I ran my first 10K race today. The influences and events that led up to my participation in this event (and the training I am now undergoing for my first triathlon (sprint) in a few weeks) are subjects for another blog. But today I’m reflecting on the experience of running my first 10K race. I think I now understand a little more why the apostle Paul used the metaphor of running a race when teaching about living for Christ. There are a lot of similarities between road races and the spiritual life!
As we waited for the race to begin, I looked around at my fellow runners on this spring-like early September morning in Atlanta. People of all ages had shown up to run—some of them the 5K and some of them, like me, were going all out for the 10K. The course was a 3.1 mile loop, which we would run twice, for a total of 6.2 miles. I had never been on this course before so it was new to me. It was advertised as a flat course, which sounded too good to be true. I marveled that around 800 people had gotten out of bed early that morning in order to run the race. I guess they had decided to participate because they thought it was worth it. There were a lot more folks who could have joined the pack, but for whatever reasons, they weren’t there. The spiritual race of following Christ is like that. There are relatively few who are dedicating themselves to that goal. Running the race begins with a personal decision to participate—a commitment to get in the race. Once in, the race takes on a life of its own for those who decide to tackle the adventure and see it through.
As we waited for the starting gun, I felt nervous. I didn’t know what to expect. Would I be able to do it? I had been cross-training for several weeks for the upcoming triathlon, alternating swimming, with biking, and running. But I had not actually run 6.2 miles in one session. I wondered about my endurance. As we got moving, I intentionally did not run fast, but stayed smack dab in the middle of the pack. Most of the runners around me were going at about the same pace. As the miles went by, this changed. The pack spread out, and the runners were redistributed along the road. There were more individual differences in pacing, some runners slowing to walk occasionally, and others who seemed to outpace the group. My own pace remained almost constant, until…the hills!
Okay, where is the “flat course” that was advertised? Nobody said anything about hills, but there they were, testing my endurance. I was wearing a heart rate monitor so I kept a watchful eye on my pulse for fear that I would somehow burst my heart in over-exertion. Not that there was really much danger of that, but being a nervous novice, I watched the numbers climb higher than I had seen them in my daily workouts!
Endurance was what was needed. And the hills just added an extra challenge. Did I mention that I had gone to a foot and ankle specialist just three days earlier to check out my left foot for nerve pain (neuroma) and my right foot for follow up on a sprained ankle from six weeks earlier? I had been having issues with BOTH feet but for different reasons. My doc even gave me an injection in my left foot with the hope that this would shrink the neuroma and alleviate the issue. I had asked him if the race would be a possibility for me and he had granted his blessing. But, there it was–the pain had resurfaced! Fifty minutes into the race, the inflammation began, causing a significant distraction. I had to navigate that inconvenience along with those “flat course” hills! Endurance! I’m sure everyone on that race course was having his or her own brand of endurance issues. The man who prayed for us before the race began even prayed for those of us who would experience pain during the race. He had prayed that we would be able to reach out to the Lord as we make our way to the finish line. As my discomfort erupted, I recalled his prayer and asked the Lord to help me finish. I was struck by the parallels with our spiritual “race.” At times, we all face some hills and painful challenges as we run hard to honor Christ with our lives. Sometimes our distress is so extreme that we want to quit. Unfortunately, some do. Perhaps they forget that Christ has given us The Helper, His Holy Spirit, with rich resources to help us in our need. Perhaps they fail to receive uplifting encouragement from their fellow runners. For me, one of the most refreshing points along the race route was the place where smiling volunteers handed us cups of water with encouraging words like “You’re doing great! Keep it up!” Encouragement helps us endure and persevere—in a 10K race or in our life as Christ-followers.
I looked at my watch timer as I began the last leg of the race. Fifty five minutes! I had been running without a break for fifty-five minutes! By now, the nerve in my left foot was really inflamed and hurting. Thankfully, the right ankle was doing okay. Sweat was pouring from every inch of my skin, and to make things more challenging, this last leg was uphill! As my heart pounded, I focused on one single thought: Finish the race! Finish the race! The end was in sight and my loving wife (and number one cheerleader) would be there to see me cross the finish line. She would take my picture to prove to our children that I had actually done this. Finishing was important. Too much was invested. But I didn’t want to just finish…I wanted to sprint to the end! So, as I turned the last corner where all the cheering spectators had gathered, and with a hundred yards left to the finish line, I pulled out the throttle, ignored my pain, and gave it all I had. Oh, the joy of finishing this race! And the special joy of finishing strong!
By God’s grace, I want that kind of finish in running the race for Christ. Like Paul wrote to Timothy, I want to be able to say “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7)