Ok, let's just clear the air a little bit before I say my piece: I'm not a runner. Not really, anyway. Sure, I just ran a half marathon. But I'm not one of those "I live for running" type of people. You know the ones: they run in the middle of snowstorms and heatwaves and on Thanksgiving morning while the rest of us stand inside our houses looking at them through our living room windows half-hoping to see them trip. (Admit it. We've all thought it...just a little trip to teach them a lesson about the instability of running on ice, am I right? I'm the actual worst, I know.) My point here is that I'm not an expert. So take or leave what I have to say with a grain of salt, k?
Sitting on this side of the finish line, I've been thinking about all the things training for a marathon taught me. While each of the things I'm going to list apply to running (duh) really they apply to life in an even bigger way. Because life is a marathon, is it not? We are all running our own race - not against anyone or anything. But here we are, all of us doing our best- sometimes walking, sometimes sprinting, occasionally limping- all of us toward a finish line. Even the Bible compares life to running. Hebrews 12:1-2 says it so beautifully:
"And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith."
So here we go. These are just a few of the lessons this non-running girl learned while training for a marathon:
1.) Find some friends to run with.
The best piece of advice I could ever give to someone wanting to train for any kind of marathon? Find a friend and train together. The day I decided I wanted to run a half marathon, which was completely on a whim by the way (so much wisdom in impulse decision-making, you guys), I immediately knew I couldn't train alone. At 34, I'm finally in this sweet spot of being able to own my weaknesses without giving in to them. I know me, is what I'm saying, and I know that I'm a classic starter but a horrible finisher. I need accountability. And so I texted one of my long-time BFF's, asked if she'd be up for running a half with me, and about 2.7 seconds later she texted back in all caps YES. That was it. And can I tell you? We have had the best time. No really! We have. We trained individually during the week and then we would meet up for our long runs on Saturday mornings. During those long runs we'd tackle life problems, share heartaches, laugh our heads off at the silliest things, and we were comfortable in silence when the steep hills came and it was all we could do just to breathe. So what's the life lesson here? Find friends you can run your race with. The ones you can laugh with and do hard things with and ask tough questions of. Friends you can drop-in on without it being weird or you having to call first and you can sit on your back porch and eat chips and salsa while your kids put themselves to bed every once in a while. Friends who will encourage you when the going gets tough and the hills get steep. Friends who aren't looking for a competition but are happy to cheer you on and you cheer them on and before you know it, this beautiful cycle takes place that is full of soul-nurturing goodness. And in case you feel like you don't have those people (I have been there!) I promise you that your people are out there. But I'll be honest: these kind of friendships don't just happen overnight. Ryan and I often laugh about the amount of "first-dates" we've been on with other couples. Don't get weird on me. What I mean is that finding friends is a little like dating - you hang out a few times, see if things click, and when they do, you cling to those people for dear life. Because let's face it, having the kind of friends where you do life together can be hard to find. But when you find those dear ones - it is a gift. Moses had some friends like this. We read about them in Exodus 17:
"The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites. Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands.” So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword." (v.8-13)
Did you catch that? Moses had the kind of friends who didn't wait to be asked before they helped. They gave Moses a safe place to rest and they held his hands up and steadied him when he got tired. And because they stepped in and helped their friend, a whole nation was saved. I pray that each of us would not only find the kind of friends who do this, but that we'd be the kind of friends who do this. The kind of friends that come alongside one another and hold one another up when we feel like fainting or falling or giving up. Lineages and generations could be saved by us simply being the voice in someone else's ear that says we got this. I'm here for you. At the end of the day, running with friends doesn't make the marathon of life easier, but it sure makes it more enjoyable.
2) Learn how to pace yourself
When the gun goes off and you feel the rush and excitement of people all around you, your adrenaline will go crazy and your brain will start yelling at you with all sorts of nonsense: run hard and fast, it will say. Get ahead of everyone else. It's a race after all! Go go go!! Your brain is lying, friend. Running hard and fast right out of the gate is a no-no for so many reasons. It takes a massive amount of self-control to tell your fresh, un-tired feet to pace themselves. Admittedly, I was the one at our race who became the maniac wannabe-athlete and decided to ditch my training and just run as fast as I could out of the starting line. Lisa, my running buddy, had to hold me back. She calmly but firmly refused to match my ridiculous pace and said, "whoa! E! Trust our training. We've prepared for this. Don't run so fast or we won't finish." Don't you love friends who remind you to get it together?
Of course Lisa was right. I had to remember and rely on our training -all those early mornings spent learning how to pace myself, how to not tax my body too quickly so there would be gas left in the tank for the end of the race. Eventually we caught up to and even passed most of the people who rocketed past us at the beginning. And I'll tell you right now what my proudest moment of the race was: the hills. And there were lots of them. There was one section of our race that was 2 km straight up a horrible hill. Burning lungs, aching muscles, sweaty inner-elbows (this is a real thing and it's gross, you guys. My apologies for bringing it up). But because we paced ourselves, we were able to run those hills. Many of the runners chose to walk the hills - and I get it and there is zero judgement from me (I'm a non-runner remember?). But I was so proud of the fact that we didn't have to walk simply because we learned how to pace our running. It's not because we were the fastest or the best. It was because we trusted our training.
When it comes to running the race of life, I'm not saying that it needs to be an even-keel pace for our entire lives. That's unrealistic. There will be highs and lows and moments where it feels like we're sprinting into an adventure and other moments where it feels like we're slowing to a crawl because of unexpected, devastating circumstances. Life is hard and beautiful and it has complicated twists and turns. It's not guaranteed to be easy or without pain. But if I could offer up 1 piece of advice it would be this: figure out your best rhythm, your best pace, and aim for that. My best version of me happens in the early morning hours- before husband and kids are awake vying for my attention. When it's just me, Jesus, and my hot cup of coffee. Those early mornings spent in the Word, learning about God, listening for him, talking to him -- it feeds my soul in a way absolutely nothing else can. When that part of me gets filled up in the mornings, the rest of my day is spent remembering that training. It's in those secret, quiet places of learning how to match God's desired pace for my life (which is a life full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control) - this is what helps me to pace myself long after I've gotten up from my living room couch.
And it is only by learning to pace ourselves that we will not just run well, but we will finish strong.
3) Don't just run; cross-train.
Our training program looked like this: 3 days of running, 2 days of interval training, and 2 days of rest. I'm sure other programs do it differently and that's A-OK. But before I started this marathon journey, I honestly thought that all I needed to do was get outside and start running. Easy-peasy, right? I quickly learned that running everyday (as a way of training, at least) is a great way to injure your muscles. Those legs need rest, man. They are looking up at your arms like hey, why don't you do something to contribute to this workout situation? Do your part BICEPS. I honestly looked forward to my interval training because it meant that at some point I would be sitting down on a bench to lift weights. Sitting down as a form of working out is second only to sitting down, working out and watching Netflix at the same time. I'M GETTING OFF TRACK HERE. The point is, and I don't even know if this qualifies as marathon prep or not, you will hurt in places you didn't know existed. Part of this will be the running and part of it will be the cross-training. All of it together will confuse your sweet little body and some underside or inside of you will start screaming one random morning when you bend over to pick up the newspaper and that's when you'll grimace/smile/scream because ta-da: you've just discovered muscles you didn't know you had.
Here's the bigger lesson: Cross-train with your life. Don't just do one thing. Live a little, guys! Find some other things to do that are fun, creative, exciting, and different than the norm. Do you like to fish? Go fishing! Have you always wanted to paint? Go to the Dollar store, buy some cheap brushes, turn on Bob Ross (again, we love you Netflix), and get your paint on! Have you talked forever about that hike you want to do or that lake you want to camp at or that couple you want to have over for dinner? DO IT. Ryan and I sat the other night and just talked about our dreams/wishes. While some of them involve stuff, all of them involve people. What I am saying here is that we all have responsibilities: work, kids, etc. Those are the normal muscles we flex. But there are creative, adventurous sides to us, fun sides in us, that are aching to get out and flex every now and again. So let's let them.
4) Don't forget to enjoy the scenery along the way.
There were some breath-taking views on our runs. Mountains, valleys, rivers, forests, rabbits (those darn things gave me a heart-attack every.single.time. Nature is so unpredictable, y'all). I think the life lesson here is pretty obvious: don’t get so caught up in running your race that you miss the beauty of it all. Some of our best views will come after we’ve climbed the hardest mountains. We only get one shot at this life, so let’s enjoy it and be the kind of runners who find the beauty in it along the way.
I know there are more lessons I've learned from running. But I’ll stop now because THIS IS THE INTERNET and not a novel. You’re welcome. But I do want to say one last thing:
The truth of all these life lessons hit home in a personal way the day before I ran my marathon. Someone very dear to me passed away and although we knew it was coming, it still sucks the breath out of you when it happens. After I got the call, my mind immediately went to the fact that her race here on earth was done. And that she finished well. It's all still very raw but the Lord reminded me of 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 and this is the verse that was going through my head as my feet hit the pavement this weekend:
“You’ve all been to the stadium and seen the athletes race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win. All good athletes train hard. They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You’re after one that’s gold eternally. I don’t know about you, but I’m running hard for the finish line. I’m giving it everything I’ve got. No sloppy living for me! I’m staying alert and in top condition. I’m not going to get caught napping, telling everyone else all about it and then missing out myself.” MSG
Whether you are training for a marathon or not, we're all in a race, my friends. So train hard in the things that matter. And then run with everything you've got. Jesus is there. And when we cross the finish line here on earth and see his beautiful face, you'd better believe we will realize that every single second of our race was worth it.