I have experienced it both in Indiana and now in Alabama, and I have seen it in countless Facebook group and message board posts. The global running community is overall one of the most accepting, supportive and inspiring groups of people out there! When we lived in Kokomo, Indiana, the local running group was great, not only because everyone had a shared interest of running (or at least walking), but also because everyone supported each other regardless of speed or skill level.
Some of the fastest runners were always seen hanging around the finish line long after they finished, just so they could encourage the slower runners as they struggle across the line. When I ran the 2015 Carmel Marathon, another local runner found me at the 26 mile mark and ran with me the last 385 yards because he saw how bad I was struggling.
Here in Alabama, I have not really gotten involved with a group of runners yet, but my wife Jennifer has. She gets up before sunrise and runs with these ladies 5 days/week, and they challenge and support each other daily. Many of them would not keep up their workout routine without the encouragement of the group, and they understand the value of this support system.
I once heard a great sermon that compared the Christian Church to the bar in the TV show Cheers. The preacher basically said the church should be a place “where everybody knows your name,” a place where you can lay all your deepest troubles out there and help each other overcome all the crap that is dragging us down and holding us back. In the same way, the church could learn a lot from the running community.
IF ONLY THE CHURCH LOOKED LIKE MARATHON RACE DAY
Go to any big marathon, and you will find that there are several different events occurring simultaneously. There are kids running the 1-mile fun run, beginners walking the 5K, and people of every shape and size running and walking the half-marathon or full-marathon. You will see people of every race, people from dozens of states and countries, people of every sexual preference and people of various beliefs (or disbeliefs). Are most churches this diverse, or are churches still the most segregated places in America every Sunday?
You will see hundreds of volunteers doing what they can to help you reach the finish line. When you are thirsty, they will give you water or Gatorade. When you are hungry, they will give you bananas, Gu or cookies. They see you at your weakest point, when “the wall” is doing everything it can to keep you from finishing the race, and they will remind you that the goal is within reach. At church it can be like pulling teeth to find volunteers just to hold babies in the nursery for 1 hour per month.
You will see hundreds (or thousands) of spectators cheering you on with handmade signs. Do people encourage each other this much at church? The people holding these signs and yelling words of encouragement for 6 straight hours at total strangers… wow… just wow! Imagine if church visitors received this kind of treatment from hundreds of total strangers on Sunday morning!
The positive vibes and the passion you find on marathon race day are contagious. Unfortunately I have walked into plenty of churches that felt dead, with the only things contagious being the awkwardness and the lack of enthusiasm for the almighty God of the universe.
Finally you will also see that a 6-hour marathoner runs the same course and crosses the same finish line as the elites. The most morally corrupt, lifelong sinner can be saved by the same blood of Jesus (even on their death bed) as the goody-good, lifelong church-goer who has been a Christian since puberty. Regardless of where they came from, they both find that there is only one path (Jesus) and that if they follow that path they both end up in the same place (Heaven) with the same God.