Regular readers of this blog will know that three of us – Vanessa, Anna and I – have been preparing over the past few months to run the Prague half-marathon, in support of IBTS’s Jubilee appeal. Last Saturday on a beautiful warm spring day we lined up with around 6500 other people to run through the streets of Prague.
A half-marathon is 21.0975 kilometres (13 miles 192 yards). It’s those last fifty centimetres that is hardest! The course took us along the banks of the Vltava river that flows through Prague, up and down each side.
I had run one half-marathon before, some ten years ago, when I was somewhat younger. I have now moved to the MM45 category, which sounds like the sort of additive you get warned about in fizzy drinks, but is actually to do with ages. Ten years ago, I had no idea what to expect, and I rather enjoyed the experience, so when I was talking with Vanessa in September and she mentioned that she was thinking of running the half-marathon for the Jubilee appeal, I thought it would be good to join in.
My training started during my sabbatical, running around a park in Amsterdam. At first it was tough, as I hadn’t run for almost 18 months, and my legs protested. Arthritic snails waved at me as they went past, but I kept plugging away. There is something mentally refreshing about starting to feel physically fit. I found that I had more energy for work. Moreover, I could use the running time for thinking about what I was going to be writing later in the day, or sometimes I could just focus on the moment, on the reality of being alive. That is a real gift, to be able to appreciate life to the full in the present moment, and recognise that God is indeed good and God’s creation is also good.
The half-marathon itself was harder this time, at least the last few kilometres. But once again, I remembered why I enjoyed it so much. It is an occasion that brings out the best in people. For most of us the competition is only against the clock. In my case, the clock won! So, you are willing on your fellow runners to do well, because you know what they have sacrificed to be there. The people along the course watching are a real encouragement. Then there are the volunteers and staff who organise everything, before, during and after the race, and the musicians playing at various points around the course. Everywhere you come across so much kindness and goodness and happiness.
So often we can complain about our cities and neighbourhoods and focus on the negative. But an event like a marathon or half-marathon allows places to shine, to display their good side, the love and care of people for each other, the support, the joy in being alive, the recognition that all we have comes from God. I found that as I ran along, my prayer was not just one for survival – though that was present too! – but also one of deep gratitude for the goodness of God’s world and many people who I didn’t know but to whom I felt very close. More than aching limbs for fifteen minutes at the end of the race, that is what I will remember of the 2009 Prague Half-Marathon.