pure guts racer

I was 13, unfolding and shaking out the t-shirt that had just been handed to me. It was the men’s high school cross country shirt, but the coach had given the ordering sheets to the middle school team so that we could have a t-shirt for the season.

The front of it said “WD Hawks Cross Country,” the back of it, a quote by Steve Prefontaine.

“I’m going to work so that it’s a pure guts race at the end, and if it is, I am the only one who can win it.”

That shirt traveled with me six years later all the way to college, each year fading a little more, eventually losing both sleeves until finding its way into the trash can at the end of the first year.

I hadn’t thought of the shirt – or the quote – in over 4 years, until Prefontaine’s name came up in a conversation on Saturday afternoon.

I didn’t remember the quote exactly, but remembered it had been from him.

And then, a movie about his life.

I watched half of it Saturday night and fell asleep early.

For those of you who don’t know, I’m running the Chicago Marathon come October.

A little over two weeks ago, I began to throw up every time I ran. I adjusted my water intake, my shoes, my diet, my distance, but when I ran over a mile and got closer to two, I got a stomachache that almost took me to the ground. Then, I would immediately start throwing up.

That is, this would happen if I stopped praying while I ran. If I prayed the whole time until the end, I’d still throw up, but it would not be until the end of my run. But if I stopped praying, declaring healing over myself even for a second, the stomachache would come.

I began to ask God to see in the Spirit what was happening during my run. What I found in my mind’s eye was a giant, blue brick wall that built itself up as I ran. As it grew to a certain height, the sickness kicked in.

I’ll spare you the details of my sickness, but the consistent form of its appearance demanded my attention enough to know that it was there was something in my soul that needed healing.

I knew there had to be a root cause to being sick that went beyond my physical body.

I came into defeat last Friday when I completed a workout that included running at the end, thought I survived gracefully, then threw up on the corner of Michigan and Randolph at 7:30am (downtown Chicago rush hour), and had to get off the train and throw up again (what made for a good ego/pride check).

That day, I finally cried (not a crier), threw my shoes across the room and opened my Bible. Hebrews 12:1 – “throw off everything that hinders”

It hit me: that was not a sentence, it was a promise.

Then, Prefontaine’s name came up on Saturday and after watching half the movie, while I planned to finish it, did not have an exact plan of when that would happen.

I went to church on Sunday at 5pm.

I took my shoes off during worship (not uncommon for me) as the song Surrounded by Michael W. Smith began to play. It was the same song that was playing the first day in the first moment that my marathon training became (lovingly named) a pukeathon.

And in that moment of surrender in worship, music playing, shoes off, I told Jesus that I will run the race. I told him that I will finish. Even if I throw up the entire time. Even if it took everything in me to push through, I was declaring that I knew that He was with me. It was the messy type of worship – snot pouring out of my nose, tears running down my face, one hand up, the other hand clenching the corner of my shirt, shoes off, tripping over my backpack on the ground in front of me.

The sermon was on breaking down shame. It hit me in places I didn’t know existed deep within me.

As the service was ending, my friend leaned over to me. “Do you see it?” she asked.

“What?” I said.”

“The blue brick wall.”

I searched the room and did not see it at first. Then, I looked behind the worship team. Behind the stage of my church, there is a large brick wall with an opening in the center that leads behind the stage. There are lights that shine on it during the service.

The brick wall was lit blue. I heard the Holy Spirit say, “walk through it.”

In my mind’s eye, I imagined an opening in the wall that I had seen when running, just like the opening that I saw in the physical. In my mind’s eye, I walked through it, tears streaming down my face.

Fast forward to today, the next day, Monday. I picked up the Prefontaine movie again on my lunch break (perks of working from home), and the announcer quoted the back of my t-shirt – the first time I had heard the quote in over four years.

I was shocked, overwhelmed, crying (again), excited, enthusiastic, and grinning.

Then, Pre lost the race.

In a single instant,

I saw the 7th grader unfolding and shaking out the t-shirt that had just been handed to her.

I saw her finish 12th at one of the hardest races of the season. I saw her keeping up with the 8th grade team during the 6 mile practice. I saw the victory.

I watched track season unfold in the spring. I watched her get pulled in last minute for the high jump, miss the bar, scrape her back, bleed through the top left part of her jersey. I watched her run two races that same day and finish second and third in each.

I saw her in 8th grade, turning the corner of the second lap of the hardest meet of the year. I saw her left leg tighten up into a twisted form of shin splints. I watched her drop from the top 20 to 130, finishing in 206th place. I watched her finish the race. I watched her tear the ice packs off her left shin for the rest of the season, minutes before the shotgun, finishing every time. Finishing close to the end, if not the last to cross.

Then, a quick spin through the years of the teenager that could barely walk, could barely hold a pencil due to pain. I watched the doctors say she would probably never run again, let alone walk without pain. I watched the chronic pain go away.

I could feel my chest tighten in response to the memories.

I watched her begin to run again, break her foot, and stop. I watched the doctors say she would probably never run again.

I watched her try again. It was hard this time. I watched her stop and exercise differently.

The spinning through of memories stopped.

I watched her baptism.

I watched her run again, differently this time, with the same passion of the 7th grader.

I watched her get sick.

Then, the thought entered my mind: pure guts race.

I laughed in the my middle of tears.

I googled the meaning of “guts” and found

  1. the stomach or belly.
  2. personal courage and determination; toughness of character.

God’s wisdom came over me in a tidal wave.

The root of my sickness was a lack of courage in myself – so simple, and so revelatory that it was completely lost on me. Somewhere through the years, the thief had hidden it away. But courage was engrained in me, and I saw that courage unfold in other ways throughout the past few years. I am the type to get frustrated after a series of battles, but I’m not the type to give up. The enemy can’t steal what we have inside of us, even though he can shield our sight in a certain area.

The courage for my running is being revealed again. And my sickness is going away. I’ll declare it over myself until my lungs are tired. I will throw off everything that hinders. I’ll finish the race. I’ll finish the race if I’m 12th. I’ll finish the race if I can keep up with the eighth graders. I’ll finish the race if my back is bleeding, if my legs are hurting, if anything in me gives way. I’ll finish the race if I’m 206th, if I’m the last one to cross the finish line.

I’ll say it now, and I’ll say it until I believe it: My courage cannot be taken.

I’ll finish the race to reclaim the years that the enemy tried to steal away. I’ll finish the race for the 16 year old girl who could not be touched due to pain. I’ll finish the race for the 7th grade dream of running. I’ll finish the race because I am who God says I am. I’ll finish the race for my God, for my Jesus, for the Kingdom of Heaven that is opening up.

“I’m going to work so that it’s a pure guts race at the end, and if it is, I am the only one who can win it.”

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