That all who run the race run, but only one receives the prize. Run in such a way that you may obtain it.
I Cor. 9:24
Today I watched a track meet during my lunch break.
Not a real meet. Not a Texas meet with hours of events and a schedule that’s never accurate and camps of students in loose circles on the infield or under the bleachers.
There aren’t even bleachers one could camp under at the track behind my Irish university’s rec center. But there is a track, and there were teenagers. Hundreds of them there for some sort of school day out from the boys’ school down the street.
And it wasn’t exactly like watching the boys from our track team, who I thought were men when we were all fifteen, valiantly chasing wasps away from our bags armed with flip-flops. And it wasn’t the lazy piles of backpack pillows and endless Snickers bars and ignored homework that I remember from race days. Nor was it a Texas sun, the best sun, smiling down on these boys.
But it was still a beautiful thing to see. The ones messing around on the high jump had atrocious form, and the relay handoffs were sloppy… and hampered by the circle of soccer players they had to run through before the baton pass, but it was fun. And funny. And it’s the right time of year for whatever approximation of a meet this was.
I spent a lot of hours and several years at track meets once upon a time. In my memory, those afternoons were an endless, marathon rest between my two races, the two mile that opened the meet and the mile that was its closer. The bookend races framing hours that felt like days.
I am the woman I am because of those two races; the twin endurance runs that my coaches picked me for back when I was about twelve and the thought of a single lap scared me.
I live on the other side of the world from my parents, my home, and the track that I learned to race on, because a stream of coaches, teachers, mentors all—told me that I could go further. That I was strong enough for another straight, another curve, another lap. That deep in my core was the strength to keep on, no matter what my legs or arms or lungs felt. That I always had more.
Gut it out.
That was the rallying cry. One of them. There were several. That’s the main one that I use as my mantra now.
Now that I’m engaged in the great endurance race of a PhD, when essays need grading and exams need to be invigilated and my own research needs to continue in spite of those two incredibly time-consuming activities, it almost seems funny to turn to simple lessons learned so long ago. To return to a time when hard work was sweat and long afternoons, not ink and office days and reading theory every night before bed.
But, if I’m to return to lessons long learned, then here is the other side of gut it out:
Take a load off.
Lean on the shoulder you find, because there will always be a shoulder to be found. When the race is done, and the work is over, always know that there will be a teammate or a coach or a parent or a someone there to celebrate a race well run, and carry a runner well tired. That it is okay to take that break and savor that victory, even when it is the victory of completion.
My memories are viewed through rose tinted sunlight. The filter is warm, the haze clouds even as it makes for a nice story. I know that this is not every experience. I wish it was.
I don’t know if the boys on that track are learning the same lessons I learned when I was their age. But I do know that they were enjoying the themselves and the sun and the endless loop of ten lanes and a left turn. I do know that they made me smile and remember younger days.
And on a day when I was trapped inside, twelve hours of passing out exams and confiscating cell phones, watching them play from the window of our break room during my lunch hour was a treat.
It was jewel-toned sunlight and good memories and the barest glimpse of home.
Photo credit to the lovely Donna Jordan, who captured this moment between myself and Carolyn deBie in 2009.