Shared this with all of the students in the current, year-long workshop I'm leading (A Year in the Making), but with all of the recent talk about running around here lately, I kind of felt like I should share this with ya'll too...
Before bed last night, Josh suggested we set an alarm and go for a long (seven mile), morning run. I reminded him of how bad this week beat me up emotionally, how I hadn’t been sleeping well the last few nights, and how I hadn’t run seven miles in probably four years, and suggested that we go for a five mile run whenever my body felt like waking up instead.
I figured I’d get up around 7:00 a.m., since that’s the time of day my body tends to prefer to wake up during the summertime when I don’t set an alarm, so I was surprised to wake up and see that it was 8:30. I immediately felt disappointed because I knew that meant I was going to be starting off the run in near 70-degree weather and that it was just going to get hotter and hotter with each mile. The problem is that I’m a fair weather runner. Seriously, if dry lips are enough to make me want to give up during a run (I now carry lip balm for this very reason), then hot weather is enough to make me not start in the first place.
I quickly decided I wasn’t going to let my late start get in the way of this run I had already committed to doing, and headed straight to the bathroom to change into my running clothes. As soon as I got one leg in my sweats, I realized how badly I needed to use the loo and hobbled over there as quickly as I could, only to realize the menstrual cloud had arrived at my house. (How does this arrival take me by surprise each and every month?)
Still (surprisingly) undeterred, I finished getting dressed, ran outside to tell Josh (he was working on the backyard) that I’d be ready to go in 10 minutes, threw a few ingredients into the blender to make a smoothie, and laced up my shoes. As I headed out the door, I grabbed my phone (because I always try to listen to something good to keep my mind distracted from the less pleasant aspects of running, namely the pain and the sweat) and realized my battery wasn’t charged enough to last through a long run.
Still (shockingly) undeterred, I left my phone behind, and hopped in Josh’s truck so we could drive the five miles out to his work, where we planned to park the truck and run home. I told Josh I didn’t have anything to listen to while I was running and hoped God had something to keep me going instead.
And then we set off. I hate running with Josh (I’m the kind of girl that has to run her own race), and he knows that, so he set off ahead of me quickly, with a goal of running each mile at a sub-8:00 pace, which basically means he wanted to be able to maintain the same pace the whole way home, and to make it back in less than 40 minutes. My goal wasn’t quite as lofty; I just wanted to make it home without stopping, no matter how slow I was.
The first mile felt amazing. It was hotter than I preferred, but I felt strong, thankful, and totally confident. At about a mile and a half though, I started to feel the beginnings of a side stitch, which really caught me off guard given that I hadn’t experienced the pain of a side-stitch in probably four years or more. Within seconds, I was totally fixated on the fear of getting a full-blown side-stitch. I was trying to remember what Josh recommending doing when I got one (whichever side the stitch is on, run with that arm overhead), thinking about how much it would hurt, thinking about how defeated I was going to feel if I had to walk the rest of the way home, etc. I kept praying that God would come alongside me to keep me going, but didn’t find any relief. At two miles, I stopped running (even though I hadn’t developed a full blown side stitch) and started walking and fixating on the fact that this had become my new ‘norm’ with running (I did great the first mile or two, but then I had taught myself it was ok to just give up and walk the rest of the way or alternate between walking and running), how horrible I was going to perform during my first half marathon in October, how much it was going to suck to tell Josh I walked three out of the five miles, and how long and hot the walk/run home was going to be.
I walked for just over ¼ of a mile before I started running again, and decided that every time I wanted to walk, I was going to pick a distance ahead of me (a light post, a driveway, a tree, etc.) where I could opt to start walking if I still felt like I needed to by the time I got there. But somehow, every time I felt like walking, I decided instead to push myself to the next distance until eventually, my mind got fixed on things other than how much I wanted to stop.
When the sun felt hot, I just fixed my mind on getting to the next patch of shade. When I was in the shade, I expressed thankfulness for it in my mind and used it as fuel to get me through the next patch of sun. When there was a hill, I adjusted my pace and chose not to think of how bad it felt going up the hill, but instead, on how great it was going to feel after I hit the top of it. When the breeze picked up, I actually felt a celebratory desire to appreciate the fact that I had experienced it, rather than feeling frustrated when it was gone. And when I turned the corner, expecting to find a straight away for the last ½ mile, but found yet another hill instead, I reminded myself that even if I chose to walk, I’d still make it home and could still consider my run a success, but I also reminded myself that I had another ½ mile in me and could make it.
And because I believe that God teaches me best through analogies, I felt the buzz of my wristwatch, telling me I had hit the five mile mark just as I approached the track of Jewitt Middle School – the same track I had set out to run my first mile on almost five years prior; the mile that was the first of hundreds of miles I’ve run – the mile that made me a runner for the first time in my life.
I couldn’t stop myself from throwing both of my hands up in the air towards God as I slowed down to a walking pace – I just felt so thankful. And as I headed towards home, I spotted Josh coming back to check on me and encourage me.
It’s funny, because I feel like every point in that run was part of God’s plan – like He had something to teach me about myself, A Year in the Making, and life in general during each step of that five miles:
- How we can set off with the best intentions, but life is simply too full of obstacles to survive on intentions alone (everyday, frustrations like hot weather, menstrual clouds, low batteries, and complicated, painful things like the loss of a loved one, kids making bad decisions that can affect the rest of their lives, marital strife, etc.). Once the intentions start to fade though, we’ve got to have something else in the tank to keep fueling us – a goal that feels worthwhile, mental strength, someone to be accountable to, faith, discipline, etc.
