I started running in eighth grade when my best friend, Julia, suggested I join cross country with her. This was because my previous dream of becoming a volleyball player fell through my fingers when I barely reached five feet tall.
I signed up for cross country camp. And hated it. Besides the fact that I couldn’t keep up with Julia, I was miserable. I still vividly remember my very pregnant coach running alongside me as I walked, cheering, “You can do it!” and thinking, “This is the epitome of a tragedy.” But my parents, bless their souls, encouraged me not to quit and had me stick with the summer program. Fast-forward a year and I was thriving.
Running had become the world to me. It was my everything. My passion. My first love.
My high school cross country team was extremely competitive. I always struggled to stay in the top seven for the team, which is considered varsity. That constant challenge combined with my passion for competing helped develop my tenacious character, which I carry into all aspects of my life today. I decided to come to Greenville College because of Coach Patton’s compelling character. The team’s welcoming personality and the college encompassed the same values as mine.
My perspective of running changed when I came to Greenville. The girls on my team were so loving, accepting, and encouraging. I had never experienced such a strong desire for community as well as growth in my faith. Although I remained competitive, a lot of things about running started to change for me. Throughout high school, I would cry after almost every race. I would cry when I didn’t reach my goal or when I was disappointed with my race. I now realize that running was such a heartbreaking sport for me because of how critical I was of my performance.
Although I still have my moments, it’s not nearly as frequent as in high school. The reason is that I broke up with my first love and ran to the One who loved me back–no matter how poorly I thought I did.
His name is God.
Running was always my priority. It was the source of both positives and negatives in my life: the built-in friends, the adrenaline of racing, and the rewards joined with the anxiety, pressure, self-disappointment, and constant comparison. I was putting running before God–it became an idol for me.
During times of high-anxiety, I would talk to Coach P. He told me that my anxiety was a spiritual issue. I was not trusting God and I would never find peace without Him. That stuck with me and inspired me to pursue my faith further. I always struggled with the concept of making God a priority while being competitive because competitiveness dictated my life.
I have now learned, however, that God has given me the gift of competitiveness. He has used running to teach me self-discipline, leadership, patience, trust, and relational skills. Running is very different for me now. Although I am the same competitive achiever that I was in high school, I have so much confidence and peace with it now. I have pure joy, derived from God.
When I feel my desires returning to how they used to be, I recite Colossians 3:23-24, which states, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” This is a constant reminder that I should always run to glorify God. During a hard workout, I always sing in my head,
You are all I need when I’m surrounded
You are all I need if I’m by myself
You fill me when I’m empty
There is nothing else
You’re all I need.
This song by Bethany Dillon always gives me strength during my workouts and races. Another thing I changed is what I listen to before my race. I used to listen to pop or hip-hop. Now, I praise God. I listen to my favorite worship music and focus on Him. I thank him for the opportunity to race–meditating on the lyrics and praising Him. He brings me peace and joy before races, where I am surrounded by amazing teammates and able to represent God.
One day, I will not have running. Running has broken my heart, caused me anxiety, and may not always be there for me. But my true love, the most perfect love in the world, is and will always be there.