It was your typical hot, humid July afternoon. The air was close as my wife likes to say. People of all sorts had gathered in Homer City for the world renown Hoodlebug Summerfest. As Debi and I drove into Floodway Park, we noticed a group of folks gathering under the pavilion next to the ball field. A little knot began to form in my stomach as I realized this was indeed the place to sign up for the Hoodlebug 5K. I was about to run my first race in more than 25 years! (I won’t give my exact age, but let’s just say that each “K” equals about 10 years of my life).
The race didn’t start until 6pm, but I was there by 4:30 to make sure I got a shirt. There was no way I was going to run for 3.1 miles in 80 degree weather without getting a free shirt!
So here I was sitting on a bench with my supportive wife, pondering why. Not why as to the meaning of life, but why as to what had I gotten myself into! I’ve never been a fine athletic specimen (something very bothersome in my early years) and for a long while exercise was mostly a wisp of a New Year’s resolution. Debi had been much more faithful to exercise, but her consistency only made me feel more like a schmuck since I was just a hair beyond couch potato status.
For some reason, I finally began to utilize the elliptical machine that had been collecting dust on the back porch (probably because I moved it to where I could see the TV). At first I did 15 minutes, then 20, and finally 30. But when the machine broke (I’m sure I wore it out), I knew I had to make a quick move in order to stay with an exercise routine. So I went for a run.
I’m not sure why I didn’t quit on the spot! My knees hurt so bad! But continue to run I did and continue to hurt did my knees. Brewing secretly in my heart had been he dream of running in a 5K so I stuck with it. Slowly my knees began to feel better and I began to increase my distance around the local track until I reached 3 miles. Finally I knew I could at least finish a race.
Sitting on that bench under a shade tree I thoughtfully watched the other runners as they congregated near the registration table. People of all ages and shapes and sizes began to gather. The experienced runners stretched and ran light sprints. The rest of us sat wishfully in the shade.
For me the most present thought (after praying I wouldn’t need the ambulance) during this time was, “I wonder what my time will be?” Really I was asking myself, “Who can I beat?” because race times are all about comparison. We don’t compare ourselves to the speed of light or the space shuttle or Indy race cars or anything like that. We compare ourselves to other people. It’s how we fare against our fellow humans that either validates or invalidates us.
Using age as an appropriate excuse, I knew there were a lot of people I wouldn’t beat. They were real runners, most of whom had fewer years (and less of a bow) to their legs. But there were also those (mostly females I ashamedly admit) that I hoped I could leave in my dust—like the 8-year old girl wearing a lime green shirt and the 20-something blonde with perfect hair and a highly fashionable purple jogging suit.
As much as I wanted to run simply to enjoy the experience (How much can a 50 yr. old guy enjoy a 3.1 mile foot race against 260+ people in 80 degree heat?), I couldn’t help but think about my competition. It’s the way I am naturally wired. But I’ve also been around the block enough to know that performance and identity are two very different issues. Who I am at the core of my being has nothing to do with how fast I can run a race, or who I do or don’t beat in the process.
In the end I finished with a much better time than I expected, but it really doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter that I easily passed the little girl with the lime green shirt, but failed to catch up to the purple beauty (so my wife tells me—if she is to be trusted in these matters).
What really counts is that I can rest secure in who I am as a child of God. That my validation comes through my covenant relationship with Him and not through my performance in athletics or any other arena of life.
I’m slowly but surely getting this figured out. What validates you?