Lesson #3 Don’t pass the Aid station…

…There is critical nourishment and encouragement there.

In early Marathons, runners ran the entire distance without having aid or water stations along the way. This lead to a lot of casualties. Then a few runners started carrying water. Fewer casualties. Finally, someone got the idea to start having water stations at predetermined distances along the route.aidstationhandoff.gif

Still, there were casualties, but even fewer than before. When Gatorade was invented (for the University of Florida “Gators” football team), later discovered by runners who found they were able to replenish lost electrolytes, we began to see more finishers with better times.

Nowadays, every Marathon, Half Marathon, and even a 10k races have water/Gatorade stations placed strategically throughout the race, though some are further apart than others.

In the Chicago Marathon (my first), the aid stations were approximately every gatorade-aidstation.jpg1 to 1.5 miles apart. The World of Hurt run I did recently had them every 4 to 5 miles (adding to the brutal nature of the race), so you had to carry fuel and water with you. In fact, race officials would not let you start unless you had a minimum of 20 ounces with you at the starting line. The end result to all this is that even old guys like me can run and complete a Marathon.

Now for the runner’s dilemma. The question many runners ask themselves is, “When I come upon a Watering Station, do I slow or stop for Gatorade, thereby giving up (perceived) valuable time, but taking on needed resources, or do I run as long as I can without stopping, and then only stop or slow down for refreshment when I ‘Need’ to, keeping my pace, but potentially depleting my reserves (glycogen early, and protein and potassium later).” A classic mistake runners make is to pass by these stations so they don’t have to break stride or lose time. But, the fact of the matter is founded in this sort of tongue in cheek reality: Unless you are from Kenya, you are not going to win the Marathon! So, if you were to slow down to grab a Dixie cup of Gatorade at the refreshment station, you would likely only lose 2-3 seconds. If you walk through each station, you will lose maybe 8 to 10 seconds. A full stop might cost you 15 – 20 seconds (however, it would give your body a much needed break and chance to quickly recharge). So, If you slow down or walk through every station along the 26.2 mile course, you might add 1 to 4 minutes to your overall time. Looking at it from the perspective of a 3 1/2 to 5 hour race (depending on your pace), 1 to 4 minutes is not a lot of time added to the total.

Conversely, if you bypass a station or several, you risk depleting your glycogen stores to the point where you can’t recover, or at very least you lose the energy and stamina to keep your target pace. Worse yet, you could suffer a breakdown and not be able to finish at all. The fact is that if you slow down or stop only when you “feel the need”, you are behind the power curve and it is too late. You have to replenish before you feel the need. In a marathon, the name of the game is conservation of energy and management of fuels and fluids to maintain glycogen stores and replenish protein at the right time. And you never know when you are passing the aid station that has exactly what you need at that very moment.

Another (and huge) benefit to slowing down at the refreshment station is that there are people there, usually volunteers who not only hand you water and Gatorade, but they also offer encouragement, a pat on the back, and cheer you onward. The value of such encouragement is incalculable. I know it pushed me on in Chicago.

In Chicago, half of all who entered did not complete the race. The reason; they were unable to endure to the end. And the biggest reason was not so much lack of training, but rather lack of acclimatization to the unforeseen challenge of heat and humidity, but more importantly, lack of proper fluid/fuel management. Interestingly, people from the hot and humid South were not only acclimatized to the challenge, but also knew how to manage their fuels and fluids properly. I doubt any of them passed by a water station without taking advantage of the refreshment offered.

So, now the analogy.  Every day and every week provides us with time, an opportunity to replenish lost energy, to meditate on both our challenges as well as blessings, to contemplate and consider our current course, and to feed our souls. These refreshment stations are churches, synagogues, scriptures, and even uplifting books.  To be found in these places of refreshment are people, and principles, and ideas that can encourage us along life’s path. Unfortunately, we are all too often, too busy to slow down and “break our stride” to attend church or read from a good book. And when we finally do stop for the day or week, we are too beat to read a book or attend church. And then many of us delude ourselves into thinking that we know what is best for ourselves, or that we can commune and grow closer to God by fishing and “enjoying his Nature”. Don’t get me wrong, vacationing is a good opportunity to refresh and recreate ourselves, but don’t miss my point, that there is important “refreshment” to be found in the scriptures, in meeting together with and associating with like minded people, in drinking the “living water” found in sermons and scriptures. There is encouragement that can be found by feasting on God’s word, both written and spoken. If we are honest with ourselves, we don’t get that from watching a football game with the guys, or an evening out “clubbing”, or by waterskiing at the lake. In short, we make a mistake by not taking advantage of the refreshment stations of life that have been placed there for our “Soul” benefit, and then all too soon we find our spiritual stores depleted. If we pray only when we “feel the need” to, and only sup from God’s word only when it is convenient, or in times of desperation, we may find that our ability to receive has diminished or expired… A sort of Spiritual depletion.

So here is my challenge. Go to church regularly, read the scriptures and/or uplifting books regularly, pray daily, ponder the important things – daily. Take time to feed your soul – regularly. Such activities are the aid stations of life. Associate with like minded people – regularly. Perhaps I should clarify that one. Associate with people who are of a mind that you wish to emulate or become like. Ultimately, you will find the race easier to run, and you will be uplifted. You will find stores of energy to endure to the end, you will enjoy the journey more, and the finish line will be a greatly more joyous occasion. We have been given numerous aid stations in life, specifically placed there for our benefit… Don’t pass them by and miss the refreshment and encouragement that awaits.

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