The race of life, 16 April 2012

Pause for thought” on BBC Radio 2’s “Vanessa Feltz Show”

A few years ago I took part, along with my son and daughter and a few thousand others, in the Great North Run in Newcastle.  From start to finish it was a tremendous experience.  Although it was only a half marathon, it has given me some idea of what it’s like for all those who are in training for next Sunday’s London Marathon.

When you are running in a huge and demanding race like the marathon, you learn a lot about yourself and also about life.  Many writers and poets have compared our lives to a race – and The Race of life is the theme for this week’s Pause for Thought.

Marathon running is enjoying an unprecedented boom.  It was one of the original events at the start of the modern Olympic movement in 1896.  The following year saw the start of the Boston Marathon after members of the Boston Athletic Association were inspired by their experience at the 1896 Olympics.  It’s been run in Boston every year since.  That’s been followed by marathons springing up in most major cities around the world.

The London Marathon started in 1981 after the founders, Chris Brasher and John Disley, had been enthused by their participation the New York Marathon two years earlier.  Brasher compared it to a joyous human family – laughing and working together to achieve the seemingly impossible.  Since 1981 it has gone from strength to strength.  Over 800,000 people have taken part, and around £500 million has been raised for charities.

Marathons have a universal appeal.  There are now over 500 of them worldwide.  It is fascinating to reflect on why such a gruelling activity should be so popular – and what that can tell us about how we see our lives.

I think their appeal is so strong because they give a real opportunity for a tremendous variety of people to engage together in a common purpose – with each person seeking to stretch themselves to the best of their ability.  There is also a vital external focus on supporting good and needy causes via the many charities that people run for.   That makes a unique blend of individual achievement –  with real togetherness and looking to the needs of others.

That’s a pretty good approach to the whole of our lives – and one which reflects profoundly the understanding in Christianity and many major religions and worldviews – that life is at its best when we strive together for the good of all.