Life, Faith & Running
". . . let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us."
(Hebrews 12:1, NIV)
(Hebrews 12:1, NIV)
This is part of the, Run For Your Life, series of posts written to encourage those of you who already run, and inspire those of you who are thinking about picking it up. But even if running is nowhere in your past, present or future, I pray something about the message or the reflection questions will relate to your life. Links to other posts in this series are on the sidebar (or at the bottom of this page, if viewing on your phone).
Sarah Lewis, in one of my favorite TED Talks, “Embrace the Near Win” discusses with eloquence and researched evidence, the role an “almost met” goal or achievement has in propelling us forward in closing the gap that lies between where we are now and where we want to be in the future. She says, “This is what a near win does. It gets us to focus on what, right now, we plan to do to address that mountain in our sights.”
What I love about Lewis’ throught-provoking delivery, is that I can relate; my life has been full of second places, not-quite-what-I-hoped-for outcomes, missing the mark, and falling just short of the requirements to move forward. And yet, I am all the stronger because of these experiences.
Lewis, would say there is power in the near win because when we fall short of the mark, we at least know how far away from it we are; we can see more clearly where we are and where we need to go. And when we are so close to hitting the target, we are compelled to keep trying. Often times, the result is a mastery that couldn’t have been achieved without the precision found in the near wins that necessitated the continued pursuit.
If you’ve been following along with my running this summer, you know that in June I clocked my worst ever time for a half marathon. I learned some important lessons about myself that day, namely, that finding strength in my worst finishes, is possible. No, not just possible, but beautiful and essential to growing my strength of mind, spirit, and endurance.
In that post I wrote, All things. Every good and bad race. Every disappointment and accomplishment. Every setback and leap forward. Every strength and weakness. All things are in God’s sight and because of His amazing grace and sovereignty disappointments don’t get to win--He is making something good, beautiful and strong out of them. The new and good thing being created may not come instantly and it may not look like what we imagine it should.
That race was 14 weeks ago. And on that day, even though the conditions were partly to blame for the subpar performance, I knew that there were other components to my performance that were within my control to surmount for future races. Leading up to the worst half on my record, I had been staying up on my miles, but I hadn’t been self-disciplined in staying committed to a training plan. I had let life get out of balance, and somehow still expected better results.
All in all, I had spent much of the last year running without a specific goal. To be honest, much of my daily life had taken on the same landscape--a lack of submitting to specific direction and discipline.
In the days that followed my June race, I took action. I knew I could either sit in my disappointment and blame my circumstances or I could call myself out on the role I played in my weaknesses and choose to move forward. For me, moving forward means making things concrete and specific.
I knew I needed a goal that would be out of reach without a training plan. The goal also needed to address other areas in my life--like my love for adventure, my need to be in relationship with others with like-goals, and the reality that I work 20 hours a week, volunteer 10-20 hours a week, and have a husband and four kids I get to love and nurture.
Qualifying for the New York City Marathon seemed like it fit all the criteria. The beauty of this qualifier is that you need to be stinkin’ fast, but you can qualify by running a half or a full marathon. And when I looked at the time needed for my age group, it was only a couple minutes lower than my PR (personal record). I would need to pick up my speedwork game, pound out some long runs, yet, I would not need to put on nearly the mileage required in training for a full. I would need to get fast, fast.
So, I found a Hal Higdon half training plan, mapped out the dates and workouts to make sure I could still meet my running group for long runs on Fridays, and do most of my mileage when the kids were asleep or at school. Then set to it, with the goal of running a half-marathon in early September to qualify for NYC.
On race day I knew what my pace needed to be and that it would be a push to reach the line in time. Coming off of my worst race ever, I was not incredibly confident in my abilities. But I set off like I was. By mile ten it was looking a little iffy, but somehow I found the strength to fight through the last three miles and go turbo on that last half mile (when I realized I was within seconds of making it or missing it). I snuck in nine seconds under my goal time. Phew!
