Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us
A couple of times on my pilgrimages I have come across major sporting events. The first time this happened I was in the Llandovery area of mid Wales, walking on quiet lanes and paths on the edge of the Brecon Beacons as I made my way home from Ireland in 2017. Having been on my own for an hour or so that morning, I became aware that there were runners both ahead and behind and, of course, overtaking me. One or two of them were kind enough to walk with me a few minutes (perhaps they were glad of a change of pace for a few moments!) and, in answer to my question about what they were all doing, they explained that they were running the Dragon’s Back Race (Ras Cefn y Ddraig) from Conwy Castle in north Wales to Cardiff Castle in the south. Taking six days and covering nearly 400 kilometres and with ascents the equivalent of climbing Everest twice, this event has been described as the world’s toughest mountain race.
When I came across these clearly very experienced runners, they were on the penultimate day of their challenge. They remarked to me how difficult they had found the course and that a considerable number of those participating had dropped out. But now that the end was almost in sight, they were each confident that they would complete the race that had been set before them.
Again this year, I unexpectedly found myself amongst highly trained athletes but this time they were teenagers and young people who were taking part in long-distance swimming trials being held at Llandegfedd Reservoir near Cwmbran. As I approached this large body of water, I could see lots of people and the vehicles that had brought them from all over Britain to south Wales. Parents and other supporters crowded around the water’s edge as the competitors prepared for the races, described to me as marathon swimming, which would lead to a just a few of them being selected to swim in the European Championships.
Of course, the vast majority of us will not take part in these very high-level competitions whether running or swimming or any other discipline. For me, the closest I get to taking part in organised sport is doing Parkrun at a local country park on Saturday mornings when it’s convenient to get there. For all sorts of reasons, just one of which is often being away walking on pilgrimage, I am not a very regular Park Runner but, especially over the winter months, I feel it helps me to keep reasonably fit.
Described on the Parkrun website as a positive, welcoming and inclusive experience where there is no time limit and no one finishes last, I have often felt that taking part in these 5K runs has lots of parallels with the Christian life. However, what has always particularly impressed me is the encouragement from the stewards and from other runners towards all those who are participating. I am always one of the slowest to complete the event, but I find it wonderful that there’s always something positive shouted out to me by those marshalling that day or by someone who has run the course in perhaps less than half the time it takes me.
In the well-known verse from the book of Hebrews, just part of which reads Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, there is much that can build us up and give us support when life gets difficult and demanding. Above all, it reminds us that we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses; this is both those we can learn from who have gone before us whether centuries or even millennia ago, and those known just to us who have shared their lives and faith in the course of our own walk (or should it be run?) with God.
At Parkrun, I hear comments such as the perhaps inevitable ‘Just keep going’, ‘Just another lap’ and ‘Not far to go now’ but also recently ‘Lovely running gait’, which was certainly a bit different. And as I approach the finishing line, I’m always encouraged to try a sprint finish! Generally, I manage this but sometimes I don’t…
Similarly, let’s be encouraged in our Christian faith, and in our often challenging lives, by that great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us and has gone before us.
Let us run the race that is set before us.
Find out more about Parkrun at home | parkrun UK