Running for the win?

You ever have one of those days when you wake up and you just gotta good feeling? Well, Saturday was one of those days, and although I had to wait around awhile before I even headed over to the track, I just kept telling myself, “This could be the day,” and then I thought, “No, this willbe my day.” As I prepared for my race and followed my usual routine, I tried not to focus too much on the little things, and instead remind myself that all the work has been done and the difference between eating a turkey or a chicken sandwich was not going to make a big enough difference on my stomach to override the big goal I had in the back of my mind. I’ve made the mistake of getting superstitious in the past, that is, before I refocused my goals towards running for the glory of God. I’ve realized that you can only control so many things. Ultimately God is in control, he has a plan and is not freaking out about the little things we worry over, so why waste my emotions? My fiancé Chris helped remind me of all of this as he gave me my usual “pep-talk” and that really helped me stay calm and confident most of the morning, while I basically just sat around sewing my little stuffed Renegade horse (the complicated team-craft I chose to keep me busy instead of going insane…why else would I be making a plush version of our school mascot?) But my mind still wandered a bit and I was a little upset when I realized I left my cross necklace at home, the one I always race in. “No don’t go there!” I told myself as I felt the superstitious thoughts coming back. “You don’t wear a cross necklace for “good luck,” or superstition, You wear it because it reminds you of why you run, but you don’t NEED a necklace for that, you just need that in your heart.” 
And so I moved my thoughts right along until I walked out of the Wal-Mart near our hotel and saw a table full of cross necklaces being sold by a women’s ministry group. I was like, “Ok God, coincidence or not, I guess you really do always provide!” And I came back later on in the middle of my shake-out jog with the money I needed (Yes, I like to multitask, and its not abnormal for me to sync morning runs/shakeouts with running errands. Come on…walking is overrated!) Anyways, I bought a little pinkish-white marble cross necklace, which turned out to be NOT so little I realized as I did my shake-out jog back from Wal-Mart. But as that necklace bobbed as I ran, I realized, “This is just what I need, a BIG reminder of why I run for the BIG races I have ahead of me.” And I was right, I had that “good feeling” for a reason and a big race ahead of me indeed. A few hours later I ran my personal best of 4:31 in the mile, which earned me a runner-up finish at Nationals, a school record and a top ten all-time time.
            As I reflect back now upon my race, I want to say it felt almost easy, but then again its always easier to say that after the fact, verses going back in time and feeling that immense amount of pain. But it was a similar feeling I had to when I raced the mile at nationals two years ago. I was ecstatic and shocked with my finish back then just as I was this year. It’s that feeling of, “Okay that hurt but that was FUN!” It’s hard to believe that was it, the last mile race I’ll ever run in college. But hopefully I’ll get a shot at a few more in the future. I love the mile, probably because the mile and I go waaay back; back to the old middle school days, you know? Obviously I love the 1500m, but there’s just something different, something magical about running the familiar four (or in indoors eight) laps. As John Landy put it, The mile has a classic symmetry. It’s a play in four acts.” Or Sebastian Coe, “Blink and you miss a sprint. The 10,000 meters is lap after lap of waiting. Theatrically, the mile is just the right length: beginning, middle, end, a story unfolding.”
            By now you’re probably looking down and thinking, Gosh I wish this blog entry was “just the right length” and not three pages! Well, don’t worry I am too, haha. But with so much on my mind, and reflecting upon my past experiences in the mile, I can’t help but think back to my sophomore year when this whole story began. Two years ago from this weekend I ran the mile at NCAAs and surprised myself with a 5th place finish. I have to say, that race was a real defining moment in my college career. It was the first time I thought to myself, “I wasn’t all that far off of winning, maybe I need to start running to win?” It sounds like a no brainer, wouldn’t I always race to win? Wasn’t that the whole point? Why would I put in months and years of hard work only to go into a race and not shoot for the win?” Well, easier said than done, especially at the college level when almost everyone in the field has been a state champion, footlocker finalist or an All-American. But still, after that race, two years ago I made it my sole focus: winning. If I wasn’t running to win, why was I still running at all? Those were my thoughts at the time, but a few months later…everything changed.
My sister and I in Mammoth Lakes
            The fact is, that mile was pretty much the highlight of my Sophomore year. I was like 100 places short of my goal that year at cross-country NCAA’s due to a horrible cramp, and in outdoors I failed to even qualify for NCAA’s. Then, to top that off, I rushed into my 2011 summer base without letting a muscle strain heal and I ended up sacrificing weeks of training. Everything seemed to be going the opposite of what I wanted and I was devastated. Then in August I headed out to Mammoth Lakes, California for the Altitude Project running camp. At that point I didn’t even know if it was worth it since I was told I could only run 4 miles a day and it was already AUGUST! I was beginning to wonder if my running goals where even worth it, I mean, I thought I was doing everything I possibly could to run fast, and yet I still couldn’t control the random mid-race cramp or strained quad that had come out of nowhere and gotten in the way of my whole life’s focus. Whole life’s focus? Yes, that’s what running was to me. A 24/7 hobby that became a job, which turned into an obsession. When I got out to Mammoth Lakes I’d pretty much forgotten what life was even about. And yet, I knew it in the back of my mind all along, I could hear that voice inside my soul calling softly, “Come Back.”
It was God. I know, that sounds crazy, but I’m for real. God called me out there to Mammoth Lakes, I mean, whether I wanted to go there because of the altitude advantage, or because I knew the Altitude Project was a Christian running camp and I knew I needed to get my priorities straight, who knows! Either way, my life hasn’t been the same since that trip, because it was then that I “came back” to Jesus.
Long story short, ( I promise, there’s an even longer story!) what I learned that summer was that I needed God back in my life. Yeah, I’ve gone to church almost every Sunday during college, and I would call myself a Christian if you asked. I even had a pretty regular “prayer life” but compared to my “running life” well, there was no comparison. It’s one thing to say what your priorities are, and it’s a whole ‘nother thing to actually live them. I was living for running, and running for winning, when what I needed to put God first, not running. But what did that mean? How would I make the change? That…I’m still learning every day. But I can tell you one thing, I didn’t get to the point of running a 4:31 mile and runner-up at NCAAs by focusing 100% of my energy on training, No, when I say “I run for Christ” (#IR4C) I mean I don’t live for running, I am LIVING for God. I know I’m not perfect, and I can’t say its always been easy, but I can definitely say its been worth it. There’s nothing more refreshing that taking off that pressure of “win win win, more more more, nothing matters but running.” The reality is, when we leave this earth, only one thing really matters, and that being the thing we chose to live for. If that one thing was “running” instead of God, then everyone on the planet might as well all pull a “Forrest Gump” and jog from here to California and back until we all collapse.
Well that just sounds insane, right? I mean no one puts their whole life’s focus into one thing? Oh wait, yeah we do! For some of us its sports, others our job, some our social life, and other pleasures, habits, obsessions or addictions. Whatever the case, whether we recognize it or not, we all have some “thing” that sits at the top of our mountain of priorities. So to summarize it all, I guess you could say running for Christ is all about keeping God at the top of the mountain, and the way to do that is accepting Christ into your life and following the teachings of Jesus Christ. It’s a battle sometimes, one of those “running up-hill” kinds of battles, but it doesn’t mean I have to give up my love for running, racing, or trying to win races. After all, God gave me the talent to run, so he wouldn’t want that to go to waste. But there’s a pretty clear line between using our talents for our own glorification verses using them with a constant remembrance that they aren’t really “our” talents, but a “gift” from God.
            When I came back my Junior year of college and refocused my priorities and goals, I decided I’m “Not running for A-Win.” By that I mean, myself aka A-win (my awesome rapper name) is not the reason I run. My medals, my trophies, newspaper articles, or the praise from my coach, teammates, family, or friends is not the reason. I’m not out there training and racing JUST to win. Do I want to win? Of course! But there’s more to life than just THAT! Emma Coburn ran a strong race on Saturday, leading the whole way, and she truly deserved that title on that day. I know I cannot win every race, but as long as I know I ran for the right reason, I believe I have won another kind of battle. It’s that internal battle, more like a tug-of-war than a race. It’s God tugging at your heart saying, “Come back,” and he means it, for ALL of us, because we ALL came from Him. Running for God is the best thing that ever happened to me. I pray that he’ll keep me healthy and strong enough to go and win races in the future, but that is impossible to know at this point. 
The completed “Renegade” and Jess’ adorable elephant
All I know is that I am incredibly thankful for what God has revealed to me in the last two years and the ways he has blessed me along the way. I am incredibly grateful for the experiences I had this past weekend, traveling with a great bunch of girls, making silly crafts, having the DMR girls warm up with me and “block the wind” and having an incredibly knowledgeable coach who got me to where I am. After my mile race she pulled her “Jesus Button” out of her purse and asked me to push it. I did, and out came the familiar silly voice recording, “THANK YOU JEEEEESUS!” But I wasn’t just thanking Jesus for a PR and 2nd place finish. I thank Jesus for coming into this world and dying for our very sins. For giving us the chance to accept him into our lives at any point, giving us an example of how to live a good life, and place him on the top of our mountain of priorities. For putting us on a journey; a journey with a beginning, a middle but actually NO END because we get everlasting life with Him in heaven! And so the story keeps unfolding. Yes, I did just turn Coe’s quote into a metaphor for heaven, but seriously, think about that for a second…any God that gives up his own son so that we sinners can get a second chance and live forever with him, I mean, that’s gotta give you more hope and satisfaction than running even a sub 3minute mile ever would! So don’t we all owe Jesus a big “Thank You?” Go ahead, press it. But not out of superstitions. And when you do, maybe you too will hear that soft call or tugging on your heart that’s saying, “Come Back, Come to Jesus.”  

1 Peter 1:3-9 from The Message Version:

What a God we have! And how fortunate we are to have him, this Father of our Master Jesus! Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven—and the future starts now! God is keeping careful watch over us and the future. The Day is coming when you’ll have it all—life healed and whole.
6-7 I know how great this makes you feel, even though you have to put up with every kind of aggravation in the meantime. Pure gold put in the fire comes out of it proved pure; genuine faith put through this suffering comes out proved genuine. When Jesus wraps this all up, it’s your faith, not your gold, that God will have on display as evidence of his victory.
8-9 You never saw him, yet you love him. You still don’t see him, yet you trust him—with laughter and singing. Because you kept on believing, you’ll get what you’re looking forward to: total salvation.”

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