All Varied Paces, Or Repenting of Smugness on the Jean Teague Greenway

Creative Commons via Flickr; Nadine Spirrizzi

I’m finally back on the running trail with some regularity.  I don’t love running in itself, but I’ve come to enjoy the rhythm of lacing up the shoes, pressing ‘play’ on my Running Playlist 3 (which is a work of art itself), and loading my iPhone 4 into an armband that only covers 80% of my phone.  It fit well with one of our older generation iPods, but I’m too cheap to buy the right size armband. Take that, Apple.  

With the opening guitar and piano tracks of Elbow’s Station Approach, my feet hit the pavement on Bennington Drive, turning onto Vanosdale where the trailhead of the Jean Teague Greenway lies a few hundred yards in the distance.  

I don’t keep track of my mile splits because Running Playlist 3 is my pacesetter, featuring songs with good percussion lines by intention.  When Station Approach ends, I’ve found a good pace with The Beatles’ Come Together, a steady-but-easy bass drum beat that even Ringo Starr can’t mess up.  And it happens to be in step with my accelerated heart rate.  

Within the first quarter mile I see other walkers on the greenway and prepare to announce my path through panted breath, “on your left.”  Further on down the trail I spot some runners in the distance.  Suddenly my casual run becomes a competition and I become Competitive Man.  The runners a few hundred yards off are in my crosshairs.  The race is on but no one else knows it but me.  Thankfully Mumford & Sons’ Hopeless Wanderer starts up because I need a strong beat for this quickened step.  

I narrow the distance between a young gal who looks like she just purchased some running gear last week.  I’m feeling confident that I passed her in half the time I expected.  Next up is a middle-aged guy plodding along in an old college T-shirt.  That heavy cotton isn’t wicking away any sweat at all.  Bad choice for a running shirt.  

Feeling proud of myself as I hit a long straightway, I try to ignore the guy running from the opposite direction with the gait of a kangaroo.  He’s probably tracking a sub-7 minute mile split.  I’m praying his route doesn’t switch back at the trailhead because, if so, he’s on a pace to lap me. Maybe twice. And that experience is something that is harder and harder to stomach as I approach my 35th birthday this year.  

I have another reminder that I’m getting older when Radiohead’s The Bends begins.   Cracking tune…that came out in 1995.  Teenagers probably think it’s boring.  I make my turn home during Johnny Greenwood’s guitar solo thinking kids don’t know good music these days.

Breathing a bit heavier on the way back home, I catch myself in all of these smug thoughts.  Why do teenagers have to like Radiohead and U2?  Who said this run was a race?  Why does Competitive Man rear his ugly head again?  Shouldn’t he be dead by now? 

When I pass the middle-aged runner the second time I had a different thought.  He might be on a 11-minute mile pace, but he might be exercising for the first time in months.  The gal in new running clothes might be taking a 10 minute pace because 10 miles will pass under her feet before she’s done.  No wonder I’m passing people on my 3-mile run.  

Whether the distance is long or short, the pace doesn’t matter.  We’re all moving.  I should neither gauge my pace by the runners and walkers I pass nor by Marathon Man who’s about to lap me with ease.  

I’m such a smug punk. Thank God he passed me because it’s good for my soul.  I can turn regular exercise into an exercise of unfair judgment.  I don’t know where people are going and I don’t know what happened before their feet started moving on the Jean Teague Greenway.  Maybe the guy I just passed has only had one day off of work this month and he chose to run because his schedule doesn’t allow time for exercise.  Maybe the lady I just passed got 3 hours of sleep last night caring for her elderly mom but chose to keep her running discipline anyway.  

Me? My running discipline is more regular now, but I secretly hope for rain or any excuse to cancel my run.  The only consolation to a bad night of sleep is that I have the best excuse to skip my morning run.  I think my pace is impressive when I pass people on the greenway, but I’m really not out there that much.  

Maybe I’m thinking too highly of runners on the greenway even when my heart turns to repentance.  It doesn’t matter.  What matters is that Competitive Man doesn’t belong in my heart and mind.  

I hear Jesus talking to Peter, “What is that to you? You follow me.”  The pace will be varied for pilgrims on this journey of faith.  Who am I to judge the pace?  I know nothing. But this I do know:  when I try to get out in front in the Kingdom of God, that assures me I will be last in the Kingdom, for the first will be last and the last will be first.  

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon me, a sinner.