I’m not athletic. I don’t, and have never, played a sport. My reaction time is slow. Growing up, I was more likely to be reading a book than sweating on a playing field. I don’t have good hand-eye coordination or balance. I once fell over during a standing pose in yoga class and the instructor burst out laughing. My flexibility is poor. When seated on the floor, I can’t reach forward far enough to grab my toes.
But what I’ve started to do over the past couple years is walk the occasional charity 5K. I don’t run these 5Ks. At most, I would have 30 second bursts of sprints three times during each race. I don’t practise running 5Ks 3 or 4 times a week, like serious runners do.
On March 25, 2017, for the first time, I ran a 7K race (4.3 miles) and came second in the female category and 7th overall. This is a miracle. No joke, it was a spiritual experience. I don’t run listening to music, so for the entire hour and 5 minutes, I only had my voice and the voice of God inside my head.
Before the race started, I decided I would be content to walk fast enough to keep close to a prize winning speed walker I had seen before at several 5Ks. I made sure to stand next to her at the starting line. A jogger was ahead of us. Then the race began. The jogger started running and I followed her, leaving the speed walker behind. I figured that when I got tired after the first 400 metres, the speed walker would catch me and we would continue the race walking. That didn’t happen. I didn’t stop.
There are a few things about that race that bear parallels to life that I wanted to share with you.
I realised that, just like in life, you have to:
1. Pace yourself. You have to run your own race at the pace at which you can still breathe.
2. Look. Keep your gaze on the person ahead of you as your role model and marker. I didn’t know the course, so I followed the jogger. Paul encouraged the believers to imitate him, as he imitated Christ (1 Corinthians chapter 11 verse 1). A long race is easier when you have someone to follow. Follow Jesus (Hebrews Chapter 12 verse 2).
You also have to keep an eye on those behind. Remember how far you have come and be aware of the fact that you can slip if you are not careful (1 Corinthians chapter 10 verses 1 to 12). Do not allow the issues of your past to overtake you. Don’t let your old life, before you accepted Christ, creep upon you.
3. Set your goal. Aim to finish in the top. Have a good start and be consistent. You may not have started well with a great childhood or your marriage may have had a rocky beginning but God can turn it around.
4. Accept that the race is 99% mental, 1% physical. You have to believe you can finish strong and that you can win long before you see any physical evidence to support that belief. That’s faith.
Your brain also has to decide you will not let the physical pain stop you.
5. Recognise it's all about strategy. British gold medal distance runner Mo Farah is a master strategist. During the last Olympics, I observed that whenever the race started, Mo never sped out in front or try to lead the pack. He would hang back, running at a steady pace, somewhere in the middle of the group. But Mo was never so far behind that if he needed to he couldn’t easily accelerate to the close the gap between him and the early leaders. Mo always seemed to be in total control of the race, no matter his position on the track. In the final lap, he would use the energy he had stored in reserve to get and maintain first place.
7. Motivate yourself by keeping the prize in mind. Paul said he pressed on to the goal to win the prize Jesus had for him (Philippians Chapter 3 verse 14). At the beginning of the 7K, the organiser announced that the first 3 women would get a prize. I didn’t know what the prize was but I am competitive and I like to challenge myself so I made the goal of being in the top 3. Eternal life with God and a fruitful life on earth are worth far more than anything. I said: “I’m going to have to finish this 7K anyway, I might as well get something out of it for my efforts.” Just like life, we have to live it so you might as well live in a way that you win. Live well.
8. Remind yourself you have come too far to give up. Stubbornly refuse to stop. Pause when you need to catch your breath in order to regroup for the final push. Save gas in your tank for the last gruelling stretch! That is another lesson from Mo Farah.
9. Stay hydrated. Refresh yourself with the Word of God. During the race, the 3 water stations along the course were my friend. After a few sips, I’d feel a renewed burst of energy. You will flourish in life if you keep the Word of God inside you (Psalm Chapter 1). Water yourself with it continually.
10. Lay aside every weight. While I drove to the site of the race, it started drizzling. When I jumped out of the car I grabbed an umbrella the length of a walking stick. But minutes before the race started the skies cleared and I put the umbrella back in the car. In hindsight, I would never have been able to complete the race holding on to that umbrella. I needed my arms to be free. Every runner knows being able to pump your arms is important. I am sure the umbrella would have eventually tripped me. Sin is like that – it encumbers and causes you to stumble (Hebrews Chapter 12 verse 1).
11. Work the plan - even if the plan doesn’t seem to be working. It is hard to follow a certain plan when others who are succeeding aren’t doing it and you don’t appear to be making headway. For example, you have abstained from premarital sex and are only interested in dating someone who is passionate about Jesus but here you are in your mid-30s single, while others who don’t have those values are married and happily coupled up (I can preach on that!)
That same conflict between the plan and the result happened during the 7K. My plan was to keep a solid pace and save energy for the final metres. But there was a point where the gap between me and the jogger ahead of me seemed so far it looked insurmountable. At one point, I couldn’t even see her. Plus, the people behind me seemed to be getting closer and closer. “God, it’s not working! There’s no way I can finish in the top 3. I don’t think I can do this. I either have to speed up or stop!”I cried. He said quite calmly: “Trust the plan.”
No matter how it feels or looks His Plan will work (Jeremiah chapter 29 verse 11). The real choice in life is: whose plan will you use? Yours or God’s?
I eventually ran past the jogger (she ran out of steam just before the last 1km and eventually placed 3rd). In the last 1km, I was overtaken by a different speed walker. (The speed walker I initially set out to match finished as the 4th female).
12. Pray!!! I was calling on Jesus, the Holy Spirit and God the Father throughout the race and they took me through! I didn’t know what to pray except: “Help!” I felt like giving up many times. When all else fails, do I like did and I imagine Jesus ahead of you pulling you with a rope!
In all of this, we can’t ignore the importance of the discipline of training. You can’t go from zero to a 5K or 7K. (Spiritual training – A Game Plan for Christians). For weeks before I had been taking cardio classes at the gym and slowly getting stronger and fitter. Start your spiritual training today.
There’s no obstacle too big or course too hard for you and God. After all, the race is not for the swift but for who can endure to the end.
Sharma Taylor is a corporate attorney with a Doctor of Philosophy Degree in Law from Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. This year, she is committed to pursuing God even harder than before. Currently, she is becoming a runner and loves the strength she feels after conquering a work out.
Sharma Taylor's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/sharma-taylor.html