“The faster you get to the finish line, the faster you can stop moving!” With other athletes heaving and spewing up their entire stomach contents around me—as we collectively shuffled forward, trying to get to that glorious finish line—these were the thoughts running through my head during the marathon portion of Ironman Cairns last year.
Never before during an ironman had I contemplated pulling out of a race like I did that day. Never once during a race had I thought, “That’s it! I’m taking up knitting.” I was hurting. My feet were blistered and burning. I’d had enough and just wanted it all to end. But there was no way I was giving up. No way!
An iron distance triathlon consists of a 3.8km open water swim, a 180km cycle and a 42.2km run—because running a marathon isn’t hard enough, right? It’s one of the most gruelling one-day sporting events on the planet. It challenges you to your very core. It requires tenacity, perseverance, consistency, a little bit of crazy and a level of sacrifice most people don’t understand. To complete an ironman requires a fighting spirit and a never-give-up attitude. But when you come across that finish line to the words—“You. Are. An. IRONMAN!”—it’s worth it.
I first started competing in triathlons about six years ago. I have always been a runner so I thought triathlons would be something fun to do. I bought a bike during the Boxing Day sales one year and started training. Fast forward six years and I’ve now competed in countless events ranging from sprint and Olympic distance triathlons to half and full iron distance events. I have completed four ironman events so far, and am currently in training for ironman number five. That’s a lot of training and a lot of—“Sorry, I can’t. I have to be up at 5am tomorrow. Because, you know, training!”
From the outside, the sacrifice and the huge amount of time spent in training might seem bizarre and ridiculous—“Why would you do that?” It’s a road not many people choose to travel.
But here’s what I’ve learnt on my journey so far. It’s a bit like our Christian faith and waiting for the second coming.
“Let us run this race with endurance that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1,2).
To run requires effort. It’s impossible to train for and to finish a marathon or an ironman without daily effort and determination, and without a laser-sharp focus on the goal of crossing that finishing line. Effort is also required to run the race of faith—to stay motivated and focused on the ultimate prize, especially in a time when it would be much easier to give up the fight and follow the crowd. So get up and run! Run with energy towards the ultimate prize—“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it” (1 Corinthians 9:24).
Athletes typically compete against each other in a race, and at the end, there is only one winner—one athlete who gets to stand on that coveted top spot on the podium. The difference between this and an endurance event like a marathon or ironman, particularly for the mid-to-back-end age-group athletes, is that the race is not so much about racing others as it is about racing against yourself—against your own mind and thoughts. Buy into the negative thoughts that creep in and the race is over. Learn to overcome them and you will get to that finish line.
In a similar way, the race of faith is an individual journey, and ultimately you are racing against yourself—your own mind, thoughts and temptations. It’s easy to buy into the negativity and to stop. The easy way out is to quit. But when negativity starts to sneak in, and it will—and when all you want to do is to give up—remember, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).
"Buy into the negative thoughts that creep in and the race is over. Learn to overcome them and you will get to that finish line."
So stay strong. Don’t quit. Don’t stop. Because that finish line is just around the corner.
Endurance demands persistence and perseverance. It requires mental and physical strength—it’s not easy to keep going when your body and mind are screaming “Stop!” You have to be prepared to be in it for the long haul—it’s not a sprint!
Endurance also requires consistency. You have to be consistent in daily training because it’s impossible to complete an endurance event like an ironman without training. That’s the thing about this sport—if you don’t do the training don’t expect to get to the finish line (and let’s be honest, you’ll only have yourself to blame). In an ironman you also have to be consistent during the race—you have to pace yourself and to focus on your own race rather than getting distracted by what other competitors might be doing.
The race of faith is similar in that to reach the end you have to be prepared to be in it for the long haul—it’s not a sprint. You have to be persistent and you have to persevere. This requires daily training—prayer, worship and meditation on the Word. Knowing why you started (why you first believed) and focusing on your goal and the prize ahead will help you to maintain focus and perseverance—even when everyone else around you doubts.
Is it easy waiting for the second coming? Is it easy to believe in something this world constantly doubts and mocks? Is it easy to be the odd one out? Is it easy to make the sacrifices required to stay true and faithful? Believe me, I know how hard it can be. It’s much easier to stop believing, to follow the world and to give into temptation—but at what cost?
We are so close to that finish line. Don’t stop! Don’t give up! Because when all is said and done—it will be worth it.
Margaret Mielczarek is writer and deputy editor at Australian Triathlete Magazine. She is a passionate triathlete and writes from Melbourne, Victoria.