Running Up the Mountain Together

We’re coming up on the end of our time in Colorado.

I’m going to miss it for a lot of reasons — but particularly for (1) the mountains and (2) the cohort of young leaders with whom I’ve been privileged to work these last five weeks. This morning, I got to combine these two elements in a way that gave me personal joy and (I think) a deeper glimpse into some of the things God is doing in my heart, in the Collegiate Mentoring Program this summer, and in my current ministry context back in Kent.

It started when I made up my mind that I needed one more attempt at running up Bible Point.

All kinds of people go up Bible Point all the time because it’s a relatively short hike — less than a mile and a half — on the west side of the YMCA of the Rockies. It’s steep enough that it takes some real work to get up there, but the view from the top is spectacular enough that people are willing to put in the work. Over the past few summers that I’ve been here, though, I’ve become particularly intrigued with the idea of trying to run, nonstop, all the way from the sports field in the center of the YMCA of the Rockies to the top of Bible Point. Unfortunately, I’ve never succeeded in running nonstop, as the steep sections of trail limit my legs and thin mountain air limits my lungs. But I’ve gotten faster over time. And at one point, I even held the record on Strava (a social media platform for endurance athletics) for their segment titled “Bible Point (from the livery).” I lost my “King of the Mountain” classification last summer (kudos to John Grotenhuis, whoever he is!). And as I age, I’m not sure that I’m ever going to reclaim the crown. But still, I want to keep pushing myself — and I could see on Strava that there was another staff guy from our network’s church at the University of Missouri who was also regularly running up Bible Point (albeit typically a couple of minutes slower than I typically do it). He also happens to be one of the participants in our Collegiate Mentoring Program this summer, learning to play more and more of a lead role back in his home context. So I thought maybe it would be beneficial for both our relationship and our running pursuits to make a run at Bible Point together.

Last night, I messaged him: “Hey Mike! I’m thinking about taking another run at Bible Point tomorrow morning. Probably around 6:30 or 7:00 AM. Would you be interested in joining me?”

He responded, “Yes, let’s do it. I’m down for either time.”

So we made plans to meet at the playground in front of the Craft and Design Center. At the appointed time, we started stretching for the run as we looked up at the rocky spot that marked Bible Point. And then we started running. The first three-quarters of a mile was level enough that we were able to manage some conversation — but then we hit the steep sections of trail, and all our breath was focused on getting to the top of Bible Point.

At first, it seemed that I was stronger than Mike, in danger of pulling too far in front of him for the synergistic purposes. So I slowed down a bit and decided to conserve some energy for at least a little while. But after a couple more switchbacks, I reached the point where I felt like I could not keep running — and Mike pulled ahead of me by a couple of steps. For the next half-mile, the distance between the two of us varied as we took turns running (at a very slow pace) and walking with our hands helping to push our thighs up the mountain. In the last quarter of a mile, though, it became clear that Mike had stronger legs — and he pulled ahead to finish a twenty seconds ahead of me.

I felt kind of discouraged that my body had betrayed me and that I couldn’t hang with Mike for the whole climb. But between gasps of air at the top of Bible Point, Mike checked his watch and exclaimed, “That was… a full two minutes… faster… than I’ve ever… gone before!” He spat into the dust, doubled over with exhaustion, and looked over at me with a smile. “Thanks for the push.”

I congratulated him for his strong run and moaned about my own sense of exhaustion. My legs and lungs screamed for me to go nowhere and to do nothing but recover for a few minutes. So I sat on a rock and reflected.

Something about our run seemed like a metaphor for life and ministry.

I’m at an age where I’ve developed a good base of experience and endurance — even if my peak and performance may not be what it used to be. Younger men have a higher ceiling for what they can accomplish, but they don’t often realize their own strength until someone else pushes them beyond what they thought was possible. My pride may get wounded, as I watch the young legs surge ahead of me on the home stretch, as I see my name get lower on the list of Strava segment achievements… But there’s also a certain satisfaction that comes from seeing the next generation rise and realize their full potential.

Once we had fully caught our breath at the top of Bible Point, Mike and I took the easy job back down the trail to where we started. When I got back to my cabin, my watch uploaded the data from our run to my phone, to Garmin, to Strava — and I was delighted to discover that even though I had finished 18 seconds behind Mike, I had also beaten my personal record by 8 seconds (faster than the run that had once made me “King of the Mountain”)! I smiled to myself, realizing that Mike’s and my combined run was not just an act of sacrifice and “passing the baton to the next generation.” We saw a boost in both of our performances. And Mike had come within 6 seconds of being the new “King of the Mountain” on our run.

Later in the morning, at our group session for the Collegiate Mentoring Program, Mike and I talked about the Strava standings and Mike said, “Man, we need to try that again before you have to leave!”

I knew it might be a scheduling challenge, but I agreed that it would be fun to give it another try. “Seriously. We’re so close,” I smiled. “Next time, I think that record is yours for the taking.”

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