21 September 2017

The Tour of Life

Covering 2000 miles in 21 days of all out racing, the New York Times describes the Tour de France as, “Arguably the most physiologically demanding of all athletic events.” The effort of competing in ‘The Tour’ is compared to running a marathon several days a week for three weeks while the total elevation of climbs is compared to climbing Mount Everest – 3 times.

Over this last year I’ve had no other choice of but to get into this ‘cycling thing’. Weighing almost 18 stone at Easter 2011 I had no other option but to get into some exercise! So, thanks to my fellow ‘Rejoice Always’ writer – Mitch from ‘Crown Jesus’ I found myself signing up for something that seems near impossible to undertake. In 7 days time we’ll be on a boat heading to the Lake District to compete in a team of 4 in a triathlon style race. Consisting of a 25-mile bike ride, climbing Helvellyn (2nd largest mountain in England), canoeing 4km before cycling 26 miles home again – all against 80 other teams.

So, these past 4 months have been the toughest physical and mental journey I have ever been on in my entire 31 years on planet earth (I kid you not!). However, I have learnt so much from it all, particularly in my relationship with God and especially in my relationships with other Christians.

The first time I got on a bike was less than a year ago and it took me 1hr and 33mins to complete 10 miles while having to stop 6 times throughout that time for a breather – shocking I know. But step by step I began to increase my own training to around 30 mile rides.

So along come the ‘mates’ – you know the ones I mean. The 12 stone, super fit, medium fit T-Shirt and 32 inch waist ‘guys’ that you’re embarrassed to even stand beside. To be totally honest with you, out of the 4 of us competing in the race, I am without a doubt the most unfit of them all. One guy Harry is in his 50’s and is the fittest guy I have ever met (with a mere 250 mile a week cycling regime.) At the start of July 2011 we arranged to meet up for our first training run as a group of 4 which was a bike ride totaling 52 miles, far more and far faster than I had been before and I did it with an average speed of 17.5 mph – I still can’t believe it!

But… if it had not been for those 3 other guys who were stronger, fitter, more experienced than me, I’d have given up at 20 or 30 miles thinking that was good enough.

They pushed me further than I’d ever been before – supporting me, encouraging me, cheering me on all the way – even when I was holding them back.

They protected me from the wind and conditions around me – working together as a team, taking turns out front, setting the pace for me to follow.

They ensured that before we left – no matter what – they would never leave me behind – and that we would finish together.

If there is anything as Christians we can all agree on it’s that this life we have chosen is tough! I mean, it’s crazy sometimes! It’s almost like we are in a boat crossing a large sea in the middle of a big storm, being tossed around, not knowing where we are going and you look back on land at all your old life and friends who are having a party on the beach with the sun beaming down and the barbecue on. But yet, we choose to stay on the boat, some have chosen to get off the boat and give up but you find yourself somehow staying the course.

As a man, one of the hardest things to do is admit you’re in trouble, or you’re struggling, or you’ve made a mistake. Pride is perhaps the one thing we hold onto as men for too long and it has a cost.

Is it worth your marriage, your family, your friends or even your career?

Jesus often took time out from His ministry from the other disciples to be alone with 3 other guys; Peter, James & John. Paul reminds us to imitate Jesus in Philippians 2: 1 – 5 (NIV)

“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.”

What if you had a band of brothers – 3/4/5 other Christian guys who you met with on a regular basis and prayed with, who you are accountable to. Who you could say to, no matter what, I’m going to be here for you to support you, to encourage you, I’m going to cheer you on. If times are tough, brother stay in behind me and I’ll take the beating, stay close to me and we’ll get through this tough time together.

In this year’s ‘Tour de France’ Johnny Hoogerland was out front leading a Stage when he was involved in a horrific crash that saw him tangled in barbed wire at the side of the road. Once untangled he was left with a nasty gash on his thigh.

Yet, rather than withdraw from the race for treatment he put on another pair of shorts, completed the remainder of the stage before receiving 33 stitches for his injuries. What people failed to notice was, despite being nearly 30mins down on the leaders when he got back on his bike, his teammate had dropped back from the main peloton and paced him back to finish the stage just 15mins behind the winner.

Who are you setting the pace for? Even if that means dropping back to pick them up. And who are you following that is setting the pace for you in this Tour of Life?

Gareth Murphy ‘Spud’