The Finisher’s Medal

I couldn’t stop laughing as my friend told us about his mountain biking event.    I didn’t even have to try to picture him rolling over his handle bars into bushes since the official photographer caught the entire glorious sequence on film and posted it on the event website.  My personal favorite photo was his headfirst landing, with a puff of dirt at the point of impact.  Of course, it wouldn’t have been funny if anything more tangible than his pride was injured.  But fortunately, he’s fine.

While I don’t mountain bike (and don’t plan to after the above inspiration), I have my own trauma from my 2013 endurance events.   While training for the Rock and Roll Marathon, I developed a Morton’s Neuroma. At first, I thought the pain in my foot was a stress fracture, ending my bid for a second marathon.  Instead, it was this annoying Morton thing, a swelling at the nerve point between my toes, which causes pain right at the exact point where my foot hits the ground when I run.  The good news is I ran the Rock & Roll.  The bad news is it took two months to feel a normal footstep again.

But in spite of the pain, there is nothing more satisfying than crossing the finish line knowing that I have overcome the difficult training and achieved something extraordinary.   The shiny finisher medal helps too.

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This year, my training buddies convinced me to sign up for a Half Ironman triathlon (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run).  But as I stare at my registration screen on my computer during lunch, my enthusiasm begins to waiver.  Still, I work through the form filling out my name, address, and age.  Then, I get to the question, “What is your expected time to complete the triathlon?”  I pause.   I don’t know.   It could be anywhere between 6 to 8 hours.  But, it’s not the lack of knowing a time that causes me to pause, it’s the amount of pain I am going to inflict upon my body.

Like the Israelite who stood at the edge of the promise land (Numbers 13) receiving both reports of a fruitful land and powerful giants, I hesitate weighing the costs and benefits.  The costs are hours of training, body aches, and potential injuries.  Would my neuroma pain return?  The benefits are personal achievement, a training community, and that shiny medal.

Standing at the edge of something new and unknown strikes fear into my heart.  For Israel, the hope of a new life was pitted against the pain of fighting giants.  As they faced their decision, they were overcome with fear, complaints, and regret.

“If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?  We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” (Numbers 14:2-4, NIV)

While I’ve never encountered giants, other decisions in my life carry weighty consequences and invoke my primal instinct of fear.  The promise of a new job pits the comforts of an easy daily routine against the fear of an unknown challenge.  Am I to sacrifice both the things I love and hate about my job with only a hope and promise of something better? Can I get a guarantee that something better will truly happen?

My triathlon decision is not nearly of the same magnitude as the Israelite’s entering the Promised Land or even finding a new job, but it still evokes the conflicting emotions of fear and hope.  And, if there’s one thing that fear does, it makes me pause.  In that brief moment, I am transported back into the presence of God where I can seek wisdom, guidance, and comfort.  While God may laugh at my trivial triathlon question, I prefer to think that he smiles. Either way, I’ve wandered back into communion with God, and that’s a benefit better than a finisher medal.

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