Life, Faith & Running
". . . let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us."
(Hebrews 12:1, NIV)
(Hebrews 12:1, NIV)
I love how running has connected me with people literally around the world. Having the mutual hobby (habit) of running has this way of deepening a relationship in ways I have only found to be consistent with old friends--Ya' know the ones that you can pick up with in a second even after not having been in touch for months or years. Runners somehow just seem to "get each other." It doesn't take too many miles, months or even being in the same zip code to get through the surface talk about weather, training plans and upcoming races, before we move deeper, into what is going on in our hearts and thoughts.
I believe this is because we runners spend a lot of time in reflective places. (Did you know research shows running changes your brain?) Whether running alone or with others, our commitment to putting feet to pavement pulls us away from the noise of the world, the stressors of daily life, and the distractions that keep us from letting our minds wonder. This margin space found out on the road, where I let my mind wonder, may be one of the greatest benefits I see in running. The void of all the gadgets, schedules, and to-do lists frees me up to just let thoughts come and go. Which sets me free to think, ponder, and reflect. All habits that I think are becoming lost in a culture full of screens and organized activities. Yet, I digress from where I wanted take today’s writing.
Last week I exchanged several message with a friend about a race she was embarking on in Colorado--26.1 miles of trail with intense inclines but beautiful scenery. We have maybe spent a total of two hours together in person because we met in 2017 in Korea while both there completing adoptions. (Adoption and running have bonded us with the help of Facebook messenger!) In our exchanges recently, she sent me some questions and concerns about an upcoming race. I sent her encouragement, cheers and kudos for taking on a race I would never ever sign up for! Then post-race she confided in me the discouraging thoughts that invaded following race-day, asking if I could relate. I wrote back immediately, “I, 100 percent get you! I know where you are! I land in that desert place post-race ALL the time!"
Because of this conversation with my friend and my own trials of mind, I was motivated to finally put into words some true confessions of my post-race runner-girl thoughts. My goal in this is threefold:
The sting of the deflating emotions that come post-run are fresh for me. A few weeks ago I finished the 122nd Boston Marathon. This race provided runners with one of the worst combinations of weather conditions in history: rain, cold, and a headwind. Running into these provided a challenge to say the least, but for this Minnesota-girl, the elements made me feel right at home and actually might have been one of the reasons I was able to shave off 11 minutes from my prior Boston experience in 2017.
Regardless, Immediate post-race I was shivering, shaky, and hardly able to walk straight. Post-shower I was feeling good and excited about my finish time. Some hours later, after downloading the data from my TomTom to my phone and scrolling through my splits, my emotions of elated success were tainted slightly with disappointed.
While I am running a race, one way I distract myself is to constantly recalculate my pace and predict my finish time. On April 16, 2018, I tried to track my splits as I ran. Based on my repetitive calculations, I knew I was on-par for a PR most of the race. But it wasn’t until later, when I looked at my splits, that I realized how close I was. I had really only trailed off for the last four miles. In my head I had started slowing down before that and in my head I had run a more consistent race. Yet, as I stared at the data, I realized even though I had been really consistent, I had let the last few miles eat away my PR.
Thoughts & Provoking
A wrestling match in my mind ensued. For the next couple of days I fought hard not to let the disappointment of the facts (split data from my race) win out over the reality of my experience and the joy of successfully crossing the finish line of a hard course, amidst subpar elements. I knew that I should be happy with the outcome. I knew that I gave it my all. But there was still this voice trying to get in and dominate my outlook by trying to convince me that the last few miles of the race should’ve been faster, that I could’ve run smarter and stronger. That I shouldn’t be happy with how I ran because I should’ve been more focussed on getting a PR and not just a finish or a BQ.
This kind of mental battle is what I have come to call self-bashing. I have found it hits me not just post-race, but also whenever I step off the podium from a public speaking event, post a blog, or step foot out of the classroom at the end of the night. There is something about coming down from successfully using my gifts and passions that provokes a fight with doubt, fear and self-rejection.
