Not everyone is in a race.
Giving up a run for lent
It’s a stretch to say that I gave up my half-marathon for Lent.
That would be no sacrifice at all, since I haven’t ever run 13.1 miles. Giving up something we’ve never done isn’t exactly fasting. It’s like saying, “For Lent, I will give up caviar and sushi and arsenic” knowing that I have never had any of the three.
I did, however, give up my plan to run a half-marathon at Notre Dame on March 28, 2015. In early December, when my legs were strong and my fantasies were stronger, I registered. I pushed. Then something happened to my knee. I could barely walk at our normal mall-walking speed. I got a brace for my knee. Running and riding were impossible.
But I kept the dream alive.
Until this week.
I realized that the fee and my public statements about running kept me registered, but every attempt to run created paralyzing tension. I understand the importance of willpower. I also understand that sometimes we don’t start something because it’s too big, and we know that little steps are the way to start, but there is (almost) no way that little steps will get us to 13 miles in less than two months.
So I withdrew.
I gave up a piece of pride for the sake of health wisdom, which will leave me free to run again.
The season of Lent can have unhealthy mortification associated with it. Grand goals of comfort abandonment which we think will please God. Or punish ourselves for our indulgence.
But there is enough pain in running the life of faith inflicting extra. We’re invited to toss off what drags us down – including goals to impress; to quit sin that tangles around our legs like trip lines; and look at Jesus – his example, his words, his empty tomb.
Ten miles into my thirteen-mile race, I was struggling. I ran and then had to walk. And then run. And then walk. I couldn’t wish myself to run faster or further.
I started looking for faces that I knew. I wanted to ask someone to pray for me. Not to encourage me, to pray for me. Because I couldn’t pray. I couldn’t think more clearly than “God, help.”
I tried to remember God’s words to Isaiah that “those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength…they will run and not grow weary.” But it wasn’t working. I figured that God wasn’t talking about half-marathons. Not exactly.
I’m telling you this story for several reasons.
I’m pretty sure my problem with praying wasn’t a spiritual problem. I had run too fast in the first part of the race. I had only swallowed 4-5 mouthsful of liquid. I had burned a lot of calories and taken in few. I was having physiological issues, not spiritual ones. And sometimes when we have a hard time praying, it’s because we’re exhausted – not because God or we have turned from the other.
But I also know that working that passage from Isaiah into my heart a little further would have given more sustenance for that part of my journey. I’m convinced that hoping in the Lord can happen near the end of the distance run, or in the middle of the grocery run, or at the beginning of a coffee run. God is talking to Isaiah about people with a history of depending on themselves who finally learned to depend on God.
The text doesn’t say that there isn’t running or walking or other tests of strength. After all, a grocery run demands concentration and creativity. But I think that we can be renewed with compassion for the family for whom we shop. Sometimes that’s the miracle.
So is crossing the finish line.
Nothing to fear
Sunday morning I was up early. The alarm was set for 5 am so I could start running at 6 am. I got up, ate part of a bagel with peanut butter, shaved, read, and changed. I was nervous about the run. At 5:45 I started thinking about my anxiety.
I started to unpack the fear.
I’ve never run 18 miles, so that could be what was causing the nerves. But I ran 16 miles the week before, and 14 the week before that. I’ve been building to this.
There were no time limits. It isn’t a race. Andrew (our son) was going to join me for the last two/thirds of the run, so I would have company. My coach has been encouraging. My nutrition has been working. There are no rules against walking when necessary.
There was nothing to fear.
Except for my habit of fear. I get nervous. I struggle with expectations. I worry about what people might think. I worry about making choices that are merely good, not great.
I looked at my reflection in the mirror and laughed. I was about to take on the longest run of my life and there was nothing to fear.
I talked last week about insecurity and about the way Jesus used “little faith” as a term of endearment. He did this while dealing with the cause of fearfulness.
Rich Dixon talked last week about the danger of zooming in on fear. Rich talked about a time when the apparent size of a hill kept him from trying to ride his handcycle up. And then he realized:
“We don’t have to face fear without context. I know I can climb that hill because I’m climbed other hills. That’s the power of hope, moving forward confidently based on faith. Faith looks back, sees promises kept and goals achieved. Hope lets you project forward based on a sure foundation.”
Sometimes there are reasons for anxiousness. But often it comes just from habit.
With friends like Rich, it’s a habit I’m working to break.
Making room for the work
Five days from today, I’ll be running in my first marathon. And walking. Because my focus is finishing.
Among the things I’ve learned during my training is that long distance running is as much about the mind as about the body. I need to concentrate on the task at hand. I need to let my body not have to worry about things other than running, at least during long runs.
And that’s a challenge for me. Because I worry about, or am concerned with, or am aware of needs in many areas. When my mind and heart are full of worry or fear, my body slows down and tightens up.
At the moment, these words from Hebrews are not metaphoric for me: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”
If I am going to survive on Saturday, I have to spend time this week unencumbering.
So I’m taking the week off writing here. And a couple other places. I have other commitments which cannot move, but I’ll get margin where I can.
Have a great week. I’ll see you on the other side of 26.2. Unless, of course, I see you on the course. If you’re there, just yell “perseverance.” I’ll know what you mean.
First thoughts on finishing.
The geographic length of a marathon is 26 miles, 385 yards. You can run a marathon or complete a marathon.
On Saturday, October 1, I completed a marathon. I ran the first half. I mixed running and walking and walking during the second half.
The automatic posting of my times that friends and family received had my final time at 3:48. Had I actually run that fast, I would have almost qualified for the Boston Marathon. My actual time was 5:25:57. That’s five hours, by the way. But my feet and the rest of my body covered the entire distance, step by step. In the words of my coach, “You have officially qualified for the radically insane title of marathoner.”
Not a sprint
You know the metaphor. It’s used to talk about things that demand perseverance. The bare minimum is a sprint, the gold standard is a marathon. The implication is that anyone can run fast for a short time, but longer projects take longer focus, longer work.
Here’s what I discovered on Saturday. That quitting is possible, but so is finishing. At a couple moments, I considered walking away. When I realized that I wasn’t keeping up with a pace group. When I realized I was going to “complete” instead of “run”. When I realized that I still had four miles and almost everyone else was done and the water tables were being folded up.
But then I kept going. Walking a little, running a little, aching a little. Because I understood that finishing pretty, keeping up, or being part of a group are not the point. Finishing is the point. For your marathon, finishing is the point.
Early Saturday morning, my friend Kathy sent some of us a text from Isaiah 40:31: “But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.”
I’ve read it a hundred times in a variety of context. I’ve always focused on soaring and running. But early Saturday morning, I noticed the trusting and the walking. Having the strength to plod along in the task. Which was exactly true.