Appeared originally at SI on June 18, 2005 (archived version, with comments).
I admire the speed displayed by Asafa Powell. He’s 22 and runs like lightning. Possessing the fastest feet in the world for the 100 meters, he clocked an amazing 9.77 seconds in the Super Grand Prix in Athens. That’s fast.
Revved-up speedsters are fun to watch, but I wonder, can they go for the long distance? Can a sprinter endure prolonged tribulation? It might be easy to make a mad sprint in the full sun, but how does one look when the wind is tearing at the clothes and half-dime sized hail is pelting the scalp.
Personally, I don’t like hard testings. I would rather be sitting by the fire in a mountain cabin reading a good book or floating with exotic fish in the Sea of Eilat. But that is not how life usually works. It pounds and grinds; just look at the countenances of people as they drive home in rush hour traffic (yes, we even have this in Idaho, too many spud trucks).
Why is there all the tribulation? We all know God has a plan. He is building perseverance in our lives. He is bringing us to the point that when guns are blazing in the battle we won’t be flinching like the new recruits. He is preparing us to have enough character where we don’t make a hundred-yard dash to our mommas or the Bahamas when the going gets tough. God is doing a good work in our lives through the tribulation (Romans 5:3-4). It is just hard to remember that when you are in agony.
Well, I decided to run a marathon this year. And here are just a few past “Issues of the Heart” describing my insane ambition. But honestly, it’s only an earthly illustration of the real, spiritual race that engages us all, wholeheartedly.
February 11, 2005
“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith: who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Maybe, at age 35, I am being foolish. I think of that first Greek herald in 490 B.C. who ran from the battlefields of Marathon all the way to Athens. Upon reaching his destination, he cried one word with great heaving gasps, “Victory!” And then he collapsed on the ground in death. Hopefully, this won’t be my immediate destiny (not quite yet, at least).
It’s funny how I use to think I was physically invincible. I thought attempting a marathon whould be absolutely no problem. But when I ran five miles on a particular, bright, sunny day before Christmas, my knee joints hurt terribly for the next three weeks. I couldn’t run; I could hardly even walk. So when I imagined 26.2 miles in the future, I soberly thought of the pain of running just a fifth of the way. The big problem is both my knees bow slightly inward. Have you ever seen Bullwinkle run? That’s me in full gallop. So I have come the conclusion, if I am to run a marathon, it will be an act of God’s sheer grace.
I am trying to follow the ten tips given to me by another veteran marathoner in our church. 1. Get good shoes. 2. Drink eight glasses of water every day. 3. If below zero degrees Fahrenheit, use Vaseline on the face. 4. Do speed work. 5. Increase mileage 10% each week. 6. Remember, it is going to hurt. 7. Take glucosamine. 8. Run at same time each day. 9. Do weightlifting. 10. And welcome to the small group of marathoners. These tips are all nice and dandy, but right now I crawl like a centipede rather than scurry as a daddy long-leg. It would be painful for you to watch.
Thinking of heart issues, you and I might be plodding or limping along in present trials. We might not feel we can keep up with Dean Karnazes who is seeking to run 300 miles, totaling 80 hours and no sleep, without stopping. But don’t quit. We have all heard the saying, “It is not how you start but how you finish.” The Christian life is for marathoners not sprinters. Keep running with patience. Keep your focused attention on Christ. And be mindful that because you are in Christ, you will finish the race.
March 10, 2005
Last night, I was running in the night shadows. It must have been around 11:00 p.m., when very tired, I tripped over a rock (thank God, this time I didn’t shatter my two-front-top teeth). As I lay there, digging little particles of rock out of my palms, questions popped in my mind. “What in the world are you doing, Todd” How do you think you can ever run a marathon? Why don’t you just put your Asics back in the shoe box?”
When in the dark, questions can fiercely taunt the Christian in the race. Demons can hiss and whisper. “Do you really think He loves you? What makes you think He will take care of you? Are you foolish enough to believe that His pleasures and delights are best? Who are you to think that God can use you in this way? Don’t you realize it’s foolish to try? Is it really worth dying to self lusts? Does God even answer your prayer? Why even serve God when you know it brings hurt? Don’t you realize your slavery? With so many disappointments, why do you even show hope anymore?” We all know those dark moments where relentless, custom-designed questions seek to trample us one by one.
But get up! A “great cloud of witnesses” that ran before you, testify of His mighty love and faithfulness. Keep in the battle! William Gurnall wrote, “As part of Christ’s army, you march in the ranks of gallant spirits. Every one of your fellow soldiers is the child of a King. Some, like you, are in the midst of battle, besieged on every side by affliction and temptation. Others, after many assaults, repulses, and rallyings of their faith, are already standing upon the wall of heaven as conquerors. From there they look down and urge you, their comrades on earth, to march up the hill after them. This is their cry: ‘Fight to the death and the City is your own, as now it is ours!’”
