Earlier in the week, I eagerly accepted the invitation to join two friends for an early morning swim, bike, and run session. Call me weird, but this is my definition of “fun.” It’s now 6:15 AM and the sun is not technically in the sky. After being awake almost two hours, I’m reconsidering my definition of “fun”. Thankfully, one friend brings coffee. I really need that coffee!
With the first hint of morning breaking the horizon, we unload and mount our bikes. A twinge of fear shoots down my body as I enviously compare their sleek tri bikes to my road bike. Since tri bikes are notoriously faster than road bikes due to aerodynamics, I begin to lower expectations. “It’s okay to drop me; I don’t want to hold you back” is my morning motto.
The route is six four-mile laps around a flat island. As we start, I am preparing to be dropped by staying at the end of the pace line. My mind wanders to trite phrases of encouragement — keep the pace, concentrate, relax, stay within yourself, you’re the man. By the second lap, I’m feeling good keeping up with my friends. When I take the lead on the third lap, my heart rate soars, my quads ache, and sweat drips from my every pore of my body, but I keep the pace. We finish as a group with an average speed over of 21 mph. Fear switches to elation — perhaps I am the man!
With the sun climbing in the sky, I squeeze into my wetsuit and wade into the cool water. The swim is straight out and back across a bay. Once again I’m worried about my speed, so I start first and expect to be passed along the way. At the halfway point, I pause, look around, and see my friends right behind me. I smile — I’m not as slow as I thought. I follow in the second half and for the first time ever feel the effect of drafting another swimmer. In the past, I’d always been too slow to remain in a drafting position. Once again, doubt turns to joy. Maybe all that work in the pool is beginning to pay dividends.
I emerge from the water and prepare to run. Now the sun is high and the heat is rising. As we start the run, I’m immediately dropped and watch the other two slowly pull away. They aren’t even breathing heavily! Within minutes, the success on the bike and swim turn to despair. I fight the disappointment and focus on enjoying the beautiful path along the waterfront.
As I approach the car, the others are relaxing and shouting encouragement at my return. While I apologize for being slow, I stop my GPS-tracker and notice my pace over the 6 mile course. I was dropped, but I ran 40 seconds per mile faster than my usual pace. I’m ecstatic.
The Bible teaches (James 1) that we should consider testing a joy. That is not to say that we will experience joy throughout the test. This morning, I experienced anticipation, doubt, fear, success, elation, and despair. But in the end, I’m smiling because I can see my progress. This is joy.