Life, Faith & Running
". . . let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us."
(Hebrews 12:1, NIV)
(Hebrews 12:1, NIV)
1. The very first “marathoner” collapsed and died upon completion of his mission:
The marathon: 26.2 miles, a race birthed out of honoring the death of a Greek messenger who carried a message of victory from the city of Marathon to Athens in 490 B.C. But the first organized marathon was not held until 1896. Um, had they forgotten the result of the run from Marathon to Athens resulted in death? Were these first marathon athletes signing up to have a face-off with the end?
2. You may return to infant-like neediness: Give me food! Give me sleep!
To train for a marathon requires you to work-through a training plan. These plans are typically 16-weeks, give or take a few based on how much running a person is already doing. As the training builds, the number of miles increases greatly, which leads to the body craving large amounts of calories. In addition, the body and brain also desperately need sleep in order to recover and function. In the weeks leading up to my marathon, I felt like many of my calculations of what to do or not do in a week were dependent on if it would inhibit my caloric in-take or hours of sleep—think, needy baby in a 34-year old body. Give me food, give me sleep, the rest is just details.
3. You may start walking backwards:
Training your muscles to endure 26.2 miles hurts. Yes, post-race hours may result in sore muscles and loss of toenails, but that is also preceded by hundreds (that is not an exaggeration) of training miles—those days are also usually a bit painful too. Which may lead to your children asking (with great concern), “Mommy, why are you walking down the steps backwards?” And you responding, “Because it doesn’t hurt as much as going forward.” And this seems normal and logical to you because it is just part of the training plan.
4. You will say things you don’t actually mean:
No runner of a marathon should be held accountable to any statements he or she makes within 24 hours of completing the race. If you are listening to a runner post-race, know that they are not lying with the words they speak, but don’t believe what they say either. It‘s the pain talking. For example, one may say, “I am never doing that again. That was my absolute last one! No one will ever talk me into 26.2 miles again.” Most likely, these are not true statements. Running is like a drug that calls you back again and again with a voice that says, “I wonder if I could do just a little bit better next time: If I did ______, instead of _________ then... Or if the temperature was better or if the course was less hilly, or if… I bet I could PR, then.” And so, the wooing back to the marathon course begins…just days after the statement, “I will never do that again!”
5. Race day reflections may turn into a painfully refining process of self-awareness:
Last weekend, I ran the third marathon of my life. Training had gone great. I was heading in without injury and was running with some very motivating ambitions: 1) To qualify for the Boston Marathon (category 18-34), and 2) To make good on my end of the deal I made with my race sponsors who had put forth over $1,400 to support our adoption. With water bottles strapped on my waist, my Fargo Marathon play-list* on shuffle, and my good friend Julie at my side, I set off on a 26.2 mile journey to see what my mind and body were made of. (*Playlist can be found at the end of this post...incase you were curious what my jams are.)
What I discovered: I was fully equipped for the first 20 miles, but it was about mile 21 that both my mind and body started to veer away from the pace goal I had set for myself. I was like a train slooooooowly derailing from the track. And the self I met and hung out with from miles 20-25 was not a self I like to look at in the mirror: my thoughts were negative and deflating, my emotions numbed, and I couldn’t muster any words to respond to my encouraging husband’s questions and attempts to cheer me on along the course.
I just stared forward, trying minute by minute to find my focus. Occasionally, positive phrases would come to mind: “put the past behind, focus forward…forget about the running, just focus on the music…you can do this...if your friends have done this, you can do this.”
But those were quickly snuffed out by such thoughts as, “there is no way you are going to meet your goal…you should just walk…you need more water…you need to slow down… why do you have chills, is that a sign your body is going to collapse...you have children and a husband to consider here: if you pass out, what will happen…Mike doesn’t know what he is talking about, my legs cannot do this (and even if they can, I am too mentally weak)…I want to cry…I want to stop…I don’t even remember what mile I am on…all those people in front of me are so strong, they know how to fight the mental battle that separates the fast from the slow…”
The self I met on race day at mile 24 (my slowest mile of the day) annoyed me: I typically see myself as a pretty strong person, emotionally, mentally and physically. But those hard miles put me face to face with who I am in the midst of intense struggle. In grueling minutes I had no insightful thoughts to muster but as time has passed, reflecting on those miles has sent me on a path of self-discovery that I wasn’t expecting.
