It was still dark out when the front door opened and my friend walked in. We didn’t talk much as I finished lacing up my shoes and putting on my hoodie. This was a typical morning routine, we were going running. From here, we met a third friend and then we’d be off on a 5-mile run.
What I remember most from these experiences were the miles of silent running that took place. The eastern sky was only beginning to show its true colors and the streets were so very quiet. The sounds of footsteps hitting the pavement, the rhythmic breathing, the steamy breath coming out of our lungs…rich memories that still impact me 30+ years later.
A Most Unusual Place to Be
At 6’6″ growing up in Indiana, I was either going to love basketball or be run out of town by the passionate people who saw the basketball program as an extension of the community. Luckily, I loved the game. As a big kid, I always equated the word “running” with hard practices so never considered the thought that running was something I would care to be good at.
Then came my senior year.
Three weeks before practices began, my coach had the players meet daily to run a 2-mile course. The winner would get a milkshake from the Dairy Queen across the street from the high school. It was the late 70’s…the vision of a sports drink industry and protein bars was in the head of only a small few.
On the first day, a teammate named Joe won. Seemed logical since the guy was on the cross-country team right? I’d never even considered the thought that I was a runner…let alone a fast one so no big disappointment.
On day two, everything changed. I won the race. Believe me when I say I wasn’t even thinking about how this event would shape my life long term…I was thinking about a chocolate milkshake!
Then day three and day four came with the same result…I won! As week one turned into week two, I continued winning and the Dairy Queen prize was removed because Coach didn’t want me putting on weight. Suddenly I wore the target on my back. My teammates were gunning for me. What an odd place for this average to mediocre kid to be in. I was actually operating at a standard other people were aiming for. Wait! I was just a C-student all my life. I was Mr. Average; aside from my physical stature which I had no control over, I blended in and went unnoticed. But the experience of winning all those races and having my teammates pursue what I possessed was a most unique place to be in.
Love for Running is Born
Shortly after high school my family moved from blue-collar Muncie, IN to Boulder, CO. Talk about a culture shock! Boulder is located up against the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. The town sits below a giant set of rock formations that can be seen all along the northern front range called the Flatirons. The trail system in the foothills of Boulder is incredible to put it mildly.
With a new found love for running, I began my mornings running along the Mesa Trail and finished at NCAR, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, where I would meet my Mom and Dad for two chocolate milks and a cinnamon roll in the cafeteria. Hmmm…anyone else see a running/chocolate-theme here?
Run with me for just another moment. We’ll get to a deeper point around the next turn.
Running Through the Finish Line
Several years later, I met the friends that led to the early-morning scene at the beginning of this story. My friends were runners on the college track team and thus had a different mentality about running. For a runner, tenths and hundredths of seconds can be the difference between winning a race and coming in fourth or fifth. They taught me that if you’re going to run a race, you run through the finish line, you lean into the tape at the end…you don’t ease up as you approach it.
Dad’s Final Lesson to this Son
I’m in my mid-50’s now with 4 knee surgeries behind me. The only running I do is to the bathroom or to the store…just being real. The only race I run now is the race called Life, and I desire to run it in such a way as to gain the prize.
I just passed the 6th anniversary of my dad’s death, and June is a time when he’s on my mind a lot. Although it’s only been 6 years, I believe I can say he saved his most important lesson for last. As the days led up to his passing, he would wake up angry he was still alive. See, Dad was a believer. His walk with the Lord was the most important thing in his life and everything was settled between he and God. He expressed no regrets for things done or things left undone. It was all-good between he and the Lord and he was ready to go.
In those final weeks, days and hours at his bedside, he showed me how a follower of Christ can meet death head on. He showed me that it is possible to run this race and hit that finish line with authority…no fears, no doubts, no regrets, no questions. That is truly the hope of our salvation as followers of Jesus Christ.
My dad no doubt had dreams of this world unfulfilled…but he showed me it just doesn’t matter when you’re approaching the finish line of death. All that mattered was his name was written in heaven (Luke 10:20).
On the Backside of this Race
This message downloaded into my heart as I sat on the patio with a hot cup of hazelnut coffee before sunrise. As I reflected on things, there was excitement about what is on the radar for my wife and I. I’ve got a few years yet before I hit my 60’s, and I believe I am more excited about life now than any point in my 30’s or 40’s. No, it has nothing to do with retirement. It has to do with the fact that I have passions and purposes as a follower of Christ that allow me to hit this point in the race with a renewed vigor. There will be things left unfulfilled in this world, but what we are running for should drive every follower of Christ to run through that finish line as hard as we can.
To those of you enjoying those younger years, let me share a perspective from 55. It’s awesome! In Christ, we can be so excited about what is out ahead of us that we don’t have to regret what is behind us. Don’t run backwards…you can get hurt that way. Turn and face the future, embrace Gods perspective on what He sees for your future, run hard with the mentality that you’ll lean into that finish line at the end with your arms held high and your fist pumping…no fears, no doubts, no regrets…no questions.
Lace ‘me up, let’s run!