Last week I ran my first half-marathon – an exciting, miserable morning I’ll never forget. The weather forecast had been glorious – 57 degrees and sunny. But 48 hours before the race, everything changed. The temperature dropped into the 40’s, with wind and rain all day. In the end, it was a record-breaking 3 inches of rain – a monsoon. The great adventure I’d so looked forward to became something just to endure. During my hours of running I pondered, reflecting on things I’d learned – all about running, some about my life as a follower of Christ. I will never forget…..
Running Lesson #1 – Garbage Bags are a Girl’s Best Friend!
When I heard it was going to rain, I frantically searched the internet to see how best to cope. I soon got the magic answer – garbage bags! They keep you dry, they keep you warm. You can tear a hole in the bottom for your head, and then holes for your arms when you’re ready to run. And if you ever get too warm (I didn’t!) and want to get rid of it, you can just toss it! I kept mine on til the end – I’m convinced my trusty garbage bag was one of the main things enabling me to finish – and it certainly kept me from catching pneumonia!
Running Lesson #2 – Hydrate, But Not Too Much!
Well, this was a new problem for me – a delicate topic, but here goes. It’s always wise to visit “the little room” – or in this case, the Porta-Potty – before you line up to start the race. I did that. But I’ll admit the length of this race – a first for me – had me a bit stressed. My mouth was dry as cotton. And so I kept sipping at my water bottle, hoping to get rid of the dry mouth.
Unfortunately, I failed to take into consideration that it takes a lot longer to line up 10,000 runners for a half-marathon in Philly than it does a mere 300 runners for a local 5k race. Lots of time to be nervous and sip water – in retrospect, way too much water. And before the race even started, I knew I was doomed. I tried to convince myself it was all in my head, but to no avail. I was trapped in the starting area with no relief in site. When the race finally started, off I ran, hoping to find a Porta-Potty before things became critical. At last, I found one! Only to find out there was a slow moving line – a 15-minute wait! I eventually gave up and ran another 2 (very desperate) miles to find a shorter line.
Running Lesson #3 – Train Tough – Beat Your Body!
In my mind (and actually, in all my prior experiences), all races were accompanied by beautiful sunny skies. Whether cold or hot, it was always sunny. But not this day! At the start of the race, I managed to stay fairly dry. I knew running in my garbage bag would generate enough heat to keep my torso warm. But the rest of me? Well…..
By mile 5, I started to feel cold water seeping into my shoes.
By mile 5 1/2, my shoes and socks were soaked. My feet started to go numb.
By mile 7, my fingers were getting stiff.
By mile 8, my fingers were totally non-functional. I had brought gummy bears in a zip-lock bag for snacking to help keep my blood sugar up, but by this time I couldn’t open and close the bag any more, let alone pick up gummy bears and put them in my mouth. I resorted to sticking my face in the bag to get at the bears, and just held the bag closed to try and keep my gummy friends dry.
By mile 9, my gummy bears were all wet and had become “Slimy Bears”….and more and more of them eluded my mouth, slipping out and landing on the street.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve learned I was very naive about running. Sure, it’s a physical sport, but it’s also a mental sport. As you run, your mind keeps telling you to stop. Like the serpent in the garden of Eden trying to derail Eve, the mind says it’s ok to stop – just for a little while. It says you’ll never finish. You will die of cold. Yes, you might be able to do this in good weather, but how could you ever finish this under these conditions? Everyone will understand if you don’t.
And as I wrestled through these mind games, these lies told inside my head, I suddenly realized what Paul meant in I Cor 9:24-27 when he says “Do you not know know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”
I’ve read 1 Cor 9:24 more times than I can count. I generally think of it in terms of watching the Olympics. I sit on my comfy couch and think “Yes, it’s just like these athletes. I can envision them training so hard!” But this day I realized I’d never really personalized what it meant for me. During my hours of running through the cold soaking rain, it hit me.
I had failed to train correctly.
Oh sure, I’d put in the miles. I’d even run in the cold. Since this race was so early in the year, I’d run through the winter, much of it outside. I’d worked on developing the mental toughness to will myself to keep running when I wanted to quit. But when it rained….I ran on my treadmill. In my very dry, very warm house.
And this was my downfall.
So when the race-day weather forecast changed, I found myself scrambling to figure out what to wear, how to prevent blisters from waterlogged socks and shoes. And as I ran, I thought about the importance of trying to anticipate the various situations I might encounter, and then making sure I incorporated some of the most probable challenges into my training program. I needed to train tough!
Because if I’d trained in the cold rain as I should have, all this would have been a non-event. Cold and miserable, I could told myself “no problem – I’ve done this before. I know how to get through this.” Instead, I kept trudging along hoping I would make it to the finish before I froze.
Which made me wonder over my hours of running…..when Paul talks about beating his body in I Cor 9:24, he wasn’t just talking about running – he was talking about life. What does that look like for my life as a Christian? To intentionally put myself in very uncomfortable situations – over and over and over – so that I’m assured of finishing well, attaining the prize waiting for me?
I’m still pondering this one, but here are some thoughts. Getting up early to spend time in God’s Word….Every. Single. Day. No matter how tired I am. Intentionally spending time with the unlovable – the unpopular, the controversial – listening to them, befriending them, sharing with them. Wading into areas of desperate poverty – sharing life with those in poverty, understanding what it’s like for them, sacrificing time and resources to help them lift themselves out of poverty. Following God’s leading, even when it doesn’t conform to society’s expectations.
I need to be more intentional about doing this, because I believe it can really grow my faith and transform how I live my life for Him. I believe because I’ve seen first-hand. The trips The Hubbie and I have taken into areas of deep poverty in Latin America and Africa have transformed my perspective on my ability to live on next to nothing. I know I could survive financial ruin, because I’ve seen God provide in dramatic ways for my friends living in poverty. That’s one worry I don’t have anymore – where my faith is sure. What other worries need to be trained out of me by training tough, beating my spiritual body?
Running Lesson #4 – Stay Focused on the REAL Prize
I started out thinking I was running for personal satisfaction, a t-shirt, a coffee mug and a medal. In the end, none of that mattered. Honestly, what really motivated me
to keep going was the thought of a warm shower back at the hotel.
In the race called life, we anticipate many rewards – happiness, success, family. During life’s tough training, sometimes it looks like we’ll never finish, we can’t possibly last. And that’s where keeping our eyes on the prize – the one that REALLY counts – makes all the difference.
Don’t ever give up hope – and don’t ever stop pushing and beating up your spiritual body. We will finish, and it will be worth it – because it will be glorious!
How about you?
What kind of races are you running? Maybe you’re a “real” runner, and like me, you need to consider a different kind of training to help you prepare for your next race.
Whether you’re a runner or not, we’re all running that other race called life. How would God have you “train tough” to be ready for the challenges you’re likely to face? If you’ve already stepped into uncomfortable situations instead of staying comfortable, how have you seen your faith in God grow as a result?
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!