One accomplishment of mine this past year was running a half marathon.
It was my second half marathon. My first was three years ago, and after it was over, I had no particular desire to ever run another one. I’m in my 50s, somewhat overweight, and even in my younger days I wasn’t an especially fast runner. Running a half marathon seemed like it was a lot of stress for a fairly small payoff.
But I changed my mind. I decided to try another one. I felt eager for a new challenge, ready to increase my training runs, and excited about having a goal to work toward. So I signed up for the Disney Avengers Super Heroes Half Marathon. I trained consistently, gradually increasing my miles, using the Jeff Galloway run-walk-run method that has helped me stay injury free for years.
And in November, I ran the half marathon. And thoroughly enjoyed it.
Since then, I’ve been thinking about this passage from the Bible:
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. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2, emphasis added)
“Run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Sounds like in some ways, life is an endurance race.
I want to run mine well.
How can we run the race of life well in this upcoming new year? How can we finish strong? What does it take to endure? Here are some life lessons I’ve been reflecting on since running my race:
1) Keep the Goal in Mind
You won’t keep running if you’re not trying to achieve an objective. Only a meaningful goal will keep us going when the race gets challenging.
As Christians, God’s goal for us is to make us more like Jesus. When I keep my focus on Jesus, then no matter what challenges come into my life, I know God can use it to make me a better person, to make me more like Christ.
This is a worthy goal, one that keeps me pressing on.
2) Train Consistently
The key to running long distance is to run shorter distances consistently and increase gradually over time. Do what you are able to do, so that in time you will become able to do even more.
Similarly in life, be consistent over time. “Run with perseverance.” Eugene Peterson, quoting Nietzsche, calls it “a long obedience in the same direction.”
I love looking back over my years of following Christ, and seeing ways that God has led, ways that I have grown, relationships that have improved, and painful circumstances that God has redeemed. I know these benefits have come because I’ve been fairly consistent over time.
3) Build Habits
When we train consistently, we build habits. Training becomes routine; it takes less willpower and motivation. Just as you don’t have to force yourself to brush your teeth every day, soon you don’t have to force yourself to work out.
Spiritual disciplines can also become life-giving habits. Prayer, Bible reading, service and worship, when done consistently, can begin to come more naturally, to be part of the pattern of your life.
Gretchen Rubin, in her book on habits, Better than Before, says, “What we do every day matters more than what we do once in a while.”
4) Know Your “Why”
There were times on my long training runs when I did not want to run that tenth mile. My feet ached, the hills seemed to be getting steeper, and I wanted to quit. But I’d already committed to running the half marathon. My fee was paid. I was all in, and wasn’t going to back out.
The “why” that kept me going through those training runs was knowing that my race was coming. I wanted to be ready.
The author of Hebrews tells us that Jesus “endured the cross… for the joy set before him.” Jesus overcame the pain and shame of his death by looking past it to the joy that waited for him on the other side.
In the same way, we can persist through difficulties when we focus on the blessings waiting for us on the other side.
Scientists call it “deferred gratification” – it’s that ability to handle some pain now because we know that if we wait, there will be a reward. It’s the ability to remind ourselves that this path we’ve chosen will be worth it in the end. We can be faithful day after day when we know our “why.”
The Hebrews passage reminds us that loving and knowing Jesus is the reason we run. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus.”
5) Expect Challenges
Part of training is recovering from setbacks and overcoming obstacles. We have to learn to run in adverse weather, or to adapt our training to recover from an injury.
Sin easily entangles us. Distractions hinder us. Set those aside. Throw them off. Keep going. Keep moving toward the goal.
6) Get Connected
My husband was my support person during my race. Seeing his face and hearing him cheer for me, especially toward the end of the race, helped me feel encouraged to keep going.
I was also surrounded by fellow runners, so I wasn’t running alone. And all along the route were hundreds of people cheering for us, sometimes entire cheerleading squads and pep bands from local high schools and colleges. We received water and energy drinks from volunteers manning refreshment stations along the way. The race was definitely a group effort.
Hebrews tells us that we have “a great cloud of witnesses” – that the Christians who have come before us, who demonstrated incredible faith, are cheering us on.
To run a successful race this new year, find people who encourage you and who refresh you. Become more aware of all the people who have gone before you, and let their examples cheer you on.
May we all keep on running with endurance until we say, like the apostle Paul at the end of his life, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7)
Blessings to you as you run.