However, since noticing this pattern a couple years ago, I have found that I am getting a little bit better at battle. I have yet to figure out how to have the battle not come, but I have found that I find victory over my thought more quickly. I attribute this to God’s amazing grace, confiding my thoughts to Truth-tellers in my life who can shut the lies down for me, and some really, really important truths from the Bible:
The fight to keep running isn’t just meet with our feet, it is also requires training the mind. And not just during the race but after. When all the adrenaline is gone and the endorphin rush dissipates, it is in this place that again strength is necessary to keep pressing on. This aspect of running is often hard to talk about or share with others because it doesn’t fit the projected profile of runners and athletes.
I don’t know that there is anyone to blame for profiled assumptions projected on athletes, so I won’t cast any. But the simple reality is that those of us who participate in endurance or strength building hobbies, like running, are often viewed as strong in mind, unwavering in spirit and steady in purpose: We are always strong and not prone to weaknesses. Which I believe is a good profile for us on our very best but few days--during our finish-line moments, or when we experience the endorphins that come after a long run.
Yet, I am confident that I am not alone in also having as a part of my profile doubt, fear, weakness and self-bashing. The reality is:
Neediness, Opportunity & Strength
But in this weakened state of mind, there is presented an opportunity for leaning into the strength of another. In this state of vulnerability I get to experience that I am needy. Needy of affirmation from people like my husband and friends who remind me to admit that I did a good job and worked hard and that that is more than enough. Needy of a strength that is found outside of myself, in Christ--the one who gave me the muscles and desire to run literally (physically) and metaphorically (in mind and spirit) the race marked out for my days.
To be honest, neediness is incredibly humbling for me. It takes some pretty big storms to hit for me to bend low enough to the ground to admit that I can’t do things on my own. I believe it might be my greatest character flaw (Feel free to check with my husband for verification.) . But isn’t it so sweet of God to use this running gig he has blessed me with to gently instruct me on how he can take my flaws and my gifts and use them both to bring me to truth and understanding?
It is in this neediness that my heart can finally cry out, I need you, God! And that just might be the most freeing phrase I have come to crave abiding in.
The Image of Grace
To me, this is His way of giving me an image of grace that meets me where I am and helps me believe he sees me here--post-race battles and all. Sometimes, in my weakest moments, I consider never racing again, never speaking publicly again, and hanging up my role as teacher. Not because I don’t love doing all of them. But because sometimes I imagine I could avoid the all the self-bashing that follows me around. Then, miraculously, I am reminded that I would only be eliminating the things in my life that bring me joy, are my gift to the world, and that which provide for me practice in admitting my neediness.
If you struggle with self-bashing in similar ways that I do, I wish I could give you a recipe to avoid them. But I believe that will only come on the other-side of heaven. Facing doubt, insecurity and self-defeating thoughts is part of this human condition we face for now. Yet, that is not the storyline that will win in the end. Nor is it the storyline that we need to follow. Because we can have victory in every battle that we face, and on every course that we run. This victory comes in honestly admitting our thoughts, but then turning those thoughts that aren’t true over to the redemptive power of Christ. For me, this sometimes requires revealing my self-doubt or disappointments to others who I know will tell me the truth. People who will help me separate truth from lies through the use of affirming words and Scripture-based responses.
Most of all, though, victory comes when I admit that I need the strength of others and the strength of Christ in order to admit that I ran fast enough, I spoke clearly enough, or I taught effectively enough, because it was Christ doing all of the work through me. And in Him, I am enough. And through Him I run each and every race according to His plans and purposes for me. When I can work my way back to this Truth, I am then able to nestle into a place of trusting God to guide me to the next race, the next place and the next assignment for my life. Believing this and receiving it determine my overcoming and my moving forward.
One song that helped prompt the writing of this post was, I Shall Not Want by, Audrey Assad. I believe that when we are completely satisfied in God’s goodness, and look not to our circumstances, surroundings or accomplishments for fulfillment, we will find a deeper strength for fighting the battles of our minds and gaining victory on the battle ground. Have a listen. You'll be glad you did.
This is one post 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 to 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.
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: