Runners and their fans before the Northface 100 10K race
Two weekends ago, I had the honor of sharing the weekend with my team from Baoding and the team "at large" from Lang fang and Tianjin, China. Together, we ran in the Northface 100 10K race, a race sponsored by Northface held in Northern Beijing. The location is scenically beautiful and really brought a lot out of us. Coming into the race, I felt a bit "smug" knowing that I wasn't a candidate for the dreaded Broom Bus, the car that picks up stranded runners who can't finish their race. This was the first time that I have ever run a race for the second time, which I found made it much more difficult to stay focused in my training and really appreciate the challenge of running a race. My goal coming in was to run faster than I did last year (53 minutes), a goal that I failed to meet. However, what I got instead was an intense and unexpected lesson in brotherhood and humility from the hands of a 5' 6" Chinese sophomore named Eric.
Eric lives in Langfang, China and is a student of Peter Lucas-Roberts. This past Fall, Eric decided to take up the challenge of running in the Beijing marathon, a race that I also competed in. We finished with roughly the same time, my race ending only 15 minutes before Eric's. Coming into this race, however, Eric had other ideas.
"My goal is just to beat you!" Eric said vehemently to me in the hotel. Peter, the consummate teacher, took this as a teaching opportunity.
"You're going to push each other, brother. This is your chance to run together and encourage through the race. Whether or not you beat him, this is your chance to be brothers for each other." I personally would have left Eric up to his notions of trying to defeat me in the race, as my competitive juices often take over when I'm trying to push for something in this way ("this way", meaning the competitive). I love competing and found Eric's challenge tasteful, not threatening, but also overlooked that there could be-- and was-- greater purpose to our race together this weekend.
Thanks to Peter's gentle correction, all Eric could say to me in warm-ups was, "My goal is to finish together. We will finish together." From the very start of the race, Eric and I were inseparable. I've never spent much time running with other people, so I found this to be quite difficult in that I didn't know how to maintain proper pacing when accounting for not only myself, but for another person also. here I was running through packs of runners, on the curbs of the road and around trees, trying to find space to pass the slower competitors, all the while turning to see if I'd lost Eric.
"Don't worry about me," he'd say. "I'll keep up with you."
In this manner, I carried our team for the first 40% of the race. Around the first water station, which came at the 3.2 km mark, I began to really feel the weight of my failure to train. 'Was it something I ate...or didn't eat? Did I wear the wrong clothes? Maybe it's a lot hotter than last year...' These thoughts began to plague me as we progressed forward into the middle of the race, a long, wide-open stretch of road that looks out onto the water basin. During this time, runners can see one-two milometers ahead of them, something that the twists and the turns of the rest of the course prevents. It was here that my previous thoughts got the best of me, and I stopped to walk.
I felt like a bit of a failure. I felt threatened in my own ability and wondered if I could regain my stride. After only a few seconds of walking, Eric's voice called out a few steps ahead.
"Come on, brother! We're together!"
"Zou...zou. You go!" I said, not believing that I could continue forward.
"Come on!" he said. I could see he wasn't going to accept my excuses, so we began running again.
"Let's Ask for strength," he said. Of course we should Ask for strength!
"Father, please give us strength to go," I wheezed out between labored breaths. I felt the weight of the race coming down upon me, my own expectations pressing down the most.
"Yes, give Ryan and me the strength to go forward," Eric reiterated as we ran. He ran next to me for the next 5 kilometers as the manifestation of conviction of my expectations in the flesh. I was humbled to feel like he was straining so much to carry me the last several kilometer, constantly pointing back to simply asking for strength. Without Eric running with me, I truly would not have finished the race under one hour, which we completed together at 55 minutes. To his credit, we finished the race hand-in-hand and rejoiced together through the line, a life lesson in perseverance through the flesh, both of personal pride and of physical labor.