Man On The Run

I’ve started running.  Again.

In pursuit of a potential half-marathon later this year, I’ve found my way to the gym on a regular basis. At this point I’ve discovered a pace that will allow me to break a sweat without launching myself off the back end of the treadmill.

Small victories.

This returning to running triggered a painful memory from my middle school years.  Many of you have experienced the Presidential Physical Fitness Testing.  This annual rite of passage was the brainchild of some bureaucrat who somehow believed that 11 yr olds would be more motivated to get off the couch from their afternoon special re-runs if they were forced to compete against each other in ridiculous test of physical prowess.  So twice a year, we would trudge to PE class to be subjected to strange rituals.  Honestly it was all in pursuit of the magical 85 percent which triggered the Presidential Award..  Percentiles seemed to hold such power as a kid.  I envied the kids who achieved it.

This was the birthplace of the dreaded shuttle run otherwise known as “The Ridiculous Eraser Grab”. Sprinting across a basketball court  at high speeds to procure the elusive eraser, returning it gently to the starting line and then heading back to retrieve the other.  All the while, the PE teacher with their high shorts keeping a watchful eye, stopwatch in hand. It was extremely tricky to stop quickly on that court that I’m sure had been slicked up to resemble an ice rink.

But chin-ups remained my most humiliating event.   Everyone would gather near the bar and you would just be out there in the open, dangling there, exposed for everyone to see.  You’re kicking, grunting, groaning, straining, fighting, weeping, and often just quitting.  Miserable.

After a year or two I learned to at least get in one pull-up, by doing the “running start – jump up before the teacher noticed” trick.  The mob of your peers were brutal.  They would snicker, giggle, and sometimes just burst out laughing as your arms shook from the strain.  Remember, you weren’t just disappointing yourself and your parents. You were letting down the president. You were letting down your country.  Loser.

I’m still convinced there are 7th grade girls throughout our fine land today who are in therapy as a result of hanging from a bar and holding a chin up for as long as possible while their classmates mocked them.

As a 7th grader, I was scrawny and physically not impressive. When this testing took place, my only shot at glory was the endurance run.  This consisted of an 800 meter run (2 laps) around our middle school track.  It usually took place on the final day of the testing week. When the boys turn came, I was determined to not only make an impression, but to win, especially as the girls lined the inside of the track to cheer us on.

The sound of the whistle sent me sprinting out in front. I felt good, I felt strong, I felt…impressive.

The girls running along the inside infield screaming my name didn’t hurt either. That first lap was a  once-in-a-lifetime victorious moment.

Unfortunately, the race consisted of two laps.

At about the first curve of the second lap, something happened. Experienced runners call it hitting the wall, but for an 11 yr. old it felt more like a pallet of bricks crushing me. My legs burned and I could no long hear the adoring cheers of my short-lived fan club. I kept moving, but one by one my competitors passed me.  Eventually there was just me and one other poor soul bringing up the distant rear. I finished…barely and collapsed on the grass infield.

Humiliated.

Not Impressive.

It seems all of life is a race.  It all begins with the race down the birth canal (some of us took a shortcut) and continues from there.

Through our childhood years, parents race to compare their child’s growth progress, “Oh, Tommy can speak in full sentences now – how’s little Steven doing?”  Then there are the childhood games that serve to re-enforce our race mentality.

  • We played tag where the race is to avoid being it –
  • We played hide and seek where the race is to avoid being found –
  • We played Red-Rover-Red-Rover where the race is to break through the other teams line –
  • We played Duck-Duck-Goose where the race is to get to the empty spot –

Not a lot changes when we become adults.

  • We still play tag…isn’t it always someone else who is responsible for our actions?
  • We still play Hide and Seek – we don’t want to be found out.

We are bombarded in our world with the call casually cried in our childhood years, “Last one IN is a rotten egg!”  Clearly, we were never mysteriously transformed into an egg or labeled rotten if we just so happened to be the last one in the pool as a child, but later in life when we perceive ourselves to be trailing in the race, we feel…rotten.  Many start off fast, enjoy a period where we seem to be out in front, but inevitably we hit the wall, suffer some setbacks, and fall off the pace a bit.  It is a terrible feeling – it robs us of our joy, of our sense of self-worth, and of our hope.  For some, no matter how hard we run, you still can’t seem to get out of last place.

What if its not so much how quickly you run the race; just that you finish?

The Greeks, well-known for their competitive spirit, invented the art of competitive running. There was one race which held periodically outside of the Olympic competition that you may not be familiar with.  This race was called the torch relay. This race, which is the basis of the modern-day Olympic torch race and ceremony, took place through the busy streets of Athens.

A team of ten or twelve men would assemble, each holding a torch, which consisted of a simple bundle of twigs wrapped together. The twigs were then coated with tar and, one by one, each torch was lit from the same flame.

As the race began, the competitors would navigate the course including the various obstacles and barriers that had been placed in their way.  The object of the race was to cross the finish line with your torch still lit. You couldn’t stop,  put the torch down or prop it anywhere. You had to hold it high and run as best you could.

In this particular race the victory seldom went to the fastest or the strongest. This was a race that was solely dependent upon timing and rhythm. To keep that torch lit required the ability to hold it properly, shielded from objects along the route and held away from the wind. If you ran too fast, you might put out the flame. If you ran to slow, the tar might burn up completely before you reached the finish line. If a runner’s torch flamed out, there was no relighting it. He was forced to drop out.  Done.

The winner of the race was the first man to cross the finish line with his torch still lit. Winning was, therefore, dependent upon endurance, not speed.

So ignore the screaming fans in the infield…Pace yourself. Perhaps the second lap will be your best.

That’s impressive.

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith ” 2 Tim. 4:7

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~ by leecoate on January 13, 2011.

3 Responses to “Man On The Run”

  1. So True! Great article Lee – from one who was last picked (always) for softball in grade school.

  2. Good stuff

  3. As an old lady looking back I’v noticed at times when you are about to stop or fall God sends an angel (either invisible or a good friend) to give you aid or a shove in the right direction or a breath of fresh air. God bless you Lee and your family and ministry.

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