Last September, I turned 40 and decided to run my first half marathon to celebrate. Somewhere around mile 10, I asked myself why I didn’t celebrate with a spa day and a bottle of wine. God gave me the desire to run but not the part of the brain that says, “Why are you doing this? There are other ways to relax.” To commemorate the event, my sister-in-law made me a prayer bracelet out of blue paper and laminated it to protect it from rain or sweat. Of course, she just finished her first ultramarathon, so, she’s crazier than I am. On the bracelet were 13 names of people I wanted to pray for while I ran. A name for each mile. I initially thought the prayer bracelet was something symbolic that I would just wear to tell people I wore it. But it turned out to be my biggest motivation and kept my mind off the passing miles as I worked my way toward the finish line.
My list of names included my family, friends, relatives of friends. They were there for a variety of reasons: thanks for them being in my life, intentions for struggles they couldn’t seem to overcome, appreciation for the challenges they presented to my life that made me better. I told the 13 why they were on my bracelet. Not required, but it locked in my commitment to finish the race. I couldn’t let any of them down. I knew each mile meant a new person, and I didn’t want to forget someone because my focus drifted and got stuck, thinking, “Omg, why am I doing this? Why are 13 miles so much shorter in a car?” Praying along the route was a concentrated effort. And after a mile of thinking about someone, praying for them, and reflecting on the impact they’ve had on my life, each subsequent mile meant I got to focus on someone new.
Before I knew it, I was almost finished.
Each person and intention had their own mile. So, the higher the mile, the more personal the prayer. For example, mile three was easy, so it was to a new friend who I was able to easily share my faith with, five miles was my most comfortable mile so, I gave it to my best friend who has given me years of laughter. My children each got a mile — 8, 9, and 10 — because those miles I could do, but not without effort, like motherhood. Mile 13 went to my husband because the ups and downs and changes and challenges of marriage have been the most work I’ve done in my life, but they’ve also had the biggest reward. Just like this race.
After months of training, overcoming injury setbacks and exhaustion, the harsh reality that I’m no longer 22 became apparent, and I had to finally accept that two things were sure in life: God and the importance of stretching. But on my race day, what mattered most had nothing to do with running and everything to do with serving. My steps and my prayers were a way to serve others. I don’t wear my prayer bracelet when I run any more, but I do set aside a few people to pray about along with the struggles they are facing or maybe struggles I’m facing, too. One person for each mile. One struggle for each mile.
You don’t have to be a runner to incorporate prayer into your daily routine. You can pray for a person each mile you drive to work, each block of five minutes you sit in traffic, or every minute you wait in a line. Try praying for one person for every piece of laundry you fold. It doesn’t matter how you count the intentions, it just matters that you have them.
I learned something very valuable that warm, fall morning of my race. I learned that everything we do and have is an opportunity to give to others with something as simple and genuine as prayer.