Life, Faith & Running
". . . let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us."
(Hebrews 12:1, NIV)
(Hebrews 12:1, NIV)
You may be asking, what in the world are Yasso 800s. First, an 800 in runner-speak means running 800 meters, typically around a track. For the endurance runner an 800 sounds like a sprint. To a sprinter, an 800 sounds like a marathon. Experiences and perspective change everything, right?
Yasso 800s helped me to grow stronger mentally, physically, and come to find out, spiritually, too. These lovely repeats pushed my mental and physical limits. They reminded me what strong feels like. Most importantly, Yasso 800s enhanced my soul’s ability to understand that if I want to be strong in my faith, I need to be committed to stepping into spiritual disciplines and practices that require repetitive endurance--believing that what I put in now will directly correlate with the end results of my life.
In the mid 1980s, a runner named Bart Yasso noticed something about his marathon training. After tracking his 800 meter repeat workouts for a few years, he discovered that his marathon times correlated to his overall finish times in the following way: The time (in minutes and seconds) he could sustain for 10 x 800 meter repeats was very close to the hour and minutes of his marathon finish time. For example, if he could sustain a 3:00 minute pace for his 800s, he would likely finish his marathon in 3 hours.
But why was he doing 800s in the first place? If his race is 26.2 miles, why would he spend time running such a short distance around a track at a pace immensely faster than the pace of his coming race?
Greg McMillan, an exercise physiologist and USATF-certified coach and contributor to Runner’s World Magazine, gives these reasons:
As a runner, I had walked away from speedwork for several years. It was hard enough just to get laced up and out the door. Oftentimes, when I did make it out, it was with stroller in hand. As you can likely imagine, speedwork and running strollers don’t blend all that well. But in the last couple years I have slowly graduated out of toddler mom stage and have also been able to enter a season where I can actually print out a training plan and mostly stick to it. (Key word, mostly!)
What a huge blessing it has been to my mind, legs and soul to be reunited with speedwork. Last summer when I picked up 800s on a weekly basis I was pretty worried that the speed combined with my middle-aged and slightly broken core, would land me injured and limping. So, prior to clocking those Yasso 800s, I made sure to take my ageing-body on a very long warm up and through all the stretches recommended by my PT. Then away I went. And I kept going, and going, week after week. Low and behold, without injury! When marathon day came I was almost in shock that I had made it through all my training miles (the fast and the slow) and was at the start line without an injury. At 36, with a post-baby, post-hernia body, this was an actual miracle.
In addition, I approached that race day run with more confidence than I had in the last three marathons I had entered. Mostly, because of the grace of God and kids sleeping through the night for the first time in like 10 years! But also because I had done everyone of my Yasso 800s in my goal time, had completed nearly all of my long runs, and I felt strong. Speedwork just has a way of making me feel fast and strong in a way that long mileage runs don’t. And even though the time I was shooting for is still waiting out there, elusively calling my name, my post-race reflection revealed growth and achievement of another kind. I felt strong the entire race, mentally and physically. Plus, I finished within 3 minutes of my Yasso times and qualified for Boston 2018, so double yeah!
This sustenance of mental and physical strength through an entire race was worth more to me than a Personal Record (PR). Call it the wisdom of aging or compromise, either way, the results of the training plan and the race day experience changed me and my perspective. Namely, reminding me of the advantages of including intensity in my running on a consistent basis.
Several weeks later, I found myself nursing a sore knee. Taking time off to rest had had the opposite effect I was hoping for, leaving me feeling weak instead of rested. Yet, it built my craving to feel strong again. Which led to these motivational conclusions:
My legs needed to be pushed to max capacity to breakdown the fibers of muscles in order for them to grow back strong, but my soul also needed to be reminded of the role that hard work and discipline play in building a strong faith life.
God so, so often uses the life happening around me to show me more of who I am, who he is and what I need in order to grow and mature. This may be the greatest reason I keep lacing up my shoes week after week. I don’t want to miss out on God showing me something amazingly spiritual and sacred through the seemingly simple and secular parts of my life.
Did you know, in order to produce muscle growth, you have to apply a load of stress greater than what your body or muscles had previously adapted to? So, you can work out every day and actually not get stronger. If your body is never pushed beyond the stress that it has become adapt to, you are still staying in shape, but you are not getting stronger.
