everything I need to know about life I learned from running

Well not EVERYTHING of course, but there are quite a few things I have learned from running that are analogous to life. And it would be good for me to clarify that when I use the word ‘life’ I am thinking more in line with the Christian life the Bible calls one to abide by. But I am not allowed enough characters in the title to spell all that out, nor would doing so make for an eye-catching title. So it remains as is.

Just two more notes to make before we are off and ‘running‘ with this post. Readers will need to understand that, like most analogies, the ones below will break down at some point (many will do so rather quickly); so don’t go contemplating these TOO much. But on the surface, there is some truth to be seen (and maybe humor too). As you will quickly conclude, I am no theologian. These are just some of the random things I ponder when I am out there hitting the pavement in the early am, with my thoughts all to myself. Oh and if the length of this rather lengthy post seems intimidating, you can get the gist of it by reading the bold blue bullets and the green references in italic.

Now with all that clarified, are you ready?

On your mark,
get set,

*momentary affliction can lead to joy
Don’t let my love for running fool you; I do not (I repeat, I do not!) consider myself an athletic person. My own body is quite wimpy and is lacking in the necessary fitness level to truly classify myself as one that is strong and in any sort of great shape. But years ago, I had this inkling that joy could be found in running and I set out to find it. However, just being able to jog one mile, without stopping, took a lot of determination and much unpleasant exertion on my part. It was after months and months of running just a little bit further every so often that I could finally make the whole mile at a decent jogger’s pace. For the first time, I was able to say in all honesty that running was indeed enjoyable. Yet that one mile only offered me about 10 minutes of pleasant activity and I wanted more. Off and on through college, and in the early years of marriage, and then after Halle was born, I could labor my way up to a point where I could enjoy a nice 3 mile run on a somewhat regular basis. But after a hiatus in running was necessary for the twin pregnancy and then several more additional weeks for a post delivery recovery, even walking 1/2 a mile was a feat. The idea of ever jogging again seemed impossible! Still there was that memory of the joy that running can bring and I wanted to find it again (especially because I was now a full-time stay at home mom with three kids under three, all still in diapers, and two needing to be nursed many times a day. Yes, having at least a 30 minute slot for some alone mental solace time was something I was on a pursuit for!) There was a 1.5 mile trek from our neighborhood out to I-35 with lots of hills, so I decided that running the total round trip of 3 miles would be a nice goal to aim for. Over the course of about four months, the momentary afflictions of discomfort became less and less as I tried to make it all the way out to the highway and back without walking. And then it happened, one glorious crisp November morning I finally could run there and back the whole way! And I felt great!! Because I had pushed myself (bit by bit) past my comfort zone, I could at last run the distance I wanted. And in doing so there was a new part of daily life that I looked forward to. Getting to enjoy a morning jog, following my quiet time, was/is the perfect start to a day.
In other areas of life, apart from running, this truth holds firm as well. When marriage, parenting, the call to disciple our children, homeschooling, serving and loving others have its challenges (and they often do), I have an example in Jesus to endure. Because of the joy that awaits me. “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 12:2)”

below quote is from the true story account, ‘Lone Survivor’
*The body can take damn near anything. It’s the mind that needs training.
So running between 3-5 miles a day is very pleasing to me and (most days) I love it! There is joy while I am out on a run and even after I am done. But the prior point about a joy-that-awaits was not to be my motivator when I had the crazy idea that I wanted to run a half-marathon for the first time and then a full-marathon the very next year (and another full this November…) I knew running that far would require lots of training involving many long mile runs and that would, in no shape or form, bring joy to me. There can be little joy during the runs when I am past my comfortable 5 mile mark, still huffing and puffing with many more miles to go. There can be little joy after completing a long run when all muscles are sore for the rest of the day and then into the next. And sadly, even the joy of crossing the finish line of a race I had trained for is not a lasting one, because I see the time it took me and I think ‘aw dang! I wish I could have run that faster(you can see my disappointing results here) .” Nope, the potential for possible joy wouldn’t cut it here and give me something to press on towards when the training was difficult. Instead, it was the idea that I would learn perseverance, persistence, and steadfastness – all traits I know are also necessary in my desire to live a life that glorifies God in what He calls me to as a wife, a mother, and a child of His. Following a training program for a half/full marathon would definitely teach me about commitment and discipline and how to push myself on when the road is hard. On many of the training days, especially those when I am required to run long long distances, my body will scream at me, call me names and send signals of weariness throughout every inch of my body. But I want so badly to be able to finish strong; so I let the perseverance in my mind speak louder than the discomfort in my legs and the burning in my chest. I know that running a marathon does not make me a runner with super abilities (I am convinced that most folks can do likewise – if they want to), it is only by sheer mental determination that I am able to reach the end. It is the training of the mind.
And when I am struggling to push on in other areas of life (when the days are hard), I can remember what perseverance feels like (because I have felt it in running) and I know there is strength to continue on. As a Christian, I have this important truth to hold on to. It is the renewing of my mind that is so important in remaining strong in my faith. “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will (Romans 12:2)”

