The Chicago Marathon leaves one non-runner with more than aching legs; she's left with lessons learned that transcend any race.
I love watching the Olympics. I don't think there's an event in the entire Summer or Winter Games that doesn't leave me totally inspired. Well, maybe except for Curling. That one just leaves me totally confused. It's like a bizarre, panicky version of shuffleboard on ice mixed with mopping. I simply don't get it. Other than that, watching the Olympics makes me feel motivated to embrace life and go for the gold like the athletes on the screen. Their courage, determination, discipline and triumphant human spirit make me want to put down my bowl of ice cream and attempt to do some sit ups during the commercials.
Perhaps it was the Olympics that inspired me to want to run a marathon. Or maybe I had seen an Ironman race on TV one afternoon. Or simply woken up from a nap where I dreamed I could zip up my pre-pregnancy jeans. Somehow, I got the bright idea to test my endurance and train for a marathon.
At the time, I couldn't run around my block. OK, I exaggerate. I actually could run around my block, but only with the grace and agility equal to my gas-filled Boston terrier with one of his paws caught in the neck of his winter sweater. And of course, after finishing the lap, I'd be huffing and carrying on like a crotchety, venomous-tongued old lady who smoked a pack a day since she was 10.
So, what would make me, an already over-committed, sleep-deprived pudgy mother of two little rascals, think that I could not only train for, but actually complete a marathon? Beats me. Seriously. I'm not sure I can even answer that question, except to say that I must have had a screw loose. Or two. The problem is, sometimes I get these wild hairs. Ask anyone who knows me. Usually, once such a thought pops into my head, I can't even talk myself out of it.
So, I went to the bookstore to look for a training guide. There were a gazillion of them on the shelf. Suddenly, one book spine in particular caught my eye and I instantly knew I had a winner: The Non-Runner's Marathon Trainer. Hey, that was for me! How strange to be so excited to admit that I was a non-runner who had the audacity to want to train for a marathon, but I couldn't be more thrilled. The book may as well have been titled, Totally Out-of-Shape Wannabe Fit Person With a Wild Hair to Run a Marathon As If. I would have even brought that one up to the cashier with a skip in my step.
Oh, if only you could have seen me jog some of those first few training runs (and of course, I use the term "jog" loosely because I don't think there is a verb to describe what I was actually doing). But if you had witnessed the sight, you'd realize what an amazing feat it was for me to finish the Chicago Marathon this past October. Granted, it took me five hours to cross the finish line, but I'm proud to say that I didn't walk once ... and had the time of my life. Truly, it was one of the biggest thrills I've ever experienced.
I learned a lot over the course of the 16-week training program, and during the race itself. These lessons I gleaned are worth sharing because they transcend marathon running and can hopefully be an encouragement to finish well in this journey of the Christian life. Here's just a handful to consider:
Don't even think about cramming for this test.
During the race, I was astonished to see (and swiftly pass) a virile and fit-looking young man who was hobbling painfully along around mile 14. He had scribbled a sign on the back of his T-shirt, "Don't laugh. I didn't train for this race." Duh, what was he thinking? And what are we thinking when we have all these expectations of ourselves to be holy and Christlike when we're really just winging it? When we're not studying the Word. Or seeking God's face through prayer. To run the race in such a way as to win, well, that takes training. That takes discipline. Not that I can get to Heaven through an ounce my own strength, but I want to be ready to meet Christ. I want my entire life to be about preparing for that glorious event. To live like Timothy suggests, "Be[ing] diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15).
Tell people who you are.
The training guide I followed recommended that we immediately start telling people we were a "marathoner." Sure, I thought. Right after I tell them that I'm a super model. Hello, I had my pride. I could barely run 4 miles without walking — why would I tell people that I was a marathoner? What if I caved? What if I didn't complete the training and didn't run the race? I kept my mouth shut for the longest time. But word got out. And the more people that knew what I was doing, the stronger my determination to prove to everyone that I could do it. I would do it, if it killed me. Looking back, I see the value in telling others. And it's like the Christian life. If people know you're a believer, or you share with a friend an area where you're struggling, you've got accountability. Sadly, sometimes it's just not enough to know that the holy and mighty God of the universe sees all. But hey, if your neighbor sees, then you know better stand up a little straighter.
Be positive — it's more than a blood type.
Having a positive attitude is paramount to succeeding in anything, really. My marathon guide said that I should practice positive visualization — not only to believe I could finish, but to picture myself doing well throughout every portion of the race. Once I got into the habit of doing this, it came naturally. Ultimately, I knew I'd finish. I'd seen myself do it a thousand times. Imagine putting into practice this idea of thinking positive as a believer in a spiritual battle. "Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things" (Philippians 4:7-8). Paul shares that if you put this into practice, "the God of peace will be with you."
Embrace carb loading.
Carbohydrates are critical to athletic performance. Two hours of exercise or a 20-mile run can deplete liver and muscle glycogen levels or stored carbohydrates. When it's gone, you're left with heavy, tired muscles, poor performance and possibly complete fatigue. So, the week before a big race, (and even during the run) a marathoner is supposed to load up on carbohydrates. Hey, I'm Italian. I've been carb loading since the womb. This wasn't a problem for me. But the whole training process reminded me how food is really designed to be fuel for our bodies. Of course, man cannot live on bread alone. We need nourishing fuel for our souls. Feeling run down? Load up on the Psalms. Need to get motivated? Read the book of Isaiah. In this Christian journey, we need to satisfy our hunger and thirst with the living and active Word of God.
Keep up with the old lady in front of you.
I found it hard to believe how good I actually felt during the race. But if ever there was a moment of doubt or fatigue, that's usually when I'd spot a wrinkly 60-something-year-old lady keeping pace right ahead of me. If she could keep running, there's no way I'd let myself quit. As it is in the Christian life, it's good to keep pace with older, seasoned believers. They've been at it much longer than us and have a lot to teach us about living for God. Seek out an older mentor and you'll discover the most encouraging training partner.
Snicker if you will, but once after completing a 14-mile training run, I discovered that a small seam on my V-neck T-shirt gave me a raw, red and bleeding wound about the size of a half dollar on my chest. I didn't even notice that it must have been rubbing ever so slightly against my skin till the damage had been done. After that experience, I covered my body from head to toe with this silky, sort of greasy stuff that runners use to avoid chaffing. These little seams are the dismay of many marathoners and remind me of how easily and unknowingly sin can rub against us. It may start out as something little — a small temptation — but can grow and chafe and entangle you with a wound that only Christ's grace can heal. There's no magic Christian salve, but "through the fear of the Lord a man avoids evil" (Proverbs 16:6b).
Keep your eye on the prize.
"What's your goal?" friends would ask me. "Do you want to finish the marathon under a certain number of hours?" they'd pester. I'd respond by answering, "My main goal is to not lose control of my bowels during the race." Perhaps I watched too many dehydrated Ironman participants on TV flailing and spewing all sorts of things as they crossed the finish line. Initially anyway, this was a real concern. My marathon guide told me not to worry about my time, but that my goal should be simply to finish. Still, I couldn't help but want to finish well. The Bible tell us to run in such a way as to get the prize. As a believer, I know I need to "press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:14).
The saying is true: the Christian life is a race of endurance, a marathon. Sometimes you feel like you can do this — you're trained, strong and ready. Other times you can only focus on your pain or fatigue and wonder when the journey will end. Praise God we don't have to rely on what we feel, but live securely in the truth that Christ has won the race for our sakes. A marathon finisher's medal will tarnish. But the crown of life Jesus gives us will last for eternity.
Copyright 2006 Kara Schwab. All rights reserved.