5 Tools

Starting line

Running can be an inexpensive activity. A pair of shoes and shorts and a shirt. As long as they are running shoes that are built for your pronation and you have moisture-wicking clothes.

There are tools that you can’t see, too. The tools that shape your head and your heart, that tell you how to think about what’s happening as you run and as you train. There’s not a right answer. In fact, a couple of these tools will help you discover that there are several right answers to get to the goal of running. And depending on who you are and how you are created, you may look at running in different ways. What helps me may not help you.

It’s the Shoes.

Andrew was a shoe kid. He knew shoes. He talked shoes. He wanted shoes. He got shoes. Jordans. Soccer shoes. His first job was in a soccer store, selling shoes.

As he grew older, he realized that it wasn’t the shoes that made you a soccer player, it was the practice.  So when I started running, I thought it was running that mattered, not the shoes.

For years, we bought walking shoes at a Reebok outlet store. In fact, I’ve gotten walking shoes that look like work shoes, walking shoes that look like dress shoes. So when it was time to run, I went to the same store. Bought sale shoes. And eventually had a messed up knee.

I bought the wrong shoes and I hurt my knee. I bought the right shoes and they were great. Then I got the wrong shoes and gave them away. Then I got the wrong shoes but ran a half-marathon. Then I got okay shoes and trained, then I got the right shoes and they were wonderful. But I lost a toenail.


Seeing God.

I sent Nancy a text: “Getting ready to run.”

She wrote back: “Enjoy the beautiful weather.”

I shook my head. I don’t run for the weather. I don’t run for the enjoyment. I’m five weeks out from a marathon and enjoying anything while I’m out is almost impossible.

I headed out to run. Sunny with a high of 75. It was cooler than the previous month, and the humidity was lower. But I wasn’t interested in the context, I was focused on the task.

And I remembered, again, that Nancy and I are different.

She loves to be outside. Gardening, walking, sitting on the deck with a cup of coffee.  I love to be writing. Mostly inside. Still with the coffee, but not with the bugs.

In Sacred Pathways: Discover your soul’s path to God, Gary Thomas finds reasons for our differences that go beyond simple indoor / outdoor people contrasts.  He suggests that there may be nine difference spiritual temperaments or personalities types that can explain our differences in connecting with God.

His list includes naturalists, sensates, traditionalists, ascetics, activists, caregivers, enthusiasts, contemplatives, and intellectuals. Nancy is clearly in the naturalist and caregiver areas. She feels more connected to God when she’s outside and when she’s caring for people. And when she’s taking care of her mom’s garden for her dad, that’s a powerful time.

I’m much more of an intellectual and ascetic. Simplicity, study, and quiet are part of my worship. Which is why the Galatians writing is so compelling to me.

One way that Thomas talks about these differences is to point out that a Sunday morning service may be helpful to some for worship, but very unsatisfying for others. Which is why I’m grateful that there are 167 hours in a week outside the hour for Sunday morning services.

Back to the run. I did notice the weather. But I also listened to a podcast that made me think. Because that’s part of my personality. My spiritual personality.

Understanding the how.

I have a book called Marathon: The ultimate training guide. It’s by Hal Higdon. He’s 83.

At the back, in the appendix, are four training plans. Here’s what I know. You can gettraining plans for free through a simple web-search. They are for the self-directed, the independent, the learn it the hard way. But they are available.

In the rest of the book, Hal talks about training for a marathon. It’s the soft stuff, the stories, the encouragement. He tells beginners that it will be hard, but to expect that. He says to ignore the purists. He describes what it will feel like to run consistently, the pains to expect, the joys to be found. He tells what it was like in the old days, before we knew better.

Hal’s been running for a long time. He’s been teaching for a long time, too. To read the book, you’d think that his way of coaching is to run with people. As you read the book, you discover that he’s learned a lot while running and coaching. For someone like me, who has never run a marathon, Hal’s book makes it seem possible to maybe think about it. I have this sense that he’d encourage me, that his book is for normal people like me rather than for elite athletes.

Marathon has got me thinking about following God. I’m thinking that giving people a schedule of activities is helpful. But so are the stories of the struggles. Stories like Hal’s about not finishing the first three marathons he tried. Which is a lot like Peter trying to understand Jesus and missing it the first few times. And just like Hal didn’t redefine a marathon as a distance of 26 yards and 385 feet, Peter kept conversing, kept learning, kept trying.

Like us.

