Back to the blocks.
“And they’re off!”
Some things come naturally to me. Some of them are: The English Language (Don’t roll your eyes; it’s not that easy), Public speaking, and for those of you who may not know, I’m very athletic. I was really good at any sport that did not require hand-to-eye coordination. Hence, I played soccer and I participated in Track and Field events. Okay, maybe I only participated in track events. The point is that I was an athlete and athletes are trained to perform in particular ways. The successful completion of any sport is highly attributed to something called “form”. Baseball players are taught to hold a bat in a particular way; swimmers are taught to enter the water at a particular angle; soccer players are taught to kick the ball in certain places to get specific results; and the list goes on. I was not a professionally trained athlete by any means. I was one of those persons who was gifted in an area, attended practice twice per week for two weeks before an event then showed up to compete. I probably still can’t exit runner’s blocks properly and I’m sure my runner’s form would be torn apart by professional athletes. Nonetheless, I was a runner.
In 2004, I participated in “Triangular Meet”, that’s a casual name for the Anglican Schools Festival that took place between the MIGHTY BLUE WAVES and two other schools. Here I was in my second, and senior year representing a school where I completely messed up my reputation and fell flat on my face (multiple times) while trying to run hurdles the year before. Nervous after having been told of the talents of my competitors and afraid of failure and embarrassment, I got into the blocks and began to run at my fastest speed. Then I heard the two short “paps” or gun shots and learnt that I was the cause of the false start. All runners had to retreat to their blocks and once again get into the starting position. The starting gun was shot again and we were off. I got off to a slower start this time because I was so conscious of my earlier mistake but, we were off. There I was, running this 200m race, chest burning, feeling like I was having an asthma attack, heart pounding, while my brain wondered “when will this end?”. Finally, I crossed the finish line. I was hunched over, gasping for breath when I was tapped on my shoulder. I looked up and there was a microphone in my face. Keep reading…I promise, I’m getting to the point.
That night when I got home, I ran to my father and told him that I’d be on the news. Sure enough, when Chris Saunders came on with the news report, there I was gliding around the track. I really looked like I knew what I was doing. As I approached the 50m mark, the camera zoomed in to myself and the girl who was in second place. She was running in the lane immediately next to mine. Daddy, who was sitting so quietly next to me said “Oh gee, she’s fighting.” I peeled my eyes off of myself (as hard as that was, as I was in shock and awe) and looked at the young lady, who is also one of my closest friends to date. Sure enough, she was fighting. She had lost form. Her arms were flailing, her torso was moving left to right and her head was lolling from side to side. She lost her form. She crossed the finish line in second place.
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. 25 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. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air.
1 Corinthians 9:24-26
On a daily basis we rise to run our own races. Our races are separate and personal but all of us have at least one. We are running races toward visions, dreams and goals that we have set for ourselves and in some cases, races that society has set for us. We fight to live up to expectations – our own, and those of others. We fight the fear of losing. We fight the fear of disappointing ourselves and loved ones. Often times, as we fight to run these races, we lose form.
Let’s apply the runner’s form to our everyday lives:
Run tall. Keep your spine straight and your shoulders back. Always keep your head up, and chin parallel to the ground. Do not look back, do not look down. This guideline encourages us to be confident throughout our race. Most times when you are leading a race you can hear the other runners as they approach you from behind. Looking back to see how close they are causes you to lose time. It is imperative that we remain focused on the course ahead, not looking around at “opponents” or competitors and not looking down due to our perceived failures. Unless of course, you have time to waste.
Keep the torso stable. The torso is also called the “Core”. If you’ve started work out regimes like Insanity and P92 you would have learnt that the core consists of your abdominal, back and pelvic muscles. Singers sing from their core because it allows the voice to perform optimally. If we think about food, the core of a fruit often refers to its center. Finally, the word core is defined by dictionary.com as the central, innermost or most essential part of something. Therefore, while running the race we are required to keep ourselves centered, focused on the big picture and to keep the most essential part of us – our character, beliefs, value system, - stable and strong.
Stay relaxed. It is SO easy to freak out! Anxiety is a killer, literally. When it feels like everything is going wrong, like we are losing our races or running at a horrible pace, it is so easy to become tense. Then in no time, instead of concentrating on the course ahead, we begin to think about everything that could go wrong. My advice is to try your best to take everything in stride. Think about everything that could possibly go wrong. Consider every possible muscle cramp, injury, spasm, breathing problem, panic attacks…. consider any and everything that could go wrong. Do what you must when you can to prevent this from happening whether it’s before or during the race. Then, remember that some things happen that you simply cannot control and consider how you will react or bounce back from them. Situations are rarely as bad as they seem in the moment. Wouldn’t you agree that you’ve gotten through every experience that you thought you wouldn’t survive?
Maintain a short, quick stride. DO NOT OVEREXTEND. This guideline is so powerful because we tend to overextend in so many different areas. Short quick strides cover ground faster and use less energy. Overextension can so quickly result in exhaustion or injury that its simply easier to perform within your physical parameters. Runners don’t hop, skip and jump around the track. They establish a pace and stick to it.
Keep your knee in line. How about we just keep in line? Lol. How about we stay in our respective lanes? The direction of a runner’s knees can be an indicator of the direction that his body will actually move in. It’s how people end up stepping out of their lanes and disqualifying themselves from races.
Push up and off. Starting blocks are not just fancy contraptions that runners secure their feet in before they begin a race. The starting blocks are used by runners as a boost. Envision yourself using your energy to propel forward off of a wall. Swimmers push off of the wall of a pool during some of their races. Use your adversity in the same way that runners use starting blocks and swimmers use walls; take your energy and explode off of it. Push away from that disappointment or situation and use that push off to generate move you further ahead than you would from running or swimming from a stationary position.
I was led to write this piece for someone. I have no idea who that person is but I have emptied my brain, my heart and my experiences and I hope that in all things, as you run the race of life and seek to finish your course that you will stay in form.