It was a bad day, but a good run.

It’s not very often that you can have a run go terribly wrong, yet still enjoy the day. But, that is precisely what happened a little over three weeks ago when I ran my latest marathon in Pittsburgh.

The race was going pretty well through thirteen miles, but then I slowly started to feel more and more tired. A few more miles at my goal pace was all I could manage, before I had to slow down a bit. I’ve never run a marathon where I haven’t hit the “oh man, this is getting hard” point, but to usher in that mentality with nine miles left, is not what you want.

I have been back in the States for roughly 22 months now, and within that timeframe I have run seven marathons. This last one was my slowest of those seven. Granted, I had spent 24 of the previous 72 hours at track meets. Three track meets in the three days leading up to the marathon, combined with probably my busiest week of teaching for the whole school year, prevented an ideal taper. Excuses aside, it was my slowest race and if anyone knows anything about me, you know I am extremely competitive. I don’t like losing, and I don’t like it when I put up my slowest time in almost two years. It was a bad run. My legs started to get real heavy around mile 18, and by mile 20 the heat of the day left me gulping cup after cup of water at every aid station. I ran the same race last year and found it difficult, but this year the difficulty seemed to increase. I finished the race discouraged by my performance. I crossed the finish line, but was disappointed by the way I ran. It was a bad run, but it was still a good day.

It was a good day because of the support I had on the course with me. There were those on the sideline cheering my name and encouraging me throughout the race. Around mile 14, I was joined by one of my track runners and she started to run with me. Around mile 19, another one joined in and the three of us kept going for a little bit. At one point while running I asked one of my runners, “Is this your long run for the week?” When she responded, “yes” I said, “Yeah. Me too.” The laughter sprinkled some humor on a disappointing run. When I was struggling to keep my pace, they encouraged me. When I wanted to quit, they told me to keep going. When I needed to take a quick break and walk a few steps, they slowed down with me. They turned a bad run, into a good day.

The voice

I have spent a lot of time at track meets this spring, a lot of time. After being at a few you start to pick up on a few things; there always seems to be one team that brings with them a large speaker so they can blast their music, without fail someone will forget something causing everyone to panic slightly and scramble to make things work, inevitably I will pack for three different seasons – not knowing whether or not it is going to snow, rain, or be sunny…at more than one meet this year I saw all three. Yet, the one aspect of a track meet that has stood out to me the most is the loud yelling, screaming, and encouraging that happens near the finish line. I choose to stand next to the finish line so that my runners will know exactly where I am, and will know to look for me there. But, after a few meets I began to ask myself, “How can I be certain they are actually hearing anything I say?” This year, I have been encouraged, challenged, and inspired by the fact the runners on our team do not have to make eye contact with me, but can simply listen for my voice.

At first I was a little skeptical of this approach as I recognized the numerous voices that scream various things. You have stands full of parents who are cheering on their kids. The meet officials are yelling out instructions ensuring everyone is following the proper protocol. I stand in a sea of coaches who, like me, are all trying to relay information to their runners. With all the different noises and voices I began to doubt whether or not my voice was being heard. A number of post-race conversations with my athletes proved my doubts wrong and I began to understand a simple yet profound truth; they know my voice.

They hear me every day at practice. Some of them hear me every day in class. Most of us have been on this track journey for two years in a row now. We hang out before they race and we talk after they race. We spend a lot of time at track meets and through it all we have learned each other’s voices.

After realizing this, my initial thought was, ‘Wow. That’s really awesome!” Then, I started to ask myself, “What is it that my words and my voice are communicating to others?” Is the tone of my voice one that encourages and inspires one to run faster and chase dreams more? Or is it a voice that dampens ambitions and puts out the desires and ambitions of others? Is my voice, a voice that is speaking truth and love into the lives of others?

In thinking through this, I also thought of all the different voices that are saying things – not just on the track, but in life. What are the voices of popular movies saying about the type of relationships we should be emulating? What message is being accepted after hearing the voices of the social media avenues that so heavily influence our culture? What does society say about how we should be spending our time, our money and our energy? Among all those voices – are we able to recognize the voice of Jesus and the Holy Spirit? In life voices are yelling at us to look a certain way, feel a certain way, view others a certain way. The finish line at a track meet is full of voices yelling various things – yet my team knows my voice because we spend time together, we talk to each other, we are frequently in each other’s company. In a similar fashion, can we pick out the voice of Jesus over the other voices because of the time we spend together, talking, praying, listening?