Get your eyes on Him! “Consider Him!” “Consider Him that endured such contradiction.” Hudson Taylor wrote, “Want of trust is at the root of almost all our sins and our weaknesses; and how shall we escape it but by looking to Him and observing His faithfulness.” You must believe Him.
Believe in His presence. Believe in His protection. Believe His love, His pleasures, His power, and His plan. Believe mightily in the saving, redemptive work of your great High Priest!
April 1, 2005
Reading Romans 11, Paul took me back to Elijah in I Kings 19. In chapter 18, I found that Elijah ran from Mt. Carmel to Jezreel. Isn’t that around 18 miles? Just the other day, I ran 19 miles and about died. For the first time, I sincerely empathized with Elijah’s weariness. I am so thankful for God’s still, small voice that provides clarity and perspective.
Yesterday, I opened up a sack lunch my wife prepared for me…a small apple and a peanut-butter/jelly sandwich. The rest of the sack contained empty air! Staring with bewilderment into the black hole, I almost ate the bag. No wonder I felt like expiring on the open road.
That night, I had a serious talk with my sweetie. Load the lunch bag with carbohydrates! Mountian-size the portions of protein! If the wolf in the intermountain West eats daily nine pounds of raw meat, ha, I need more.
Do you feel run down and ready to quit? Let me ask you — what are you eating? Come on! You must quit skipping breakfast and hitting the vending machine for lunch. You need MEAT! You need to be reading, chewing, and savoring with dripping saliva the good stuff of the Word every day!
May 3, 2005
Was it my new pair of Asics GT-2100 running shoes with GEL cushioning (The IGS [Impact Guidance System], the SpEVA midsole material with “bounce back” properties, the DUOMAX and Duo Truss, the AHAD+ rubber tread)?
Was it my Under Armour performance apparel? The HeatGear “slides over your body like a second skin, delivering compression without restriction and a moisture transport system that wicks perspiration off your body, leaving you cool, dry and light.” Their motto declares: “The Advantage Is Undeniable.”
Was it the two Power Bars with Protein Plus (wild berry and cookies & cream)? Actually, they tasted awful (I only took one bite out of each). So was it my three Twix bars and a bottle of Gatorade?
What was it that helped me run my first practice marathon, yesterday? It’s quite simple. The grace of God. The grace of God gives us lungs to breath, hearts that pump blood, ability to walk, and passion to run. I thank Him, deeply.
God gives you the grace and power to overcome your weaknesses in the spiritual race. Run. Run! “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. and every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.”
[From the comments section…]
“D-Day!!! June 4, 2005”
In the pre-dawn darkness, I safety-pinned my number “4037” on my running shirt. The tag also carried some words, “Don’t Give Up…Don’t Ever Give Up.” This reminded me of a high school hero of mine, Glen Cunningham, who said, “When everything else fails, don’t quit!” Optimistically, I was hoping when I hit the wall of exhaustion in the marathon, I would be able to yell like John Paul Jones, “I have not yet begun to fight!”
A bus dropped us off, 6:00 a.m., at the site of the Teton Dam Flood, where on June 5, 1976, eighty billion gallons of water spilled over the Upper Snake River Valley. When a big, fire truck shot its water hose, we all took off, heading straight under the massive arc of spray. Our destination was Rexburg, home of BYU-Idaho.
For the first half of the marathon, I felt great, invincible. At mile 15, I even passed the young track and cross-country star (in our church fellowship) who thought he could beat me by an hour and a half. But things started to unravel at mile 16. I hadn’t bargained or trained for this…four miles up the hills outside Rexburg. BYU girls, running legs of relay, had to coax me through mile 19. When I saw the big banner at mile 20 encouraging us, “BREAK THROUGH THE WALL,” I cried. Seriously, I had no energy left. My legs screamed. Where is John Paul Jones? He can shoot and bury me.
A veteran grandma slid past past me at mile 22. I was chugging power goo, orange and banana slices, and anything else I could get my hands on; but I could not keep her steady, forceful pace. Eventually…finally…I finished in the 4++ hour mark. And I kissed the medal slung over my head.
I had learned much about myself. And my younger track-star and Christian brother, who limped in later after me, had his eyes opened as well. It is definitely a race not for low mileage sprinters but persevering marathoners.
Keep on, brothers and sisters. The race is not over. Let’s pick each other up. Run alongside each other. The upcoming hills will be tough. Pain is inevitable. But the finish will be sweet beyond comparison. We are warriors. We are runners. We are given grace to endure. And each one of us must be able to say like Paul, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.”
By the way, the Berean Band of Eight among our church fellowship is running a grueling, hilly race of forty miles next Saturday, June 25. Pray for us. I might need an ambulance for my support vehicle. After this next race, I might take up mountain biking. I hear there is a hundred mile endurance race in Park City, Utah. What do you think?