Reflections from running the Coyote Hills Half Marathon
On April of 2007, I participated as a runner at the La Jolla Half Marathon. Having never entered a long-distance race up to this point, I had as a lone ambition to finish the course at a reasonable time. That I did.
Almost nine years later, things were much different.
Last Saturday (January 23, 2016), I ran the 13.1-mile race for just the second time in my life – this time at the Coyote Hills Half Marathon Race in Fremont, CA. When I realized that there was a very real possibility to place in my age group and finish in the top ten in the race, my approach to both training and competing changed drastically. The level to which I buffeted my body and enslaved it over the last twelve weeks of training for the sake of a perishable prize was unprecedented in all of my distance-running endeavors. Running the race to run and running the race two win, I realized, result in two completely different levels of self-control and training.
As for the race itself, I finished third in my age group (males 30-34 years old) and twelfth overall. The course itself was grueling; the conditions (the clouds decided to weep bitterly) made it tougher. In addition, I actually took a wrong turn on the course during the last mile of the race – adding about a minute to my clocked time, and preventing me from finishing in the top ten (I suppose my poor sense of direction really never improved). So I crossed the finish line with mixed emotions of joy and disappointment – joy over the fact that I placed, but disappointed with that wrong turn. Nevertheless, here are some reflections (yes, I was thinking about lots of stuff, even while running) from the race weekend.
Reflection #1: The brand of focus, intensity, discipline, and perseverance that I have been lacking in ministry to both my family and church. Without a doubt, training for and competing in that race to win now serves as a parable for how to live the Christian life and engage in Christian ministry (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). Ministering to others for the sake of the gospel indeed involves battling external elements as well as the inertia posed by my own fleshliness. The morning of the race, as I was meticulously measuring the amount of liquids that I was consuming to ensure optimal hydration, I felt a great sense of shame upon realizing that the level of self-control, discipline, and focus that I had exhibited in ministering to both my family and the church was nowhere near where it needed to be. It dawned on me just how purposeless, unprepared, and distracted I can sometimes be when engaged in serving those around me for the sake of the gospel. I’ve resolved to change, and to up the ante.
Reflection #2: The integration of competitive sports training and parenting. I realized that Jayden and Emma had a chance to witness something that a lot of children nowadays don’t normally get to witness: their father competing athletically. I’ve told Kathy in the recent past that it’s always been my desire for my children grow up watching their dad compete in sports – be it tennis or running. Both kids were oh so excited to play with the medals that I received, and spent the following moments trying to imitate me and asking me if I could teach them to run. It was wonderful to see that my athletic endeavors need not to be mutually exclusive from my duties as a parent. Rather, engaging in competitive athletics as a father can serve as useful tool in fathering my two precious children who I one day hope to encourage in their own athletic pursuits. When that day comes, they’ll remember that their father walked the walk (or ran the race) himself.
Reflection #3: The consequences of veering off course in actual life and ministry. 2 Timothy 2:5 is an athletic analogy for a pointed reality: “If anyone competes as an athlete, he does not win the prize unless he competes according to the rules.” That frustration and I-trained-this-hard-for-nothing sensation that I felt after making that wrong turn on the 12th mile are ones that I never desire to re-experience in a race…and surely something I never want to experience in life and ministry. All of the passion, intensity, and diligence that a man exhibits in his endeavors for the Lord are vain if they are not exhibited with integrity. The importance of staying within God’s parameters has become all the more clear.
Reflection #4: The fact that total transformation is possible in life. Waiting for me at the finish line alongside my wonderful wife and children were my mom (she came down for a surprise visit to cheer me on), my brother-in-law, and my two sisters. My sisters both mentioned to me afterwards how they near tears as I ran that last stretch to the finish line. Part of it was that what they saw was a complete 180 turn from what I used to be as a young boy and early teenager. Back then, I was overweight, with seemingly no athletic inclinations, and seemingly no hope to ever get in any kind of shape. For them to watch their same brother legitimately competing in a half marathon and placing was, as they both put it, “inspiring.” I thought about the fact that total change is indeed possible – not just in the realm of athletics, but in the realm of Christianity. In the Christian life, total transformation is not only possible but expected. God’s regenerated ones are changed from ungodly to godly, from dead to alive, from old creatures to new creatures – in action, volition, emotion, and inclination. The Lord sanctifies His children entirely. Thus, Scripture says, “put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of truth” (Ephesians 4:24).
Reflection #5: The benefit of engaging in competitive athletics as a husband, father, and minister. Like it or not, competing athletically is part of the fabric of males by God’s design – at least for the majority of us. Training and competing in this race not only served as a parable for my ministry endeavors, but also served to directly impact my ministry by increasing my capacity for work. For many ministers, myself included, a common sentiment is “the spirit is willing but the body is weak.” Truth is, all of a man’s endeavors are carried out through the vessel of his physical body. And the condition of this vessel will indeed affect the quality and quantity of his work. These last twelve weeks of training marked the period during which I found myself in the best physical shape of my life – even more so than my years as a high school athlete. It was no surprise then that I had much more energy during the work week, slept better, was much more emotionally serene, and felt much more able to handle all of the demands of family life and ministry with a tranquil and thankful heart. My mind was thinking much more clearly and crisply, surely affected by the condition of my body. For when the body is strong, the spirit’s desires can be accomplished.