The longer I live and experience hard times in my faith-life, relationships and parenting, I am seeing how this same principle is also true of the mind and soul. Consider for a moment that your faith or relationship with Jesus is built like those muscles God made to keep our body moving and strong. When you have experienced hard circumstances or pressure caused from relationships or demands put on your life, haven’t you also noticed that your soul and mind press into Truth, desire the comfort of God’s sovereignty, and as a result you find yourself believing something about God, yourself or others more deeply than you had prior to experiencing the trying circumstance?
Or consider the times when you just do the same morning routine devotional, lunch prayer, or somehow find yourself letting church become another step in going through the motions. I have known these moments. I would venture to say, I have experienced both days and years in these desert places. I land in the desert for lots of reasons, but I think one of them is that I fail to put myself through hard or to embrace repetitive as necessary. It is almost like I step back and spectate when I should be asking God to show me what my Yasso 800s of faith are: What I can be doing to apply a load of stress greater than what my current faith and soul have previously adapted too.
Because here is the thing, this long obedience in the same direction, as Eugene Peterson calls the Christian life, well, it is a lot like marathon training and race running. A lot! I could probably write an entire book on the ways running and faith sweetly intertwine the sacred and the secular, the soul and the physical. But for the sake of this writing I will stick to nailing down this one way: they both require times of committing to repetitive actions that apply a load of stress that is greater than what one’s soul and body has become adapt too. Put more simply, growth is found in moving beyond the monotony of routine, and intentionally taking on some intense assignments.
This may mean committing to a Bible study that takes more time than you are used to. Possibly, it means working on that part of yourself that you know God is wanting to refine or redeem but you keeping imagining you can hide it from the light. Perhaps it will take on the form fasting from things that have become the comfort or confidence that God designed to be created by the relationship he is offering to you.
There are roughly 7 billion people in the world (31% of whom are Christians); thus, there might be 7 billion different ways that breaking down the muscle fibers of one’s faith could look like Yasso 800s. The God of the Bible is one who is intensely personal and always at work. He knows your heart. He knows your gifts. And he knows your potential to impact the world with the ways you live. Be brave and quiet and ask the Holy Spirit to show you what He wants reveal that is just for you.
You see, to me, life is like Yasso 800s. Increased strength and growth of one’s muscle fibers and one’s faith requires something a little more than what is comfortable. When you choose to take on those intense 800 repeats of studying the Bible, relationship building or parenting (and believe me, a lot of hard things in your personal and faith life may feel very, very repetitive), knowing and believing you will come out stronger in the end, I believe you too will see that choosing to insert some hard into your life is well worth the growth that is built in your soul, heart, mind and strength.
Yasso discovered that he could determine his race results not by the long slow miles he put in (though they were definitely necessary) but by the grueling and repetitive fast days on the track. Which has caused me to stop and wander, am I missing out on the confidence and strength of knowing that I can finish this faith-race strong when I fail to practice the hardest disciplines of my faith on a consistent and intentionally basis? Or to flip that to the positive, can confidence and strength come from knowing I will finish strong because I continually chose to repeatedly practice a discipline of the Christian life that pushed me to a load greater than what my heart and soul muscles had previously adapted too?
You can run a marathon or run through life without putting in time to do hard speedwork, without intentionally applying a load of stress greater than what your body or soul had previously adapted to. But you won’t get the same results. Don’t you want to live the life that ends in the best results? Don’t you want to finish the race marked out for you full of strength?
“My mom always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna to get.”
This infamous line from Forest Gump shapes a picture of a life that is unpredictable. Which might be true in some sense because we do not get to control everything that comes into our lives. But the reality is that we can know what lies ahead, maybe not all the details, but the general outcome. Whether committing to a training plan for a race or one for the soul, we will find our future is predictable in outcome. And this is one last way life is like Yasso 800s, if you commit to repeatedly doing the hardest disciplines of the Christian life, you will find you are not only stronger and able to withstand the test put before you, but like Yasso, you will also have the confidence that the outcome of your race will correlate with the effort you put in. The results: peace, hope and strength. And one day these precious words, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”
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: