Most of the time, I run on trails I’m very familiar with. Within an hour of my house, there are four trail systems that I have spent a lot of time learning. During the week, I run at either Audubon or Angel Mounds. For longer runs on the weekends, I run Harmonie and Lincoln State Park. No matter the distance, I know what to expect when I get out there.
Knowing the trails and what to expect makes trail running a lot easier and makes me feel a lot more confident when I hit the trails for a training run.
But every once in a while, I toe the starting line for a trail race that winds through woods and trails that I’ve never seen . I might turn a corner at some point and fly down a hill that I’ve never gone down before. It would make sense in this case to slow down, maybe even hike down that hill to avoid a misstep on unfamiliar terrain – but I don’t. I live for those downhills during a race. I’m not nervous because I’ve spent many days and hours running as fast as I can down hills back home. Training my mind to look a few steps ahead, training my feet to know how to land or jump over roots or fallen trees at a moment’s notice without even thinking twice.
This starts to feel like my life as a Christian – and how I have to practice faith to have stronger faith.
I’m very comfortable running on trails, especially when they’re my home trails – and that makes sense. But sometimes, running on trails gets really…special.
When I head into the woods for 31 miles in unfamiliar territory, I can’t depend on my knowledge to keep me from getting lost. I have to look for signs to guide me in the right direction. The night and weeks before the start of a race, the director and volunteers have gone through the course and marked everything with colored flags or big signs to help the runners know which way to go. For Gnaw Bone, I followed little pink flags. There were also blue, red, and white out there. Sometimes they were on my course, but I only had eyes for the pink ones because they were for me. If I followed the blue flags, I’d probably finish sooner, but it wouldn’t be my race that I finished. Sometimes the pink flags went up a hill, which didn’t seem like much fun – but that’s the hill I came to run, so I went with the pink flags.
Sometimes, life takes me down a path I’m not familiar with. When I head that direction, I do so knowing God has laid out a path for me to walk, and only He knows where it goes. I’m only there to run the race. Sometimes I’d prefer to run flat instead of up a hill, but the pink flags He set out for me go up the hill. If I go on the flat trail, I’ll get lost. If I follow the pink flags, I’ll get to the finish line. Sometimes the other trail looks like more fun, but that’s someone else’s path to run.
Even though I don’t know the woods I’ll be running in for my race, I’m not completely unprepared when I get there. For many races, there have been people who have run it before – and we runners like to brag. I can find course descriptions and race reports for nearly every run I’ve done. If those aren’t available, I can usually read about the trails in the area or a course description from the race website. I’ll have a pretty good, if a little vague, idea of what to expect when I start the race. Of course my experience will be unique to me, but there are a few things I know for sure. There will be hills – and they’ll likely be harder than I expect. There will be other runners to share my time with. There will be a finish line.
The Bible is a pretty valuable resource. While the stories in it are old, the Bible’s advice on learning to trust God and seek His will is timeless. The world is also filled with people who have had experiences similar to mine. With their help, advice, and support, I’ll feel a tiny bit more confident when I start down an unfamiliar path.
I used to think life is a race. You come speeding through the start line and don’t stop until you cross the finish line. But life isn’t a race – because life isn’t always hard. Life is more like a series of races. You train for the races, line up when it’s your turn, and do your absolute best no matter which way the pink flags go. When they go up a hill and the blue flags go left and finish, follow the pink ones because that’s your race. Sometimes your race really sucks, and you’d really prefer to be anywhere else, and that’s okay. Eventually, this race will be over, and it’ll be time to rest and get ready for the next one.