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14 July 2017

What are you racing for?

What are you racing for?

Hazel Southam is chief reporter for Bible Society, a freelance journalist and currently interim editor of idea magazine.

For the last couple of weeks, every evening at 7pm, I have been glued to the highlights of the Tour De France. If you'd told me a few years ago that this would have been the case, I'd have laughed.

But then came Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome, unlikely heroes, but men of extraordinary grit and determination.

I love watching sport. A great deal of the pleasure comes from thinking, "How on earth do they do that? I simply couldn't begin to think about it."

This is particularly true for the Tour. Over three weeks, the world's best cyclists ride 2,200 miles. There are nine days racing on the flat, five days over hills, two time trials (shorter distances where you really go hell for leather) and five days over the mountains. 23 mountains will be scaled including parts of the Pyrenees, the Massif Central and the Alps.

I wouldn't even consider pushing a bike up those mountains, let alone cycling them. And I shouldn't consider it either. Five-time winner of the Tour, Bernard Hinault of France, said, "An amateur should think long and hard before attempting one of these stages.

"Two would probably necessitate a visit to a doctor and three would require a psychiatrist – any more and you should be checking if that person has written a will."

But these men, who seem to be built out of pieces of wire, often cycle 200km (125 miles) every day for three weeks, with just two rest days. And, on those rest days, they still cycle for two hours to keep their minds on the race and their bodies emitting lactic acid.

Last year Chris Froome completed this monstrous endeavour in 89 hours, four minutes and 48 seconds.

Now, I haven't ridden a bike since a nasty fall in late childhood took the skin on my knees off down to the bone.

Despite the vast difference between me (perhaps most of us) and the Tour cyclists, there's still much to be learned from them.

The first thing is the importance of working together. Teams compete in the Tour and each team's rider will exhaust himself to put the team's best rider in a good position to win. Thus, Chris Froome's win last year was a victory for the whole team.

It's easy to compare ourselves to others and to feel competitive. But working together, the Tour shows, can lead to better results for all.

The second thing I take from the Tour is the importance of focusing on the race you're running.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27 says this:

"Do you know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we are imperishable. Therefore, I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself may not be disqualified."

Now, that's interesting in a myriad of ways. But the take-away for me is that we are all running a race. Our paths are all different, according to our gifts and vocations. But we're running nonetheless.

There are two key words that jump out of this text for me: 'aim' and 'discipline'. Whatever the path we tread, it's important to aim for Christ and his lordship, and to keep the discipline of focusing on him.

It's good to ask ourselves, what are we aiming for? Are we aiming for Christ and his glory, or are we flying solo running a race that leads nowhere?

Now, I need to make a bit more time for that and turn the Tour off. They'll still be cycling up another mountain when I turn the television back on.

Image: CC David Marcu