Expectations and Lent

Some of my friends with spiritual interests anticipate Lent with a sense of gratitude. They are thankful for what they learn about themselves through the disciplines of giving up and of moving toward God. They appreciate the invitation to participate with others known as the Body of Christ.

I have other friends who argue a bit and ask questions about some of the practices or formats. They aren’t sure that leaders who can’t discipline themselves should be calling others to obedience. They question the appearance of legalism in the practices of fasting and solitude, in serving others and denying self.  But they aren’t antagonistic. In fact, because they are committed to growing well themselves, they appreciate the structure.

I have other friends who observe it, but only with community. They need to know others are doing this too, because it gives them a sense of accountability. In fact, some of them love Lent because they can’t quite bring themselves to this kind of discipline on their own. And now that their resolutions have started to fade, they are looking forward to the discipline of Lent being a fresh start.

And truthfully, some of my friends ignore Lent completely because they don’t need anyone telling them how to prepare for Easter. And they kind of laugh at anyone who needs that kind of pressure.

If Gretchen Rubin is right, each person reading those paragraphs nodded at one of those descriptions. And said to a friend, “That sounds exactly like you.”

Rubin wrote Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives. She argues that the place to start with considering our habits is with the question “How does a person respond to an expectation.” (16)

I’ve been thinking a lot about habits and about practical steps for spiritual growth. I watch the way one person says, “This is what I do, you need to do this, too.” And the way another person responds with, “That’s crazy. Why do you need that kind of plan. All you need to do is this.” It’s possible that both are wrong. And both are right.

Or better, it’s possible that each has different answers to Rubin’s question about expectations. She says that some people are comfortable meeting internal and external expectations (upholders). A second group question the external expectations, but are committed to meeting their internal expectations (questioners). A third group meet external expectations, but struggle to meet their expectations for themselves (obligers). And some people resist any expectations, internal or external (rebels).

As you consider observing Lent this year, and as you listen to others talk about why they will or won’t, listen for these tendencies. Spend less time being frustrated by how others aren’t the same as you. And spend more time seeing how you might grow by understanding your tendency.

I’m an obliger, by the way. I struggle to meet my own deadlines, pursue projects on my own. However, when I know that I’m modeling something for others, it gives me focus. For example, my running streak (250 days of consecutive running) isn’t because I’m so disciplined. It’s partially because I want to help others see that even undisciplined people can do consistent things. And, by telling you about it, it helps me keep going longer.


If you want more on Rubin’s idea, take her quiz: survey. Or if you are a questioner or a rebel, just look at a checklist version.

The voice in my head.

The third night I ran was the fourth of July. There were fireworks as I ran my two laps around the block. After that, there weren’t fireworks. And I discovered that I needed something to distract me from the shuffling of my feet, my heavy breathing, and the argument in my head.

According to StrengthsFinder, one of my strengths is Intellection. I think all the time. I solve problems, I think about implications, I monitor data. One of my weaknesses is being a pleaser. As a result, much of my intellection is about being efficient and effective and not wasting time.

I discovered very quickly that running was not a peaceful activity. Thinking didn’t stop when I ran. And keeping my body from all the other useful things I could be doing created stress which running heightened rather than drained.

And so I tried the things I knew other runners did with their minds while they were on the road.

Praying or meditating did not work for me. I pray best with a pen in my hand. The process of writing slows my mind down enough to converse with God. I meditate best when I can sit still, when I’m not concentrating on the challenges that I am putting my body through.

So I decided to try music. At the time I started running, a group of people I knew were preparing to represent a charity work in the Congo By running in a local fitness festival. I downloaded a training track they had. The first couple times I listened, it was helpful. I thought about the songs and the texts that were read. It engaged my mind enough to keep my feet moving. Until the fourth time through. When my mind clicked in again.

I never could figure out how many beats per minutes I needed to run, so that music wasn’t helpful. And I created a mp3 by a group called The Afters (which I named RunAfters). But again, that only lasted until it was familiar.

And then I discovered podcasts. When I’m listening, I can engage with the conversation. I can think about the ideas. I can learn more about running, about business, about leadership.

I’m jealous, a little, of my friend Tom who prays while he runs. I’m intrigued by the idea of finding a zone, of feeling stress drain away.

But in the meantime, I’ll keep thinking and running.


Not Sprinting Copyright © by Jon Swanson. All Rights Reserved.

Share This Book


Comments are closed.