*it is the heart that reveals one’s true capacity for endurance
There is a science that I am trying to learn and understand about the heart’s role in training the body to run further and faster with less effort. I don’t have my mind around it all yet, but I get the fact that the greatest aerobic benefits come when I keep my heart rate at a certain percentage of its maximum. So I wear this heart rate monitor to keep me informed of what percentage I am at during my runs. This just keeps me aware of when I am overextending myself (which is almost never – I am a slow and steady type of girl) or when I am underextending (which is often – and this gadget is letting me know I still can run faster. In essence it is mocking me, saying ‘push harder you wimpy girl!’) I am learning that regardless of what I feel like I can do, it is the condition of my heart that affirms when I am capable of more. But there is a greater truth about the heart when God has been at work there. And I love that I can echo the words of the psalmist when he says,”I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free (Psalm 119:32)”

*If Jesus ate figs, maybe I should too
I know there are many things Jesus did in his life that can be applied in our own lives in a FIG-urative way. But in this case, there really are great benefits for eating figs! And we would profit health wise to follow his example literally. Dried figs are a concentrated, full-of-carbs, nutritious, nice and small little fruit that you can easily keep in your pocket and snack on while when you are in need of more energy (like when running long distances or ‘running’ errands with your kiddos – both can be exhausting!) Even better, they taste good too! Figs help with all those glucose/performance/glycogen/fuel/stamina type things you will often hear mention of in the world of running. Check ’em out!
(see Matthew 21:18-19)

*the shodding of your feet is important
My spending habits will reveal that I demonstrate very little brand loyalty to most items I purchase. When I consider EVERYTHING I spend money on – food, toiletries, clothing, household products – I can think of only three things that are tied to a specific brand in which I will make no substitutes.
One that has nothing to do with running
*Kiss My Face shaving cream (a bummer that I am attached to this stuff because I cannot get it free at CVS…)
Two that are most critical to my running
*Brooks running shoes
*Thorlo micro mini-crew running socks.

I felt a huge difference (in the most positive way) in my running when I was first introduced to Brooks more than 4 years ago and I have been a loyal fan ever since! It is so good that I found some shoes that I love because I have read often enough (and have now experienced for myself) the notion that a good pair of running shoes is the most important piece of equipment for any runner. If a pair of shoes does not meet the needs of support, cushion, and stability for the feet that will be running in them, they can hasten or cause injury. Not good! I want to be able to run for years and years and years to come, therefore I will make whatever investments I need into my shoes so that I am less prone to injury and can keep logging up the miles as long as possible. I have also found that socks can do much for your feet when running too. It is really a matter of preference for each person, but for me (and I’ll try not to sound like a commercial here…) I can find no other style or brand that keep my feet as happy, dry, and blister-free as the thorlo micro mini-crew. So all that to say, I will never compromise on my choice of running shoes or socks because they are foundational to my ability to run. Nor will I compromise my belief in the Gospel as the firm foundation on which I am to stand on in my faith, “…and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace… (Ephesians 6:15)”

*armor isn’t just for the days of knights and castles
To make for a safe and enjoyable run, there are many things I have to adorn myself with before I head out. My usual ‘armor’ involves the following: A Garmin forerunner strapped to my wrist which keeps me informed of the truth of my run (time, distance, heart rate, pace…) There is a monitor across my breastplate, tracking the condition of my heart so I can know that it is justifiable to continue on in exertion. High quality shoes and socks (what I mentioned above) are on my feet. A sun visor serves as my helmet to keeps frizzy stray hair out of my face and to serve as a shield from the sun. I carry a pepper spray dispenser, acting like a sword, to protect against the possible attacks of vicious angry dogs that may be lurking behind the shadows. My ipod has playlists with words and tunes to keep my spirits up and my mind at peace. And if all that were not enough gadgets to make me feel like I am geared up for some sort of special task force secret mission, I also have to add one more item on my really long runs. I have this nifty belt I wear on my waist that allows me to clip on water bottles and fill a pouch with figs and gel shots, allowing me to have easy access to hydration and energy boosters when I need them. I do feel rather silly with all of these at times, but I know how important they are, and I won’t go running with out them.
If I can see the importance of how I equip myself just for running, then I should readily understand that in the more significant area of a life of faith, the manner of dress and attire are critical. I need to take heed the instruction from the Bible to don my Christian armor and never be without specific essentials. “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Ephesians 6:13-17)”

