THE LAST LAP
By SAMUEL SCOVILLE
"Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? Even so run, that ye may attain. I buffet my body, and bring it into bondage; lest by any means, after that I have preached to others, I myself should be rejected [for the prize]" 1 Corinthians 9: 24, 27.
I was a fresh man at Yale. The Captain of the race team told me that Yale was anxious to have me win the Intercollegiate Mile. Then old Miles Murphy, the best trainer the world has ever known, muttered some advice in my ear about not getting pocketed and lying back until the last quarter. The next moment I was out upon the track, which was ringed around with stands full of shouting, cheering spectators.* Thirty or forty of us contestants got out on our marks across the cinder path: then came the bang of a pistol - and we were off.**
[* So Hebrews 12: 1: "Let us also, seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, run with patience the race that is set before us."
** So 2 Timothy 2: 5: "If a man contend in the games, he is not crowned, except he have contended lawfully."]
One of the boys who ran that day was an almost unknown runner, representing a small school. At the first corner, while fighting for the lead, he was accidentally spiked and thrown headlong. One of his legs was gashed by the long spikes on the shoes of another competitor, and his hands and face were cut by the sharp cinders. By the time that he had struggled to his feet again, the whole field was thirty yards ahead of him.
He had fallen. His face was blackened and bleeding. He was left far behind. It seemed hopeless for him to go on. Nevertheless he started after that crowd of runners as bravely as if nothing had happened.*
[* So Philippians 3: 13: "Forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before, I press on toward the goal unto the prize."]
All around the first lap he remained behind them all. Little by little, however, he began to cut down the lead of the runners nearest him, and by the end of the first half he was up among the laggards of the race, twenty yards or so back of the leaders.
Then came that bitter third quarter. There is nothing in athletics harder than the third quarter of a fast mile. One has already run a half at full speed and there is still another to come. An iron band seems to tighten around one's chest. There is the salt taste of blood in the mouth, and one longs desperately to give up and fall down and rest.
Yet that boy who had been last, blackened and bleeding, with set teeth, cut down one faltering runner after another of those farthest behind, until, as the leaders neared the finish of the third lap, they heard behind them the pad, pad of flying feet coming nearer and nearer.
In another moment the pacemakers had reached the fourth quarter, and the deep-toned bell signalled the beginning of the last lap, while the cheers of the crowd swept across the track like a storm.
The sound was like a spur to the speed of that boy who had been last. He shot by a little group of runners, and in the backstretch was hard upon the heels of the four leaders. As they swung around the last corner into the home-stretch, those four, who were in front, heard the sound of flying feet approaching them from behind, and knew that the race that day was to be fought out by five instead of four.
As all five of them swung into the home-stretch, the spectators leaned forward from the stands and called upon the runners by name for one last desperate effort. No one called to the boy who ran last of that quintet nor even knew his name.
At the finish a red strand of worsted was stretched breast-high across the track. The runner who first broke that cord was the mile champion for the coming year. There was grouped the judges and the timers, and to the men struggling toward it, that thin red line seemed to move back and back to an interminable distance.
The extreme limit of their endurance had been reached, and as their strength flagged, each runner called upon the very soul that was in him to bear the pain and carry him to the finish.
Lurching and staggering with mortal weakness each one drew upon the last atom of strength in him for a final effort. A strange silence fell upon the crowd, and in the stillness the rapid, laboured breathing of the runners could be heard.
Suddenly, up level with the fourth man came the blackened gashed face of the last runner, and slowly drew away from him.* Now the finish was only thirty yards away, and suddenly beside the third man showed that same disfigured face, whose staring eyes saw nothing but the goal.
[* So Matthew 19: 30: "Many shall be last that are first; and the first that are last."]
That third man did his best and gave all that he had to hold his place - I ought to know, I was that third man - but slowly and surely the boy who had fallen at the start drew away from him. Then he challenged the other two who were running neck to neck, and five yards from the finish drew up even with them.
For an instant that seemed a year the three struggled for the lead, and then, at the very finish, the runner who had been left lying prostrate in the dirt when the race began threw himself forward, broke the tape a scant inch ahead of the other two, won the race, and broke the Intercollegiate Record for the Mile.*
[* So 2 Timothy 4: 7: "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course. I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for ME THE CROWN."]
In forty years of athletics I have never seen again so gallant a finish, and to the day of my death never will I forget that race or that runner.
There are times in the lives of us all when we stumble and fall and are defiled by dirt and cut and gashed and hurt. Yet we are only beaten if we give up and lie down hopeless and helpless. No matter how far the fall or how dreadful the failure there is only one thing to do - get up and go on and on and on and never, never quit!
The start is important, but - IT'S THE FINISH THAT WINS!
The writer of the Epistle of Hebrews had seen the races at the great Olympic Games, and still his instructions about the race of life ring down to us through the mist of the years:
"Wherefore, seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us RUN WITH PATIENCE [PERSEVERANCE] THE RACE THAT IS SET BEFORE US, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith."
- The Sunday School Times.
AN ADDITIONAL NOTE FOR EVERY REGRENERATE BELIEVER IN CHRIST: -
Christian's calling is to enter the
- The Prophetic Word.