Last Saturday I accomplished something I had long thought I could do: running a half marathon. My wife has been a runner as long as I’ve known her, and her family events including her and her sister running half and full marathons, running 5ks, 10ks, triathlons and halves with her dad… and an occasional 5k with me.
Watching her in the races I had always thought I could do a 10k (approximately 6 miles) or a half marathon (13.1 miles), and I’d get around to it someday. Yet the last time I ran any sort of a race was 6 years ago when I ran the anchor, both literally and figuratively, leg of the Fargo marathon… and I’m certainly not getting any younger…
Kids came and life happened. And on a routine doctor’s checkup in spring of 2012 I was astounded at my high weight and with way-too-high blood pressure, especially for a 28-year-old. I wasn’t running and hadn’t ran in a long time and could barely make it a couple miles. Half marathons were way out of the picture, but I knew I needed to change my lifestyle and needed to set a goal to work toward.
Last summer and fall I would go to the gym and use the elliptical because running with so much weight and a bad knee was still too painful. Looking back now, I’d set my pace on the elliptical at essentially a brisk walk, but at least I was moving toward something…
The goal became a 10K and I began working toward that last winter. Beginning with small steps forward, I was moving in the right direction and the first time I ran 6 miles this spring was a great personal victory for me. We were unable to run the 10k in May that we had signed up for due to a family funeral, but my wife and I ran 6 miles that morning anyway. So, probably floating on an endorphin high, I signed us up for a half marathon in Bismarck.
What was I thinking?
I knew I could run 6 miles, now I needed to double that… and then some. I had a couple really bad long runs in the process of training, like really bad. I got down on myself and at times was convinced I’d never make 13.1 and was wasting time and money. The temptation was to give up all together. When you tell coworkers you’re running 13.1 miles they call you an overacheiver and there are the typical jokes about running only when necessary, like to save your life. When you tell friends they laugh and there are the jokes about running only when necessary, like to get more beer. Maybe they were right. Maybe its enough just to run 6 miles and finish with a 7 mile walk and call it “good enough.” Be satisfied, don’t push yourself too hard, you have a bad knee. All reasons to do something other than run a half marathon.
Race day came and I was truly nervous. I’d never run this far before. Would I make a fool of myself? Would I have to tell everyone that my poor time was because my knee was acting up, or just because I simply couldn’t make it? It took us a couple minutes to get to cross the starting line after the horn sounded, but my wife and I were off. The companionship was nice, we visited and talked and pretty soon we’d passed the six mile mark, in under an hour. After fighting our way through the crowded, slow 11-minute first mile, we were now besting 10 minute miles – we were on pace to finish in less than 2:10. Apart from an ill-advised sip of water at mile 11, which I paid for the last two miles of the race, the run went well. I ran the whole race, and finished with an official time of 2:09:40, a pace of 9:54/mile.
Looking back on it this week, I realize it’s been a long road from practically unable to run to finishing a half marathon – but I set a goal and I achieved it. Even in the midst of a two-mile-long stomach ache that kept telling me “you’ve done enough, walk it in from here.” Throughout the entire process of going from thinking I could run a half marathon, to committing to running, to actually running and completing the half marathon, I had St. Paul’s imagery in 1 Corinthians 9:25 and 2 Timothy 4:7 in mind. There is a correlation between the physical and spiritual disciplines.
I underwent temptation, to quit, to walk, to be satisfied with “good enough” on my runs, just like we all undergo the temptation to be satisfied with where we are in our spiritual race. We pass others in the race and say to ourselves, “at least I’m not like them.” But we can do better. We can push ourselves to do great things. I had my wife beside me in the half marathon, but we all have Christ beside us in our spiritual race. Running a half marathon is nothing great – my medal will end up in the toy chest and the shirt will one day wear out – but from where I began, it was a long way away. I chose to run to become more active and healthier, but also to win the battle within myself – to push myself farther when tempted to quit and to walk. and when it was over I could truly say, “I have finished the race.” (2 Tim 4:7).
It took two years for me to finish my first half marathon. Ultimately the real race we all run- to spiritual victory – takes a lifetime. Having found within myself the strength, perseverance and will to run a half marathon, I’m actually looking forward to the next race – try for a better time; maybe a longer run. But I also have a new confidence in myself that I can accomplish things that I only thought possible. With God all things are possible (Matt 19:26, Philippians 4:13) and with him beside me I can conquer the things that try to drag me down in my own spiritual race. So, I hope in some small way, my long road to a half marathon inspires others to run the race which truly matters and to run it well. Run so as to win.
“Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win. Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. Thus I do not run aimlessly… No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.” (1 Cor 9:24-27).