A few weeks ago, I ran the Detroit Marathon as part of a relay team. No, I did not run the entire race, just a 4.6 mile leg of it. (Is another marathon in store for me in the future? God willing…)
It was an interesting experience for me. Since the conclusion of my days on team sports, most of my athletic pursuits have been solitary. I kind of liked it that way. However, this was new… Running a race as a part of a team.
The team met outside of Wayne State’s medical school, and we car-pooled downtown to park. It was dark, and cold. It was amusing to us how many runners were dressed in such light fare, some insulating themselves with a vapor barrier made out of garbage bags to stay warm. We knew we were not individually running the entire 26.2 miles, so we had the luxury of dressing a bit heavier than most.
As everyone made their shuttle bus connection to the appropriate relay station, I walked over to mine, Relay Station #2 for the third leg of the race. I waited, shivered, and drank Gatorade. Repeat. Repeat. Stand in line for the port-o-potties. Repeat. You get the picture (as an aside, it is amazing to me how many times I had to go to the bathroom the closer that it got to my leg of the race… nerves are just grand, eh?).
Eventually, I heard my number being called out. Around the corner came my teammate, sucking wind but looking amazingly fresh in spite of it. With a hi-five I was off.
No matter what distance I am racing (to use the term loosely), I always tend to start off a touch too fast. The adrenaline is humming through me and it is just awfully exciting to be in a race. This one was no different, except that I reigned myself in before the lactic acid began to build up in my legs.
My strategy for this race was simple; pick another relay runner as my target, pass them, and then start the process all over. Bear in mind that I did not use the folks running the entire marathon distance as fodder for passing as it wouldn’t have been right to count them… but admittedly, they were fun to blow by!
About two miles into it I began to hear a panting over my right shoulder. I assumed it was a marathoner who had found a burst of energy but was sucking wind nevertheless. As I turned to look, I was greeted by an iPod-wearing twenty-something young lady, in much better shape than I, who seemed to be trying to pass me. I would have none of it. I was not gonna get smoked by anyone…
… At least that is what I told myself. My strategy had thus changed from being singularly focused on passing the next runner, to both picking a passing target and fending off passing advances from this young lady. Then things got really interesting.
I almost bumped into her. You see, she was trying to pass me and in the fog of oxygen deprivation (as I too was beginning to suck wind), I did not heard her heavy breathing as she tried to out-flank me. Naturally, I apologized. She graciously accepted the apology just before commenting about how competitive she was… and that she was pacing off of me. “That’s funny,” I said “I was sort of pacing off you.” The exchange continued something like this:
Young Lady: I love passing people. It is such a rush.
Me: Me too! But we do have something of an advantage, in as much as we are only running a short leg.
Young Lady: True, but still fun! I am so competitive!
Me: Yah, you mentioned that! Me too!
And so our small talk went. We advanced around a building a found ourselves in a small pack of runners down by the waterfront. I was pushing hard to keep pace with she who was becoming my nemesis. I though to myself, “at least it is a nice view and the weather is spectacular!”… while my next thought was “Uh-oh…hill!”
Before us stretched a fairly short hill, only about an 1/8 of a mile or so. I fought to keep pace with her. Then I passed her. She dug deep, and soon she passed me. I dug deep again… and “Holy smokes…argghhhh!” A cramp. I developed and enormous cramp and could hardly breath deep. I watched in vain as my impromptu running companion made ground against me, slowly (or not so slowly… kind of immaterial at this point!) pulling ahead.
I had to slow down. Not walk, just slow down and recover a bit. By the time the jabbing knife in my side had worked itself out (seriously, no drama here), she was gone. I picked up the pace again as I looked for her red shirt like a bull in Pampalona. I found lots of red shirts… and you know what? I passed them. However, none of them belonged to her. I kept trying, straddling the line between pain and performance.
As I neared the next relay exchange, I was resigned to the fact that I was not going to catch her. Heck, I couldn’t even see her! With fifty meters to go, I kicked hard and passed one last guy who tried in vain to fend off my last second move… It was to no avail… I beat him! A small, but welcome consolation.
As I sat on the shuttle that was to take me to the finish area where I was to re-connect with my teammates, I reflected on that which had just transpired. I ran a race and gave the best effort that I could on that day. It wasn’t perfect, and goodness knows it wasn’t always pretty… but it was my best that day. Yes, I really wish that I had not been passed by anyone. At least when I did get passed, I fended off the move for a solid 1.5 miles or so. But, that was not the real lesson of the day.
The real lesson of the day was that when you make a plan for a race (or work, prayer life, whatever) and you attack it with a passion and energy that is infectious, you will inspire and lead those around you. The catch is that the race may not turn out as you planned. It will turn out as God plans, as well it should. So be flexible in your pursuit of holiness. Go after it. Just remember that bumps in the road, curve balls and the like happen. Just keep your head in the game and be flexible.
Not compromising, just flexible.