Life, Faith & Running
". . . let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us."
(Hebrews 12:1, NIV)
(Hebrews 12:1, NIV)
This is one in the "Run for Your Life" series of posts designed to encourage those of you who already run, and inspire those of you who are thinking about picking it up. (Links so other posts in the series below.) 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. I would love it if we could use this space as a place to have a conversation about the questions posted at the bottom. So, please lend me your thoughts in the comment section below. It will spur me on, I just know it.
I have been competing as a runner since I was a scrawny seventh grader, pushing hard after goals that a coach (who saw more potential in me than I saw in myself) put before me. In those earliest years of competing I had a lot of fun being the youngest member of the varsity team. I got attention for my “go after it no matter what” attitude that I inherited from a lineage of hardworking farmers. And I grew into my identity as an endurance runner, “Jaci Jaguar” and a dedicated athlete. I mapped my eating, sleeping and social activities around my running. All of this provided for me habits in discipline and work ethic. Both of which I am grateful I was able to take with me to college and adult life.
Yet, there was a negative side to my running being formed out of a need to defeat the competition and measure up to the goals set before me: when there was no clear goal or competition I would quit running. This hit hardest in the off season when neither a coach or teammates were around and then post college, when my life of competing on a team had ended.
I had to figure out how to keep running, not for competitive reasons, but to sustain physical, emotional and spiritual health. It took almost 10 years to figure this out. I thought that competition was my best motivator, so I would sign up for a race (5km, 10km, half-marathon, or marathon), print out a training plan, and then depend on my habits of discipline and work ethic to follow through with it. However, I discovered time and time again, the weeks following the race I would fall into a very long seasons of “rest” (read: fill up life with everything except exercise). So, full of disappointment in myself, I would sign up for a race and start the process again. It was a little like yo-you dieting but with running.
This up and down of pushing hard and then doing nothing began taking a toll on my body because it made me prone to injury. And the older I got, the more my body screamed at me for my dips into sedentariness, followed by amping up miles quickly to get in race shape. I also knew, it was not healthy and I needed a better way. A different goal. A goal that would allow me to be steady and consistent, rather than reactionary and driven by external standards. I needed something that would motivate me to run steady all year long.
One day, while running and thinking about how to be more consistent, I thought of the “Steady On” plan. This is how it would work: my age x 1 minute of running x 5 days a week.
Why this formula?
Because it was a distance I knew I could complete even if I was sick, busy with life or the thermometer read -45F. It was a distance I would not be able to talk myself out of easily. And the rest days gave me flexibility.
So, I would aim to run 33 minutes, 5 days a week for an entire year. I would focus on being steady for one year. And if this proved to be a successful approach to a life of steadiness in this area, I would bump up my minutes to 34 on my 34th birthday.
I think it is important for you to also know that the reason I needed this steadiness wasn’t just because of my love for running. I knew that I needed it to keep my mental health in check. It was medicine I needed to be taking consistently. There is a history of depression and anxiety in my family. And in 2007, it was brought to my attention I have some tendencies and habits that, when combined with my family history, flag me as a candidate for depression and anxiety. The preventative prescription:
On my 33rd birthday I set out on my “Steady On” plan. All was going well...for 7 months. I had only missed one run and was feeling incredibly steady and balanced. I had even run a couple races without using a typical training plan. But, in July my steadiness came to a halt. It was discovered that I had a very serious hernia (a result of pregnancy and delivery, not running). Repair needed to be done as soon as possible.
Post-surgery, I was required to take 8 weeks off: Tough. Times. Good bye one year of steadiness.
But having seen how successful “Steady On” was prior to surgery, I was hopeful and motivated to get back on track for the few weeks that I had left before my birthday. So I jumped back in to the plan. Not because I needed to prove that I could run a certain distance or pace. Not because I wanted to lose weight. But because I knew “Steady On” was going to be part of my process of regaining steadiness in my physical, emotional and spiritual health--wholeness. A wholeness I needed in order to live out the purposes and plans God had for my life.
In the 7 months leading up to my setback, I had witnesses how “Steady On” had not just steadied my running, but had balanced my life because it gave me consistent time away to think and reflect, time with friends to go deep in conversations, and evidence that even in growing older, I could grow stronger.
When I turned 34, I started a new year of “Steady On”. And as of today, I am just 6 weeks away from meeting my one year of steadiness goal. It has not always been easy or convenient. Some days I had to do 68 minutes to make up for a missed day. But here is what I have learned, I can be steady. In a season of life when it seems the only way to live is to react to what is going on around me, I have found there is another way. I am not perfect at this steady way of life, but I know that it exists, and I know that I have the ability and strength to to live steady on.
Running has taught me many lessons over the years, and this is another one of them: I believe we serve a God of peace, order and purpose. And for me, those things become clearer and believable when my life is moving steady, rather than in roller coaster fashion. I believe God takes the mundane, the hobbies and passions of our lives and he crafts his intimate messages for us into them. He uses what makes me uniquely me, and those things that make you uniquely you to communicate himself to us. He speaks to our hearts and reminds us he guides our steps and appoints our destinies.
Sometimes, I think we just don’t slow down enough to create and commit to a habit that can bring a steady rhythm to our weeks. Even if it is not running, we all need consistent times built into our weeks to allow our hearts to steady on what he is showing us through the life he has given us to live each day.
Questions for Reflection:
Songs to add to your playlist:
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: