Thoughts on the Olympics — The Race Set Before Them

For twenty-five laps around the track, almost half an hour, they ran their own race.  The Eritreans took the lead, pushing the pace, but they stayed in the pack.  An Ethiopian threw in a surge, then the Kenyans took the lead and upped the pace for a lap or two.  No panic when they were 10 metres, 15 metres off the lead.  A 10K on the track is a long race, as much of a mental battle as a physical one, and they had their plan.

Mo Farah and Galen Rupp have been training together under the coaching of Alberto Salazar, who was not such a bad runner himself back in the day.  He’s trained them hard, even taking them through workouts after running a 5000 metre (3.1 mile) race.  These two young men have put in thousands of miles together, training minds and bodies, preparing themselves to implement a plan.

(British readers can watch the Olympic 10K here.  You click the play button, then once the video starts, if you tab across the bottom of the video and click on tab 20, it will take you to the start of the 10K.  It’s only about half an hour.)

The plan for Mo Farah was pretty simple, actually.  Conserve his strength, then hit the front somewhere around 400-600 metres to go, turn on the pace, and watch the other contenders drop off one by one.  Don’t worry about the Africans.  They’ll throw surges at you to try to wear you down.  Let them surge.  You don’t have to go with every change of pace, just keep them in range, close enough so that once they slow down, you can reel them in.  That’s his race, and the threat of his fast finish on the last lap was at least one reason the Africans ran an uneven pace, using faster laps in the middle of the race, when those who aren’t mentally tough might break down.

Mo executed his plan to perfection.  At one point, during one of the surges, he was 20 metres back, but always in the pack, always within range, and by the last few laps, he was right on the shoulder of the leaders.  Then, with 450 metres to go, he hit the front.  Salazar has trained him for that moment, trained him to have both the strength and the speed to run a final lap that is too much for the competition.  And as he turned up the pace, one by one the competitors dropped off, and the gold medal was his.

If you watch the race, you can see that Galen Rupp’s plan was different.  He and Mo ran pretty much together, often one right in front of the other, through the race, until Mo took the lead.  Rupp didn’t try to stick with Farah.  He knew well what was going to happen, and knew the impact on those who tried to stick with Mo as he turned on the speed.  Galen didn’t try to match Mo’s move, but he stayed within striking distance for 300 metres — and on the last 150 metres, none of the others chasing Farah had enough left to match Galen’s finish.

The training partners took gold and silver, each having run a race designed for his own strengths.  At the finish, with his arm around Mo, Galen flashed one finger, and then two, a 1-2 finish for the two friends and training partners.

In distance running, you have to run your own race.  Any runner can tell you of times when he hasn’t, when he’s run a race which didn’t fit his strengths or the circumstances, when he made a mental or tactical error.  You pay a price.  (I’ll spare you my own stories — this time. :))  You might still win, if you are enough better than the competition, but you won’t have your best performance, and you might lose, even to runners that are no better than you are.

If Mo had run Galen’s race instead of his own, waiting until the last 150 metres to turn on the speed, Galen might have beat him, or someone else might have been quicker on the final stretch.  If Galen had run Mo’s race, attacking from 450 metres out, he might not have had the strength which Mo had to hold the others off.  If either had run the race the way Zersenay Tadese ran, he probably wouldn’t have won a medal at all.  You have to run the race that fits you.

OK, this isn’t a running blog, and I doubt most of my readers are as interested in distance running as I am.  Even if you are in the UK and could watch the video on that link, you probably didn’t.  (An entire half hour of a bunch of guys running in a circle 25 times?  What kind of weirdo would watch THAT? :))  But there is a point here.

Hebrews 12:1-2

1 Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,
2 Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Too many Christians spend a lot of time wishing they were running someone else’s race, but God wants us to run the race He has set before us.

Are you single?  God wants you to be the most godly single person you can be.  Wish your spouse was different?  The race that is set before you is to love and honour the spouse you have, not whinge about the spouse you want.

Pastor of a small church?  “Big-church-itis” is not the race that is set before you.  Will it be someday?  Perhaps, just like the single person may be married someday, or the married person may be widowed someday.  But for now, we’re to run the race our Lord has given us to run.

Do you wish you could be a pastor?  If I understand I Timothy 3, that’s a good desire to have, but if you aren’t in that position, then don’t try to run that race yet.  Perhaps the race that is set before you is to work on fulfilling the qualifications we see in I Timothy 3 and Titus 1.

Do you wish you had more money, a better job?  Those things aren’t bad things to have, but if you don’t have them, then (at least for now) that isn’t the race you should be running.

Covetousness has many forms, and covetousness is idolatry (Colossians 3:5).  It is as much covetousness to wish we had someone else’s race to run as it is to wish we had their possessions.

There were at least two runners who dropped out of the Olympic 10K, who failed to finish the race, but for those who finished, they all crossed the same finish line.  Another believer may be running a race that appears different from ours, but we’re all pursuing the same goal.  We’re looking unto Jesus.  He calls us to a life of love and holiness, in every circumstance, in every phase, of the race He sets before us.  We’ve been set a race that conforms us to His image (Romans 8:29).  That’s the finish line, and that’s the prize.  It’s worth the race, whatever course He sets before us on our way to that point.

Thoughts on the Olympics — Faith, Focus, Finish
Thoughts on the Olympics — He Wanted to Get Caught
Thoughts on the Olympics — “Not Something We’ve been too Concerned About”
Thoughts on the Olympics — The Secret of “Marginal Gains”

About Jon Gleason

Former Pastor of Free Baptist Church of Glenrothes
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