“Though my training for this event is physical and mental, may it also serve to shape Christlike qualities in my spirit–yielding a greater fortitude, endurance, faith, focus, discipline, and intentionality in the ways I live my life in Your service and for Your glory, O God.”
~ “A Liturgy For Competitors” by Douglas McKelvey
I woke up Monday morning to see the golden morning sunlight streaming through the green leaves and nervousness crept into my stomach. It always does from time to time during the Spring even though I haven’t gone to track practice or participated in a track meet in seven years. It’s like a little souvenir from my running days: whenever the weather begins to warm up and that certain smell wafts through the air and the light hits just right between the trees, the butterflies nestle deep in the pit of my stomach.
That’s exactly what used to happen before I ran a race and my body has somehow never forgotten.
(Mmkay so I wrote that back in the Spring and it’s Winter now which just goes to show how much time can pass between getting an idea for a blog post and then actually sitting down to write it out fully buut I’m keeping that opening ’cause I like it…)
It’s odd but amazing how things can stick with you like that. A smell, the light hitting just right, a bar of a song; can bring back all sorts of memories like a tidal wave. Butterflies used to flutter deep in my gut before track practices and before I ran an actual race at a meet. I was always incredibly nervous (and so were many of my fellow runners haha) But running track taught me two vital life-lessons.
That’s the first lesson; the power of well-timed encouragement.
If you’ve never run track before, let me just place you in the scene.
It’s 500 million degrees and there’s not a cloud in the sky. Your muscles are on fire and the rubber track just seems to radiate heat. Your track shoes have got small spikes on the bottom to give you traction and as they sink into the rubber, your legs feel like they’ll give way at any moment.
Your coach said that if you move your arms properly, your legs will follow but right now, your arms feel like dead weight and the world is spinning.
Sweat’s pouring down your back and your breathing is ragged.
You’ve nearing the final bend and you’re wondering why on earth you thought running track was a good idea in the first place. Everything’s on fire and you feel like you’re dying. The finish line seems to recede farther and farther into the distance even though you thought you were getting closer.
At this point, you don’t even care about finishing first; you just want to finish.
You’ve tuned everyone out; even and perhaps, especially, the screaming crowd. The world slows and your vision blurs a bit.
Then, as you reach the final 200 meter mark, several voices cut through your mental fog.
They’re your teammates, leaning over the chain-link fence, reminding you why you signed up for this.
You keep your eyes on the line in the distance but a half-smile curves your lips upwards even in the pain.
Someone’s yelling “you got this!”
Someone else cheers “come on! you’re almost there!”
A third voice rings out “give it everything you’ve got!”
(this makes you laugh, or it would if you weren’t crying with pain; ’cause you’ve got nothing left to give…or so you thought…)
The finish line’s 100 meters away now and you can see more of your teammates standing behind it, waving their uniform jackets and screaming their lungs out.
And then a different fire courses through your veins, and your arms and legs finally start working in tandem just a little bit and you think you just might make it after all.
After an eternity, you realize the finish line is actually behind you and you collapse…onto your friends who are shouting something that you can’t quite understand and wrapping you in giant hugs which are actually the only things keeping you from crumpling to the track in a heap.
The world’s spinning and everything looks like it’s swaying up and down and then your friends’ words finally register:
“you did it! we’re in first, now! that person behind you was so close and but you pulled ahead right near the end! we’re in first place now!”
And you realize it was all worth it after all ’cause your posse had your back the whole time.
Ahh, lovely humans, writing it all out kinda makes me nostalgic…
It’s just one of the best feelings and I think track (& field) is one of the only sports that captures it. With basketball, soccer, football etc, you’re really working as a team. If you mess up, the team goes down too. But in track, it’s all on you sometimes. You don’t have the luxury of knowing that you can pass the ball to a teammate if you’re stuck. When you’re out there on the track, it’s just you. No one’s gonna run that race for you once the gun goes off.
But it’s thrilling when your friend’s running their race and you and your friends run around the outside of the track to the 200 meter mark ’cause you know that’s where your friend’s gonna need your encouragement the most. That’s where they’ll be struggling, ready to give up but knowing they can’t. And that’s where they’ll need you. That’s where they’ll need your cheers to put that fresh burst of energy into their limbs.
And hey, lovely humans, if that ain’t just like real life.
How often are we running the Race weary and bedraggled, desperately just wanting to lay down and die, call it quits, say ‘good riddance’ and wave good-bye and turn our backs. It’s so easy, too. In the moment, it’s so easy to give in and quit, to let bitterness and depression take hold and sink us into the grave.
‘Cause what good is it anyway? What are we even fighting for? Why are we waking up each morning to the same fight that we can’t win? Why are we exposing our underbelly to the world each day so it can rake its wicked claws into our vulnerable flesh and bleed us dry?
Is Christ even coming back? Is He even here with us in our pain or has He forgotten? Why can’t we feel His presence anymore? Should we just stop trying? What are we even fighting for?
And it’s in those Dark (often blasphemous moments) that we need our friends, hanging over the chain-link fences of life and waving the banners of Hope. We need them to remind us of Truth, to bombard us with Scripture, to add their prayers to own, to ride out and meet the Night with fierce Courage.
All that from running on a track 🙂
That’s the second thing running track taught me: how to persevere when everything in you revolts at the idea.
It didn’t come easily for me; track or endurance. I don’t think I really took the sport seriously until Senior Year. I shed loads of tears in practice and at meets (aka games for you non-track people) and the pain just tired out me. I firmly believe track is one of the most painful sports out there. You’re constantly pushing your muscles to do things they’ve never done before; to stretch further and run faster. If you’re serious about it, it’s not a walk in the park. You’re gonna hurt and it’s gonna take every ounce of stamina and self-discipline you have, and then some.
Running track builds character. It teaches you self-discipline ’cause no one’s gonna the run the race for you once the gun goes off. No one’s gonna run the work-outs for you during practice. Your coach will push you. Your teammates will encourage and challenge you. But you’ve got to put in the time and run through the pain if you want to see results.
That’s why the writer of Hebrews encouraged his readers with this challenge:
“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
~ Hebrews 12:1-2 ~
The Christian life is all about endurance, endurance with Joy. And one of the ways we endure is by encouraging one another. We need each other desperately, way less than we need Christ, but still desperately.
A hug here, a smile there. If you see something lovely in someone, tell them. Why are we so afraid of doing that? We jump at the chance to criticize (whether to someone’s face or behind their back) but we shrink back from encouragement.
If someone’s prayer at prayer meeting encouraged your heart, find them and thank them.
If you admire the way a couple has trained their children, let them know that they’re doing a good work.
If you liked someone’s outfit, compliment it.
If you’ve seen growth in a friend, let them know.
We’re in our heads so much that it can be hard to see our own progress and having a trusted friend come alongside and let us know that we’re not who we once were can be suuch a breath of Courage.
We’ve got power, lovely humans, power to lift up our fellow humans, by the Most High’s grace; so why are we keeping that to ourselves?
So that’s what running track taught me: the power of encouragement and the importance of endurance.
And I’ll carry the memories forever too:
the way some of us used to sing “American Pie” to calm our nerves before a race;
the way we would huddle together, arms around each other’s shoulders, hearts beating wildly while one of us would pray before our relay race;
the communal pain and tears during practice;
the way we’d raid the school kitchen for snacks after practice (which probably has something to with why they put locks on the cupboards…);
the pillow fights at hotels when we’d overnight for meets in PA;
the outdoor frisbee we’d play behind the hotel and the shenanigans that followed;
the Old Country Buffet (if you know, you know 🙂 );
the devotional Mr. L would do on the morning of MACSA when the whole team would crowd into his hotel room in our uniforms, and sprawl out on the beds and the floor and the chair and he’d read that passage in 2 Corinthians about running to win the prize and he’d remind us that we were there for two reasons: to glorify the Most High and to win;
the 8am Saturday practices in snow and rain and heat…
I could go on 🙈 Looking back, the years I ran track were some of the best years of my life; even though they sure didn’t feel like that at the time.
So lovely humans, I hope this post encourages you to endure and to encourage others.
|We’re in a War, my friends, and we all need Courage on the Front Lines 🖤|