It was a chilly March morning in a state park outside of Atlanta, Georgia. Faint embers of orange had begun to appear on the horizon. At this time, I would have still felt half-asleep had it not been for the butterflies thrashing in my stomach. Sitting in the passenger seat of my friend Charles’ pickup truck, I sipped coffee, attempting to calm my nerves before the race.
On the way to the registration table, Charles and I passed what appeared to be elite runners, performing elaborate stretches I had never seen before, much less attempted. Everybody seemed so ready. Though I had run a handful of half marathons before—and even 25k races—I still felt out of place, as if I’d snuck into a club where I didn’t belong.
Charles himself was calm and prepared. Coming off a recent 100-mile race (yes, you read that correctly), he was more than ready for the scant 31 we would be running today. Knowing he was by my side gave me the confidence that I desperately needed. In the months leading up to the race, Charles kept up with my progress, motivating me and ensuring I would be prepared. Throughout the week he would text me, asking about my runs and giving guidance on any questions I might have. Even during the race, he stayed with me for the first 10 miles, keeping me company and helping me gear up for the more grueling stretches later in the course.
Through the journey of preparing for an ultramarathon, I couldn’t help but be reminded of our need for others while navigating our walk with Christ. In Christian vernacular, we often talk about “accountability partners”—a close one-on-one relationship characterized by openness, vulnerability, and encouragement during the ups and downs of life. Our connections in the body of Christ are meant to serve the same purpose as mine with Charles—supporting us at our weakest, cheering us on at our best, and caring for and inspiring along the way.
Everybody seemed so ready. Though I had run a handful of half marathons before—and even 25k races—I still felt out of place, as if I’d snuck into a club where I didn’t belong.
Consider Hebrews 12:1-2, which describes this dynamic in the church: “Therefore, since we also have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let’s rid ourselves of every obstacle and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let’s run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking only at Jesus, the originator and perfecter of the faith.” While Charles was a vital partner to train with, ultimately it was a community of friends that advised me along the way.
My brother, an encyclopedia of fitness and exercise knowledge, offered nutrition advice from his past endurance runs. My friend Ian ran with me in our neighborhood, checking in on my progress. Friends from church and coworkers provided valuable insight and information. Even during the race itself, volunteers at the aid stations provided not only water and snacks but the very necessary laughs and high fives of encouragement. More often than not, they had experienced the same highs and lows of the race in the past.
At the final aid station, I told a volunteer how happy I was to have just a little farther to go. His face dropped as he asked, “Uh, have you ever run this race before? Well, it’s actually a little over a 50k,” he said slowly, knowing he was knocking the wind out of my already battered sails. “You’re running closer to 33 miles.”
Our connections in the body of Christ are meant to serve the same purpose as mine with Charles—supporting us at our weakest, cheering us on at our best, and caring for and inspiring along the way.
In almost any other situation, I might have collapsed on the spot. Nearly two additional miles was enough to demoralize me completely. But after the many months of support from friends, and after miles of motivation from Charles during the race, I felt a second (or third—or fourth!) wind and made it over the finish line.
Though we all work out our faith on an individual basis, we were never meant to go solo in charting our Christian walk—what Hebrews 12:1 refers to as “the race that is set before us.” We’re at our best united in community, “so that there may be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same care for one other. And if one part of the body suffers, all of the parts suffers with it; if a part is honored, all the parts rejoice with it” (1 Cor. 12:25-26). As the body of Christ, we’re responsible for each other, ensuring every last one of us crosses that finish line.