No Pressure

A lot of people have been asking me lately what it’s like handling the pressure of going into NCAAs leading the #1 ranked cross country team. The thing is, I actually feel less pressure this season than I’ve felt almost any other season of my career. In the past I’ve told myself things like, “I have to win state,” or “I have to finish top five at NXN,” or last year, “I have to improve from my freshman year being top 40.” Although I have higher goals than ever this season, something has changed in me. Looking back at last year, and almost every year (besides my freshman year when I didn’t think too much, and just ran) I realize why I felt such immense pressures that sometimes got the best of me. I was running for myself. That’s not to say I never cared about my team, but the reality is I cared more about what people would think, or say, and the praise I would get after a great race, verses the embarrassment that would come if I failed. On the other hand, my bigger problem was that I ran with fear. In seasons past, as soon as the final race came up, I started getting worries, “What if I couldn’t do what I’d done a season ago?” Or, “How much were people expecting me to improve?” This fear of not achieving my goals was simply a lack of faith and courage. I was so afraid of being one or two places back from a year ago that I let my nerves take over my confidence. Instead of running courageously, and having faith in the Lord that he would get me through the race, I sat around thinking about all of the people I had to please. Running for a top-ranked Division I school comes with a lot of pressure and expectations. You’re not only expected to please yourself, but also your 7 teammates at the race, along with those watching at home,not just your coach, but the coaching staff as a whole, along with the rest of the athletic department, the University, your parents, former coaches, former teammates, siblings, relatives, and other fans. Of course, of all of these people, no one cares as much as you, and no one can want it more than you. That’s where running for yourself becomes easy. Instead of taking in a bit of faith and trust, you tend to pile all of the expectations on your own back, one by one.
When I think about expectations piled on my back, I immediately think of my finish at last year’s NCAAs. As I made that final turn with 400m to go I looked as though I was carrying a load on my back. I was practically jogging, bent over, grunting in agony with the worst side-stitch of my life. All I remember is wanting to die, and wondering what Coach and my teammates would think if I stopped and walked, crawled, or simply failed to finish. I was about 100 places beyond my goal for that race, and I felt like I had nothing to run for. The cramp started at about the 3 or 4k (I’ve blocked too much out to remember) and it got worse within seconds. Now, I knew at the beginning of my race that I had a bad start. I’d guess I probably got out in about the top 60-80 when my goal was getting out in the top 30-50. My plan was to remain calm and pick up the pace once things thinned out, and I attempt to get as close as I could back to that top 40, All-American range. Once the cramp started however, it only got worse. I remember feeling like I was going backwards, and thinking to myself, “this doesn’t even feel like a stitch, maybe its my appendix or something and I’m literally dying!” Although I can laugh about this now, it really wasn’t until 10 days later that the pain went away. To this day, I still don’t know exactly what caused it. Was it eating too close? Dehydration? Nerves? Twirking an ab muscle when I nearly tripped at the start? For a month or so, I kept asking myself these questions over and over. 

As I look back now, one year later. I still may not have answers as to why I had to go through such a horrible experience last November. But just like Jenny Barringer recently said in an interview about her collapse at the ’09 NCAA race, I wouldn’t go back and change a thing if I relived last year. It was really this very race that made me stronger, (makes me think of a great song by Mandissa, “Stronger”). Just like this song, God knew this pain was just what I needed to make a change, and help me grow. As I’ve said before, this year I feel more confident and less nervous than ever. Why? Honestly it all comes down to learning the lesson that it’s not about me; it’s not about having to carry an immense weight on my shoulders. It’s about being part of a very special team and sharing this opportunity with them. It’s also about running for an Audience of One, (thanks again Bethany Nickless). 

This concept is all about putting God first, and running for Him. 1 Kings 18:20-40 talks about Elijah and the Prophets of Ball. This reading is the perfect example of how our only “idol” is God, and our personal idols such as fame, power, and desire to win should not be placed before God. Of course, we are going for a National Title, and that means I am running for the team over me. But even more deep than that, this race will not be to receive praise if we win, it will be run for God alone. When I think about all the people coming to watch me this coming Monday, I’m so thankful for the support I have had over all the past years. I’m not at all saying that I don’t appreciate the audience of people I have there for support.  Finishing my race last year took a lot, and I managed to hold back tears until I saw my former coach from 8th-10th grade, Jeff Holzhauer, and he gave me a hug. I was so glad he was there, but also felt horrible he drove all that way and I had let him down. Well, that was the old me. This year I look back and realize how much clearer I can see things now. This year, no matter how the race goes, I’m running it for the glory of God. He’s really changed my life completely since that race, and he continues to change my heart day by day. If for some reason my performance is sub-par, I know God will not be upset. This year I have faith and courage, not that I will lead the team to an NCAA title, no, that is never guaranteed. Nothing is guaranteed in sports. But I do have total and complete faith that God will help me achieve my very best that day, as long as I keep my eyes focused on Him, run for Him, for my very own Audience of One.
Audience of One
I come on my knees
To lay down before you
Bringing all that I am
Longing only to know you
Seeking your face
And not only your hand
I find you embracing me
Just as I am
And I lift these songs
To you and you alone
As I sing to you
In my praises make your home
To my audience of one
You are Father, and you are Son
As your spirit flows free,
Let it find within me
A heart that beats to praise you.
And now just to know you more
Has become my great reward
To see your kingdom come
And your will be done
I only desire to be yours,
So what could I bring
To honor your majesty
What song could I sing
That would move the heart of royalty
And all that I have
Is the life that you’ve given me
So Lord let me live for you
My song with humility
And Lord as the love song
Of my life is played
I have one desire
To bring glory to your name
And we lift these songs
To you and you alone
As we sing to you
In our praises make your home
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