There are two main types of race, and two different tactics or mind-sets for winning. The first type of race is the one we’re all familiar with; head-to-head. In these races all that matters is crossing the line first. It doesn’t matter if you win by an inch or a mile; the time on the clock is but an interesting side note. Could you have gone faster? It makes no difference so long as you went just a little faster than everyone else. Don’t believe me? Check out Usain Bolt winning the 100m Olympic final in 2008.
The second type of race is a time trial. It might be a competition, it might just be about getting a Personal Best, but the aim is always on achieving the very best time you can. If you watch the coverage of the Boat Race they show footage of the rowers in training, collapsing off a rowing machine completely exhausted, incapable of taking even one more stroke after they finish. That’s the tactic in a time trial; you want to judge it perfectly so the point you run out of energy is exactly on the finish line; not a fraction either side. It is hard physically, but it’s also really hard psychologically to push yourself that hard.
In the Bible Paul writes several times that the Christian life is like a race (for example, 1 Corinthians 9:24). So what are the race tactics which apply here?
I think it’s more like a time trial; the focus is on delivering the best you possibly can for the whole race, not just being a bit better than someone else. Do you want to get to the end of this life thinking maybe you could have tried harder, or drop out exhausted long before the finish? This is hard work, it takes mental effort and physical discipline, but there is a prize. We don’t run to earn our place in heaven because Jesus did that for us already. We run to bring glory to Jesus, and because He promises rewards in heaven for those who do.