I’ve been a runner for about 20 years, and an avid trail runner for the past 2 years. Saturday (Jan. 17th)  I completed my second ultra distance trail race (50 kilometers). My first 50k was about six weeks earlier at Oak Mountain and that race was a great experience. Yesterday’s race at Lake Lurleen, however, was miserable. Don’t get me wrong, the race was superbly well organized and the volunteers were great; the misery was all on me. I started feeling badly at about mile 13 and never really recovered. The first 12 miles were great; I felt great, ran great, and kept the pace I’d hoped to keep. But at about mile 13 everything went south. My left calf started to cramp, I wasn’t hungry, I had no energy in spite of the fact that I was well hydrated and nourished, I started wheezing and it got worse with every mile, and everything within me wanted to stop at the half-way point. Almost none of these things has ever happened to me in any of the more than 50 races I’ve run. But in this race, at about mile 22 I was reduced to walking off and on to the finish with an overall time that was an hour slower than what my fitness level should have allowed. The final 9 miles of the race were a total mind game, and to stay focused but detach from the pain, I came up with this post comparing trail running to the life of faith. Here are the lesson I’m learning from experiences like yesterday.

1. Some things you can’t control. I like running in the cold and enjoy the variation of steep climbs that take their toll on your legs but allow you to use different muscle groups. By contrast, yesterday’s race was warm and included no steep climbs. I was tempted all day to think that I’d perform better if circumstances were different. The truth is, it doesn’t help you go one bit further or faster to fret about race conditions.

Life will give you plenty of circumstances that you’d prefer not to face. You can’t choose the pain, but you can choose how to respond. The life of faith means that you live not on the basis of what you see, but with hope and trust in the One who sees beyond your circumstances.

2. Pace yourself. In an ultra distance event, if you start too fast you will pay a severe penalty later. My pace for the first half of the race yesterday should have been correct, but it wasn’t. My body wasn’t right, and I probably ran the first 10 or 11 miles in denial about that. I should have swallowed my pride and started slower than I’d planned. I didn’t, and by the time I realized fully what was going on, it was too late.

The life of faith is a marathon not a sprint. When the scripture says to “run with endurance the race set before you” (Hebrews 12.1), it means that you should move through life in a way that is sustainable for a long time and distance. Not everyone runs at the same pace, but everyone has a maximally efficient pace given the circumstances. Slow down, monitor your spiritual health, and humbly readjust as needed.

3. Keep moving forward. If you race long enough, you’ll eventually have a day where your time goals goes out the window and your only goal is to finish. No podium finish, no possible PR, and not many people at the finish line when you get there. I’ve heard that for years, but yesterday I experienced it first-hand. All I could tell myself was don’t quit. Finish. One step at a time. Any form of forward movement is success. It feels like it takes forever, but eventually you get there if you keep moving forward.

The life of faith is not an easy life. True religion is not an opiate. Following the way of Christ doesn’t immediately solve all of your problems. Jesus taught his followers to pray for their “daily bread, “and he said “don’t worry about tomorrow.” So stay in the moment. Sometimes everything goes wrong and you want to quit. Don’t. Keep moving forward, one small slow step at a time if necessary.

Are you a runner? Do you see other parallels between running and the Christian journey?

[Update: On Sunday, I visited Urgent Care where I tested positive for the flu (second time this winter, strain B this time) and a sinus infection. I suppose that partly explains Saturday’s race!]

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