Reflections on Running a Marathon
Updated: Apr 26, 2022
I ran my first marathon...
I was 17 when I started the race in Christ. Not having grown up in the church, I knew very little about the Bible and Christianity. About two weeks after I accepted Christ, our high school cross country team went to the Regional Cross-County meet. Before the meet, a friend from the church gave me the verses from 1 Corinthians 9…
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
My first response was, “What does it mean?” The friend was giving it to me to encourage me in the cross-country race to run to get the prize. Paul, the author of Corinthians, was using sports as an analogy for life as a believer in Jesus. I didn’t understand.
I have run over 100 road races, including fourteen half-marathons and four sprint triathlons, but I had never run a marathon. About a month after I became a Christian, I ran a 30K (18.6 miles). I came in 2nd in my age group; however, after the race, I promised myself that I would never run anything that took me more than two hours to do. I kept that promise, until last year.
For some reason, last summer (summer 2021), I had the crazy idea of doing an Ironman, a race that takes the best athletes in the world over 6 hours to do. I even volunteered at one of the last aid stations in the Chattanooga Ironman in part to see what the athletes looked like towards the end of the race. “If they can do it, I can do it.” I thought my first step towards an Ironman would be to do a marathon. I signed up for a marathon for April 2022. To me, signing up, especially for a non-refundable race, was commitment.
A non-refundable price was paid for us, by Jesus.
I signed up for the Down the Mountain Marathon in Virginia for four reasons: 1) It was one-way, downhill the whole way. It was a rails to trails path so the downhill grade was doable, though still tough on the thighs and knees. 2) The trail did not close to the public during the race so Tiffany could bike it with me. 3) The date of the race worked for our schedules. 4) It was a trail run, which I would enjoy more than a road race.
Sign up. Commit. When I signed up for my life in Christ, I committed. No turning back. No turning back. So many times I have felt like turning back. Life has not been a downhill trail run. There have been many deep valleys and high mountains. The grade has not always been easy. I will not give up.
Run in such a way as to get the prize.
Training for my marathon has not always been easy. There were many times I felt like giving up. Last August, I could hardly run one 10-minute mile. I was thirty pounds heavier than I am today. By October, I was up to three, 10-minute miles. In December, I ran a half-marathon at 10:12 per mile. In February, I ran a 15K (9.3 miles) race at 9:12 per mile. I was making progress.
Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training.
But progress was not easy. Since starting, I pulled a groin muscle, pulled a calf muscle more than once, had some back pain, and sprained an ankle. I got sick twice. And there was work, and ministry, and family life to work around.
I continued to run by faith. I told Tiffany and friends, “I’ll keep going until God or my body says stop.”
I learned many years ago that you train in every type of weather because the race could be in any type of weather. One morning I was up at 5 AM, 23 degrees, to run 18 miles. I did not want to do it, but I did. Another morning the temperature was in the fifties and pouring rain. I did not want to do it. I put on my rain jacket and headed out into the dark, cold, rainy morning. On that run, I ran by a car where a guy was holding his phone like he was videoing me. I imagine it was posted somewhere with something like, “Look at this crazy guy running in the cold rain.”
I started doing ten to twenty minutes of exercises first thing every morning because when I told myself, “I’ll do it later,” I rarely did. Most mornings, I did not want to do it. “Stay under the warm covers a little longer,” my saner self would plead.
In life, many mornings I wake up and do not want to do the exercises (worship, prayer, study) and the runs (the responsibilities) God has for me that day. It’s too cold. It’s too difficult. It’s too lonely. It’s too thankless. It’s too boring.
I don’t have to tell you that one, two, three, four hours of running gets boring, and lonely, and difficult, similar to how the race of life sometimes gets.
There were some redemptive elements to the training. I was getting healthier. The weight was coming off. My times were getting faster and distances were getting longer. But the best part was Tiffany joining me on this journey. When we could, we spent our exercise time together. She would do morning exercises with me. We would go to the gym together two or three evenings per week. and she biked with me on about half of my runs over ten miles. I ran. She biked. She carried my water and snacks. I ran slowly enough for us to talk, pray, encourage, and enjoy the company of one another. The time she was with me made the runs much more enjoyable and purposeful. She was my constant cheerleader during practices and at road races. Over the months of training, she helped me create a play list of motivating and uplifting music, much of which was worshipful. I prayed and worshiped a lot when I trained. Time with God. Time with Tiffany. Good stuff.
I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air.
Tiffany did draw the line at about 35 degrees. Her saner self stayed under the warm covers when it was cold, cloudy, rainy. I run best in anything under fifty degrees. I wanted cold of any kind. She wanted warm and sunny.
Two months before the marathon, I had trained enough to decide not to do an Ironman and pretty sure I would only be doing one marathon. Other marathoners disagree that this will be my only marathon. They tell me that every marathon feels like the last marathon, and they sign up for another. I am pretty sure I will only do one marathon, but I have already established a half-marathon goal time for November or December when it is cold again.