Little did I know, this was actually a near win day. Not a win day! I had missed the mark, and didn’t even know it until my husband did some fact-checking for me post-race.
In June, when I had read the qualifying times and mapped out my plan based on what I thought was accurate information, I had recorded the QT for the age group older than me. I didn’t need a 1:37, I needed a 1:34. I missed the mark by about 10 seconds per mile.
A near win.
Honestly, I thought I would have been more disappointed and discouraged, but I wasn’t. It was just like Lewis said in her TED talk, when one misses the mark, it becomes very clear how far away she is and the vision of hitting the target becomes more clear and palpable. That is what I felt. If I could cut nearly nine minutes off in two months, I could cut a few more off, right?
Because the arrow had hit so close to the target, I knew that I had to try at least one more time and see if I could get it in there. I just needed to keep on submitting to the training plan and some self-discipline for a few more weeks and try again.
The near win, motivated me to look forward and keep trying. I was not completely confident I could cut three minutes off in four weeks time. And yet, I wasn’t even sure if that was the real goal anymore. In the process of my pursuit, I had also come to recognize that I was becoming stronger, wiser, and more diligent and that racing would allow me to put these things to the test. Regardless of my finish time, if I remained mentally and spiritually strong throughout the race, I would be able to find joy in the increase of strength in these areas of my life--growths that can not be measured by a GPS or time clock. (Only God sees. And only He and I know just how far he has carried me.)
Thirty-five days after my near win experience, with my heart set on the goal of a sub 1:34 half-marathon, and a mind determined to let Jesus’ power help me take every thought captive for 13.1 miles, I took off down a road in Ashland, WI. I knew that this would be an uncomfortable race if I was going to meet my goal. I knew that I wouldn’t make it if I let myself settle into a rhythm that was comfortable.
In the weeks leading up to the race, I knew that I would need to submit to discomfort--that my comfort was not allowed a place to reside for one hour and thirty-three minutes. And when tempted to slow down and settle in, I would have to fight the urge with all the power of the Holy Spirit and all the strength built into the fibers of my muscles. I would have to tell my body not to obey my feelings or my thoughts. I would have to rely on the truth that my God and my hours of training made me capable.
From mile ten to eleven, I faltered. I was tempted to pull off the road entirely or slow down to get comfortable.
But these two truths pulled me out of my spiral:
Seriously, for the last 2.5 miles I remember only this second phrase pounding through my head. It became the cadence I needed to get my legs across that finish line with 16 seconds to spare.
I don’t know what you are facing. I don’t know what near win you’ve just walked through. But I do know that without my near win in September (and my worst race ever in June), I likely wouldn’t have chosen to push my limits and aim for something even harder. I likely would’ve settled (quite happily) with my accomplishment, not realizing I was capable of more.
What are you aiming for?
Do you know?
If you don’t, start there. Start with determining to write down and make a plan for what it is you are aiming for.
And then get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Pull-on self-control, determination, and a dependence on the nearness of Jesus. You’ll need these to both begin and continue the pursuit. Some days you will fall short of the mark, but that will only help you get more clarity on how far away you are from where you are aiming to be.
In the end, the goal isn’t the goal. But the goal gets you started on the pursuit, and in the pursuing, you will find that you have more strength, wisdom, and diligence than you had when you started. And if you can grow those qualities while missing the mark, then you have lost nothing that was worth holding on to and will have received grace, endurance, and Christ-likeness in the process.
Her family and friends know her as, Jaci. She is the wife of a pastor, a mom of four, writing and communications education instructor, a visionary and an avid runner. As a firm believer in the power and effectiveness of the body of Christ united together to live out the Great Commission, she holds fast to this verse, "Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19). Of equal importance to her are these words, "...let us run with endurance the race that is set before us" (Hebrews 12:1).
Posts in the Run for Your Life, series: