Running the Race
About four months ago, my wife and her family convinced me to accept this crazy idea to run a half-marathon: 13.1 miles. Last summer I started running casually, hoping to get in better shape and lose some weight. Then last September, we went to the Akron half-marathon as spectators to watch my sister-in-law run her first half-marathon. I gotta admit, it was pretty inspiring, and my wife and I daydreamed about some day when we might be able to do something like that… at the time I thought that would be well into the future, if ever.
Fast forward a few months to Christmas this past December, my mother-in-law gave me a whole new wardrobe of winter running clothes, all top-notch Nike stuff: running pants, long-sleeve dry fit shirts, running socks, even a sweet Florida State University running jacket!
So in the days following Christmas, somehow my wife and in-laws convinced me that, in order to be motivated, I should find a race and train for it – oh but not just a 5k; that wasn’t good enough for this running family I married into. They convinced me that, even with my current fitness level, it could actually be possible for me to train for and run a half-marathon by spring. But they said if I started January 1, it would be possible. I thought they were nuts, but I entertained the idea.
So they all went browsing online to look up spring races and found out that Louisville hosts a major marathon the weekend before the Kentucky Derby, April 25, which just happened to be exactly 4 months away. I knew the excuses were getting slim, and besides, at this point I was actually intrigued by the challenge and excited about the possibility. So motivated by my family, and from having received a whole wardrobe of winter running clothes for Christmas, I decided to go all in and began training for a half-marathon beginning January 1.
My veteran running brother-in-law helped me put together a 4 month training plan, starting off small and slowly building up mileage over about 16 weeks. We did shorter timed runs, between 30 and 45 minutes, twice during the week; and our long runs on the weekend. Starting at 3 miles, then 4, then 5, and slowly working up our mileage.
Now, becoming a runner has had its obstacles for sure. We had to build up our stamina to be able to run for such a long period of time – both our cardio and breathing, as well as our muscles and their fatigue. So we did interval training, starting with run/walk combinations and slowly increasing the amount we’d run. And we slowed down our long runs to allow us to be able to get that longer mileage in without injury.
We also had to take special care with our muscles. We spent extra time after runs, and even during off days, stretching really well, rolling out our sore muscles, and doing everything we could to prevent injuries and recover tired muscles.
Eventually we needed to start working on our speed. Now since this is our first race, we didn’t put much focus on speed, but we did work on maintaining the pace we hope to keep for our finishing goal.
After 4 months of committed running and training, I’m proud to say that I ran my first half-marathon in 2 hours and 33 minutes! Through all my training, I’ve seen several parallels between running and the Christian life.
- In both running and the Christian life, finding and practicing a rhythm is important. A running rhythm and groove helps me settle into a consistent pace. Spiritual rhythms and practices help us to be disciplined in our walk and keep us focused on Christ.
- When running, keeping a deep and consistent breathing pattern helps me keep up the oxygen in my blood and protects me from getting those nasty cramps in my back and side. And breathing deep and slow helps to alleviate cramps if I do get them. Maintaining a pattern of slow deep breaths in life (sabbath, retreating, rest) help us keep living in the Spirit and guard us against burnout, anxiety, and depression.
- When running, some days are great and I feel like I could go on for miles. Others are terrible and I want to quit after 10 minutes. Doesn’t the Christian walk feel the same way, with a variety of situations and people and moods changing from day to day? One week may be filled with joy and peace and excitement, and the next sorrow and temptations and conflict and struggles. And the challenge is, no matter what the day brings us, whether in running or in faith, we keep our eye on the prize and press on toward the goal, whether its the next mile, or the next week.
- My wife and I have run almost every training run together. I helped her get through several days when her hamstring just wouldn’t loosen up, and she helped me get through certain days where I was tired and sluggish, and had discouraging mental blocks and wanted to quit. We run better with partners, and we live better with spiritual friends. In the same way, the Christian life is meant to be lived in community, and we walk together carrying each other’s burdens as true spiritual brothers and sisters.
But beyond all of this, the main point of training is to prepare for and run a race. We don’t practice all these spiritual disciplines, endure trials and suffering, and live and serve in community just for the sake of training. It’s for a purpose. The Christian walk is for a purpose. Listen to what Paul says in Philippians 3:12:
Not that I have already obtained all this,
or have already been made perfect,
but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.
What is the “this” that Paul has not already obtained? What is it that he’s pressing on to take hold of? What is the goal, the purpose for all of our spiritual training, pressing, and striving. I’m sure there are several great answers to that question. But let’s look at the context here to see what Paul is talking about in his striving, starting in verse 10:
I want to know Christ,
and the power of his resurrection,
and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings,
becoming like Him in His death,
and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
The goal is knowing Christ! Knowing His power! Becoming like Him!
In a word, the goal is holiness; sanctification – even entirely! It is a pressing onward toward a deeper knowledge of Christ, a stronger faith, a greater measure of assurance, fueled by grace, inspired by hope, motivated by love. Longing more for more of Christ, we train our spirits and our minds and our souls to press in deeper and deeper by grace.
David writes a psalm singing “Deep cries out to deep” – the depths of his soul longing for the depths of God and His Spirit. Yet now we have full access to that reality. The Holy Spirit witnesses to our own spirits and takes us deeper into the knowledge and love of Christ.
This is our race – the race toward Christian perfection; the race toward sanctification. By grace we’ve been called, and by grace we are sustained. And by grace, let us continue to run this race, the sanctified Christian life race, with perseverance, with endurance, training with all our strength, and pressing on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus.
About the Author
Kevin Cook is a 4th year student at Asbury Theological Seminary and an Aspirant for Ordination in the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA). After graduating, Kevin hopes to plant a contemporary three-streams Anglican Church. He and his wife Nicole attend Wilmore Anglican Church in Kentucky.
Kevin holds a Bachelor of Arts in Music and a Master of Business Administration from Florida State University. Kevin enjoys playing music and leading worship, reading fiction and spiritual classics, drinking coffee, and spending time with family and friends.
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