Archive for June, 2010



Besides the 26.2 miles that make up one of the definitions of the word “marathon,” the word also means “a lengthy and difficult task, event or activity; a test of endurance.”  Endurance is an interesting thing.

When I trained for a marathon a few years ago, I quickly learned the difference between sprinters and elite athletes vs. the more common runner that makes up most of the field in any number of races across the country.  I was surprised to find my training team was made up of people who looked like they were in worse shape than me.  And I was even more surprised to find out how many of them could smoke me on the running trail.

It was all about endurance.  They had it; I didn’t.  I didn’t at first anyway.  But as the mileage climbed for our team training runs, my body responded.  And eventually I did it—finished 26.2 miles despite an injury to my right leg just weeks before the race.

A few weeks ago, I got the notion to run a half marathon with just one month to train.  I knew it would be a stretch.  I had trained for the full marathon for five months.  Yeah…the math didn’t exactly add up just because I was only doing half the distance.

Ironically, while I trained, at choir we were involved in our own kind of endurance test.  We were preparing for a concert that featured Samuel Barber’s Prayers of Kierkegaard—a 20-minute piece with major highs and poignant lows.  And we were also learning the lengthy Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine by Eric Whitacre.

The styles of the music couldn’t be different.  The Barber piece is fully orchestrated; the Whitacre piece is a cappella.  The Whitacre is a fun, moving exploration of the genius of Leonardo da Vinci as dreamer and inventor working out the problem of flight.  The Barber is gentle then clamoring, melodic then dissonant, soft one moment and then suddenly loud and dramatic.  It is a wonderful composition of Kierkegaard’s heartfelt and intelligent writings honing especially in on the unchangeable nature of God.  What a blessing to sing such music.

And oh, how it kicked my butt!  Working with and around choral music the last decade, this material gave me an awakening to the simplicity of music most church choirs are singing.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  It’s just that preparing for this concert was nothing short of a vocal marathon.

As the concert approached, I began to wake up with the music playing in my head. Different phrases and bars that I was trying to work out would come to mind at times, and I would practice my singing in the car on long drives.  I consulted with more experienced choir members over challenging passages, and during coffee outings with musician friends I would bring my music out and ask questions.

Then a couple of weeks before the concert, our director “took the training wheels off” on us on the Whitacre piece.  With no piano help, we all floundered a tiny bit, but miraculously we made it through.  I think everyone was stunned, and I tried to contain my internal celebration as we moved on to rehearsing the Barber score.  We had done it!

Seems that musical artistry has a few things in common with endurance training.  Just like with running, our practice and persistence over time had given us the ability to make it through.  And from there, both pieces blossomed.  After we had “gone the distance,” we had the confidence to really make music.  We continued to sing as we waited for the big night.

Meanwhile, I had a half marathon to run.  Three hours before our final choir rehearsal, I took to the starting line hoping to finish and make it over to church afterward.  As the runners started in 20 or more waves about two minutes apart, I stood with 30,000 strangers ready to begin my 13.1-mile journey.  I was so excited to begin. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but I was ready to go.  I was confident I would make it to the finish.

Finally the moment came, and as I started to jog over the starting mat, I glanced down at my left foot sporting the computer chip that would track my official time.  We were off!  A sea of colorful runners headed down Broadway towards downtown Nashville, and I was proud to be one of them.

The first few miles went as expected as I paced myself.  Just like in my training, at around mile seven, I started feeling the run.  I began to work a little harder. I hydrated and sucked on a few oranges along the way.

The end of the course put a beating on me.  I knew from studying the map on-line that there were some hills to tackle.  Unfortunately some of those hills are in the last couple of miles.

Ultimately I crossed the finish line more than 10 minutes off my desired total race time.  I had probably set the bar a bit high for the training time I took.  Nevertheless the sense of accomplishment was wonderful.

As I met up with my daughter and the friend that graciously watched her while I ran, I felt grateful and hungry!  We dashed to the car as a large thunderstorm started, getting soaked by the time we made it.  Always a wonderful support to me, my little girl beamed with pride as we toweled off, chatted about the race and made our way to our favorite burrito joint.

The next evening, we headed to church for the concert.  I was dressed in black from head to toe having dusted off my longest formal skirt that had been stuffed into the back of my closet.

In contrast to my excited and relaxed start of the race, I was shaking all over from nervousness as walked out and took my place with the choir for the concert.  It didn’t matter that the crowd was small.  I still had to consciously breathe deeply in an attempt to relax as the notes began for our first piece.

At the end of the evening’s repertoire a familiar feeling of accomplishment came over me.  I was blessed as friends and family stayed to mingle over plates of cheese and crackers and as we collectively celebrated the music that night.  Finally, we shuffled to the car, and once again, my girl beamed with pride.

It was late.  It had been a busy weekend.  All my adrenaline expired; it was time to go home.

As we drove, I reflected on endurance.  Endurance training does not equal perfection.  After all, I had missed a few notes that night.  And I certainly did not finish first in the race or even in my age division.

But endurance makes a difference in life and faith.  When we endure, when we apply that “training” and reflect on the tough junk that God has gotten us through and the wonderful stuff that He has accomplished through us, we can face anything with a confidence and a peace that comes from Him.

May we follow more closely the ultimate authority on endurance. Hebrews 12:2-3