Embrace the Suffering!

            Everyone has a bad race at some point.  It doesn’t matter if you are a recreational road-racer or an Olympic Gold medalist; we’ve all had that one race where everything went wrong. For me, Saturday’s 3,000m final at the NCAA Indoor meet was that race. I shouldn’t say everything went wrong though. Looking at the positives, I believe I achieved my goal. I ran to the best of my abilities on that given day, I finished the race; I ran for the glory of God, for my coach, my teammates, not just for myself. I did not give up, even when my body did.

            For a highly competitive athlete like myself, coming away from that type of race without punching a wall, drowning in tears, or cursing to God, “How could you let this happen to me?” takes a lot of faith, maturity, wisdom, strength, and positive self-talk. Up to this point in my 2012 track season, I’ve been blessed to walk away from every other race with general satisfaction. But no matter how well a season or string of seasons goes, there is always going to be another tough race down the road, unless you completely give up the sport. Because of this reality, I’ve long ago learned that there’s more to life, and to running even, than winning.
            Winning has always been associated with the “best” of things; money, fame, success, happiness, and so on. Losing on the other hand is associated with defeat, failure, depression, worthlessness and disgrace. What some people fail to realize, however, is that only one person can win. So does that mean in the Peachtree Road race there are 54,999 worthless, depressed, and useless runners coming through the finishing shoot? At some point, every athlete has to realize that winning isn’t everything. No matter how gratifying I can imagine having that heavy, gleaming, gold Olympic medal draped around my neck would [or will ;)] feel, the reality is that the next day I’d have to get up and either keep training towards the next race, or quit. Certainly no athlete is using that moment, the “what now?” as their motivation. But for me, this realization that there is more to life than running for a “win” is what I’ve found to be the most motivating thing. Winning may seem like everything in the competitive world in which we live, but winning is not a means to an end. In fact, nothing in life is a means to an end, that is except for Jesus Christ who promises salvation and eternal life.
            As I’ve said before, this past year or so I’ve learned a lot about myself, my running, and most importantly my relationship with Christ. If there’s one thing that I hope to share with others it’s the idea that you cannot let your sport define you. Good or bad, there will always be another race, another game, match, or meet. No, I can never go back to the 2012 Indoor NCAAs. In fact,  there isn’t a promise or guarantee I’ll run another NCAAs, another race, or even another day. Winning is never certain, nothing in life is certain, but also nothing in life is impossible with God on your side. Therefore, when I have a bad race like I did this past weekend, I’ve realized that although I may be extremely frustrated, confused or upset, I’ll never ever doubt that it wasn’t exactly what was meant to happen. I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, for God’s reason.
            The fact that my body decided to give in to extreme exhaustion halfway through the race and I suddenly went from feeling okay to nearly being lapped and in last place was certainly not my decision nor anything I could have expected. Picture a spool of thread, rolled down a runway. As it approaches the finish line, nothing is left except a rolling plastic spool with a knotted, battered ball of thread trailing and dangling behind it. That’s about the best way to describe it, I was up there ‘rolling with the big girls, and suddenly it was literally as if my energy stores just unraveled and were spewed out on the track, leaving my flat, dead, and confused.As I walked off the track I didn’t know if I should be crying or pinching myself to see if it was a dream. I’d never felt like that, had such an extreme turn of the switch halfway through the race and fading with fatigue. As my mind pondered what exactly had just happened and tried to pinpoint what had caused this complete misfortune (Nerves? Illness? Something with my training? Altitude? Mental?) I suddenly realized it didn’t matter. I thought back to the moment before the gun went off. I had been praying the words, “Thy will be done,” and “I run for Christ.” I thought back to three quarters through the race, it was at that point that I seriously contemplated dropping out, and also panicked that I would end up interfering with the top finishers if they reached the finish as I came through with a lap to go. I remember thinking to myself, “You WILL finish. You will NEVER quit a race, no matter how silly you look, how embarrassing it may be to be lapped, no matter how horrible your body hurts, nothing compares to what Christ went through for YOU…Remember why YOU run..YOU, Amanda Winslow, Run for Christ!
            So after my race, as I was cooling down and thinking about how I firmly believe everything happens for a reason, I realized something. If everything happens for a reason, how can we not rejoice in the fact that good or bad, everything God puts in our life is part of a plan bigger than we could even comprehend or imagine. It’s a plan that revolves around His love for us. Really, He cares THAT much that He will put us through trials, only to the point that He knows we can survive, and in the end, He promises us the greatest gift of all, the “big win,” which is His love and eternal life with Him. Therefore, we must, as my good friend and mentor Denise would say, “Embrace the suffering.” These words couldn’t be said at a better time.
            As I sat in my ice bath late Saturday night, I flipped through my Bible searching for consolation. Ironically, the passage I started reading that really moved me turned out to be James, which I have been studying for months, and yet felt like I was reading it for the first time Saturday night. James 1:2-4 reads,
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
            At first I though, how is a poor race a test of my faith? Then I realized, this passage may not be talking about running, but if I am dedicating my running to glorify Christ, then the decisions I make on how to move on from this race are indeed a test of my faith. This blog is indeed titled, “Not Running for A Win.” If I won or placed within seconds of winning every race, how would I know that that wasn’t really what I was running for? Successful runners will obviously keep running, but its those who fail, dust themselves off and get back up again that know deep in their hearts they will persevere through anything.
             Of course I’m upset I didn’t achieve my goal at this years Indoor NCAAs. Of course there are races of my past that I would have liked to have gone better. But then again, even those bad races happened for a reason. For example, maybe had I not cramped at XC NCAA’s in 2010 I wouldn’t have had the frustration that led to do some soul-searching, and eventually led me to the Altitude Project in 2011, which completely changed my life. Or maybe some of those tough races I had at NXN in high school were what made me better prepared for college races. Now, I can’t make a direct correlation like that for everything, and who knows if those statements are even true. That’s the beauty of faith though, we can’t always see it, but we have to trust it. Faith is knowing that God is up there, watching, loving and caring for you every day. Never is our God up in heaven freaking out, “Oh my gosh Amanda had a bad race, what am I to do?!” Harsh as it might sound, He isn’t freaking out about any of the horrible things that might happen to us humans on earth. He is in control, He knows exactly what was, what is, and, what is to come. Corinthians 2:11 explains that we as humans do not have the power or capability to understand God’s plans, “For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.” I know that know one knows Amanda Winslow better than Amanda Winslow. I also know I don’t like to be judged by others. It would be offensive to me for someone to say, “Oh I could tell she gave up,” when in my heart I know that’s not true. Therefore, who are we to judge God? Who are we to make boisterous claims like, “I know God didn’t have to make me suffer like this, so how could he really exist?” Now, that is in itself a whole different topic, but the truth is, know one but God alone knows God’s plans.
Because I have faith, I never doubt for one second that this weekend’s race was no fluke. It was an intentional part of God’s plans, for whatever reason, a reason I may never know. It may sound extreme that I am content with how my race went, but I know deep in my heart, YES I tired my hardest, YES I ran and finished that race to glorify God, and YES I have faith that something good will come out of this, even if I’ll never see that. All I can say is I always run my fastest and try my hardest at any shot to PR or win. But that’s not the real reason I’ll come back motivated and confidant each season and keep running till I die. That reason is because I run for Christ! J
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