we try as much as possible, to make the journey smooth for those who are running.
We pair up runners of a similar pace so they can buddy-up and help each other out.
We also have something that we call “Little Norwegians” – people who aren’t running the whole race who help people who are, and make the race somehow a little lighter and more encouraging for them. It changes a whole lot to have a cheerleader by your side and these ‘Little Norwegians’ are essentially Sherpas for a part of the journey. They keep pace, carry drinks and gels, encourage continually, give (hopefully) helpful advice, often helping to make a target time a reality.
This was my gig on race day. I ran a 15-kilometer stretch from 3 – 18 kilometers with two people making their marathon debuts: Steve and Janet. They were running a treat! It was a privilege to be by their side and talk them up as they reeled off kilometer after kilometer on pace and looking great.
With a kilometer of my stint to go, I tried to think of some helpful hints to send them on with. Things I hoped they’d remember down the track: smile – look for any opportunity you can to smile – it helps to calm your whole body; relax – keep letting the tension out of your arms and shoulders; drink – you need fluid more than you realise; and, finally, it’s your head that will get you to the finish, not your legs, so make sure you manage to get the conversation the right way around!
With some final words of encouragement, I peeled off and, having finished close to where I started, started walking back to the car.
As I did, I walked through the drink station.
If you ever want to feel re-enthused about life and humanity, hang out at a drink station for a few minutes!
Whenever there are a whole lot of people running, there will be a whole lot of people helping them to run: husbands cheering wives, parents cheering children, children cheering parents, strangers cheering other strangers, and runners cheering other runners. Not necessarily because they can win, but to propel them towards the finish line.
The drink station is an operation of organised chaos. About 20-30 officials were preparing, distributing, and cheering as runners approached. It was a mess of excitement as they handed out water, energy drinks, and gels to the runners whizzing past.
As I approached, a big shout went up. A woman with a booming voice, from her long-range vantage, called: “Man up; we’ve got a big crew coming through.”
At that moment, from around the Boatshed Café, a group of 30 or so rushed through, headed by their ‘Little Norwegian’, Steve Monaghetti.
This spike in traffic turned the drink-handlers into a fully activated, slick unit. They were mobilised and knew just what to do. They were there to give sustenance to every one of the runners, not missing a soul. To not only equip runners for the journey ahead, but to encourage them as they did.
There were cries of ‘water, water, Shotz, Shotz, water, ‘bottles here’, water…’
As I jumped into the car, I realise that I’d just seen a sweet picture of what we’re called to as Jesus’ church.
The Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians:
He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”
Before we do a thing, there is a primary call to love and grace, andbut those gifts are to activate the Body of Christ. They are to help the Church mature and function freely and faithfully. And they are to help the members of the Body run and finish the race well.
The five-fold gifts of ministry that Paul speaks of are for the purpose of equipping the Body to fulfill Jesus’ Great Commission.
I have no doubt that there were some at that drink station who were injured runners. I’m certainly in that category right now. But even the injured had a part to play on that day – they could cheer on those who were racing – even bumble along with them for a while – and, by doing so, become part of the race themselves.
What a beautiful picture.
When the weight got heavier at that drink station, it wasn’t the time for a little rest. It was a moment to ‘man up’. To go shoulder-to-shoulder to accomplish the task. To be fully activated, fully present, fully committed, and fully aware of what needed to happen next.
If a group of people can band together to help a bunch of runners get a drink during a marathon, how much more should we, as people who are seeking to be faithful to Jesus’ Great Commission, stand shoulder to shoulder and equip the saints for works of ministry?
It sure looks beautiful when it happens.