half-marathon: before (c) Carole Sparks

This time last year, I was training for a half-marathon. I’d never run such a distance before, but I wanted to challenge myself. Well, I succeeded…in challenging myself, that is. Those few hours were some of the hardest for which I’ve ever volunteered. (I’ve had more difficult experiences, but not of the variety that I could quit whenever I wanted.) Nevertheless, I finished! I wasn’t even the last one across the finish line.

Since this is a rare fifth Friday in a month, I thought we’d go for something lighter today. Here are six things I learned through training for and running a half-marathon. It was definitely a new kind of education for me.

  1. Important things take lifestyle changes.

My husband thinks couch-to-5k means you get off the couch and run five kilometers. He can do that, but if a person wants to run 13.2 miles, he or she has to train and eat properly. That means you have to choose running over sleeping in, TV, or any number of other things. You also have to choose nutritious food and healthy drinks, and all those in moderation. Even too much water before a run will make you throw up.

If it’s important to you,
you’ll make the changes

Same thing for our spiritual lives. If it’s important to you, you’ll make the changes necessary to accommodate it. If it’s having a daily quiet time, participation in a certain ministry, or spending time with your neighbor who doesn’t know Jesus, doing it will require some changes in your life. Are you willing to make those lifestyle changes for the greater goal?

  1. Energy gel tastes nasty, but you can’t run on low fuel.

I got about half-way through the race when I ran out of energy. I miscalculated the time in relation to my food/fuel needs, so I picked up one of the energy gel packets at a water table. Yuck! That had to be one of the nastiest, stickiest fake foods I have ever encountered. I should have eaten more breakfast or stuck something in my pocket. