Almost two months ago I decided to start running to get into better shape. A little over a year ago my friend Carl decided to do the same. His success was partially the inspiration that got me started. The fact I have been at the same (over) weight for the past fifteen years is also my inspiration.
Shortly after I started running, Carl signed me up for my first run. This was the same run Carl ran last year as his first run. He was confident I would enjoy it, and he was correct. I had a great time.
This run was completely different than how I was training. I have been alternating between my neighborhood and the Oak Grove High School track. The trail run was at the Wyandotte County Lake Park. Following Carl’s advice I started towards the back of the pack. This being my first run I didn’t want to be an additional obstacle. At the sound of the air horn we began the race.
I had three simple goals. I didn’t want to trip and fall. I didn’t want to be passed up by anyone twice my age, and I didn’t want to get passed up by anyone one-tenth my age. I can announce to everyone I accomplished all three goals. Of course the second two are easy when you bring up the rear the entire race.
Carl really only gave me one piece of advice for the race. He told me, “James, don’t worry about what anyone else is doing. Just run your race.” And that’s what I did. All I really wanted to do was avoid walking if I could. Right away I found a young couple who seemed to be running a pace I could manage. I felt the temptation to pass them both, but I resisted the urge. They both looked to be in fantastic shape, and I assumed that if I did pass them up I would eventually find myself behind them anyway. I learned through the course of the race that this was the lady’s first run as well.
This trail was 2.8 miles, longer than I have run before, and this race was on a wooded path which was new to me. Eventually we did pass a few other runners. Usually a mom or dad with a child who couldn’t manage the pace. There was even a short distance where the trail doubled back on itself creating quite an experience as the quicker runners needed to pass us slow pokes, which was the only time I saw Carl. There were all kinds of twists and turns leading to the first, and only, water stop which was placed at the one mile marker. The young couple and I stopped for about fifteen seconds to get a drink and started the rest of the trail.
The second part of the trail was much more challenging. There were a few low hanging branches and even a spot where a small tree must have fallen the night before, which needed to be carefully navigated. There were a few sharp turns that caused everyone to walk for a few short seconds to maintain the trail. At about two miles into the trail we hit a big hill, and when we reached what we thought was the top, it curved a little and continued with another incline. Neither I nor the couple in front of me was able to take the hill in a jog. We had to walk and push with our legs. We all let out moans of exertion as the hill seemed to continue without end.
Eventually the younger couple started to make some distance on me, and I found myself somewhat alone. The rhythm of my breathing and the sound of my footsteps created a surreal experience. I actually contemplated this blog post for a few minutes.
With about a quarter mile remaining in the trail I saw Carl running towards me. He came up beside me, and told me I was almost to the end. When I cleared the woods I could see the finish line up ahead. The race officials had given Elaina a cowbell and told her to bang it any time a runner was headed for the finish.
With Carl by my side cheering me on I felt a sudden rush of energy, and put all I had into the last 1,000 feet. When I got about 100 feet from the finish, Carl peeled off yelling, “Finish strong,” at me as he moved away. I completed my first official race in 70th place with a time of 34:58 and a pace of 12:29 per mile.
I was struck by how similar to the trail of life this race was. There is constant pressure to keep up with the crowd. There are hills that challenge my ability to maintain pace. There are unexpected distractions and obstacles. My friends are there on the trail with me, but they aren’t always within sight. Sometimes I find myself in the presence of people I don’t know. Do I ignore them, or take the time to connect in whatever way possible? If I have good friends (and I certainly do) they will come around just when I need them to cheer me on. My closest friend is Jesus, who will always be around.
For my daughters, I would tell them this:
Don’t try to run someone else’s race. God has a specific plan for your life. He has designed it just for you. He will allow challenges, and the path won’t always be smooth. There will be obstacles that will challenge your resolve. Sometimes your friends will be with you, sometimes you will be with strangers, and sometimes you will feel like you are alone. I wish I could promise you that I will always be by your side but I can’t. I can promise you that Jesus will always find you on the trail ready to escort you to a successful end regardless of the challenge. You only have to believe.
And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.