“Hey Stranger, You’re Awesome!”

The title of this post is a quote from a sign I saw several places as I traversed the 26.2 mile route of the Portland Marathon on a cool, rainy Sunday morning in October. It also happens to be one of the most grace-filled and holy things I have ever seen.

I have said this before but it was driven home for me during my race, and during this Year of Memories, that the community that convenes around races, both large and small, is a glimpse into heaven, a moment where you can tangibly feel the support from total strangers who are there and cheer because you are there. They don’t seem to care, why you’re there only that you are. I can even be seen by the people that finish before you, which for me is a significant number, they stand around and cheer you on, “You got this, looking great, keep going!” as they walk to their cars, shiny medal around their neck and finisher’s t-shirt draped over their shoulder.

As I ran the marathon, I began to see it as a metaphor for life. When you begin the race there is a lot of excitement and energy. For me, I have to try and pace myself or I will run out of energy before I run out of race. As you get into a rhythm in the race, or in life, the spectators, the energy, the support gets less and less, until, at least at the Portland Marathon miles 14-18, you are by yourself on the course, just you and your thoughts. Your brain and body are yelling at you, “WHAT THE HELL WHERE YOU THINKING!!! SHOULD HAVE TRAINED MORE!!! THERE IS NO WAY YOU’RE GOING TO FINISH THIS!!! JUST QUIT!!!”

Then you reach “Check-Point Charlie” and you head up the hill to cross the St. John’s Bridge, at the top of the hill is a band playing music and there are people dancing and you think, “I can do this!” You cross the bridge and there are literally a hundred people standing there cheering for someone. They have signs, they have cowbells, they are smiling. Now I know they are there for someone in particular but that doesn’t stop them from cheering everyone else on.

This is when the race gets serious, or at least it did for me. Miles 17-20 were a gut check and when I got to mile 20, I was checked out. I had a blister, my IT band was screaming at me, my blood sugar was dropping, my hips were sore and all the Body-Glide I had used at the beginning of the race had either washed off from sweat and rain or been rubbed off by shear pounding. Let’s just say I was hurting.

That’s when my wife, showed up! She had a banana some granola bars and she walked with me for about 10 minutes. If it hadn’t been for her I don’t know how much longer I could go.

After I left her, it didn’t get much better, but every time I felt like I was done, there was someone thanking me for raising money for Alzheimers,  someone with an orange wedge (reminding me of AYSO soccer), some pretzels or a sign that said, “Hey Stranger, You’re Awesome!”

It’s like that in life sometimes, when you feel like you can’t go on and you’re ready to quit there is one person or thing that gives you just enough energy to get to the next thing, they support you just enough until you can reach a point where you can go on yourself.

For me that point was mile 23. At mile 23, I said to myself, “it’s only a 5K”. 5K=3.1 Miles. Now I know I needed to run 3.2 miles but after 23 miles, 0.1 isn’t a big deal. Every time I wanted to stop I said, “5K, 5K, 5K”. At one point, my IT band hurt so much I wanted to cry and as I was walking a woman, probably in her sixties, tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Your shirt made me cry.” Which is weird but it gave me a little oomph that I needed to keep going. Then at about half way between mile 24 and 25 you turn on to Naito Parkway and the noise begins, the number of spectators, the bands, energy increases and I was able to push on to the finish.

All along that road I heard people cheering “Go Greg Go”, “You can do it!”, “Almost there!” and it gave me energy. I saw a man up ahead of me, who had passed me at about mile 23, and I decided I was going to beat him. I caught him at mile 26 and then passed two more women before the finish. I sprinted, with everything I had left, to the finish as they announced, “Greg Bolt from Redmond, Oregon!”

I crossed the finish line and was greeted with a space blanket, and a women in a tuxedo, who placed a medal around my neck and said, “Congratulations!” I was handed a rose, someone took my picture, I went around the corner and there was a smorgasbord of food, then I got my t-shirt, then I saw my wife and I lost it. I sobbed while she held me and I realized that I had run the race, I had done what I had set out to do and I had finished. It wasn’t as fast as I wanted, it wasn’t as pretty as I wanted but none of that mattered. It didn’t matter because it’s not that you win the race it’s that you run it.

The race for me, I hope, continues to be a metaphor for my life. I hope that there are people there for me when I feel like quitting and I hope that at the end I will be surrounded by people willing to embrace me and support me, not because I ran but because I tried.

I know that God will be awaiting me at the finish line saying, “Congratulations!” I will embrace my Grandmother Julia and sob, she will hold me and congratulate me, not because I won, but because I tried.

So remember as you run your race there are people around you saying, “Hey Stranger, You’re Awesome!”




About ggbolt16

PC (USA) pastor, husband, father to one girl and one boy, friend, Presbyterian, Mountaineer, Christian, athlete, theologian, buttface, home brewer
This entry was posted in Alzheimer's, Race and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to “Hey Stranger, You’re Awesome!”

  1. Julie says:

    Hey, Greg: got to this blog by the link at the Portland Marathon FB page. Good writing! I’ve been pondering for years the “spirituality” of running. Maybe there’s a spirituality to/in other activities, but I’m a runner and that’s where I’m experiencing it. You’re the one with the theology degree, so maybe you have clearer thoughts than I about the ol’ “gnostic heresy” I used to hear about in Sunday school — the idea that body and spirit are separate things, and that body = bad and spirit = good. That has definitely NOT been my experience.

    Anyway, well done on finishing the marathon, and on communicating the lessons learned.

    • ggbolt16 says:

      First off, thanks for the compliment.

      Secondly, I don’t believe that God, the one benevolent creator, makes such stark distinctions like body= bad, spirit=good. I know that’s traditional teaching, but for my money that has infiltrated a lot of thinking and thus has led people away from God, rather than towards it.

      I don’t want to go on a theological/historical dissertation but the main point is that I, as a pastor, find myself close to God and having clarity of mind and spirit when I exercise. When I don’t exercise, that clarity gets lessened. I also find clarity of vision and God’s call on my life in community (ie Church, Bible Study, Friends, etc.) That is why, and I am completely serious about this, I believe that the community gathered around events like the marathon are a glimpse of Heaven while we are on Earth. People in my line of work would call it Kingdom Living.

      The fact that people will come out to support, anybody, whether they know you or not, will volunteer to help, cheer you on, etc. is pretty dang cool and definitely fills my spirit even if my body is killing me.

      I also can point you to some other folks I know that write about exercising and spirituality. #RunRevRun, is a bunch of ministers and others that right about this very issue.

      Also, if you’re in the market for some non-dualistic theology/spirituality that is pretty accessible check out the Center for Action and Contemplation, I get a daily meditation from them that is awesome.

      Thank you for reading the blog, I hope I didn’t overwhelm you (I can do that sometimes).

      Blessings on your journey!

  2. ggbolt16 says:

    Reblogged this on Reflections of a Pastor Couple and commented:

    I wrote this back in 2011 after completing the Portland Marathon. I think my thoughts of races and the atmosphere created is why I’m taking the Boston Marathon Explosions so hard.

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