The atypically hot Wisconsin sun is beating down on my neck and the buzz from the crowd is humming in my ears as I toe the line. Safety pins have securely fixed the Tyvek-paper bib to my shorts. Bluetooth headphones have been successfully synced to my iPhone and the run playlist is geared up and ready to go. "Good luck" is spread around liberally with back-slaps, high-fives, and a few selfies taken for good measure.
Its a local 5K, 10K, and 1/2 marathon race where 350 runners will run through beautiful, rugged, pristine trails in the woods of St Croix Falls, WI. Aside from picking up a few ticks and a little mud, nothing could be more perfect about this day, the course, the camaraderie, and the running itself. Looking around, I have a pretty good idea of who will win the 5K, the 10K, and the 1/2 for both men and women. I will not be one of them, and I am perfectly content with that. However, I still have a race to run, and I want to win.
You see, winning is so much more than literally finishing first. Yes, that sounds like a colloquial platitude, but I am sincere.
When you toe the line in a race, you rest in your training, your latent fitness, your internal drive, your shoes, your passion, your energy chews, whatever. For this race, on this day, I would have to rest on my faith to finish. Is that weakness or is that strength? Sometimes weakness leads us to strength. It is easy to run and finish a race when you feel good; when you have the drive; the oomph; the kick in your step. Its difficult when you start dragging, hating life, wishing it was over. Either time is a good time to exercise faith to win the race.
"Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize. So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified."
Paul wrote the words above and I have to assume that as a tent-maker, teacher, leader, and guest-speaker traveling around Turkey and the Mediterranean, that he didn't have in mind a small-time 10K race in Wisconsin. Or did he? Paul is talking about winning the race - the race of living by faith and being with God for all of eternity (imperishable wreath). And I want to win this race way more than I want to win a 10K. Well, I want to win both. Is that possible? I certainly don't want to be disqualified. In our local race where blood doping, bib-switching, or cutting the course is far from anyone's mind, the only way to be disqualified would be to simply walk off the course and not finish. Being DQ'd in the race Paul is talking about is way worse than being DQ'd in a real race. I try to take lessons in the real, literal race to apply them to the metaphorical, spiritual race that I'm running as well.
And I'm telling you, the thought of walking off the 10K course this past week was palatable because of the blistering heat and humidity. Long gone were the cool, fresh, breezy, training runs this spring. 80 degrees and 90% relative humidity means it. is. hot. My poor husband and a bunch of other friends were running the half marathon at the same time, which I would have been as well, if I hadn't run it two weeks before in training and injured my foot. Still six point two miles is still long enough to apply these principles to.
I had disciplined my body over the course of the past four years to be able to run pretty far at a decent not-going-to-win-any-races-pace of about 8-9 minute miles (having never run more than a mile before age 35 - under duress, I might add, not by choice). Self-control; running with purpose; disciplining my body; training, losing baggage. Nevertheless, just because you have trained your body doesn't mean it isn't hard. Real simple - how do you have faith to win a race? You do. not. give. up. You tell your body, "NO! We did not come here to quit because it is hot." You tell your mind "STOP lying to me! We are not going to die. You are fine!". You tell your legs, "YES! Keep chugging." You tell your fears, "Quiet!". And most of all, you ask God for help. "Help me to finish for your glory. Help me to 'win' by faith. Help me to do what I set out to do, my kids are at the finish line waiting for me. I can't do it on my own. I need you to help me." And then, when you see the finish line...."Thank you, God"..."We did it". "It was never me running on my own even when I thought it was. You did it in me. Thank you." My favorite verse comes through again, "Call upon Me in the day of trouble and I will deliver you, and you will glorify Me". Faith to win a race.
Did I literally win? No. Did I receive a perishable wreath? Actually yes, I finished third in my age division so I did get a medal after all. Am I going to keep running this race, both literally and figuratively? Yes. By faith.
Whatever race you are called to run today, do not give up. Keep going, keep chugging, keep plodding, even if its hard. Do it with joy, do it by faith, do it for love. Find others who will encourage you and inspire you. I have so many other "those" people in my life and I am so. very. thankful.