Four years ago, I fancied myself a runner because:
a) I owned a pair of cute running shorts
b) I had a nifty water bottle, and
c) I could run/walk 3 miles and not pass out. I even did a couple of 5ks for validation.
The reason I even started running was also threefold:
a) my husband was a record-breaking high school runner
b) both my boys were running cross country and track, and
c) I wasn’t getting any younger.
Basically, I wanted to experience what they felt in a race. When I watch a cross country race, I am inspired. Inspired to run (spectators have to run in order to even watch the sport!), and inspired by the lessons that so obviously translate spiritually. Here are a few lessons that have floated to the top of my list.
Be prepared. No coach ever put an athlete on the starting line that didn’t go through training. Athletes understand the importance of self-discipline, stretching, summer mileage, and walking the race course. “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” 1 Corinthians 9:24-27
Pain is a guarantee. There’s a reason why no one ever looks good in running pictures. Running hurts while you do it, after you’re done, and two days later. But even though it hurts, you run through it because you know the pain is getting you somewhere. The lung capacity and cardio, the muscles and the mindset – they all get stronger. My son said he once heard a quote about racing, “You’re already in pain - go through it! Don’t quit.” Or here’s one of my favorite quotes from Westley in The Princess Bride, “Life is pain, highness. Anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something.” Pain is part of the process; it sharpens us, and gives us character. Jesus promises in John 16:33 “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Encourage each other. I’ve witnessed countless athletes encourage one another along the race course, and not just their own teammates. There’s something about sharing the same experience, understanding what another person is going through, and realizing that you have it in you to offer words of help. Once athletes finish their race, tired as they are, they “bring the rest home” cheering for their teammates still working their way through the course. “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11
Finish Strong. The finish line is where I cried my first tears at a cross country race. It amazes how determined a tired, worn out runner will attack those last few meters when the finish line is in sight. Giving every last ounce to the end of the race, many collapse or nearly pass out at the finish. At the finish line, I yell with the other spectators trying to infuse strength with my words: “Finish strong!” It’s a reminder that those of us watching believe, we know the end is in sight, we see the value of the race and the completion. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” Hebrews 12:1-2
The finish line is the lesson that resonates most strongly with me these days as we approach graduation for our youngest son. His cross country days are over. No more team meals, carpools to distant race courses, or reminding him to pack his inhaler. This is sad, and it’s also freeing. It’s a reason to celebrate, and a reason to cry. He’s heading for the finish line, only to begin a new race into the college years and beyond. And in the same respect, it’s my finish line too. It brings Darrel and me to a beginning of “who exactly are we without kids?” A bit scary and exciting all at once. But in all of it, I trust my Lord and Savior who has great plans for each of us in all the directions we go. We are, after all, still running the race!