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,--Hebrews 12:1

Saturday, February 2, 2013

River Trail 15K Race Recap: A Message in Every Mile

The Message & The Run

Walking to the start of the River Trail 15K this morning, I was still trying to decide just how I wanted to run this race. I couldn't decide if I wanted to treat it like any other race, where you lay it all on the line and leave nothing on the course, or if I wanted to run it more as a training race for next week's Mississippi River Marathon, just 9.3 miles at my goal pace for next weekend. By the time the race started, I had decided I'd just play things by ear.
" 23 The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him; 24 though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand." -- Psalm 37:23

A lot of times we're faced with choices in life, choices without an obvious best option. Sometimes either option seems just as good as the other, sometimes both seem bad, and sometimes it all depends on unpredictable events that will determine whether or not we made the right choice. That's why it's so important to trust in the Lord, to trust and serve Jesus Christ. Whenever we don't know what the best thing is to do, what the right thing to do is, Jesus does, and He will lead us if we let Him.

Mile 1

The start of the race was typical, crowded and congested. Instead of my usual dance, weaving and bobbing trying to maneuver around other runners. I just eased along, waiting for opportunities to pass slower runners rather than chasing down openings that might appear to my left and right. I was really surprised when I looked at my Garmin at mile 1 and I'd managed a 9:05 pace. I was still feeling great and decided to see how long I could hold up averaging 9:00 minutes per mile.
"My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me." -- John 10:27

These past couple of years, I've finally come to realize that God does speak to us. Unfortunately, I spent many, many years unable to hear Him. I was expecting communication from Jesus to come with blinding lights, burning bushes, a thunderous voice, anything that would make His power and might obvious through the form of communication. What it took me more than 40 years to learn, is that Jesus usually communicates in a soft voice that too many never recognize. Now I hear Him speaking to me through my conscience, through results of decisions I make, or sometimes just ideas that pop into my mind without explanation. Subtly, that's how I'd describe how God communicates with me.

Mile 2

I was 5 seconds off the 9 minute pace I was looking for after mile one, so I kicked it up a little, focusing on staying within 15 seconds of my goal pace. Not long before mile two, I caught sight of a friend ahead. My instinct said to catch up to him as quickly as I could, but each time I started to do that, my pace was getting out of my target range. So I backed down and took what seemed like forever to catch up. I finished the 2nd mile of the race at an 8:49 pace and got to run a little with my friend.
"And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised." -- Hebrews 6:15

Patience is a hard thing to come by in a race. It's also very hard to come by in life. When we want something, when we have something that must be done, when we have an opportunity, we tend to want it to happen NOW! Especially when doing a little more, working a little harder, pushing just a little might bring it about just a little sooner. So we charge ahead, trying to force something rather than wait on it. This may not necessarily be bad in some situations, but in many, patience can be a life saver, and a lack of it a life changer. Take driving for instance. How many times have you seen an aggressive driver pass you unsafely, drive at unsafe speeds, run a red light or a stop sign, then turn off the road only a short way farther? In those cases, his lack of patience may have saved him a few seconds or minutes at best, but at the risk of an accident that could hurt or kill the driver or another. The old saying, "Patience is a virtue," we should all take to heart.

Mile 3

About halfway through the 3rd mile of the course, we left the road and hit the River Trail proper for a short stretch, popped back out on the road for a quarter mile or so, then back on the paved trail all the way to the turnaround. This is a pretty flat course, but there were a couple of small hills along this stretch. I'd pulled away from my friend by now, but my pace was holding. I was still feeling great when I hit the three mile mark, finishing that one with an 8:48 pace.

"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." -- Hebrews 13:8

Just like the course threw a couple hills at us in mile 3 today, life throws hills at us too. Just like the course changed from road to trail, our journey through life alternates through a variety of road surfaces. Today's trail was a nice paved path, easy to navigate, but not nearly as wide and easy to traverse as a road. As we go through life we'll find ourselves on good roads and bad roads, nice trails like we ran on today, or really tough trails that slow us down and wear us out, and sometimes it may seem as if there's no road at all. The most awesome thing in the world though, is knowing that regardless how the road under our feet changes, our Lord and Savior is there, running or walking beside us, sometimes carrying us when the going gets especially tough. And He will NEVER change. He will always love us. He will always be there for us. If you don't have the peace that comes with knowing Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, I promise you won't regret it if you decide to make Him Lord of your life today.

