Much of my life of ministry revolves around learning from doing. It’s something I’m practicing and still learning. More and more I understand how important it is. Doing and then learning from it is critical to growth. It’s the idea of action / reflection.

I’ve done some things but didn’t well learn lessons I would have benefited from learning. I just went on to the next thing. Haven’t you?

Recently, I completed my 16th Country Music Marathon. The 26.2 mile course is a culmination of 16 weeks of training, focus and to some degree figuring out what to say yes to and what to say no to. Saying yes to running is a plus.

This year the field for the 2015 Country Music Marathon was over 27,000 runners, most ran the 13.1 mile half marathon. Less than 10% of all runners completed the full marathon. I’m one of 38 people who have run all 16 Country Music full or half marathons.  About 9 people have run all 16 full marathons. I’m persistent just not fast.

The hope on the day of a marathon is that all the pieces will come together: training, emotional resiliency, physical stamina, sleep, food, water and weather.

After running 16 of these, it normally doesn’t just come together.

A younger running friend of mine texted me after she finished. “That’s it James. You are certifiably crazy. Anyone who can run 16 of these blasted things, is nuts! I am teasing you, btw. I am disappointed I didn’t see you guys. I hope you had a good run today. Thankful the pesky lightning held off, but those last miles were humid!”

Marathons are a wonderful metaphor for life. It’s about overcoming. Pushing on. Attempting a challenge that few take on and few get to do.

Over these 16 years, I’ve stepped to the starting line:
• after getting fired mid semester from a 7 year college teaching position,
• after not being able to run for 2 months because I broke a rib one January,
• with a bulging disk in my lower back one year.  Could hardly get our of bed and couldn’t sit  very long but it turns out I could run.

Fortunately, not all those things happened the same year.

This year, even with a two week gap in my March training due to ministry travel and BENCHMARK’s Appalachian Trail Outreach, I woke with anticipation. I recently wrote in post, “if it’s a great day for spectators, it’s not a good day to run a marathon day. If it’s a little chilly and rainy for spectators…it’s a good day to run.”

The day was shaping up to be a great day for spectators.

After crowded roads and a slower start in the first 3 miles I was back on pace. Through Music Row, Belmont Blvd, the Gulch, out and back from Metro Center, through downtown, past LP Field, and up the long steady hill of Woodland Street, past 5 Points in East Nashville for the first 18 miles, my pace was good but taxing. Then I walked about a block. Getting back on pace, the sun came out about my mile 21.

Just entering Shelby Park I saw Army Chaplain (CPT) Kevin Trimble. BENCHMARK Adventure Ministries supported a retreat he led in Kansas. I knew he ran but didn’t expect to see him in Nashville. He was having a conversation with someone so I greeted him and eased on ahead.

With 5 miles to go I thought a personal best was in my site.  By mile 23, the wheels were coming off. A personal best was slipping away. My legs didn’t want to move and I wasn’t sure I cared if they did. By mile 24 I wasn’t able to muster the courage to get my body moving very fast. When a body slows down ‘after a marathon’ it begins to function again. And since I had been walking, my body and my mind thought I was done. I was getting concerned that my body was going to rebel. I wasn’t happy about that.

By 25 the wheels were off and I wasn’t sure I was going to finish or even wanted to.

Yep, with a little over a half mile to go and very close to the same spot where I ran up behind a Solider last year, I sat down on the curb.

I sat for 2-3 minutes…thinking…talking to myself. I’d already been talking to myself over the previous 2 miles and it hadn’t been helpful. It’s not my normal to quit, to stop, to not go on when it gets tough. But it was reality on that day.

The mental and emotional strain of the last two weeks followed me onto the course. I couldn’t out run it and hadn’t worked through it.

Overall my training had gone well and my times were consistently stronger than recent years. I had thought a hamstring was going to be my Achilles heel.

I stood up. I may have taken a step or two and then I heard, “I can’t think of anyone else I would like to finish the race with.” It was Chaplain Trimble. He talked me into running again. He told to “run harder” and “give it all you got”. I took another break with hands on my knees underneath the I-65 overpass on Woodland Street. I thought a banana I had eaten in Shelby Park was going to come back up. With some encouragement, I finished. Chaplain Trimble and I had a picture taken together.

I finished my 16th full and I’m about “average”. Average, about in the middle, of my 16 marathon finish times, the overall marathon finish times, my age group division and gender. Average will have to do. Healthy enough to be average is a gracious gift of God.

Encouragement is so vital. I don’t do it well. I facilitate experiences with people drawing out the obvious and oft-hidden gems of life from those experiences.

For much of my life, I’ve not needed much encouragement. In the day to day, I don’t encourage well.

At this point, I need to be more liberal with encouragement; pointed, specific, timely encouragement for others to keep going and to run their daily race of life as well as they can…in Christ.

And when the wheels start coming off…maybe…just maybe, someone will come along to run a few steps with you.