Another Life Lesson from Running

My Running StoryIt has been COLD in my part of the world for the past few months. Record-breaking cold. Not fun. I’m tired of it.

I set a goal at the first of the year to run/move 1000 miles this year. (Last year, my goal was 780 miles, and I reached that without any stress or strain. I thought I would push myself a little more this year. Though my exercise of choice is running, I also count any walking, elliptical or hiking miles towards my goal. The point is to MOVE.) This ambitious goal has been greatly hampered by polar vortices and such.

I’m no wimp–at least from a southern gal’s point of view. I can deal with the cold, but only to a point. When the temperature drops down into the single digits–or even the teens–I choose to stay inside. More importantly, when there is snow and ice on the ground, I opt to preserve my limbs and wait till the road thaws.

Such were the conditions of most of January. February followed suit up until the second half, and then there was a brief, glorious break in the weather pattern, and I got in several consecutive days of outdoor running again. I was so inspired and energized! I found myself smiling while I ran–in between the gasping for air, of course.

It is in these inspiring moments that my mind often goes to spiritual things. For me, that’s one of the beauties of aerobic exercise done outdoors. It seems to help my brain fire on all cylinders. Even though I’m fully engrossed in the physical task at hand, I can simultaneously be in deep thought about spiritual matters.

Read My Running Story, and you’ll see that I have been impacted by the parallels that I have observed between life and running since my very modest running beginnings. I continue to see new parallels all the time. In fact, I often contrive pithy sayings based on some of these  parallels. For instance:

Every uphill has a downhill. Keep running. Relief is coming.

(In the spirit of full disclosure, I must make a disclaimer here. I ‘created’ this pithy saying in my early days of running before I had had much experience with serious hills. I almost always walk up the big ones. But it was a nice thought at the time.)

But I digress. Back to my deep spiritual thoughts while running happily in the sunshine a couple of weeks ago.

I usually run with a subconscious goal of improving—or at least maintaining–my former “best pace.” I have friends who say that such goals suck the fun right out of the activity, adding an element of stress for them. For me, though, goals–even tiny ones–add a little ‘spice’ to my running. And in case you’re wondering how I know what pace I am trying to beat, yes, I do record my mileage and my pace after every run. I know my total mileage at any given point in the year, my best pace for the month (and the year) and my average pace. I know this may seem like a lot of record-keeping for someone who has no intention to race competitively, but if that is what you think, then you are missing the point completely. I am competing–with myself!

I recently got a comment from My Pleasant Places reader, Emma, about My Running Story:

I’m so encouraged to read your running story… I have just started running and am a complete novice. I have set myself a goal of running a 10k race in 14 weeks time!

I love how you have intertwined the spiritual development alongside the physical; it certainly gives you something to think about whilst out running! I’m in a dilemma though, when I told my children I’d entered a race, their first question was, “Are you going to win?”

“It’s not about winning,” I told them, “It’s about taking part!” This, however is hardly running to win the prize as Paul instructs us to do!!

Unbeknownst to Emma, I had been thinking along the same lines (remember my “deep spiritual thoughts” while running?). As I was running in the welcomed sunshine, feeling warm on the outside, thinking warm, fuzzy thoughts on the inside, the thought about increasing my pace kicked in. If you pick it up just a little bit, you can improve your average pace, my competitive self said to my lazy self.

From that challenge, my mind wandered to a couple of scriptures that I had just recently read (my typical morning routine begins with Bible reading, followed by running, so it’s pretty common for my mind to return to biblical truths while I run).

If you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth [in other words, it’s not something to be proud of]. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice (James 3:14-15, NIV).

It’s clear to me that what James refers to as “selfish ambition” and “bitter envy” include the traits of competitiveness and comparing myself with others. James’ words are strong: earthly, unspiritual, demonic! Obviously, there’s no place for these mentalities in the kingdom of God.

I rolled that around in my mind for a bit before my thoughts went to the verses that Emma referenced in her comment.

But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14, NIV).

And another one:

Do you not 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 (1 Corinthians 9:26, NIV).

From these three scriptures (and others that I have not listed), we can see that everyone should run to win. However, in God’s economy, “winning”  is not about outdoing your brother, your sister (competition); it’s more akin to the ‘competition’ I described–competing with yourself! The prize is for for achieving the goal of your high calling in Christ, for giving it your all, for straining for God’s purpose in your life, for pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone, for making your body the servant (rather than the master) of your spirit, for finishing!

For those of a competitive nature, this may be a hard metaphor to relate to. If so, I could only wish for you the experience that I have as a 50-something woman who has no aspirations or delusions of winning races, but passionately enjoys the thrill of the race with myself. The ultimate goal, of course, is that one day, like the Apostle Paul, I will be able to say with confidence, “I finished my race” and will be rewarded with the prize of hearing “Well done.”

What do you think about this? Are you competitive by nature? Do you “compete” with yourself? I would love to hear your thoughts; please leave a comment!

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2 Responses to Another Life Lesson from Running

  1. LynnDee says:

    I am a pretty competitive person by nature, and I do like to compete with myself. However, I find that I have to be careful not to get lax and inside of competing with myself, really have a spirit of longevity and finishing, because it can be easy to make excuses or make whatever you are doing easier when you compete with yourself. Even when competing with myself in life becomes a little tiring, I have to continue to press for another level. Of course, this striving cannot be of myself but must come from a place of faith and recognizing the grace that God gives to enable me to not back down and stay strong in the midst of ‘straining heavenward.’

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