On most weekday mornings when I’m not traveling I workout at our local gym. This ritual is a holdover from my Army days when morning physical training was part and parcel of the military lifestyle. Don’t get me wrong, I no longer rise at 5 am or run with a reflective belt. Instead, I’m content to move at a snail’s pace on the treadmill with my shirt-tail out while taking in a podcast or two. I miss the camaraderie of the Army morning routine but not the sore back that comes from running 5 days a week.
As my feet pounded the rubber surface I found myself reminiscing about younger running days. I found that most of my memories were purged of the pain and dread that comes with 5 mile compulsory runs. What remained were thoughts of people who suffered along with me. I thought of a particular fall day at West Point. I was 19 years old and decided to run the Marine Corps Marathon. The Academy required that any cadet who signed up for the marathon complete a 20 mile run as part of their training regimen.
Somehow I missed the organized 20 mile run with all the other participants. In typical Gabe Smith fashion I waited until the very last-minute before coming up with a plan to complete the requirement. I waited so long that it was nearly dark on the last day available to finish the 20 miles. My only option was to run on post from the cadet barracks to Thayer gate, a distance of 2 miles round trip. I needed to run that 2 mile loop 10 times.
I suited up in my preferred running attire, the classic yellow cadet rain jacket and black shorts. I was never known for my sense of fashion. At the last-minute I sent an email to some of my friends and told them what I was doing. As it turned out, this was the best decision I made all day.
Under the light of a setting sun I began the first 2 mile trip. When I returned to the starting point for trip number two, my friend Kevin was waiting for me. He ran the next two miles with me, encouraging me and distracting me from my pain. When we returned to the starting point my friend Joe was waiting. He ran the next two miles. Every 2 miles a new friend showed up to run with me.
I planned to run alone and even though I didn’t ask for their help, my friends knew me well enough to know that I needed their company. One of the things that the Lord is teaching me at this stage of life is that I’m not made to run alone. I’m made for community. Today I remember my Army buddies and I’m grateful for them. I’m also infused with a new sense of gratitude for the people who will encourage and do life with me today.
Lord, thank you for friends who run with me.