About 5 months after I began training, I completed my first Triathlon. Certainly my feat was nothing compared to Jesus' suffering on the cross, but I can definitely understand with more depth this verse and it's meaning. I've had a few people ask me how it went, and I respond by saying, "I finished!" It is quite a humorous tale which began at approximately 7:00 am last Sunday.
We (my friends Ashley, Sarah and I) had planned to leave the dwelling in which we were staying by 5:45 am last Sunday. I think we left closer to 6, but I didn't pay that close of attention to our departure time since I was certain we would be at the race location well before the 6:35 am cut-off for placing our belongings next to our bikes. (we left our bikes in the care of an on-site security officer the day before. I, however, invested in a $7 bike lock, which was pink, just in case.) My friend, Ashley, left the directions I had carefully printed out in her purse, so we were "feeling our way" to hwy 290. That didn't turn out very well since we got turned around and ended up arriving just around 6:30 am. I dropped off the other two girls closer to the bikes with directions to take my fanny pack to my bike, #1035.
I went to park the van and ran back to the bike transition area in hopes that they would show me mercy and allow me to place my shoes and shirt next to my bike, and where I assumed I would find my fanny pack. Ashley and Sarah forgot my number and decided to leave my fanny pack near Ashley's bike. So, I was literally running around, barefoot, looking for them because my fanny pack contained my lovely orange colored swim cap, my timing chip and goggles. I was literally fighting back tears since there were thousands of people milling around and I could not find my friends anywhere. I was finally directed towards a tent where a kind lady gave me another swim cap and timing chip. The 500 meter swim across the lake would have to be completed without goggles this time.
I was placed in the wave of other women ages 35-39. We all wore the lovely orange swim caps. Waves were sent off every 3 minutes. There were two waves behind me. All women. The next wave wore pink caps and the last wave wore red. I felt very confident about the swim section of the race, less confident in the bike and even less confident about the run. However, I kept joking that even if I had to walk the entire run, and crawl across the finish line, I would complete the race. So, I began the swim and was feeling pretty good. Then, I started to see pink caps pass me and eventually began to see red caps. Uh oh! However, I finished strong and felt ready to complete the bike portion.
Getting on my bike proceeded without incident until I heard my name. My friend Ashley had a flat tire. I pulled over to loan her my hand pump. I moved back into bike traffic fairly easily. I felt as though I was moving along rapidly, but kept hearing the phrase, "On your left!" which racers use to let you know they are passing you on your left. I probably heard this phrase 50 times during the bike ride. I uttered the words once.
I completed the bike portion and moved onto "running". I actually began the 3.65 mile trek with a slow jog. My legs felt strange from peddling for 13.5 miles straight. I passed about 50 runners this time, however they were running the other direction which meant they were almost finished with the running portion, and thus finishing the race. Several cheered me on. "You can do it, 1035!" "You're almost finished, Erin! Keep going!" (our names were written on our "bib" neatly pinned on our front) I grimaced at most of them because I was so envious that they were almost finished and I had just begun the run. The words I had stated to confidently over the last 5 months came back to haunt me. "If I have to, I will walk the entire run portion." It was funny that now, in the event, I felt myself wanting to win! I realized pretty quickly that would not happen this day. I would be doing well to not finish dead last.
However, I remembered the verse that I posted above. I wanted to finish well, not just for myself, but I knew that the Lord had some sort of lesson for me in this endurance challenge. I began to pray and worship while running, walking and sweating. I was passed over and over. I jogged with a woman for a short time who stated that she had raced in numerous triathlons. This was her last race, she said. I asked her how old she was, and she stated, "65" and then kept running while I went back to my walk. Ashley soon passed me. Her bike tire was saved by a kind man who knew how to salvage her tire, and she was determined to run the entire 3.65 miles. She is a much better runner than me. I had already seen our other friend, Sarah, twice. Both times she was going the other way which meant she was much further ahead than me.
In my struggle to swallow my pride, I had a thought. "This is how the spiritual walk is, isn't it, Lord? We will struggle and hurt even though we have trained for this moment. We will be passed in life by so many. It will appear that we will finish last, but it's really not about finishing first. It's about finishing well. It's about running with endurance. It's about moving forward when we want to stop and quit. It's about keeping our eyes focused on the finish line which is our eternal life with you, even in the midst of the largest challenges of our lives. It's about choosing to live, love, laugh even when we want to fall on our faces and die. You are the prize, Jesus. I get it."
I wish that thought could have propelled me forward in such a fashion that I did not finish last. But, I did. There were a few people behind me, but I think, literally three. The 65 year old woman finished before me. I ran across the finish line 3 hours and 1 minute after the first wave of bodies propelled through the water. Some of those in the front did the race twice and finished ahead of me the second time. I don't know my time, exactly, because the new chip I was given didn't record my time. I was not listed on the records that were e-mailed to me the next day. In their minds, I didn't even show up. I know I did, though. And Jesus knows. He's proud of me for finishing. And finishing well.
I so look forward to finishing the race of life and to be told, "Well done, my good and faithful servant." I pray that I am able to continue this race and run with endurance, praising and worshiping my maker the entire way. It truly is worth it to finish, even if it's not mapped out exactly as we envisioned when we began. It is worth it. HE is worth it.