Before the start of my freshman year, I was nervous about not knowing many people at my new high school. So I made the decision to join the cross country team, thinking it would be great place to meet other students. Now I’d been a 200 and 400 meter runner in middle school, and had exercise-induced asthma. Still, I figured if I started in summer, I would gain endurance and stamina, higher VO2 max by spring track season, and a group of new friends too.
But from the get go, I was the cross country team outcast. The top group of girl runners were super close and basically their own clique. I felt intimidated and rejected by them. I trained really hard all summer hoping I would be half as good as them, and maybe, be accepted, acknowledged, and respected by the team.
My first cross country meet came that September. I wasn’t feeling my best. My chest was tight and my breathing was off. But I kept running and something magical happened. I was suddenly ahead of the pack and running all alone. This might sound like a good thing but suddenly I had no-one around to help me sent pace or push me if I started slowing down.
I was struggling when Coach Parsons rolled up on a four wheeler and yelled through the quiet and lonely to me. He could tell I was struggling with my breathing, that I didn’t quite know how to deal with this situation in my first race. I would wait for his instructions telling me when I needed to speed up or stay steady. I was dependent on his directions to push me little by little closer to the finish line.
I would get stuck in my own head thinking of the pain I was experiencing, the tightness in my chest…is this race GOING TO EVER BE OVER?! When I hear Coach P yell, “RELAX YOUR FACE” blaring me back into reality. I eventually crossed the finish line 30 seconds before the next runner….and possibly higher if I would have had a runner beside me to push my pace.
I was officially in varsity races after that, I eventually earned a spot in our Top 7 which means I got to race at the state meet my freshman year. I don’t think anyone was expecting that to happen, including myself.
You also can’t discuss running without mentioning 1 Corinthians 9:24-27.
“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. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”
I was driving to work this morning in my car. It was too early, I hadn’t had my coffee yet, and the amount of snow I was dealing with on the road was more than treacherous. It was so sunny and the light was reflecting off the snow into my eyes, so I was squinting . I know my face wouldn’t have made a pretty picture, eyebrows furrowed and nose scrunched up into a wrinkle between my eyes.
“RELAX YOUR FACE!”
I don’t know why or how this phrase came to my mind. Words I haven’t heard told to me in years from Coach P. There’s more in that phrase to me besides the literal. Its like a attitude reset button. A reset of the heart and body language. It’s a personal check.
Whatever God has called you to in this life, whichever challenging path, whatever obstacles… my prayer for you is that you are reminded of the prize you set out to reach. A degree, a promotion, writing a book, learning a new skill, a certification, starting a new business…. That during the days when your legs feel heavy and your cardio feels weak, that you will still push forward with your eyes on that prize. If you listen close enough you will hear your biggest cheerleader, Jesus. He’ll be instructing you when its time to push up your hill, lower your arms, and relax your face. Lean on Him, let Him guide you through your race.
And, of course, don’t forget to relax your face.
Song of the week:“Confident” by Steffany Gretzinger and Bobby Strand
Photo by James (Papa) Parsons