Mile 4

The trail had pretty much flattened out by the time we started our 4th mile. Things were still humming along, and I was just waiting for things to turn. Last year on this course, this is about where I crashed. My Garmin was in the shop and I started off way too fast. By mile 4, I was in bad shape. But that wasn't the case this year. After mile 3, I was still feeling good, still maintaining my pace pretty well. In fact, I was still having to monitor my Garmin and hold myself back a little. I finished the 4th mile in 8:48.
" 12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead," -- Philippians 3:12-13

I came to this race with a history, last year I had problems. As Christians, we are all sinners who come to the cross with a past. In my case, it was quite a blighted past. The apostle Paul really had a dark past. Persecuting Christians, he was as much an enemy of Jesus as anyone could be. But on the road to Damascus Christ began to transform Paul into the world's greatest evangelist of all time. Jesus takes us all, regardless who we were before we hand our lives over to Him. We have to press forward toward the goal, forgetting what we did and who we were before we knew Jesus, and strive for what's ahead.

Mile 5

Still feeling good. More focused after mile 4. Finding it easier to concentrate on my pace. Constantly checking the Garmin to make sure I stay in the range I'm looking for. Thinking an average pace under 9 minutes is possible for the entire distance. These were the thoughts passing through my mind as I ran through the 5th mile. Somewhere around mile 4 and a half, I ate my energy gel on the go. I knew it wasn't long until the next water stop, and I didn't want to have to walk to eat it and wash it down. Then I got a pleasant surprise at the water stop. My good friend (and President of the Cabot Country Cruisers), Annette handed me the cup of water and added some encouraging words as I passed. It's always nice to see folks you know out on the course. My Garmin showed I finished mile 5 in 8:46.
"Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires." -- Romans 8:5

This is an important question. What do we focus on? After the 4th mile, I was totally focused on the race, on running, and on what I had to do. There were no distractions to pull me away, or if there were, I didn't notice them. If we're focused on worldly things--possessions, money, etc.--we're constantly distracted from God's plan for our lives. We're completely distracted from what God wants and expects of us. When we sell out to Jesus, I mean really sell out, we can be satisfied with less material wealth, because we know there's a reward in Heaven that will make all the gold on earth worthless in comparison. Once we choose Jesus over the world, we've got to make Him our focus if we're going to perform well.

Mile 6

The 5 mile marker seemed a bit out of place when I passed it. My Garmin had been sounding the alarm for each mile about 20 yards before each previous marker. This time it sounded quite a bit earlier than that. I hadn't taken any detours, so I knew that couldn't be the reason. I decided not to let it worry me though, because what could I do if the 5th mile was longer than the others anyway? Anyway, when I passed the 5 mile marker, I knew the turnaround was not too far ahead. I was still feeling good and my pace was holding up. This 9 minute pace was looking more and more doable all the time. When I reached the 6 mile marker, my Garmin and the course were back in synch. Average pace for mile 6 was 8:46.
" 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength." -- Philippians 4:11-13

I could have let that long mile mess with my mind. So often in life, we let things we can't change affect our attitude and that affects our performance. It happens at work, at school, sometimes even at church. If we can recognize the things we can't change, and just be like Paul, content in any situation, we'd be so much better off. Because we can keep going, even when things are tough, even when Satan tries to throw a stumbling block in our way, if we just remember we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength.

