Monday, August 29, 2011

2011 Rocketman Triathlon Relay

August 28th, 2011

When I am not sure where to start, I always find that the beginning is the best place.

Shortly before the first athletes hit the water to kick off the 18th annual Rocketman Triathlon, Chris Welch, Tom Gale and Kenny Sexton from FCA Endurance brought a few folks together on the shores of the Tennessee River for a Sunday morning service. The way that these guys have emphasized their faith and been able to take the focus off of themselves in a predominately individual sport has been very inspiring and I wanted to hear their words before competing on this beautiful morning.

Tom had a few words prepared that really stuck with me throughout the race, over the course of the day and into the evening. He titled it, ‘More than a PR.’ Here are some points that he talked about (in italics), what they meant to me and how I was able to apply them.

God has something BIG for you today. “What is it?” The thrill of a PR--that accomplishment you’ve been shooting for-- is a wonderful feeling. But how long does that feeling last? And in the long run, what’s the real significance of that accomplishment? The greater impact you can have today—the longer lasting impact—is not that coveted PR.

Going into the race, I had been training very hard, though not for this particular event. The goal race was later this fall, but today I was competing as part of a relay team and on race day, I still wanted to give it everything I had. While driving to the race, I was focusing on 1 Corinthians 9:27I strike a blow to my body, make it my slave so after I have preached to others I will not be disqualified for the prize. Yes our relay team was assembled not just to win, but to defeat all competitors, both individual and team. But for me individually, I was racing to sacrifice my body up to the Lord, as to give him thanks and praise for the gifts that he has bestowed upon me. He has given me the fleet of foot and the determination to pound myself into the ground through training such that I can excel on race day. But He has given those gifts to many people; sadly so few do anything with them and even less do anything to honor Him for them. It really only has been of late that I am in that small number of people, taking to heart the words of Leo Buscaglia - Your talent is God's gift to you. What you do with it is your gift back to God. So really I did not know what God had in store for me on this day, but I was racing with a purpose and eager to see how we would surprise me.

Your real impact today may look more like this:
- Worship God throughout the race
- Look for opportunities to encourage others
- Rely on Christ and only Him
- Put the credit where it belongs—on God!
- Forgive someone
- Share the Gospel of Christ

When I was finally able to take the timing chip from Dave, I was off on the run, racing through the crowds with the individual leader already out of sight. I was so excited to run after having been up for 5 hours that I rushed out to a 2:30 first 800m; not a good sign in a 10km race. I was able to dial it back and relax very quickly though, remembering the race plan that I had put together. Though I was not thinking about strengthening my faith on this morning through works, Tom’s words were ringing in my ears in the early miles. Before turning onto the trail section, I found myself thinking about Corinthians again as my leg turn over rolled along smoothly. Yes I was out to run as fast as I possibly could without crashing, but first and foremost I was focusing remembering that my body was a temple with the Holy Spirit within it and my purpose was to honor God with my body (1 Cor 6:19-20). Before I realized much of anything, I had chased the leader down and before turning out of the woods and back onto the gravel road, I was leading the way.

I will openly admit that this race was very painful. The rolling hills, the gravel roads, the uneven footing and soaring temperatures must have been tough on the individual competitors as it was taking its toll on me. I pushed on as hard as I could and kept my effort very even, despite the varying pace with the changing conditions. I tried my best to thank all of the volunteers at each aid station and the course marshals guiding me to make the correct turns, but I am sure that I missed some. My body was responding to every request I made of it, but it was taking a lot of focus at that level of intensity and at times I couldn’t get out any words!

I was very thankful to finally be back on the pavement for the out and back section as I didn’t have to think about my footing as much and could just stay on my tangents. Making the turn around the cone was a tremendous emotional lift as I knew that I was in the home stretch and would finally start to see other runners. In the past my first reaction would be to see where the competition was so I could judge how much effort I needed to put forth to stay in the lead. But on this day, I was not competing against the individuals, but really against myself. This allowed me to run my race, and as I passed by the other runners I was able to give them words of encouragement. It was rewarding and uplifting to cheer on these athletes who in their own way were sacrificing their bodies and had been doing it through all facets of the event. I even felt slightly guilty running so fast, knowing that I had not swam nearly a mile, nor had I biked 40km. I tried to turn this feeling around and even though I was running hard and nearly out of breathe myself, I was able to get some words out to each runner I saw. To my surprise, I was actually able to run faster as a result! I believe that this was His way of rewarding me for trying to do his good will and I was thankful for it.

Coming over the final hill I knew that it was just a sprint to the finish. I really had to fight through the pain and fatigue if I was going to break 36 minutes. I had been dealing with the fatigue for awhile and was starting to doubt my ability to even finish, with less than a half mile to go! It is remarkable how your mind can play tricks on you in trying times. Instead of focusing on the pain, which would only increase as my pace quickened, I simply let go… for a brief moment I closed my eyes and prayed for the strength to finish strong. I used to believe that I controlled everything in my life, including running. When I finally accepted Jesus Christ as my savior, I realized that I didn’t control any of it; it was all in His hands. As He has written in Phillippians 4:13, I can do all things through Him who strengthens me, I was able to run close to 5 minute pace for the final half mile with confidence that He would lead me home.

In the few races that I have won, you will probably recognize the same thing from me as I approach the finish; A single finger pointing upward and a glance in that direction to give him thanks and place the credit where it belongs; not on me but with Him. In those final moments where I am running all out, I am thinking not of the glory of winning a race, but of Matthew 5:16 - Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. The race is a way of sacrificing my body to show that I am thankful for the gifts that I have been given, but my simple gesture to the sky is my way of letting my light shine before all to see, as to glorify the Father.

Photo by Ed Blalack

After catching my breath and greeting my team mates, my first thought was to change my shoes and get back out on the course to cheer on the other people still running. While at one point in my life I will admit that I did this out of selfish glorification, now it is purely selfless in wanting to encourage others to push through the pain and fatigue toward their finish line. I have said before and I reiterate, for as much joy as I get out of the race, the joy is tenfold when I get back out of the course for others. When I went back out, I thought of Tom’s words of taking the emphasis off of myself and looking for the opportunity to praise God and do his good will; on this day that was in the form the miles I ran AFTER the race was over. So while my relationship with God is in my heart and strengthened by what I believe, today was more about physical acts of work in sharing Christ with others.

So what was the ‘big thing’ that Tom referred to in the sunrise service that God had in store for me on this day? Was it the fastest run time? Was it the relay team overall win? Was it standing on the top of the podium during awards? All of those things were nice, but they can’t compare to bringing glory and honor to the Creator through my actions. Was everything I did Christian on this day? Sadly, no. But that is why we continue to work on our faults and through prayer and devotion; we can only hope become better Christians.

Tom finished the sunrise service with Romans 15: 5-6 May the God who gives ENDURANCE and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

A huge thanks to my team mates Andrew Hodges and Dave Varoujean who dominated their events as well and put us in position to finish in 1:58:19.  Also to the race director Mike Gerrity for putting on a great race. 

Photo by Ed Blalack