The starkest realization has been that I am a person who doesn’t receive encouragement when I am struggling most. When my husband would offer words of support and reminders of my goal and speak of the strength that I had to accomplish the task, I really wanted to say back (but had no energy to do so), “That is not true. You don’t know what you are talking about. If you could see my thoughts, you would know that I am defeated and done.”
Instead of receiving his words of encouragement, I wanted to fight back. What? You, guys, this makes me a psycho! Really, who does this? Who takes encouragement and spins it around and backwards and spits it back with negative thoughts? Yours, truly, that’s who!
As I have taken time to reflect on this I have come to also realize I have this tendency in real life as well. I have a hard time believing people mean what they say when they are encouraging or affirming me. I have a tendency to deny the truth of complimentary words directed toward me. I assume people are just saying encouraging and uplifting things because they feel like they have to or because they are feeling sorry for me, or they want something from me…or some such other “spin it around and don’t let it encourage you” kind of thought.
Which leads me to wonder why: What is the root? What do I do about this obvious blemished pattern of thinking?
And as I have floundered through some kind of response to my own questions, I feel a little stuck, but I also know that walking the journey toward understanding this part of myself is critical to living out my faith. And living in a way that allows me to actually be encouraged by my fellow sojourners—whether they be runners, moms, teachers, family members, friends or a stranger I meet in an aisle at the grocery store--will require me to dive into seeking change.
Maybe you too face something about yourself that you just don’t understand—something that inhibits truth to prevail in certain areas of your life? Maybe you too struggle to see what God is trying to teach you about life through the metaphors found in running your race on this earth? When I feel this way, the only place I know to go is the Bible and prayer.
So, the following prayer is for all of us as we navigate this temporal life that is full of opportunity for eternal impact:
We know that what you most desire is your glory to be seen throughout the earth: That our lives should be a witness to others of whom you are. Through us, you desire for others to see that you are ever-present and all-loving. You are on who invites us into your work no matter how imperfect we are on the inside or the outside: Not because you don’t have any other option for accomplishing your will, but because you love us and know that your work through us has the power to change lives.
We know that when Christ died on the cross, he prayed this, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you…I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do…I am glorified in them (John 17:1,4,10). And we are the “them” Jesus speaks of as being vessels of God’s evidence of glory in the world. And we too have the opportunity to glorify our Father through the work he gives us to accomplish. Please, help us in our struggles to believe the true things people speak into our lives to encourage us, so that our heads can be lifted up and our lives can speak to your glorious truth and power. Help us to admit that our fellow teammates, through the power of the Holy Spirit working in their hearts and minds, can speak as ones who speak the very words of God… (1 Peter 4:11). And to believe.
Also, please, assist us in seeing that when we deny words of affirmation and encouragement, we are denying your involvement in our struggle, and possibly pushing others away who could help us through our valleys. Convict us if we are letting pride take over and trying to press-on (or quit) on our own strength, ultimately decreases the amount of glory given to you through how we choose to think and live. Jesus, the next time I face a hardship and someone comes along to cheer me on, and I want to discard it, let me have the strength and hope to live out the kind of faith that says, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24), so that I can press on in truth and my life can be a witness of your glory through what you accomplish through me overcoming the inevitable obstacles that will come my way. (Can I get an, Amen?)
You may never run a marathon. Or perhaps this post will inspire you to sign up and see what you are made of. Either way, I challenge you to consider how the activities of your daily life can bring insight into who you are and grow your knowledge of who God is and who he is making you to be in the midst of whatever obstacles you face. I hope that you will not let moments of reflection pass that could lead you to spiritual transformation. I believe all moments of our lives are charged with intentionality and purpose, sometimes we just don’t slow down enough to process and consider the significances of them. Maybe that is why mile 24 was so, slow? I needed some extra time to reflect and learn.
What could 26.2 miles on foot do for you?
Tempting to find out, isn't it?
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: