Strong to the Finish

Gasping for air, the old guy with skinny legs trots along the side of the pavement.  Three and a half miles!  Surely he has gone further than that!  His head is spinning, but he thinks back…way back.  It was something over a half-hour ago when he started out on the loop through the little town in which he lives.  He remembers feeling better than he does now.  He remembers the euphoria of stretching and anticipating the ease with which he would make this run.  In his head, he had told himself to start out slow and gradually pick up the pace.  Just as if he had been running a race, he didn’t want to be a “rabbit”, using up his reserves too quickly and running out of energy long before he finished the course he intended to cover.  The plan worked well for awhile.

But, like all plans, he had made changes in his as events unfolded.  Adjustments, he called them in his head.  Yeah, that’s it, adjustments.  Running the first few blocks had felt so good, until he reached the ice cream shop where folks (most of them overweight, he remarked to himself) were gathered outside around picnic tables to enjoy the late evening snacks before them.  Arrogantly, he thought to himself,  “I hope they notice how conscientious I am.  Maybe I should speed up.”  And, he did. 

Rounding the corner, he couldn’t help but notice the folks who sat on their porches or stood in their yards as he ran past. He wondered if perhaps they would think he was not very good at this.  He thought that maybe it would help if he ran faster.  So, he did.

Up ahead of him, a young lady was jogging along the same sidewalk, keeping about the same distance in front for a few blocks.  That wouldn’t do!  He should speed up and pass her!  That’s exactly what he did.  And, he wasn’t even half way around the course he had determined to run.  But now, he was in front of her.  He couldn’t slow down and allow her to pass him up again.  He pushed on, his legs starting to show signs of cramping.

And so it went, for the whole exercise time.  There were people watching…well, probably not, but you never know…and he couldn’t be seen to waver.  Time and again, he wanted to slow down, but someone might see and think poorly of him.  On he went, pushing as fast as he could.  Now, here he was, nearing the end of his run and he was exhausted.  This was the time when he always kicked in the afterburners, speeding along the road near home to jet into the back yard.  He always said the two words in his head as he did it, but not tonight.  Not tonight.  He had nothing left.  The words went unsaid.  And, he walked the last quarter mile, trudging along in defeat.

Finish strong!  The words are imprinted deep inside every one of us.  Finish strong!  I have watched athletes again and again throughout my life; athletes who appear to have used up every ounce of strength they have, only to push one more time, just enough to win the race or make the final touchdown, or reach that final fly ball in the outfield.  The rest of the game doesn’t matter much if you can’t finish strong.  I have also watched on many occasions as ball teams sat on leads they had racked up early in the game.  It’s not a good strategy.  Over and over, to their chagrin, the opposing team had what it took to finish strong, overcoming the deficit which had been built up against them.  And the team sitting on the lead?  They had nothing; no answer to the inner strength that said, “We will not be defeated.  We will not quit!” 

In every single endeavor we will undertake in our lifetimes, there will be the need to finish strong.  We won’t always hit the mark.  In public speaking, if you don’t have a good finish, what you said before your conclusion won’t matter.  The listeners will never remember it.  When you perform music, if you have no endurance left to end the piece, the audience will be left unmoved and unfulfilled by the entire performance.  I have listened as marching bands filled the stadium up with beautiful and spectacularly loud music at the beginning of the halftime performance, only to lose volume, disturbing the air with nothing but “blats” and splattered notes at the end, because the players were exhausted and the “chops” were gone.  To put it mildly, it was not inspiring.  The musicians had amazing talent and ability; they simply didn’t have the fortitude to finish.

Finish strong!  My guess is that you don’t need me to lecture about preparation for the event in which you’re participating.  Practice, training, study?  You know all about those.  They are an essential part of finishing strong, but I’m going to leave those to a different discussion.  I’m hoping that for today, I’ll be able to finish strong myself, without the embarrassment of running out of juice too soon.  With that in mind, I’m going to head for the finish line right about now.

Follow your plan.  Set your course and run it at the pace you know will allow you to finish.  It is possible that folks may criticize if you’re not moving along as quickly as they expect.  More likely, their criticism is only in your head and they won’t notice at all.  That said, they will notice if you drop out, or if you barely stumble across the finish line.

Another man of a certain age spoke with me today about his concerns of doing something in this life worth leaving for the next generation.  All I could tell him is what I’m saying here tonight.  The course behind us is, indeed, behind us and gone beyond recall.  We have the remainder of the course still ahead.  Discouragement and regrets from the past are weights that will slow us down as we get to the point where we need to be “kicking”.  Throw them off!

In my mind’s eye, I can see the runners turning the last corner and heading for the line.  I think that I’ve still got some life left in me.  How about it?

C’mon!  Race you to the end!  Let’s finish strong together.

“I’m strong to the finish, 
‘Cause I eats me spinach.
I’m Popeye the sailor man!”
(“Popeye the Sailor Man” by Sammy Lerner~1933)

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.”
(2 Timothy 4:7~NLT)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.

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