Monday, March 8, 2010

Ready, Get Set, Go!

Did you notice last week that the Arkansas Razorbacks won yet another title in the SEC Indoor Track and Field Championship? Go Hogs! Though not as dominant as we once were, when Arkansas wins track championships the world is in its right order. But enough schmoozing about my Razorbacks!

Reading about that championship stirred some of my own high school track and field memories. My favorite is when our 6-man freshmen team from Branson High School went to Ozark and won a three team meet outright against schools fielding much larger teams. We rode up to the meet in Coach Russell's car. And we took turns holding the pole vault pole which was suspended over the side-view mirror. The other schools had a big laugh when we piled out of the car. They weren't laughing when we whipped their tails a couple of hours later. We all participated in maximum events and all scored lots of points for the team. That's my favorite track memory.

Here's my second favorite memory, and it's one that has been much more formative for me throughout my life. When I was a senior in high school, I ran track and tried to hold down a job at the same time. In my situation it was no work, no money. It wasn't easy either. I missed a lot of practice. In some ways it didn't much matter because we didn't have a track anyway. We just ran the streets and in an unlevel, old field with a lot of holes and soft spots in it. But I fell into a bad habit of not running on my own. I was getting out of shape. So I was feeling pretty nervous when I went to the meet at Ozark. I was assigned the second leg in the two-mile relay. I ran the half-mile (the old 880—two laps around the track). When we lined up for the start of the race, I was feeling worried that I may hurt the team and embarrass myself. But I pepped up a bit when I saw who I was running against. It was a guy I wanted to beat pretty badly because I’d finished second to his first on more than one occasion. After the first leg, I received the baton trailing the guy I wanted to beat. And I don't know what it was, maybe adrenaline, but I shot out of there as if from a cannon. I hadn't felt this good running in my life. My ears were pinned back, my arms and legs pumping like well-oiled pistons, my breathing measured, steady, and smooth as silk. I remember thinking: "This is the race I was born to run." I soon breezed past my opponent as if he were standing still. I finished the first lap with a pretty good lead. And the last lap felt good too … until I rounded the last corner to take me home.

Suddenly, my arms and legs felt like lead. I could hear my pulse pounding in my temples. I hit the proverbial wall. I wanted to quit. I really thought if I kept going I might die—I really did. But with the encouragement of others alongside the track, I sucked it up and gutted out the last hundred yards or so. I just had to beat the kid from Ozark. But I'll be danged if he didn't pass me with not more than 20 yards to go. I really wanted to quit then. But I finished. I handed off the baton, staggered into the infield, and lost my lunch somewhere around the 30-yard line. I was sick to my stomach all right, but I was sicker in my soul. I had that guy. I could have won that race. But I didn't. I lost. I lost to him again. I was throwing myself quite a poor-me pity party.

Pretty soon, though, the coach found me. And he told me that I had run the best time I'd ever run in that event. And in reflection sometime later it dawned on me: I may not have won the race, but I did win my race. I ran the best time I would ever run in that event, and I did it while not in the best of shape. I may not have won the race, but I won my race.

Near the end of his life, the apostle Paul wrote, "I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith" (2 Tim. 4:7). God has a race for you to run, a plan for your life. Discover it. Run it. Don't worry about everybody else and the race they're running. Don't worry about beating somebody else. Don't worry about pleasing somebody else. Just run the race God has in front of you, as your brothers and sisters in Christ cheer you on. Run it with all of your heart. Even when you feel like quitting, run it. Finish it. And regardless of how everybody else does around you, you will know the joy and peace of glorifying God with your life.

It's your race. God has given you the baton. It's your turn to run. Ready, get set, go!


  1. Margaret HoffmanMarch 8, 2010 at 6:35 PM

    I really like this story John. I love the message, it's just what I needed to hear today. It's always so much easier to quit no matter what the task is. Concentrating only on my race somehow seems easier. I'll still pray for the others race (my family:)

  2. Good analogy. And I can just picture y'all hanging onto that pole.