Don’t you know that the runners in a stadium all race, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way to win the prize.” 1 Corinthians 9:24
They called it a physical fitness test. I called it Hades. It happened every nine weeks. That was the length of the grading period at the high school I attended. Every male who attended Nathan Bedford Forest High School and was breathing was required to take a physical fitness test at the end of the grading period. It involved several things…pushups, pull-ups and my personal favorite, throwing up. What was ironic about this, is for all the time before the test we didn’t train for it. We might play softball or volleyball or some other team sport, but we didn’t train for “the test.” We also played something called battle ball where we gathered in the gym and played a sadistic form of dodge ball. There was a guy named Johnny who had abnormally long arms and could hurl the ball at incredible speeds. The last thing on earth you wanted was to be the last victim on one side and Johnny on the other. It wasn’t pretty.
Anyway, we were not prepared but that didn’t seem to matter. We had to take “the test.” The worst part of this Gladiator style arena of horror was the cross-country run. Let me see if I can set the stage. Imagine you are in North Florida and it is late May. The temperatures regularly climb into the lower and upper nineties. The humidity is at ninety percent or higher. Remember they call Florida the Sunshine State and that is for a reason…the sun is beating down unmercifully. And, by luck of the draw, you have P.E. right after lunch. The day before, the coach announces that we would be running “cross country” tomorrow. It was too late to train…it was too late for anything but a few prayers.
In an attempt not to throw-up, you eat a light lunch and then report to P.E. You pray to stumble and break your leg on the way to class, but that prayer goes unanswered. You change clothes and anxiously meet outside. They call the roll and then give the command to report to the starting line. What lies ahead is two and a half miles of running in the heat of a hot, late Spring day. Like “sheep led to the slaughter” you line up waiting for the whistle. Soon, too soon, it blows and off you go.
Now you really need to understand that cross country for those who have trained for it is a challenging, but somewhat enjoyable sport. I’ve even heard reports of a runner’s high. I never experienced that, but I did experience a runner’s low. It happened about a hundred yards into the course when I realized that I was going to die—or wish I could. I can still remember the course to this day. It was two and a half times around the perimeter of the school property. If you ever wonder what eternity is like, talk to me…I ran it. Actually, to say I ran might be a stretch. I sorta ran it. Not soon enough and it was over. As you cross the finish line you hear people saying, “Don’t run toward the light…don’t run toward the light.” After about 15 minutes your heart rates goes below 600 and you can breathe again. I hated that test. A lot.
I never really understood the point of asking someone to do something but not preparing them for it. We ran that distance and more in basic training in the Air Force but we slowly prepared for it. Again, it was challenging but doable because of the training. I think this is not just a lesson about running, but about life. I’ve heard that life is a race and unless you are incredibly unfortunate, it is not a sprint, but rather a marathon. If you are going to succeed in life then you need to prepare, you need to train and pace yourself. Fail in that and you might well fail in everything you attempt.
Paul, a man from the Bible, wrote a letter to a bunch of Jesus followers in Corinth. They had their own set of games and there were prizes to be won. It was an open deal so anyone could sign up, but if you were wise, you trained first and you ran with commitment. In that letter to the church at Corinth he says, “Don’t you know that the runners in a stadium all race, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way to win the prize.” In other words…train like you want to win and run like you want to win and guess what? You just might do it. Regardless, you can finish the race knowing you gave it your very, best shot.
I went through three years of high school and had four nine-week periods per year. If my math is right that equates to sixteen times that I had to line up to get ready to throw-up. Guess how many times I trained? That would be zero. Sixteen times I knew it was coming and sixteen times I thought the next time would be different. Hey, plant corn and you’re gonna get corn. Every.Single.Time. So why not start today to run for the gold—to live like no one else? Why not start today to make the best of everyday and when race day comes…you’ll be ready. There’s a great Coach who will help you train and run. His name is Jesus, and He is on your side. He’ll even run beside you…all the way, shouting words of encouragement. Listen as He shouts, “You’ve got this, Dewayne.” “How?” I ask? “Because I’ve got it for you,” He responds. I like that. Bro. Dewayne