I practically drag my whole body on to the springy grass over dust, barely standing because of the nervous knots in my intestines. It’s sophomore year, I’m fifteen years old, and I’m wondering why I ever signed up for cross country.
Sure, a third of our high school was on the team. It was a social occasion. We also got to don these tiny little purple shorts along with the classic running tank-top with MAKUA LANI stamped in white on the front and hop on a yellow bus ridiculously early in the morning to travel sometimes three hours to run a twenty-minute race. But of course, we hugged our pillows and our seat-mates while linked at our iPods, longing for the moment when it would all be over and we could just enjoy splitting Chinese takeaway at the Hilo mall.
The gun rattles you to the present. It is not pleasant. Fifty girls in various uniforms, some much fitter than you, some not. Mud. Sun. Rocky gravel hills that do not forgive your lack of training. Grass that puffs out dust. People cheering for you on the sidelines, regardless of your agony. You count bends and miles in your head. You keep going. Keep going, you can do it. That’s what you tell yourself. You feel like you’re dying. Then you look up and there’s a lovely rainforest passing by with fresh green, you inhale. It’s okay. But still you keep going. You wanna just get to the finish, because this is not pleasant. Thrust, sprint, finished. And you are done.
No one looks back when they’ve come through the finish line (you’re usually too busy trying to breathe). Oh, we talk about it. Over a styrofoam plate of orange chicken, Grace and I crack up over funny happenstances that occurred during the race, what team won, and whether we peed our pants or not. But usually chowmein took precedence. Fried rice, too. Cradling chopsticks in the busyness of the food court, we don’t really want to think about the race at all. We really don’t. We inhale our food and rejoice that it’s all over, at least for another week. Yet if cross country is so disturbing, why do we do it, then?
The question of every high-schooler here. You can put on to peer pressure or you can say we just want to keep fit or we are preparing for soccer season (the real deal). I certainly apply to all of those categories.
Beyond those reasons, I think there’s really something deep inside us that likes the fight. The muck. The grossness and disgustingness. The boasts of shin splints and calf cramps, of sunburns and basically-not-breathing times. Deep down, I’d say we’re proud of the struggle. Up close and personal, we adore the feeling of almost puking (and sometimes actually doing so) all day… and then finally snuggling up with showered hair among fluffy blankets winding through Hawaiian mountain roads, with the stars strung over evening sky like tiny trophies, as we talk about boys and winter ball and yes, Jesus. Because at the end of the day, he was the only one we truly ran for.
“Do not be discouraged… for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go…” Five years later, I can still see that stamped in grey on our dark purple training shirts. I still remember speaking in tongues incessantly as I waited for the gun to go off because I was so nervous. I still remember peace. I envision Angel with Bible open on a Kam hillside, reading, reading so we could make it through.
And here I am at the beginning legs of this race called Year 3, senior year of my Primary Education degree. Am I really glancing over my shoulder already? How am I thinking there’s somehow another option other than forward? Why am I mistaking my coach’s training, do I really mistrust how many hours I’ve put in practice? It’s not meant to be like this. It’s not.
So much of this race is not pleasant. Essays, isolation, the feeling like you’ll never be enough and never get back to the happiness of “home”. But as a cross country runner, did I ever look back on past races and think, “Awww I want to go back to that”? No. I never did. I mean, yes, I look back and think of Grace and I listening to “I Will Run” by Misty Edwards on the bus before every race. But oh, no, even in that we were looking forward.
I will run the race set before me
I will seek your face as the prize of my life
I will run, I will run, I will run!
I will look forward. Oh, readers, I need help looking ahead. I need a lot of help. I’m a professional reminiscer. I reflect on the past a lot. But that’s not working. I’ve been instructed not to. “I press on!” Now, in this season, I need to be an excellent dreamer. Because the vision of the finish line was the only way I got got through 3 miles. It took a lot of hope mingled with side pain. Hope. That’s what I want to learn.
So come along with me.
We’ve got a long way to go.
But I have a feeling that when we cross the finish line of this year, of Year 3, of whatever God’s called you to in this season… you’ll sit down with your close friends over a bowl of steaming orange chicken and chowmein and think, wow, was that only 30 minutes of my life?
And Jesus will just sit there smiling, beaming.
“I always wanted to be the prize of your life!” 🙂
(Even the times we have to drag ourselves into the race.)
“I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” -Philippians 3:14, NIV
Special thanks to Auntie Felicia, our coach extraordinaire, who taught me to keep running. And for the whole cross country team of 2008 (and your photography skills). You were great. Let’s keep running the race courageously.