My health was precarious. At 32, the doctor was summoning me to her office for diabetes tests. I never exercised. My diet was poor. Actually, poor is an understatement. On average, I drank sixty ounces of Mountain Dew per day and ate Taco Bell at least two or three times a week. Abysmal might be a more apt description. My diet led me into head-to-head combat with kidney stones. The kidney stones won with a knockout, and I would prefer to never fight a rematch.
Determined to shed some weight and get in better shape, I started running. Well, my first attempt was probably more like a fifty-yard shuffle than it was a run. I am pretty sure I made it about one block and about passed out. I was out of breath. My sides were on fire. I just turned around and walked home, defeated.
Despite my first attempt at getting some exercise ending in failure, I did manage to muster the willpower to get back out there again. This time I didn’t run 50 yards, I maybe made it all of a 100. Eventually, I went out again, and then again, and then again. Each time I went out I added a little distance. I can still remember the first time I went a whole mile without stopping. I can remember the night I made it a whole 5k, or 3.1 miles, without walking. I can remember finishing my first official 10k with my wife, and half marathon with a good friend.
Along the way from only being able to run a few feet to over 13 miles, I learned a few lessons about running and about life….
To Go Faster Sometimes You Have to Go Slower – I plateaued. I had been running for over a year, and my times had honestly just stopped improving. In a moment of frustration, I remember stopping in the middle of a six-mile run because I could tell I was already behind where I wanted to be. I stopped, walked for a bit, grumbled about my poor performance, and eventually started running again as it would take too long to walk all the way back. With about a mile to go, I realized that I had made up some time and was actually doing quite well. I gave it a little extra push and ended up setting a personal best.
I am not a doctor, nor professional running coach, but my take is that stopping to walk reduces your heart and breathing rate, allows you to calm down, reset, and in a way, start over fresh. When I stop to walk, often when I start running again, I have refreshed energy and am running with better form and pace.
Sometimes to go faster in life you just have to slow down. In everyday life, this may mean you simply need to take the time to go clean off your desk and get organized, before you are going to be able to move forward and do your best. This may mean you need to take a day, or a weekend, and go figure out what your true priorities and goals are. It may mean you need to slow down and spend some time praying. If we run frantically throughout all of life, we end up running ourselves into the ground.
In fact, taking time to recharge and refocus is a big reason God established a day of Sabbath. It’s wise to remember Exodus 20:8, which says “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.”
To Go Faster Sometimes You Have to Go Faster – Again, I am not a running coach, but I don’t believe your body can get used to running a 7 or 8-minute mile by only practicing running 9-minute miles. Likewise, you can never build up to running 13 miles if you only do 2 or 3-mile runs. To go faster, or further, sometimes you just have to run faster and further.
This applies to any goal you have. Want to get better grades, then you have to study hard. Want to get a promotion at work, then put in more hours or go above and beyond in some way. Want your marriage to improve, then give it all you got. Want your spiritual life to improve, then take time to intently focus on God.
Rarely do things just fall into place and just happen. Nearly everything we do requires deliberate effort and hard work. Want to run faster, then practice running faster. Want to improve in some other area, then put in the hard work.
Colossians 3:23 states, “Whatever you do, work at it with all of your heart, as working for the Lord.” To go further and faster in life, you just have to give whatever you are doing your absolute all.
You Have to Have Fuel for the Race – When I was training for my first half marathon I was also trying to lose weight. Running longer distances and losing pounds do not really go hand in hand. To lose weight, like most people, I cut calories. Calories, however, were what I needed to be able to slug out 13 miles.
I remember once when I went out for a longer run, I had made it about 5 miles and then simply fizzled out. I had to call my wife to come pick me up in the car. Trying to lose weight I hadn’t eaten much, and I just didn’t have enough in me to run another 5 or 6 miles. There was simply no more juice in the tank.
Life is like this as well. To go the long haul, you have to have the right fuel. Ultimately our sustenance and strength should come from God. John 6:35 recounts Jesus’ words where he says, “I am the bread of life.” Running low on fuel, you might need to stop and eat.
It’s a Process – There are probably quite a few people that could sign up for a 5k, show up race day without having done any training, and turn in a decent time. There are probably several people that could do the same for 10k. Fewer could run a half marathon without some training, and basically, no one could run a marathon without first going out on several practice runs.
Very few people are great golfers the first time they swing a club. Very few people ace tests they don’t prepare for. Hardly anyone is a great public speaker the first time they try. You can’t play the guitar unless you first get some lessons. Most people start off in the mail room and work their way up to CEO.
Life is a process. It is a marathon and it requires training to do well. It doesn’t make much sense to get discouraged early on. Galatians 6:9 reminds us, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Perseverance is key to running a marathon, and it is a key to life as well.
The Conditions are Rarely Optimal – I hate running when it is over 90 degrees. Likewise, I loathe running in the single digits. Running when it is less than optimal is what runners do though.
I’ve run when it was so hot that random people have literally squirted me with their garden hose because they felt so bad for me when I ran by their house. I have suited up with base layers, gloves, masks, and all sorts of gear to go run when it was three degrees out. I have run when it was raining, run when it was snowing, and run in the dark with a headlamp on.
To be honest, the perfect climate for me to run is about 40 to 50 degrees and partly cloudy. I get a few of those days, but if I wait for one of these perfect days to roll around before I headed out to pound the pavement, I am only going to run a few days out of the whole year. To be a better runner I have to be willing to run, even when the conditions are not optimal.
Trouble is part of the Christian life as well. 2 Corinthians 4:17 states, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” Sometimes in life, we just have to keep pressing on, even when it is less than optimal.
Call Yourself a Runner – If I just casually ran for a hobby there would be a lot of days I didn’t go out and run. If running was just something I did, then it would be something I got to when I “had the time.” So, I don’t say that I am someone who runs, rather I say that I am a runner. The difference is subtle but important. Runners, run. It’s what they do. It’s their priority. It’s their identity. Bad weather, lack of time, lack of desire, nor anything else, keep them from heading out. As a runner, I run, because it is who I am.
In life, we have to know who, and what, we are. The bible says a lot about identity, not the least of which is Psalm 139:14 which says, ““I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well.” You may not be a runner, but your identity was formed and shaped by God himself. And just like a runner runs, your identity should shape how you view and live your life.
Never Quit on a Hill – Never quit running when you are running up a hill. I am not sure if this is good running advice, but it works for me. I know that about 99% of the time when I feel like quitting in the middle of a run, if I look at the incline, I am running up a hill.
Eventually though, if you keep running, you will reach the top of the hill. If you keep running through all the ups and downs, you will eventually reach the end of the race.
The Bible puts it succinctly in 2 Timothy 4:7 where it says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Whatever your race, keep running.