Many years ago, I was a pack-a-day smoker. I started smoking when I was in middle school and carried the habit through my twenties. When I finally decided to quit for good, I used running as the deterrent. I had tried a hundred different methods to quit unsuccessfully, and so every morning I woke up and went for a very short run. As you can imagine, I couldn’t run very far, but it worked, and I eventually put down the cigarettes for good.
The next year I found myself in a health psychology class at Greenville Tech and the professor offered that if we volunteer for the Greer Earth Day Half Marathon that we would get extra credit for the course. I asked if I could run it for the same credit and he agreed. A few weeks later I completed my first half marathon and fell in love with running. As an introvert; running gave me time to recharge, spend time thinking, and time in prayer.
In the running world, certain races are the pinnacles of the sport. I knew immediately upon completing a half marathon that I wanted to try and run a marathon. A few years later I completed my first marathon in Raleigh. I didn’t complete my goals for the race, and I struggled through the last 8 miles, but I got it done. This was probably about ten years ago, and I knew then that one day I wanted to register for and complete an Ironman triathlon.
For the record, this was a completely ridiculous goal. Ironman is one of the most grueling events in endurance sports. It is so long that it takes active marathon and general triathletes who are in endurance shape at least a year and often two years to train for in preparation.
Two weeks ago, I completed Ironman Chattanooga in 12 hours 39 minutes and change. For reference that is a 2.4-mile swim, 116 miles on a bike, and a marathon (26.2 miles). I wanted to share with you all some of the thoughts I have had after completing this milestone in my endurance sports journey.
First off, the reality is that 15 years ago to the day of the event I was a drunk and completely lost in life. There is only one difference between those two realities: Jesus and nothing more.
God’s grace knows no bounds. He will take you where you never dreamed if you would let him be in control.
In triathlon, there are a bunch of rules, and the rule I was dreading the most during the event is that you cannot use any type of headphones, music, books on tape, or sermons. There are two reasons for this rule; safety on the course, but more importantly the Ironman officials want you to mentally struggle through the day. They don’t want you to have anything to distract you from the experience, fatigue, and pain. They don’t want you to have anywhere to hide. While I was dreading this, it turned out to be a great blessing. For half a day the only person I had to talk to was Jesus.
While I was on the course, all I could think of was how blessed I was. I have an amazingly supportive wife, children, and friends. I have the resources that allowed me to do the event. I physically have the health that allowed me to train and compete. For icing on the cake, the Lord has blessed me with the most amazing ministry.
The fact is that under my control in a previous existence I was actively destroying myself, but God. I by no means am perfect, and I struggle with sin each day as we all do, but after giving my life to the Lord in July of 2003, my life is so much better. This has nothing to do with anything I do but has everything to do with His grace in my life.
I dreamed of Ironman for years. If I am going to be honest there is a certain level of grief after the race. I knocked off a bucket list item and it was amazing in many ways, but even this is empty compared to the goodness of God. The event didn’t change anything about me. It didn’t make me better as a human being. I like to think it made me more disciplined which is a good thing, but all the discipline in the world pales in comparison to the grace and goodness of God.
Will I do another one? Yes.
Why? I love pushing myself to be better in life. I love the challenge. I love the triathlon community. I love that training for it forced me to make hard decisions about how I spend my time.
Should you do an Ironman? I think each of us should regularly examine our lives and determine how we are spending our time. I think each of us should look at the goals we have set for ourselves and ask some simple questions; is this God’s will in my life or am I selling myself short? Am I depending on Jesus, or myself? Am I doing everything the Lord wants me to do?
If you find that you are going through life without any drive or purpose, ask Him what he wants you to do. He will tell you if you listen, and often He will take you far outside your comfort zone. Maybe it’s an Ironman, maybe He has something much greater than that for your life.
His word says at the end of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:
14 “For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family[c] in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”
At the end of the race, as I was coming down the red carpet and saw my wife and children cheering wildly at the finish line, I thought of the day that I leave this earth and enter heaven. Ironman is much like life. It is hard at times, smooth at others. It is filled with smiles and tears. It takes your breath and strains your muscles. It leaves you exhausted and energized. At the end of our race here on earth, when we see Jesus face-to-face, I want to see him cheering wildly for a race well run. He doesn’t expect me to have a perfect race and loves me regardless of my brokenness, but I want to see that smile on His face more than anything in the world.