The hardest parts of any marathon are the beginning and the end–specifically the first three miles and the last three miles. The problem with the first three miles is managing your adrenaline, arriving at your desired running pace (not that of the crowd), and just flat feeling kind of pained and stiff. It always seems that in the first three miles your breathing is rougher, your legs feel out of synch with the rest of your body, and you are constantly watching your feet so as not to land on someone else’s foot and turn an ankle. After three miles the runners thin out and you settle in to your desired stride and pace. The hardest part of Boston’s first three miles is the immediate down hill feature of the course that tempts you to get out way too fast–not keeping enough in reserve for the Newton Hills.
The reasons for the last three miles being so hard are probably more obvious. I always feel like I have been at the mall all day with my wife–and I desperately just want to sit down. Mentally you know you are only a 5K from the end–but you actually start to question why you ever thought this would be fun and you vow never to do another one. At the Boston Marathon you have already endured the Newton Hills and your legs are just shot. I found myself having no thoughts at all–just the notion that if I make it to the end I can gulp down a big yoghurt smoothie and a bag of potato chips (that is part of what they greet you with at the end of the race).
I think there are leadership lessons here once again. Many young leaders are so excited about their first leadership responsibility. The adrenaline is flowing, the temptation to “get out too fast” is right there, and you have yet to really find your leadership pace and capacity. A lot of mistakes are made by young leaders–and honestly that is part of the leadership learning curve. We are all well aware how hard it is to finish well in leadership. The temptation to quit–or to cut corners–or just to settle–is great. Paul said it well in 2 Timothy 4:7–“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” That should be our aim. I am convinced that three traits are vital to seeing leaders finish well: humility, always remaining a learner, and intimacy with Christ. These things will carry us when our leadership legs are tired and the temptation to quit is great.
One of the greatest things about the Boston Marathon is the crowd–especially in the final three miles as you near Boylston Street and the finish line. Thousands of people are lined up on both sides wildly cheering you on. We too have a great cloud of witnesses rooting for us to finish strong (Hebrews 12:1-3). We must run with endurance the race set before us with our eyes ever fixed on Jesus! Lead well–all the way to the end!