On the second weekend in November the Outer Banks hosted a marathon, half-marathon, and a variety of other running events. The “1 Corinthians 9:24 Runners” was one group that participated, based out of Guilford College United Methodist Church in Greensboro. I had the honor of being a part of this group, a group that has been on an incredible journey over the past year together. It was an amazing experience to see these people come together over shared goals, experiences, and commitments. They are a true example of what Christian community could be.
Often in our Christian communities we struggle to balance support and accountability. This tension came to light anew in our excursions running together. We found a balance of being there to encourage, build up, and support each other — a “you are doing a great job!” or “keep it up” — and of pushing one another to do even better. Sometimes when I felt like walking, it was good to hear, “you can make it a bit further — to the next stop sign/tree/light post (or any other visible landmark ahead)!” Other times, I needed to hear that all was not lost when I needed to slow down for a breather. Although this group has people with different speeds and goals, we celebrated the accomplishments of each at the finish line with authentic joy and enthusiasm. We cheered just as loudly for the first to cross the finish line as the last, and everyone in between. We even cheered for people we had not ever seen or met before. What an amazing experience of joy!
1 Corinthians 9:24 says, “Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it.” At first this bothered me a little, because I will never win a marathon, half marathon, or even a 5k race. But, a powerful phrase was repeated several times during the weekend at the Outer Banks: “Run your own race.” I can run like I mean to win: I can push myself, run with all I have to give. I can run with my heart, soul, mind, spirit, and body working towards a goal. I can run my own race — while encouraging those around me to run or walk, bike, skip, or sprint — theirs. In the 12th mile of the run, a full marathoner (who had started 20 minutes after I did) came running past. Yes, he had run twice as far as I had, and in less time. As he passed me on the course, tears filled my eyes. Not from a sense of failure or sadness, but out of the joy of getting to witness firsthand someone accomplish something so phenomenal. He was the first to finish this race, well under the time needed for him to qualify for the Boston Marathon. All of us who were still running cheered and yelled as he ran by. He was running his race, and we were running ours.
It was a wonderful feeling to accomplish something I had worked and trained for with a community, and realizing that I could not have done it alone. Since the race, I have constantly thought about finding another one to run. I have even had dreams about running, and, if you were wondering, that is not normal for me. There is nothing like the feeling of running a race, mile after mile, crossing that finish line, and celebrating with community. There is nothing like running your own race. Maybe next time, I’ll beat my own time, but that is the only time I have to beat.
Partners in Health and Wholeness is an initiative of the North Carolina Council of Churches. PHW aims to connect health as a faith issue. Please visit our website to sign your personal pledge to be healthier, and to find out about grant opportunities for places of worship in NC.