What about the marathon of life? Will I stop?
No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
I hope to endure to the end. Moments of grace help. Last fall, I wore a knee brace or braces for most of my runs. In the half marathon in December, I wore a knee brace for the last time. A couple weeks after the race, I iced a sore knee on the way to a Bible study. After the Bible study, I was walking with a friend down the driveway and something popped in my knee. I turned to my friend and said, “I think I just had a miraculous healing.” I have not had knee pain since, in either knee. Sometimes we get some extra grace to move forward.
I have had seasons of life where I have wanted to throw in the towel. I have had seasons where I have avoided some important races (opportunities, responsibilities) and did poorly in other races. God’s grace covers it, which keeps me signing up for races.
You train in every type of weather because the race can be in any type of weather.
As race day approached, we noticed a cold front would move through on the day of the race. The cold front would include high twenty-degree weather, snow, and sleet.
The forecast never changed despite prayers. Sometimes prayers change conditions. Sometimes they don’t. Our preference not being realized does not mean we give up. Sixteen percent of the runners decided not to run the race. People drop out even before they start. The committed press on.
It was windy and thirty degrees when the race started. “Feels like 19 degrees,” the weather app said.
Tiffany did not bike the marathon. In all fairness, my race is not hers and her race is not mine. We just get to share in each other’s races. She is committed to the races God has for her. Tiffany knew she would have been miserable in the weather, which would not have been an encouragement to me. She helped by meeting me along the path, cheering me on, stocking me with water and snacks and, once snow and sleet passed, giving me a dry shirt. The weather was uncomfortable for me for only about 10 minutes of the race during blowing sleet. Otherwise, the snow was beautiful, scenic, refreshing. It kept me exhilarated and enjoying the run. I even stopped to take a few photos and videos.
At about five miles, I was so into worship, I tripped over a rock. I had a moment where I wanted to give in to self-pity. "And this is what I get for worshiping." Get up. Press on.
I was wearing tights. The tights never ripped, which kept me from knowing how bad my knees were. After the race, when I took my tights off, both knees were road rash bloody. My tights not ripping saved me psychologically. Seeing bloody knees with twenty-one miles to go would have messed with my mind.
When we focus on the damage, the hurt, the pain, it messes with us, especially when there are still so many miles to go.
By the way, that wad in my pocket is toilet paper. Because you never know on a long trail run through the woods.
Pain happens with any long run. It’s unavoidable. When you run for hours, your body will get sore and tired. The uncomfortable pain started settling in with about ten miles to go and was fully felt with five miles to go. Your body starts screaming, “Stop!”, and your mind starts to agree. It happened to me. There comes a time when it seems like each mile is taking an hour to finish. It takes an incredible amount of concentration to endure. It takes an incredible amount of strength to focus on the positive, the victory of each step. It sometimes takes work to worship and be grateful.
I ran by a herd of cows. One bellowed at me. I bellowed back and smiled through the pain. This sign earlier in the race made me laugh too...
I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:14
The race was small. Since the path was not closed to the public, the race director only allowed 100 runners to enter the race. When the weather is good, the path was usually packed with hikers, bikers, runners, moms with strollers. Since it was a cold, snowy day, there were only a few more people on the path with the 84 runners who started the race. I ran alone for most of the race, which made it much more difficult to pass the time. Also, I had no phone service, so I had no running app to keep my pace and the race had no mile split timers. I had to trust my training.
Over my years of running and training, I have learned to determine what my body is capable of and keep the pace, even if the pace goal is much slower than I had set out to do. I would like to have run the marathon faster, but with the training I was able to do, a 5:30 marathon was what it was going to be. Since Tiffany would not be able to see my location on her phone, I gave her a sheet with times I would be at certain spots so she could meet me.
I came across those spots very close to the times. Though I ran most of the race alone, was without pacing or timing help, and the last five miles were filled with pain, I ran the race I set out to run. Because I paced my run, I passed several other runners, who became walkers, in those last five miles. And, after five and one-half hours of running, finished within four minutes (faster) than my goal.
Life is a marathon. Pacing is important. I do wish that pacing in life was as predictable.
Run in such a way as to get the prize.
The best part – the celebration of accomplishment. Eight months of training, early mornings, long Saturday runs. Eight months of disciplined eating, sleeping, exercise. Eight months of sore muscles and recovering from injury and sickness. Eight months of getting out early in every type of weather.
I finished the race.
I want to be known as a finisher. I want to one day hear, “Well done.”
The day after the race, my thighs were so sore any step downward (on steps or any slope) was painful. Hardly able to walk down one such slope (we were in a parking lot), I turned to Tiffany and said, “I’m so grateful for the health to be able to do a marathon.” After the finish, the pain had become a grateful reminder of what was accomplished and the grace to accomplish it. I am grateful.
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
2 Timothy 4:7-8
I think this is what Paul may have meant when he wrote 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. I have more miles to run before I know for sure.