“I don’t think I can finish this,” I said to myself through gasps of breath. My head was pounding, my lungs felt like they were about to explode, and I thought my legs would buckle at any moment.
Why did I enter this 5k race? What was I thinking? Why had I let my buddy Paul talk me into this thing?
“Hey, Mark, why don’t you enter the Lake Classic 5 kilometer race with me?” he said one day. Enter a race? Me?
Sure, I had run in high school, but that was a long time ago and I certainly wasn’t in that great of shape right now. Why would he even ask such a thing?
“Uh, Paul, you do realize who you are talking to, don’t you?” I said, responding to his question with my own question. “Why would you want me to do that?”
He paused a minute, and I guessed maybe he was just yanking my chain and was trying to think of something clever.
“I just thought it would be fun,” was all he would say.
Fun? A middle-aged, overweight has-been, or make that a never-was, running? Five kilometers? In the hot sun? With a bunch of people watching? Fun?
“Yeah, you know, fun,” Paul said again. “There’ll be lots of other runners there, and it will be a great atmosphere. Besides, if you win, there is a thousand dollar prize, you know?”
“A thousand bucks?” Now he had me interested. “You mean the person who takes first in this race can win a thousand bucks?”
“That’s what I’m saying,” he answered with a slight smile, knowing that I had taken the bait and he was about to catch himself a co-runner.
I liked a challenge and Paul had dangled the worm that would make me bite. I couldn’t pass up a prize like that, even though I knew it was a long shot at best. You know, the kind of long shot that keeps us Cleveland Indians fans coming back for more every year.
“Where do I sign up?”
Now, here I was, ready to pass out and still needing to cover about half the course. How was I ever going to finish? Curse that Paul! How could I have let him talk me into this? A thousand smackeroos? Why would I have ever thought a prize like that was ever in my reach? Fortunately, as much as I sweat when I run, the free t-shirt I got was 100 percent cotton.
All I could think about was why hadn’t I at least put a little effort into getting ready for this race? Sure, in my condition, it would be a stretch just to think I could finish. Stretch, now that’s funny. Besides not training, I don’t even stretch. When Paul would call and ask me to run with him, I’d give him my usual response.
“Paul, it’s just a 5 k,” I’d say. “What’s the big deal? There are hundreds, if not thousands, of other runners. I could never get myself ready to compete with them. I’ll be there for the race, and whatever happens, happens. If God wants me to have the thousand bucks, I’ll win it somehow.”
“Suit yourself,” was his response as he took off through the countryside, putting miles and miles on his sneakers and seemingly enjoying every minute of it.
Well, I did finish, and it wasn’t in last place. Let’s just say, though, that the timekeepers didn’t have to spend much more time at the finish line after I crossed it.
Now that it’s over and I survived, I’m kind of hungry. I’m wondering if Paul is going to treat me tonight. A thousand dollars can buy a lot of hamburgers.
“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 a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” I Corinthians 9:24-27 (NIV)
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