“Finally, I beat you, kid!”
These were the words I uttered to poor Jack, 12 years of age, after the run. I cringe now, remembering the moment —I’ll claim it was the runner’s high getting the better of me.
I am sure that Jack didn’t even realise I was racing him. In all likelihood, he wouldn’t have cared anyway.
Jack and I are in the same running club, The Western Districts Joggers and Harriers, or Westies for short. They hold a number of races throughout each month. Jack and I compete in the 3.5km race on each second Saturday. On the day the above regrettable statement was uttered by yours truly, I came in first and was quite excited about this fact (as you can tell from the picture). I had never come first in any Westies race before or any running race, as far as I can remember.
The fact that makes this statement all the more regrettable is that, while my accomplishment was worthy of celebration, this race is a handicapped race. That means that the officials evaluate everyone by their speed and give them a handicap. The aim is that, all things being equal, all of the runners will cross the finish line at the same time. Therefore, the winner will be the one who beats their own handicap more than anyone else beats theirs.
So, while I won the race and crossed the line ahead of Jack that day, in fact he still ran that race 1 minute and 30 seconds faster than me. So much for beating the kid!
In contrast to my embarrassing attempt to smack down a year 6 boy, I recall another Saturday’s race when I came in second. On that Saturday I was being followed closely behind … I could hear the footsteps pounding. I had no idea who it was but I wasn’t going to let him or her pass me too easily.
As we came into the last 500m stretch, I put in my final effort and turned up the speed. Surprisingly, I had a lot left in the tank and managed to maintain the speed increase until I crossed the line. No one passed me. Well done me!
Now, the guy trying to pass me turned out to be quite an elite runner. Amazingly, he came up to me and congratulated me on my effort, saying I surprised him with my speed burst. He honoured me with his congratulation.
He showed much more grace towards me than I did to Jack, although I wasn’t really trying to smack down Jack. I only realised later, to my horror, that it came out that way. For Jack, there was no context to my comments and he was probably left scratching his head and thinking, “Why is this old man talking to me?”
I have really come to appreciate our handicapped races because they have taught me that my performance does not have to be at anyone else’s expense. I can be ambitious and support others along the way.
In a handicapped race, slow people can beat fast people. When they do, it is because they have improved more so than, say, an elite runner in the same race. At the Westies club, I have found everyone to be quite encouraging of one another’s performances and improvements —myself excluded, apparently We share stories and tips with each other, and cooperate together to make our club the best it can be. Ultimately, the club is about everyone reaching their fullest potential.
A Life of Running
You might be wondering why I was racing Jack in the first place? Why had he become my rival?
I wasn’t really gunning for Jack per se; it’s just that I had begun to notice that he and I crossed the line fairly close to each other. So, in my mind, beating him became my goal, my inspiration for improving. Nevertheless, I just could not keep up with him for a number of months. To finally cross the line ahead of him was an achievement for me, even though he probably didn’t even notice me as I passed him.
Funnily, my previous running challenge was an older gentleman at the club. I overhead him say to a friend once, at the beginning of a training run, “Oh, I’m just going to have an easy run today”. Despite his probably being 15-20 years older than me, I just could not keep up with him and could never beat him for the next couple of years. I’ve given up trying to catch him and chose a 12 year old boy instead. How pathetic!
In a handicapped race, everyone is encouraged to improve and improvements are celebrated. Yet, still, there can be only one winner.
Along a similar line of thought, the apostle Paul once wrote,
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
(1 Corinthians 9:24–27)
Paul here likened daily living to a running race —we’re running for life, you might say. Rather than running the race of life for temporary honour, he encouraged us to live our life for a prize of eternal significance. In your family, your hobbies and your career, be fully present and committed to such with discipline and focus. For Paul, the prize he wrote about is a life well lived towards an eternal reward.
By way of example, consider that Tony Robbins, in his book Money: Master The Game, outlined principles for creating a lifetime income plan. Yet, astonishingly, he stated in this way what he thought to be a life well lived,
The final secret of wealth is: the secret to living is giving.
Give freely, openly, easily, and enjoyably. Give even when you think you have nothing to give, and you’ll discover there is an ocean of abundance inside of you and around you. Life is always happening for you, not to you. Appreciate that gift, and you are wealthy, now and forever.
You would expect that a motivational speaker like Tony, writing a book about achieving wealth, would promote the belief that increasing one’s wealth is an ultimate end in itself. Instead, he encouraged us to keep our lives in a proper perspective and to contribute to others. Do what you can to increase your wealth now, but if use your wealth to give to others, you are wealthy forever.
Without doubt, there is much in life that can prevent you from reaching your fullest potential, whether taxes decreasing your wealth or detractors limiting your advancement, etc. In the face of such as these, do whatever you can anyway. Strive always to rise above your circumstances. Be more than just a dreamer.
However, there is another dimension to keep in mind, according to the apostle and to the motivational speaker: You can live your life well for yourself or you can live your life well by giving to others. It may seem counter-intuitive, but in such an attitude is an even greater reward than you can imagine. The apostle’s life ambition was to share the good news about Jesus with as many people as he could. He would do whatever it took for him to achieve that end. His ambition was to serve others, knowing that this would qualify him for the crown that will last forever.
This reminds me of a thought-provoking statement made by General Maximus, a character played by Russell Crowe in the 2000 epic historical drama Gladiator. As he and his soldiers were about to enter a decisive battle, he declared:
Fratres! Three weeks from now I will be harvesting my crops. Imagine where you will be, and it will be so. Hold the line. Stay with me. If you find yourself alone, riding in green fields with the sun on your face, do not be troubled; for you are in Elysium, and you’re already dead! [The soldiers laugh] Brothers, what we do in life, echoes in eternity.
(General Maximus, in the film Gladiator, emphasis added)
There’s some humour in this, but also some powerful truth.
If you too sense that every moment has eternal significance, then live your life to the fullest now by contributing to others, with an aim towards eternity. What will be your legacy?
In what ways are you giving to and supporting others?
In what ways are others giving to and supporting you?