*strength comes from the hills
That trek outside our home in San Antonio (mentioned above) had several very steep hills one had to travel up and down to make it out to the highway. I often thought how grueling these obstacles in my path were and would regularly curse their existence (especially during the early months when I first set out to run on them). I would think how much easier running would be and how much faster I could run if there were no hills to make it so darn difficult. But now that I am living out in flatland Manor TX, I actually miss them. When the hills were part of my run everyday, I concluded they were a hindrance. But now that I am without them, I realize how advantageous they really were. Without the daily challenge of running up those great ascents, I have noticed how my endurance has decreased, my muscles have weakened, and my pace is much slower. Hindsight, I finally have appreciation for those hills because running on them forced my muscles to develop and work hard. I wish I knew then what I know now; it is the hills that truly helped me become a stronger runner! So if I want to gain back that strength that has since been lost, extra effort and travel is needed to find some hills to run regularly on because they were, indeed, a good thing.
In my Christian faith, I need to realize that the ‘hills’ I am faced with and must endure need not be feared (or cursed) because they can create in me a greater dependence in the Lord and strengthen my faith in Him. And fortunately, I do not have to go looking or travel anywhere to find that strength! “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth (Psalm 121)”

*alcohol (in moderation) is a good thing
I recently found out that a runner should take in (daily) between 50 and 200 micrograms of food-derived chromium (a mineral that has a role in the metabolizing of carbohydrates for energy). And did you know that beer is a good source of chromium! Yep, one beer contains roughly 60 micrograms of chromium. Nothing like finding more justification to enjoy happy hour…
And another ‘happy’ fact worthy of mention is this. To point out one purpose God had when He came up with the idea of another drink I like to enjoy, “He makes… wine that gladdens the heart of man (Psalm 104:14,15)”

*pain in one part of the body is often caused by dysfunction in another part
Last winter I started to undergo LOTS of terrible pain in my left knee when I was running. I kept hoping it would go away, but soon the condition became such a crippling experience that it hurt to even walk. A visit to an orthopedic doctor revealed my weak hip muscles were actually the culprit of the pain in my knee. The treatment I was prescribed entailed a several month break from running and a physical therapy plan that required daily exercises, designed to strengthen those hip muscles. And thank goodness that by improving the issues with my hip, there was a change in the pain in my knees. I could run again!
In the case of my knee, the pain I felt there just revealed something was wrong elsewhere. And to make the correlation from running to the spiritual, I think the verse from Titus 3:3 offers a pretty convicting summary of things that are very ‘wrong’ about our human nature when it says we are “‘foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures, living in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.” But trying to focus on and correct those tendencies will not ultimately fix them or make them go away because they are just the revealers of another dysfunction that is ultimately the culprit in desperate need of a remedy. The underlying problem here is our sin-nature and without the healing and saving power of a Great Physician, we are without hope to be free from its power and consequence. And how sweet and amazing it is to know that God is that Great Physician! And this is just one of the many verses that causes me to rejoice at His healing and saving power!! “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life (Titus 3:4-7).” This thought about my weakness and God’s strength also reminds me of a passage from the apostle Paul (one of my favorite verses) when he says, “But he [the LORD] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)”

*when striving for things you love, don’t worry about your aroma
When I come back from running, Halle is always quick to tell me that I need a shower. Sometimes she tries to be polite about her observations as she once said, “You are stinky, but I won’t say you smell like trash.” It’s true. I cannot disagree; ‘you stinketh’ would indeed be the opinion anyone near me will conclude when I come back from running. But there is really nothing I can do about it. Putting on deodorant has no effect of how I smell at the end of a run. And in addition to offering no benefit in odor reduction, I also found that deodorant just turns into foam on my long runs and WILL eventually leak out from under my arms (that causes much more self-consciousness than an unpleasant odor…) So now I forego any attempts to make for a tolerable fragrance. I just decided that I love running and will do it regardless of how it makes me smell and the offense it might cause others.
And likewise in my Christian faith, there will be an ‘aroma’ about me as I strive to ‘love the Lord with all my heart, my soul, my mind, and my strength.’ And in doing so, I am not to worry about gaining (or losing) the approval of others. I just know that I love the Lord and what others say or feel about that, so be it. “Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life (2 Corinthians 2:14-16)”

*either rest well or train hard
On all the programs I have come across in training for big runs, I find that every week has scheduled one day of complete rest. I see it stated over and over again the importance of recovery time after a week’s work of training. Rest is necessary. Because rather than improving performance by doing activity everyday, one will actually do harm. You can over train your body. Injury, illness, and eventually burnout can all occur when runners do not give themselves a full day of rest. So in order to train hard and do your best, your body needs that FULL day of rest every week-no exceptions!
That idea shouldn’t come as a surprise or be a new concept because it is rooted in God’s design. How often I forget that honoring the Sabbath day of rest is one of the 10 commandments (Exodus 20:8)! “There are six days when you may work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, a day of sacred assembly. You are not to do any work; wherever you live, it is a Sabbath to the LORD (Leviticus 23:3).” I need to remember that this isn’t to be a burden or hindrance but rather a wonderful provision for my welfare!! “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath (Mark 2:27)”

