The big day had finally arrived. Though my tummy rumbled with nervous excitement, it was a welcome relief from the nausea and lethargy of the past few years.
After all, bearing three sons in less than three years, surviving on little sleep and less nutrition tends to leave a woman feeling more than a little wrung out. Needless to say, my confidence as a mother and a woman was at an all-time low.
In an effort to “get healthy” and cut back on caffeine, I resolved — over my single cup of coffee — to walk 30 minutes a day. With a little help from a “Couch to 5K” program, walking gradually morphed into jogging, and slowly…slowly…energy and confidence replaced lethargy and loathing.
By the end of a year, I had checked off every step of that program. In fact, I was so invigorated by my progress that I registered for a race. That’s right. A 5K. That’s 3.1 miles from start to finish. And truly, my goal was to start and finish.
In celebration of the big day I purchased a new running outfit — black pants with a slimming vertical line down the sides and a “moisture-wicking” shirt to match. I completed the ensemble, of course, with new running shoes and accessorized with ear buds. I looked like a real runner!
Maybe it was my super-cute running outfit. Maybe it was my new kicks or the perfectly timed music pulsing through my ear buds. But whatever it was, something went terribly wrong on race day. My newfound confidence was hopped up on steroids and it began to mutate into a spirit of comparison.
I toed the starting line and eyed the participants. Sizing up every single one, I tossed aside my simple goal of starting and finishing and looked for someone I could beat. Right away I spied an easy target — the mom pushing a stroller filled with 25 pounds of toddler!
Oh, you’re goin’ down, Stroller Mama!
Bang! The race had begun. With the wind in my face, music in my ears and all those distracting wispy bangs slicked into a ponytail, I confidently settled into my race-pace shuffle.
Just a few minutes into the race the runners spread out. I courteously slid to the right to let faster runners pass when suddenly, in my peripheral vision, I saw the twirling spokes of a stroller tire.
And then Stroller Mama passed me.
Embarrassed by the ridiculous notion of beating someone, I gave myself a good mental lashing, “Who do you think you are!? You’re not a real runner! Good grief. You can’t even keep up with a stroller!”
Within the next few minutes I lost sight of Stroller Mama in the distance and refocused on my original goal to simply cross the finish line.
It took me a long time to finish, so I had plenty of time to consider the lesson learned in the first minutes of the first mile. In fact it took me so long, I crossed last. Not as in, it was the last thing I did. But as in, I was the last one done.
Between the huffing and puffing I learned that “compete-to-beat” is never a winning strategy. Instead of contributing to strides of progress, it keeps me staggering between arrogance and despair, and with all that mental bobbling I lose sight of my original goal.
When we compare and compete with other women, we all lose. On the other hand, when we run faithfully toward our own goal — without comparing our path or gear or companions — we’ll eventually finish the race with our confidence intact and the medallion of accomplishment dangling from our neck.
Ironically, the Lord wanted to memorialize the lesson He taught me that day. Even at dead-last, I finished third out of three in my age group. As they announced my name, I walked to the front and gratefully received the only medal I have ever won.