Run Your Race

By Kersley Fitzgerald

It's been about a year and a half since I wrote "Running the Race." JT has finished his second cross country season. Because of his flat feet, he's been dealing with pain and not-so-great times, but the team is so small he ran varsity the last few races anyway. He still loves it. He'll even voluntarily take the dog on a short run if he misses practice.

A few weeks ago, a local high school hosted a fun run after the official cross country meet. Turns out it was for an organization that supports adopting families — I'm in! I found myself a couple of yards from the starting line, surrounded by serious adults running for time and nervous teenagers — students from the hosting high school who compete in different sports. Next to me was JT's coach's wife. She asked if I wanted to run with her, and I agreed, but I knew it was unlikely in this crowd.

The shot went off and the crowd took off. Too fast, as the serious runners tried to get ahead and the teenagers' enthusiasm got the better of them. My friend was somewhere ahead of me. The crowd condensed and slowed as we reached a small bridge. And I heard a voice in my head: "Run your race."

My race? Oh, my race. My race was to not go out too fast. Because I am no longer 17 and I no longer warm up for two miles before a three-mile race. My race was to not go so fast my heartbeat got out of hand. My race was to pass all these youngins up the hills (we have a lot of hills in our neighborhood) and sprint down. And keep just fast enough that I didn't throw up.

The other racers had different ideas. The girls liked to run/jog/walk in a line, completely blocking the trail. The football players jogged and walked and continually looked behind them for the rest of their teammates — as if they didn't know how to move out of sync. I especially felt bad for the locals who had come for a workout without realizing their park had been invaded.

I'd heard the term "run your race" before, but this was the first time it drove what I did. The first time I really understood it. I didn't know the course well, but I knew I could take hills, that I shouldn't run too fast, and that the water was only to pour over my head, not drink.

I first joined cross country thirty years ago. I've been running off and on ever since then, and I know my body and what it's capable of.

I've been a Christian for about forty years, and I'm still figuring that out.

Hebrews 12:1 says:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.
I know what to do with the "weight" on the trail. I know how to dress for weather, that if it's too cold for shorts, it's too cold for me to want to run. I know to only wear my trail shoes on really soft ground like sand or mud. I even have a good idea of where on my route I'm going to meet up with the creepy guy with the LED light strapped to his baseball cap.

I'm not as good "laying aside every weight" in my spiritual run. I forget to pray-up when I'm due to interact with a stressful person. I tend to try to figure out how to manage things instead of asking God how I should proceed. I'm terrible at stopping and considering; I'd rather just charge in and get 'er done.

After thirty years of running, I also know my body pretty well. When the allergies are too bad to run or when my hip needs one more rest day. I've even found out how to keep my hips and shins from getting pounded to oblivion. Nike Airs. And all the runners out there just gasped. I know, right? But even though I pronate, my knees don't need the support of Asics or Brooks or Sauconys. I don't need light shoes. And although the narrow heel and wide toe box of many brands feel great when I first put them on, the comfort doesn't last. Turns out I need the soft, loving embrace of air pockets. Plus they come in black and white so I don't look like a paint factory exploded all over my feet.

It turns out the "sin which clings so closely" isn't as easy to manage. There are no arch supports for pride or over-priced kinesiology tape for selfishness. And the damage can't be healed with a bandage and an ice pack. But there are precautionary measures. The other day, when someone was being particularly vexing, I felt the anger rise in me. I have quite a temper, so this isn't a good thing. As I tried to cool down — and he kept talking — I heard "the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God" (James 1:20) repeated over and over. I'm not great at memorizing verses, but I had tried on this one a few years ago. It amazes me that it came to mind right when I needed it. I really need to memorize more.

Dillon, one of our writers, has recently taken to ultra-marathons. We all think he's nuts. He discovered his body is just built for it. Gwen runs ten-thirteen miles at a time. I'm lucky to do five. A lot of things go into endurance running. I don't drink a lot, and I don't eat before a 3-4 mile run, but crank it up to ten or more, and you have to carry water and possibly some Gu. I crashed hard during my one marathon because of tanked blood sugar. It wasn't until after the race that I realized I had half a Power Bar in my CamelBak. What a difference that would have made! It's also useful to have a lot of encouragement during an endurance run. One of my mentors told me to never run a race with a negative person. It's much easier to run with someone who's joyful than someone who complains the whole time.

The application for the spiritual run is probably pretty obvious. We can only go so far on our own reserves. We have to fill up on the living water of the Holy Spirit and the Bread of Life. If you let your spiritual blood sugar crash, your spiritual walk gets pretty hampered.

Finally, there's the part about the race that's set before us. In Alabama, my runs were long and hot and often included a jog stroller. In Colorado, they're high and hilly and sometimes include a dog. I can't run here like I'm at sea level. That isn't the "race set before me." And it's silly to run a 5k like a marathon.

Similarly, my spiritual race changes depending on where I am (geographically and in life), who I'm with, and what my responsibilities are. Single college life has a different course than married with a 15-yo son. And my life has a different course than anyone else's. Even my closest friends have very different roles and expectations placed upon them.

So run your race. Know your weaknesses. Train where and how you need to. Keep filled with the Spirit so you have endurance. And run your own course. When everyone has their own God-given race, it means everyone can win. We don't take anything from anyone else by running hard.

Published 10-17-16