Mile 7

Still on the trail. Things were still going great. After mile 6, I was pretty much isolated on the trail for a good bit. There was a small bunch of racers a hundred yards or so ahead of me, and I could hear folks a ways behind me every once in a while, but I was running by myself. My Garmin kept telling me I was doing well, staying on pace. I was still feeling great. When I passed the 7 mile marker, with only 2.3 miles to go, I was convinced I could clear the finish under a 9 minute pace. I hit the 7 mile marker on a downhill and finished the mile with an 8:45 pace.
"So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." -- Isaiah 41:10

Alone or with a group. Even in the last third of the race, Jesus was with me. Running beside me, encouraging me, strengthening me, He kept me going and convinced me this was possible. It's the same in life. Regardless where you are or what you're going through, lean on Him. He will strengthen and help you, uphold you with his right hand. It doesn't mean it will be easy. Just like the latter parts of any endurance race aren't easy, you will find yourself in tough spots. But if your faith and trust is in Jesus, you've got a friend that promises you will overcome whatever difficulties you encounter.

Mile 8

When I started the 8th mile, my confidence got a tremendous boost. I knew there were only 2.3 miles to go and I was still feeling good. That group that had been 100 yards or so in front of me had started to fracture and I caught up to the one in the rear, then the next one, and the next. That boost of confidence had spurred me to pick up the pace a little. When I reached the 8 mile marker, I got another surprise, two more friends working the water station! I didn't see them there the first time I passed so I don't know if they arrived later or if I was just zoned out. But they were there and more words of encouragement spurred me to keep pushing! Finished mile 8 in 8:37.
"but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." -- Isaiah 40:31

In a race, success gives birth to renewed confidence, as it does in life. But sometimes, in a race and in life, things don't go as well as they did today. It's those times that really test us. Today I was having a good race, still feeling great when I began the 8th mile of a 9.3 mile race. But there have been many days when things weren't going so well. In fact, some races I've run I've just had to "get through." Either way, placing one's hope in the Lord gives us strength to keep going. Placing your faith and trust in Jesus means one day, one glorious day, you will soar on wings like eagles. Until then, you go through life, the good times and bad times, armed with all you need to run and not grow weary, to walk and not faint.

Mile 9

Off the trail and back on the road for almost all of mile 9. Once I passed the 8 mile marker and started on the 9th mile, I knew the Lord had blessed me with a good race. There was still gas in the tank and I pushed a little harder. Passing people up a hill, I tried to encourage them to finish strong. I was still feeling great, even at the picked up pace. When I reached the 9 mile marker my Garmin said it took 8:35 to complete that one. Only 0.3 to go and I could see the finish line up ahead. Not long ago, I would never have guessed I'd average less than 9 minute miles on a 15K. I didn't think it would ever happen.
"Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." -- James 1:17

Today was a great day and I had a great race. It was a "good and perfect gift" that I never really expected. Even at the start of the race I didn't think it was possible. Even several miles in, when everything was going great, I doubted I could hold that pace. But this day was definitely a gift from God. I couldn't have come back from my injury this quickly without His help. I couldn't have improved enough to PR today without His help. Even things we think are impossible, Jesus Christ can make them happen. Today I was blessed with strength and endurance that could only have come from Him.

The Last 0.3

Like I said, I could see the finish from the 9 mile marker. A man was there holding a large American flag, shouting out the clock time, and making certain every runner knew we only had 0.3 miles to go. I picked it up again, not a sprint, but definitely pushed the accelerator. That last little leg went by with an average 8:22 pace and it was finished. A friend from my Tuesday/Thursday running group had already crossed the line and encouraged me as I entered the chute. Then, it was finished. And I still felt fantastic!
"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." -- 2 Timothy 4:7

I want to finish my life here on earth just the way I finished this race today. Strong, with determination, and better than I started. In my last days, I want to push just as hard as I did to cross that finish line this morning. And I hope and pray that I'll be able to make Paul's words my last words when my time comes. Until then I'll keep running, fighting the good fight to accomplish our mission. And without a doubt, I will keep the faith.

God bless you all. Next weekend, 26.2 miles at the Mississippi River Marathon!

If you don't know Jesus as your personal savior, if you're missing the faith, hope, and love written about here, if you want the peace that we as Christians have in our lives, please visit our Got Jesus? page for step-by-step instructions on how to accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior.

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