Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.”
1 Corinthians 9:24
I enjoyed the opportunity Saturday to run in the Joplin Memorial Run’s 5K event, which ended up being my first timed 5K run in about five years.
Spoiler alert: I didn’t win.
Upon arriving in Pittsburg in 2011, I ran the Pittsburg Parks and Recreation Firecracker 5K, then found my stride in half-marathon distances.
Unfortunately, since running the Joplin Memorial Run half-marathon last year, injuries, busyness and a lack of motivation have taken their toll, leaving me way out of my typical training groove for a 13.1-mile run.
An invitation to run the 5K seemed more doable, so I gladly signed up, but in the midst of buying a new home, packing boxes, wrapping up work and other life events my training suffered.
My husband has been much more faithful to his running commitment than I am, and has dragged me along for some of his runs, but other than that I went into the weekend’s event unprepared.
This is why I was completely shocked to set a personal record and to place fairly well as I crossed the finish line (granted, I’ve only done a few other official 5Ks and they were much earlier in my training).
I’m rationalizing it with the logic that a 5K is 10 miles fewer than any other run I’ve done for the past few years, but something about setting a personal best without really training for it is leaving me unsatisfied with the result.
It makes me wonder how well I really could have done. The race result feels more like a reset of my baseline than a personal achievement.
I don’t want to be content with a result achieved without effort — it’s just not in my wiring.
In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul instructs members of that church to run the race of life and faith so as to win the prize.
As a non-athlete, this verse often bothered me. No matter how hard I try, genetics and other factors beyond this short girl’s control make it highly unlikely that I’ll ever place on a race course.
And yet, as I’ve tested my fitness and training against a number of courses and conditions throughout the years, the “running in such a way as to get the prize” has become less about my overall placement and more about a commitment to give each race my very best.
A couple years ago, I ran a series of half-marathons while injured, with one forecast dishing up heavy rain and hail during the race. I achieved one of my worst times on that course, and yet felt like a winner for persevering on to the finish line.
Similarly, I’ve also noticed that my respect is split equally between admiration for the lightening-fast winners and those who take twice as long as me to complete the course. Each one is giving the race their everything and is a winner in my book.
I believe the analogy Paul drew is not really about final placements, times or other achievements, but rather about giving the race of faith — or any other race — one’s very best.
My household is in a season in which we’re doing a tremendous amount of self-reflection. I believe we would not be prepping for a transition if things had gone the way we dreamed they could in our ministry in Pittsburg. It’s been a challenging course that has tested our training, and yet I believe we ran this race to the best of our ability.
My 5K results this weekend remind me that I continually grow stronger with training and the things that once were tremendous challenges become easier the longer I persevere.
I hope to learn from that metaphorically in my faith life and also to apply it, along with some real training, for better results the next time I sign up for a 5K.
— Sarah Gooding is a staff writer at The Morning Sun and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.