Here’s a legit question: Why in the heck would anyone in their right mind (or left mind for that matter) willingly train and run twenty-six point two miles? For the prize money? Um, no. To lose weight? Strike two. (Unless you have serious pounds to shed, no one really loses weight when the demands of a training regimen require so dang much energy. It can’t be helped, if you are running sixteen miles you are going to eat your left hand off if need be. Say la vie.) Well then, could it be for all the acclaim, the attention with everyone telling you how awesome you are? Yeah… No. While that can be a little icing on the cake and it might be the answer for shorter-distance racing, it ain’t the cake; it isn’t the heart of it.
And there it is. The answer. The heart of it. I have been trying to put my finger on it in words as these weeks and miles have run by, to explain to those who haven’t experienced a marathon what it means to complete one. I have compared it to my Catholic faith, as for me, it is the only thing that is similar.
We Catholics and all our fasting and kneeling at church and all those rules and requirements… While to the worldly view it can seem like things designed only to hold you prisoner- really, what it is designed to do is set you free.
Freedom. That is at the heart of it. One has only to look at the crucifix and see what total and complete freedom is. Jesus showed us, He demonstrated that although He may have been bound, nailed, affixed to that gross implement of torture and death, His heart was never conquered. No matter what the world can dish out- you can be stronger, you can rise above it, you can be free. In a marathon, there is no greater rush or feeling than conquering every bit of fear and pain that our bodily confines can dish out. And if you are left solely to rely on your body to make it to the finish line, you will not be able to do it.
There comes a point in each runner’s unique experience when they must move beyond the physical and grab on to only the heart.
Long-distance runners understand this. My friend and neighbor Kirk Steen understood this. He was all in. He got the concept and he was on the bandwagon. And when you “get it” when you experience that other-level kind of freedom, it can be addictive- and it can lead you to run and run more and more marathons- forever striving and feeling that ultimate joy of freedom and triumph over insurmountable obstacles.
My friend Kirk had a mission given him by God, as we all have when He created us. While we cannot understand this side of heaven, Kirk finished his race, and God took him home. But I am left with the words a friend of his and running comrade posted on his facebook wall.
The lady was talking about a marathon she was running, that she was all done come mile twenty. She was going to stop; she could go no more when at an approaching water station she saw Kirk. He started running with her there and she wrote that she will never forget his words: "Alma, you got this, I know you can do it, I believe in you, you are strong and you know exactly what to do, I'm so proud of you... this is all mental, it’s pure heart running and you got a lot of heart on this!"
Here’s to you Kirk Steen. You have left your mark on all those who were graced to know you- A true runner: determined, steady, strong, faith-filled… May the Perpetual Light shine on you, and may you rest in peace.