- How we can start out on a new goal or a new venture feeling amazing, uncertain, excited, or skeptical, but every feeling (good or bad) is temporary and therefore, how we react to those feelings is all that matters. Do we keep running, despite how it feels or do we quit?
- How we can live in fear and worry, and fixate on things that might never even happen like a side stitch, a career change, a kid’s life going astray, financial problems, a diagnosis, a challenging conversation, etc. or we can choose to keep moving forward with our minds fixed on the things that bring us strength and peace since it is strength and peace (not fear and worry) that will help prepare us for life’s circumstances, whatever they may be.
- How we can forget to pace ourselves sometimes and just take off all gung-ho and haphazard without realizing that our pace isn’t maintainable. Its experience and wisdom that tells us to consider what is ahead of us, and to pace ourselves based on whether we’re running a short race or a marathon.
- How we can stop running, screw up, make a bad decision, say something we regret, sit on the couch watching Netflix all weekend, eat an entire tub of ice cream, and appear to have failed, but that doesn’t mean we’re done. The race isn’t over, we can still decide to apologize and ask for forgiveness, we can admit we made a bad decision and make a new and better one, we can get off the couch and do one thing (the dishes, five minutes worth of exercise, a phone call we’ve been putting off, etc.), with the knowledge that that one thing might give us the motivation to do a second thing, we can make our next meal something that is going to fuel our body with goodness and nutrition no matter how bad our last meal was, and we can dust ourselves off, get back up, acknowledge that there is no such thing as failure unless we refuse to learn from it, and start moving again.
- How we can get trapped believing that ‘what we’ve always done’ is ‘all we’ll ever do.’ The truth however is much brighter than that dismal falsehood. The truth is that we can create a new ‘norm’ in our lives anytime we decide to. It doesn’t matter how many times we quit running at the two-mile mark, we can run three miles once we decide to. It doesn’t matter how many times we have turned to doughnuts as a source of comfort, we can turn to something that serves us better once we decide to. It doesn’t matter how many times we have spoken with a critical voice to someone we love, we can begin speaking with more patience, grace, and love as soon as we decide to. It doesn’t matter how many times we have committed to exercising only to fall off the bandwagon, we can become as committed as we want to be as soon as we decide to.
- How we’re never going to be perfect. We’ll never be perfect runners, perfect mothers, perfect wives, perfect workers, perfect cooks, perfect homemakers. But we can be runners, mothers, wives, cooks, workers, and homemakers who are fully committed to making progress, simply by showing up, choosing to do the next right thing instead of looking at the big, overarching, overwhelming picture, owning it when we screw up, giving ourselves grace or asking for forgiveness when its needed, taking time to evaluate things so we quit getting hung up or set back by the same obstacles, and committing over and over (and over again) if necessary when it comes to the things that matter most to us.
- How thoughts of thankfulness (for things like shade, a field of wildflowers blowing in the breeze, a movie night with our family (even if there is bickering), the arms of a nine year old around our neck, the taste of an orange, a lazy morning spent in bed reading a book, the way our husband looks when he works up a sweat, hearing our kids share the same wise advice we had once shared with them, even though we thought they weren’t listening, a houseplant that just keeps on living it’s simple little life even though we aren’t as faithful to water it as we should be, how good lip balm feels sliding across our lips when they’re dry, the smell of a kid fresh out of the bathtub, the way the light filters through the trees, the way water hits the spot, how the seasons bring newness, etc. Unthankfulness simply cannot coexist with thoughts of thankfulness. They can’t share the same stage. We can only have one thought in our heads at a time, and we get to make the choice as to which of those thoughts we’re allowing on stage.
- How the uphill stretches of life are always temporary, but if we get focused on the discomfort of the uphill battles, we can lose sight of the fact that it’s the hills that grow and strengthen us the most, and we can lose our ability to appreciate just how good it feels to hit the top of the hill.
- How looking behind us can cause us to trip on something that is coming up in our future. How looking down can cause us to feel like we aren’t making any progress. And how looking forward helps us keep our eyes set on the only thing that matters – where we’re headed.
- How we can’t always see what’s around the next corner, but no matter what it is, we can survive it – we just have to determine the best approach, be willing to make adjustments to our approach when necessary, and remember that it’s a temporary circumstance that can bring about permanent, beautiful, worthwhile change.
- How good it is when we struggle to have someone running alongside us, someone behind us who catches up to be with us, or someone ahead of us who is willing to come back to encourage us.
I hope to encourage you, no matter where you are in this race, to pace yourself, to be thankful for the shade, to remember that the hot sting of the sun is only temporary, to recognize that the hills will only make you stronger, to keep looking ahead, to trust that no matter what lies around the next corner, you are capable enough to handle it, to believe that slowing down or stopping doesn’t mean you’re finished, to be observant enough to notice when your good intentions are failing and you’ve got to dig deeper for more fuel, to remember that every emotion is temporary, to choose faith over fear, to believe the truth of progress over the lie of perfection, and to keep encouraging everyone you are blessed to meet along the way.
I’m privileged to be running this race with you.
Took this one right after I got back - sweaty face and all...