I have never been a consistent runner. There have been a few attempts attempts at trying to get in the swing of it for the sake of getting into shape but motivation was highly lacking. In some instances an old college knee injury crept up and sidelined those attempts. Then there was life, and plenty of excuses to go along with it.
Alas, and out of the blue I was challenged to run a half-marathon. Not more than 4 miles had my weak little legs carried me for a run. My couch sitting was at its high and my athletic prowess was at its low. I thought, “there is no way, I can do this.” But now that I had gotten sucked in, I had to try.
Since then I purchased shoes, found a training plan, and started to prepare. With 1.5 days before the race begins (at the time of composition) I determined it would be good to reflect publicly on lessons learned along the way. This post might get a bit lengthy, so feel free to read it a piece at a time. Also, I don’t want this to be a brag piece. I suck at running and my only goal is to run / jog the whole thing without walking. The professionals will finish in less than 1/3 the time it will take me.
1) A person needs to have the right gear and plan. I was able to find some cheap(ish) shoes that get the job done, but better shoes would have been nicer. Once the shoes were acquired a proper training regimen was found. I needed something that would get me from not running to running a half-marathon in 12 weeks. It did not have to lead to a good time but simply help me cross the finish line. This took a little trial and error. The first plan selected lead to an injury and overworked muscles. A much less aggressive plan had to be selected instead. The point is just going out and running would have gotten me prepared. I needed to have smaller achievable goals that helped me get in shape and develop under-developed muscles. We all need to have plans for getting ourselves into spiritual shape and develop weaknesses that might hold us back.
2) A person needs support and instruction in the middle of the process. Helping me stay motivated was Sarah. It is not possible to achieve such a task without people give words of affirmation. Also, when a person runs into problems in the middle of training it is important to talk to people who are more experienced. When I injured myself, I had to consult people about healing the injury and preventing it in the future. Simply googling the problem was not enough. In fact, had I followed the advice I read online, my training should have ended and the race would not be run by me. In all areas of life, we need to have people that we can look up to for advice, instruction, and help. Finding the information online does not always cut it. We need to be able to have back and forth conversations with trusted friends who will give us accurate information. Had not Shawn or Jim given the right advice when I needed it, again, I posit that I could not have made it this far in my training program.
3) Humility is necessary. In reading up on running a half-marathon, I encountered posts about over-training leading to injury. It seemed ridiculous that a person could injure themselves apart from a sprained ankle from running into a pothole or breaking an arm from tripping. Then it happened. I trained too hard and injured my Achilles tendon. That was a major dose of humility. Another dose was given after checking the race results form last year and seeing my practice time being about equal to those in the 50-55 age category. We must be humble in all aspects of our lives. Not in a humble brag sort of way. But we really need to adopt a humble heart, speak with humble words, and serve with humble thanksgiving.
4) Training hurts. Muscles burn and ache when being used in ways that they are not accustomed to. Injuries hurt. I had to work through strengthening a weak, injured knee. I had to work through letting my Achilles tendon loosen up and heal. I got an outer ear infection, probably from wearing earbuds in the rain. Working through the pain, as well as taking precautions to let injuries heal are both important for health and meeting the goal of finishing a race. Our spiritual walk, discipleship, serving others, and so on, will all involve pain. Pain from self-sacrifice. Pain from strained relationships. Pain from letting go of old habits and sins. Pain from saying no to something incredibly fun but will interfere with our goal.
5) I found listening to sermons while running was more motivating than listening to music. It was easier to keep a faster pace listening to sermons from Arron Chambers, Cam Huxford, Gene Appel, and other interesting preachers. Sorry, Caleb, I have not taken the time to search for DCC in Podcasts to subscribe to. Don’t feel left out. I plan on listening to your sermons as I continue to train after the race. There was only one occasion where listening to a sermon made running difficult. That was during a time when the speaker was getting started a little slow with the sermon and it was not interesting. Had I switched the sermon off and skipped to the next one, I would not have benefited from the rest of the sermon. I was glad I stuck through the longer than necessary beginning to get to the meatier parts later. Listening to these various speakers helped me to a little introspection on my own preaching as well as learn to give a little grace to other preachers. It also taught me as a listener that sometimes there are going to be boring parts, but I need to have self-control enough to not turn it off and wait for the parts that God wants me to hear. In other words, preaching is not always going to be high-energy, captivating, or A+ quality, but is something we need to listen to and live out.
6) We need to be challenged. I would never have gotten off the couch and tried to run a half-marathon without being challenged to do so. We might not do the things of God without being challenged to do so. If someone is not directly challenging us, we need to be in God’s word to let God challenge us. We also need to be evaluating our own lives in light of Scripture and challenging ourselves in our faith. We tend to dislike challenge because it requires us to change and move. But, we absolutely need it.
7) West Virginia is nothing but hills. It seems like I ran uphill even when running downhill.
Finally, my mind turns to 1 Corinthians 9. In this passage Paul describes the effort he went through to reach Jews and Gentiles alike. He laid down his rights, he learned important aspects of culture, he worked a trade, and became a servant of all. To summarize the reasons for his effort he wrote, “I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.” (1 Cor. 9:23) In other words, he puts in all of that effort so that he could win the lost and share the blessings of Christ with them. From there he goes on to a seemingly disconnected thought.
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (1 Cor. 9:24-27)
In reality, Paul is describing how he was able to accomplish so much for the sake of others. He saw not just his faith, but the sharing the Gospel as an athletic competition or race. He uses the self-control, discipline, sacrifice, and training that athletes endure to describe the self-control and hard work required to share the Gospel with others. He keeps himself in check by not indulging in sin or taking advantage of rights that might derail his ministry.
It is one thing to think about Paul’s analogy in the abstract, but a person receives a totally different perspective when living the truth behind the analogy. It takes a LOT of work and dedication to prepare for an athletic competition. It takes saying no to certain things and forcing yourself to get out of bed to prepare for training. There are so many times a person wants to succumb to laziness or to quit in the middle of training out of exhaustion but must press on because of the goal ahead. The same distractions, laziness, weakness, lack of motivation, and exhaustion are a part of our spiritual journal and especially that part where we must work diligently to bring the Gospel to those who need to hear it.