At the starting line of Sunday’s half marathon in Des Moines, I waited for the race to begin. As I started to run, I reached to tap the timer on my watch… the screen went blank. Dead battery.

For a few minutes, I obsessed over the frustration of not being able to pace myself well. Trying to push those thoughts aside, I opened my eyes to the sights of the course including the gold-gilded Iowa State Capitol; I let myself feel the contrast between the brisk air and the sunshine and listened to the rise and fall of my feet in rhythm with the hundreds of runners surrounding me.

I watched the miles slide away, feeling strong. As I reached the 10K mark, the only spot on the course with a race clock, I realized I had started the race WAY TOO FAST. Through miles six to ten, I could tell my pace was slowing. One person after another passed me by.

The last half of the race circled a beautiful lake before returning to downtown. After crossing a bridge, we ran into the wind. I felt depleted. Coming up a small rise, I saw a man struggling as much as I was.

“I have nothing left,” I said to him. “How about you?”

“It’s going to be all guts from here,” he said.

Throughout the last three miles, we stayed together. He would stop to walk and I would continue my steady, but slow, jog. Eventually, I would see him beside me again. Jerry, from Lincoln, Nebraska, and I, turned to the final stretch of the race. “Let’s finish strong together,” I said to him.

As I caught my breath after a fast kick to the finish, I turned to congratulate Jerry.

When the race we are running is real life, it is even more important to have a Jerry to keep us going. We need to know that we are not alone in the struggle. Sometimes it may not be clear who is doing the encouraging. In connecting with Jerry late in the race, I wanted to help him along, but I also gained strength from his presence. I kept his white shirt in my sights, making sure we stayed together in those last miles.

Who are you running life’s race with today? How can you encourage your team to persevere and finish strong?

This was originally posted at Mountain State University LeaderTalk and is re-posted with permission.