(drafted around mid-December, after finishing a long run)
My feet are screaming at me, pounding the pavement in my fourth mile today and about the 28th mile of the month. The music on my playlist grates at my ears—because I chose one at random after not taking time to create one with music I feel excited running along with. My breathing tempo stinks, and this hill just keeps climbing for another half mile. I want to give up, but I can’t. I also want to overcome this and make it to the top.
I make a conscious effort and decision to keep running with each step. I force myself to avoid looking at the horizon, because gazing at the top of the hill in the distance is discouraging and makes the climb feel darn-near impossible. Literally, I tell myself to make it to the next shadow, or the sidewalk block that is just three steps ahead. Several minutes later, I found the top of the hill.
Over the last several weeks, I’ve been training for a 10K race. My friend runs the boot camp, and I thought, “if I can run/finish a 5K with no training, then maybe I can push myself to finish a 10K after training for it.” So I signed up for boot camp and the race…
I have never before run that distance. In fact, before last week, I had never even run more than 4 miles. Two extra miles may not seem like much, because two miles on their own is not hard. Two miles after four? That’s another story.
Today my feet hit the pavement for 5.5 miles. Much of it was a hard mental game to simply keep moving. Last week I ran 5 miles for the first time ever, and each time I push myself harder, I think about how running relates to spiritual life. Saint Paul’s words about finishing the race just keep going through my mind. Maybe he’s trying to teach me something?
Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. 25 Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. (1 Cor.9:24-25, NRSV-CE)
Saint Paul must have been a runner, for all he wrote about finishing the race. At least he appreciated the efforts in running and understood what lengths a person must go through to finish a race. The training, the hard work, the striving for better.
I can’t help but to love the lessons that running is teaching me. Like the hill that takes such effort to climb without stopping, the spiritual life is often similar. It’s hard, painful, requires a choice with each step to keep at it. Running that hill, for me, demands that I take it slow and steady without looking too far ahead.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, (Hebrews 12:1, NRSV-CE)
So it is with my spiritual journey. It’s not often easy. In fact, sometimes I don’t even want to do anything to improve or work on my soul. God’s will demands a daily (heck even a minute by minute) choice to keep at it. It can seem endless, even impossible, to meet the goal. How long must I keep trying before I see progress? How long must I run and keep climbing before I finally reach the top of the hill? What a relief I feel to run again on level ground once the hill ends… and a relief as well when the graces of God soothe our souls along the journey in faith.
But as any runner (or saint) knows, reaching the top of the hill or finding peace or understanding in some part of the spiritual life isn’t the end, or the culmination. I still had another mile or so left to run after I hit the top of that hill, and part of the remaining mile included more hills to reach my house. The spiritual life is no different. Just around the bend, there’s another challenge, another call from God to prune that habit or dig deeper to understand that Church teaching. There’s something to suffer, or a challenge, in order to grow. At times there is also something to rejoice in to know joy more completely.
I ran 5.5 miles today, but there are still three weeks** to train before my race. There is still over half a mile to run before the 10K mark. I’m not there yet.
There will be more races after next month. More for fun. More for challenges. More to share with my family—which, by the way, is also like our spiritual life. We train and run at our pace, but we can share the race. We train and grow in our faith at our pace, but we share the journey and encourage each other along the way. (more to come on that later)
Run the race. Run well. Never give up.
**it’s been a few weeks since I drafted this, and today is now just one week from my race!