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A Case for Participation Trophies 

photo. by Gretchen EK Engel Medal from 2014 Half Marathon

Friday marked the opening of the 2016 Rio Olympics. We hear about and celebrate the gold medalists but others are competing to bring home a medal of any color. Today they profiled a swimmer who is hoping for silver. She’s second best in the world, a distant second to her teammate. For some, just making the team is winning. Being an Olympian may be a “participation ribbon” but no one would belittle someone for making the team and giving it their all.

My son made it to the regional science fair. We were proud of him. While he didn’t get recognized for it at the ceremony, they recalculated his score, and he placed third. Getting to that level was our goal. Earning a ribbon was bonus.

Saturday I ran my second half marathon. I had a goal of 2:30. I ran it in 2:28:33. Honestly, it was thrilling and disappointing at the same time. I can and have done better.

My first half two years ago my goal was 2:30 but I ran it just under 2:18. I’m planning on running that race again this fall and will likely try for a 2:15 or even 2:00 depending on how my training goes. There were several factors that contributed to my slower performance in Saturday’s race.

While not completely uphill, this race climbed over 400 feet to an elevation of 7,100. Not a huge challenge since I live at 6,600 feet. The other was a flat course in downtown Phoenix.

Another factor was the weather. The temperatures were warm climbing well into the 70s, which is warm for running and the sky was cloudless. The Phoenix race was in November with an overcast day in the 60s.

The last reason was my fault. I forgot to eat breakfast. I ate a banana but intended to fuel up with a fruit and nut granola bar or two. By mile eleven even with a couple of fitness candy bites and orange slices, my tank was low and I ran (okay, mostly walked) in on fumes.

Running a half marathon to finish sounds like a direct conflict with Paul’s words in Corinthians. “a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.” (1 Corinthians 9:24 ESV) but the following verse puts it in context. “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. (1 Corinthians 9:25 ESV)

Paul isn’t talking about Christians being in a cutthroat competition for a place next to Jesus at the head table. James and John were admonished for that very thing. The verses are about exercising self-control and discipline. Preparing for a half marathon is about running 3-4 times each week and in later weeks running two hours straight. It’s about making sure you’re eating and drinking right. In other words discipline and self-control. Areas where I struggle.

Fresh from Realm Makers my self-discipline focuses on writing daily, and spending time in God’s word. Remember, I did worse because I ran on empty. I can’t write without filling my spiritual tank.

My daily life these practices translate into a new schedule that requires me to get up at 6:15 to get my junior high student ready for school. It means getting to bed at a decent hour.

God wants us to give it our all. Run for the prize. Not laurel leaves but crowns in heaven. He wants us to live for him. We’ll run some days and merely walk others. Some days may be nothing but resting in him. The important part is that we move forward.

Where do you need to work on discipline and self-control in your life?


About Gretchen E K Engel

Chemical engineer by day, spec fiction writer by night

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