How to Endure

Scripture | Hebrews 12

There is a race that takes place every year in the the Cumberland mountains of Eastern Tennessee which has achieved almost mythical status in the running community.

Though, calling it a race doesn’t quite do it justice.

This is the Barkley Marathons, an ultramarathon often referred to as the world’s toughest and most secretive race. It is a 100 mile off-trail race through the back- country mountains of Frozen Head State Park...

Five 20 mile long loops, 
Fifty four thousand feet of total accumulated vertical climbing,

With 60 hour time cap to finish. That’s two and a half days of running.

If runners are able to complete 3 loops (a mere 60 miles) this is known as the Barkley’s "fun run”.

The full course is 100 miles, up and down steep mountains, through briar bushes, through streams, climbs right over difficult rock formations. Each of the runners are allowed to carry a compass and a copy of a crudely drawn trail map in order to navigate their way along the unmarked course.

Every year thousands of runners apply for one of the forty spots available to try their hand at this race. The few runners that are selected to race receive a condolence letter from the race’s creator that reads:

“Our heartfelt condolences on your recent selection into the Barkley Marathons field. Even though the odds were all in your favor, with six applicants for every slot, in any drawing someone must lose. This time it was you. Should you come up with any plausible excuse to avoid the painful failure that is the Barkley, please let us know as soon as possible. As incredible as it might seem, those other five people still want your slot. Otherwise, there is a very bad thing waiting for you.”

The creator of the Barkley Marathons is a man named Gary Cantrell, who is almost as mythical as the race itself. “Despite the countless hours of work Cantrell has put into the Barkley over the years, he never expected so many people to be interested.

“I didn’t think people would give the Barkley a chance,” he says,

“I didn’t think that people would say,

‘Yeah, let’s go put ourselves through the excruciating limits of endurance. Put ourselves through thinking we’re going to fail for multiple days on end, because it’ll be so great.” but he was wrong.”

Gary “Lazarus Lake” Cantrell, creator of the Barkley

Gary “Lazarus Lake” Cantrell, creator of the Barkley

The race has taken place every year since 1986.

It took almost ten years of racers attempting it before someone actually finished, and in its 30 year history, despite thousands of applicants and hundreds of racers, there have only been 15 runners to finish under the time cap. Most runners, even those who regularly run ultra marathons of a hundred miles or more, drop out in the first lap.

From the outside, it might look like the vast majority of runners who try their hand at the Barkley are failing. But Cantrell doesn’t see it that way. He says: “Your job as a race director is to provide a platform for runners to find greatness within themselves, Everyone can find success within the process of discovering what they’re capable of.

If they do that, they walk off feeling like a winner.”

“The important piece is not necessarily whether you fail or succeed, but how far you were able to get and what you found out about yourself in that process. That’s an opportunity that’s difficult to find elsewhere.” [“Meet Lazarus Lake, the man behind the Barkley Marathons”, Arielle Gintzler, Outside Magazine]

Now, I am not a runner, It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around what motivates people to attempt even a half marathon, let alone run a race like this, where failure is almost guaranteed and attempting it seems almost abusive.

It’s especially hard for me to understand the drive, even average runners, have to muster within themselves to overcome the loud voice inside that urges them to stop. The drive that pushes them to endure and persevere, despite the odds, in pursuit of something beyond themselves.

Avid runners describe a moment just about everyone goes through in any race that they call “hitting the wall.” When things transition from being pretty hard to being really, really hard.

It is the point where your body and mind are simultaneously tested and your body decides it can’t go on anymore.

Here’s how a running magazine describes how you break through the wall:

“Whether or not you believe in a higher power, there's no doubt that overcoming "the wall" sometimes requires more than just fitness, pacing or food. "The wall" is often a result of the conversation your body is having with your mind. Your body says, "Mind, you've had me out here for hours, running hard. I am really, really hurting right now and want to go lay down on the side of the road because things are not going my way.”

Your body can make a very convincing argument to stop in the heat of the race. In order to be ready for this challenge, it helps to have a mission or a higher goal that you can call upon to overcome what your body is suggesting. It could be finishing in a certain time or a vision of the finish line or a deeper promise or commitment you’ve made to yourself.

Whatever it was that has kept you training for weeks and months on end, use that as your secret weapon. Use that to keep "the wall" at bay.” [ wall-during-your-marathon?page=3]

Our scripture today is about those moments in life where you hit the wall... the times you’ve been running the race, pushing yourself hard and powering through but then you hit the wall and it feels like you just can’t get your feet to take another step. Its about times of struggle, where no matter how hard you push it still feels like you are getting no where.

But even more so it is a scripture about our God- given ability to readjust our focus so that, if it’s a fight worth fighting, we might endure.

Its a scripture about that voice within us that whispers quietly to us, beneath the louder voices telling us to stop, redirecting us towards a higher purpose, whispering to us, “Keep at it... keep up the struggle, this fight is worth it”

Its a scripture about the faith that compels us to press on, to keep on fighting, incrementally, towards that higher goal, even if failure seems inevitable... even if we’re up against insurmountable odds.

The question is... what race of faith has God given you to run? 

What is the higher purpose that God has called you to work towards?

And if the race you’re running is easy, if it feels much more like a mile walk compared to the Barkley marathons that some people are running in their life... how might you join in support and solidarity of those long distance runners. 

How might you help clear the path for those who are struggling along and up against some very real walls and barriers?

This week Arlington Cemetery held its annual ‘Flags in Ceremony” to place flags at all of the thousands of headstones in the cemetery to honor fallen war veterans for Memorial day.

Three days ago, torrential rain and drastic wind gusts stormed into the DC area right in the midst of ceremony.

Visitors ran for cover. Journalists piled into vehicles together. The streets flooded. Trees as old as the cemetery itself broke at the trunk and came crashing down. But the “Old Guard,” the third US Infantry Regiment endured. They found low ground and held fast through the wind and the rain. Some had to be ordered to stand down from planting flags, because they were still so determined to continue.

They were so focused on their higher calling of honoring the fallen.

During the storm, an extraordinary gesture of discipline and dedication to duty was taking place at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. With only a few people there to witness the act from protective cover, a Tomb Sentinel approached the Unknowns with flags in hand. As thunder shook the ground and rains washed down without abandon, the Tomb Sentinel pierced through the elements with breath-taking precision.

He knelt at each tomb, enduring the elements, showing no signs of fatigue 

and placed the flags to honor the unknown soldiers who lost their lives.

The person who shared this moment to facebook page of the old guard added:

“For the select few who saw this moment, it was jaw-dropping.

Humans have their limits, but The Old Guard it seems, has yet to meet theirs.”

With a higher purpose in mind, we are capable of overcoming insurmountable odds. If the fight is worth fighting, We are able endure more than we could imagine, 
 run further than we thought possible, walk straight on through the storm. With our ears tuned to the Spirit’s divine voice stirring in our hearts, 
 guiding us toward’s God’s higher purpose, fixing our eyes on Christ

We can continue putting one foot in front of the other Holding each other in solidarity and love, until at last, we reach the finish line that God has envision, that he has placed just a little further on.