*the less sedentary one becomes, the more nutrition they require
Studies show that the more active folks become in their running, the more protein their bodies need. It is said that endurance athletes (like runners) should take in .45 to .72 grams of protein per pound of their body weight. Even when you only need to get half of your body weight in grams of protein, that is a lot! I don’t keep track specifically of what my intake is now, I just make sure I add extra supplements than what my usual eating routine would supply. And fortunately there is a way for me to know, for certain, if my protein is at an acceptable level. One perk of donating plasma (more on that here) regularly (apart from the extra spending money I receive. Oh, and the ‘saving lives’ part) is that they do test your protein levels before each donation. Last year (before I knew about an increase in running needing an increase in protein…) I watched my protein levels get so significantly low that I had to stop donating. But now that I know what I need to do in order to keep running strong (and donating plasma), I have to put in the extra effort to give my body the extra protein it needs.
And of course this point wouldn’t be mentioned if there were not also some correlating spiritual truth I can liken it to. If we are to become more active and more mature in our faith, we need to increase our intake and understanding and application of God’s word. “Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature… (Hebrews 5:13)”

*don’t compare yourself to others
I don’t normally view myself as a competitive person. Usually it is my own past successes or failures that I weigh my present actions against. But there are those moments every now and then when I do let my mind focus too much (in negative ways) on the achievements of others. I start to resent myself when I dwell too much on where I am lacking and fall short in my comparisons. And in doing so, I lose much of the joy I find in running. I need to remember that every person is different in their abilities as runners, in their motivators, in their goals, and even in their training. It is good for me to be teachable and learn from other runners, to be inspired by their successes! But I need to avoid falling into the snare of comparing myself against others because I will either covet the skills of another runner or I will take pride in some strength I think I have over someone else. Neither are good. And when I am facing the same comparison-type struggles in my Christian faith, the verse I need to remember is this. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men (Colossians 3:23-24)”

*find some running buddies
This is one area that I am still learning about. In my daily 30-45 minute runs, I prefer to run solo. I am very much an introvert and that is my precious and prized alone time and I don’t believe there is anything wrong with that type of solitude. But without fellow runners along side me during this long arduous marathon training thing, I am beginning to suffer from a decline in motivation and my ambition to finish is dwindling. I have no one to really share my struggles or pain with and no one to encourage me on when I am feeling burned out. This is not a pity party, I am just facing the hard fact that I am actually doing myself harm when I try to remain steadfast and committed all on my own. And it should be of no surprise to me that if running has revealed a need for community, then most definitely living in faith does too! I am made more and more aware of my desperate dependence on loving sisters in Christ to help comfort me or spur me on (and for me to be able to do likewise to them). As the following Scriptures will confirm we were made fellowship and there IS strength in numbers. “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24).”
“So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart (2 Timothy 2:22).” “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ (Galations 6:2).” “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses… let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us (Hebrews 12:1)”

*run with wet socks and you will get blisters
No deep or hidden message here. It is just an unpleasant fact that I have learned the hard way and worth noting!
If anyone can find a fun spiritual truth to go along with that point, kudos to you. This may be a stretch, but one verse that could, perhaps, be worked to fit here is this. “Bad company corrupts good character (1 Corinthians 15:33)” (you know, because wet socks ‘corrupt’ your feet…)

***And in conclusion, if I were to sum up everything about running and Christian living with just one mentality to cling to, this would be a great verse! “and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us… (Hebrews 12:1)”

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6 Responses to everything I need to know about life I learned from running

  1. Amy Sievert says:

    I loved reading this… very encouraging both for my running and walk with the Lord. Miss you guys, sounds like you’re doing well.

  2. julespaq says:

    Another AMAZING post. You could publish a little runners book from this and sell it at LifeWay! I have a request, can you do a post, “Everything I need to know in life I learned from donating plasma”? ;-)

  3. Great post! Now I’m off to drink a beer! Well after the kids go to bed of course!

  4. hi there! saw the comment you left on dreaming big dreams! i think by leaving you this comment you’ll have my e-mail, right? :)

  5. Lisa Sledge says:

    What an amazing post! You really should submit this to a magazine…inspires me to run and walk with the Lord. Thanks for the encouraging words!!

    Love Lisa

  6. Anonymous says:

    LOVE THIS! Thanks Jo:) – Kim Myers

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