It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.
I’m no expert, but something tells me Charles Dickens must have run the New York City Marathon. It was exhilarating. It was exhausting. It was, in reflection, one of the greatest moments in my life. And it was also one of the most difficult feats I’ve ever accomplished.
My day started early on Sunday, getting up at 3 a.m. and taking the train to Brooklyn. My Uncle Jerry from Coldwater, Miss. called to offer me some advice. "Just keep it between the ditches," he said. Aside from an urge to make a pit stop at a Dunkin Donuts in Queens, I think I pretty much kept it between the ditches.
There’s a big debate about whether or not runners should have ipods. Since I’m not a professional runner, I decided to run with music — it moves me! So on Saturday, I created my marathon mix tape. I have a fairly eclectic taste in music — everything from the St. Olaf Choir to Johnny Cash. I also threw in some Lynyrd Skynyrd, Casting Crowns, Frank Sinatra, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s version of the Hallelujah Chorus. I saved that one for the finale — I figured if I made it across the finish line, it would take nothing less than a miracle.
I started the race with Faith Hill — singing Amazing Grace — as I ran into the morning sun rising over Staten Island. And for the sake of full disclosure, I should also tell you that I had a few Barry Manilow tunes in the mix. I’m secure enough in my manhood to admit I get a bit weepy when he sings "Mandy". On second thought, that may be a sharing violation.
There were two million spectators who lined the race course from Brooklyn to Harlem. They yelled our names, gave us encouragement by the buckets, and even offered us fruit and water. One guy even broke out cartons of Marlboros — passing out cigarettes to desperate runners.
Then, there were the runners — from all over the world — around 38,000 of us. I was especially honored to run alongside Jake and Elwood — two guys dressed up like the Blues Brothers — running like a horde of Illinois State police officers were in hot pursuit. In the Bronx, I was passed by a runner dressed like a matador. He was in such a hurry, I glanced behind me to make sure a bull wasn’t coming up from the rear.
I had visions of grandeur when I started the day, but when I lost my cookies at mile seven, the marathon reminded me who was in charge. And by mile 13 I had injured my foot. It was a difficult day — but I was determined to cross that finish line no matter what – hobbled foot and all.
And I did. By the time I arrived in Central Park, the crowds had thinned out and they were sweeping garbage off the streets. Darkness was setting in. I was one of the last stragglers — but when I hit Columbus Circle and made the grand turn into the park, I felt like I was a world-class marathon runner. I decided to sprint the last mile, kicking into high gear as I bolted down the home stretch. The bandstands were virtually empty, but there to greet me was the biggest crowd of all – my family! Hearing their cheers and their shouts of encouragement was enough to propel me over the finish line, pumping my fists and jumping into the air.
My unofficial time won’t make the record books — 6 hours and 53 minutes. Not bad for a rookie runner with a mechanical heart valve. I suppose I could’ve done better — but you know something? I crossed the finish line and that’s all that matters.
A lot of you folks have been kind enough to share words of encouragement and prayer. I can honestly tell you those messages helped me across the finish line. Thank you. In closing, I’d like to offer you five final thoughts that I’ve considered on this journey I’ve traveled:
1. Live a Healthy Life.
You’ve only got one body — treat it gently. Try having an electronics-free afternoon. Turn off your Blackberry, cell phone, laptop — just remove yourself from the grid for a few hours and go outside. Enjoy the great outdoors. Ride a bike, take a walk in the park, and watch the sunset — it’s much better than the television version (trust me). Eat and drink in moderation.
2. Live a Life with Purpose.
Are you living for yourself or for others? Once a month try doing something for a stranger. Perhaps you could volunteer at a homeless shelter or a senior retirement home. Get involved in your local community — share a part of your life with someone else!
3. Live a Loving Life.
Are you happy — really happy? I know lots of folks who are trying to lose weight. They honestly believe that if they trim down, they’ll be happy. Well, I’ve got some news for you. If you aren’t happy in size 56 pants, there’s no way in Bucksnort you’re going to be happy in size 32 britches. Be happy with who you are no matter your size. And love life. Don’t let your job or rush hour traffic rob you of your joy. Stress can be just as dangerous as a bad diet. Go out! Meet new friends! Play ball with your kids! Take your spouse out on a secret date! Have fun living a loving life!
4. Live a Family Life
When was the last time you called your momma? Your family will love you when no one else will and when your friends have grown old and moved away — your uncles and grannies and cousins will still be there. So don’t be embarrassed when Aunt Lurlene gives you a big old bear hug. And when your momma says, "Gimme some sugar," pucker up and remember this is the woman who brought you into this world, the one who taught you manners, and who made you a heaping bowl of homemade banana pudding when you were sick.
5. Live like you are Living.
Embrace every new day and squeeze every bit of life you can from those 24 hours. You may not want to go skydiving or ride a bull named Fu Man Chu, but there‘s plenty of other cool stuff to check out. Make a list of things you’d like to do before you are dispatched to the hereafter. It may be something simple — like taking a walk along a beach. Or it could be something crazy like dancing with your spouse in the middle of the produce aisle. Once you compile your list — start working on it!
As I close this chapter of my life, I am once again drawn to the encouragement of Scripture. Press on toward the prize, the Bible urges us. Run with endurance the race that God has set before you.
Throughout our lives we accumulate titles. Some are called husbands and brothers, others are sons and friends. Looking back over these past two years, I’m adding a new title to my name — survivor.
Todd Starnes is a network news anchor for FOX News Radio. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org