Willpower. Sometimes that means thriving, and sometimes that means dying. Okay. Not dying. But giving it every last ounce of coffee energy you have.

    While I was growing up, playing sports was energy, my thing, and music was my sister’s thing. I could usually beat my sister at any sport. Volleyball. Soccer. Whatever.

    Then, when I was away at college, she decided to take up running. Every Saturday morning, while I was trying to hit the snooze button, she would call and tell me that she had won another 5K. One race, 24:14. Another race, 22:05. Another race, 21:18. She won every race she ran that year for her track team.

    Well, obviously, “anything you can do, I can do better.” I started running at college. One mile. Two miles. Three miles. Slow but consistent. Two or three times a week, I hit the track. With no one to compete against, my head was getting big.

    I signed up my mom, my sister, and me for a race on Thanksgiving Day, while I was home on break. The motto: “Run now. Eat later.”

    Race day came. We all agreed we weren’t staying together during the race. Every man for himself.

    “Make sure you at least beat Mom.” My sister had pulled me aside to give me a pep talk.

    I plan on being right behind you anyway, and beating Mom is a given, I thought.

    We stood at the starting line with several hundred other people on a muggy morning. My dad took a picture of us—all smiles—before the race.

    “On your mark. Get set. Go.”

    I charged to the front. It took only a few minutes before people started gushing ahead of me, like I was a hole in a dam. Twenty people. Then another fifteen. Then another twenty-five. Okay. But that’s normal. My sister told me that the people who pass you too quickly in the beginning will drop out at the end.

    Then we hit the first hill. Within a few minutes, I could no longer see my sister. But I was content to just beat my mom.

    We passed the one-mile marker.

    “I’ll see you at the end of the race.” I passed my mom and kept a rapid pace. Still, people were trickling past me.

    We hit another hill. Where was that two-mile marker?

    We hit another hill. Wow. Look at that old man run.

    We hit another hill. My mom ran up beside me.

    My face felt like I had been standing over a fire. She passed me.

    After a few more minutes and one more hill, I couldn’t take it anymore. I stopped.

    I rolled my eyes at a little kid running ahead of me next to his dad. I let myself walk for two minutes and then started running again.

    The fire burned my face again, so I stopped. Oh, that lady looks like she runs my speed. I’ll just keep up with her. It was like a bike versus a horse.

    Finally, I decided I was at least finishing this race in a run. A seventy-year old lady in Christmas socks up to her knees slowly started to pass me. I propelled into motion like a fan when first plugged in.

    She not only had penguins on her Christmas socks but also ran like a penguin. What did that say about me? We waddled along for another ten minutes, and I could see the finish line. Christmas Stockings picked up her pace. I pushed harder. I couldn’t let her get away from me.

    Right at the finish line, a man that looked to be about eighty passed us both. Could this get any worse? I couldn’t give up.

    At the last ten feet, I sprinted ahead of Christmas Stockings. I had beaten my rival. I celebrated with heavy panting, lots of water, and a therapy Thanksgiving meal.

    My mom and sister both got trophies in their age groups, and I smiled and clapped on the side-lines.

    I may not have gotten a trophy, but willpower had kept me running in that race. And what did my persistence get me? Victory over a woman fifty years older than I am. I guess that’s how life goes sometimes.

    But other times, that willpower gets better results.

    After that race, I surprisingly kept running. After six months of running every week, I felt fit.

    But apparently, I am more like that old lady in Christmas stockings than I would like to admit. I got shingles at the beginning of the second semester of my sophomore year. Stress-caused. Imagine that. Who gets stressed at college?

    Believe it or not, it’s difficult to run with shingles. But after two weeks of missing my running routine, I heard about a race at my college. I couldn’t give up running when I had come this far.

    With two weeks until the race, I decided by God’s grace that I was going to get better before then. While I was signing up for the race online, I remembered I should probably run it past my Dad first, especially since we had a group credit card. I clicked the sign-up button and then forgot about the text to my dad.

    “Absolutely not!” I got Dad’s text an hour later. Oh well. I had already signed up. The race was in two weeks anyway, so I figured I would get over the shingles in a week. By then, he would see I was better and not worry about me running in the race.

    The next day, he called me and asked about the payment on the credit card for the race. My entire family conspired to sing me a spoof version of the Tangled song “Mother Knows Best.” With lots of playful banter and well-intentioned cautions, I decided to stay signed up for the race. Mother may have known best, but that goal was my motivation to get better.

    One week later, my shingles were gone, and I decided to run. I needed to practice for the race in a week. I walked to the track discouraged that I hadn’t run in so long and would probably struggle just to run three miles.

    But I ran three miles and decided I could probably do another lap on the track. And then a few more laps. Four miles. Another lap. In total, I ran five miles, the farthest I had ever gone. In that race the following week, I ran on a snowy-forecasted day and completed the race with a time of 25:18, outrunning my running buddy, who was in ROTC military training. I had overcome! That was my best.

    So whether I am just trying to keep up with a seventy-year-old lady in Christmas stockings or coming away with a trophy, I have decided to keep thriving—or, should I say, striving for what I know is my best. Christmas stockings or trophies, I will have the willpower to keep putting one foot in front of the other.