I started running again this summer.
Well, sort of.
It’s actually only happened about three times over the last month or so, but the most recent run really caught me by surprise.
First, a little backstory.
Running and I have had an on-again/off-again relationship over the years. I ran track for a year in high school (mostly as a way to stay in shape during the off-season for my primary sport -- men’s volleyball...no jokes about spandex). I didn’t love it, per say, but I discovered I was pretty good at it. And so I started running more often for fun. In gym class, my buddy, Dave, and I would happily race each other for our mandatory half-mile warm-ups while the rest of the class halfheartedly jogged. In college, I’d happily bail on social outings to go for midnight runs through a quiet campus just to enjoy the peace and solitude.
As I got into adulthood, though, it just seemed like there were fewer opportunities. More accurately, I stopped choosing it but running was always something that was just waiting there for me whenever I wanted to turn back to it. And the body would just respond. And it was great.
And then there were some injuries in my late 20’s and early 30’s and suddenly the body wasn’t moving the same way. A half mile was suddenly a chore. A mile was a grind. The effortlessness was gone, and with it, the fun.
Then came Ragnar.
If you’ve been tracking with our podcasts, you hopefully caught our “Challenge” series back in the spring as Mike, Tom, and I recapped our experience with this team relay race called Ragnar. In December 2017 we decided to sign up for a 200-ish mile-long, 12-person relay that would take place in September 2018, and would require each of us to run about 18 miles over the course of the event.
And so I started to train.
And it sucked! A lot!
It was hard. The body just wouldn't respond the way I wanted it to. And the memory of times when running was easy kept haunting me, staying just out of reach.
But slowly things got better.
We ran the race, it was awesome, and I surpassed my own expectations, especially since I was coming off a last-minute injury a couple months just before race time.
And then I stopped running again.
Until this summer, when I felt like God was nudging me to get back outside and once more fight to reclaim this thing that I’ve enjoyed far more often than not in my life.
So I ran a couple times, managed to complete a mile or so, and thought, “Hey, this isn’t so bad!”
Then God decided to have some fun.
A couple weeks ago, as I laced up the shoes and headed off down the driveway, it felt like God was inviting me to run faster than I had been. “You’re stronger than you know,” He says.
This is a bittersweet invitation for me. While it’s admittedly been over two decades, I still remember how my body felt when I was in high school and could run a mile in 5:15. I don’t say this to brag. That’s really fast for some, and at the same time, I know lots of guys that are in the 4-minute mile club and would do my fastest pace as a light day in their prime.
But my body remembers that pace, and so there are times when I struggle to accept my current state as a 9 minute-plus runner. It feels slow! It honestly feels pathetic.
But today, God says run faster.
So I run faster. And it feels amazing! For about half a mile. Then it’s just hard.
And then it feels like God starts to point out landmarks up ahead. “Can you get to that? I bet you can! Do it! Don’t slow down! You’re stronger than you know!”
*Gasp* *Gasp* “Ok!” *Gasp*
Just as I get close and start to think that maybe this little experiment is over, it feels like He points further down the road. “See that fence post? Do you think you could get there? I bet you could! Don’t slow down! You’re strong than you know!”
*Gasp* *Gasp* “Ugh...you’ve got to be kidding!” *Gasp* *Ok!”
Finally, the finish line stops moving and I'm allowed to stop to catch my breath. And I check my running app to see how far I went. I see the time for the first mile.
I honestly can’t believe it. I haven’t run a mile at that pace in 20 years. I’m stunned.
But wait, there’s more!
It turns out I actually ran a second mile before stopping.
Huh! I thought I had nothing left in the tank halfway through the run and was just stumbling along...and yet I managed to run the last mile a little faster than I’ve been doing the first mile of late.
“You’re stronger than you know.”
As I walk back home...still sucking in welcome lungfuls of air...that phrase comes back to my mind. And on its heels comes another that I’ve often struggled to make sense of.
“Faith without works is dead.”
I couldn’t remember where that verse came from at the time (James 2:17), but it suddenly seemed to make so much more sense. In that moment, and in my context, I realized that me accepting the invitation to go run -- and to go run faster -- wasn’t about having to perform or earn anything through hard work. Rather, it was giving me the opportunity to have my faith tested through active obedience...through a physical experience -- a physical trial...that laid bare my doubts and insecurities in the moment and then conquered them with a physical confirmation of truth in a way that was exponentially more powerful than thought. It was the difference between “knowing” that God says I’m strong and experiencing God prove my strength to me in the face of my own uncertainty.
My friends, amazing things happen when God tells us the truth about ourselves in the midst of challenges.
But even more amazing things happen when we trust Him enough to experience the reality of that truth in the midst of challenge.
What’s the challenge right now?
And what’s He saying to you?
“Will you follow Me?”
“Will you trust Me?”
“You’re stronger than you know.”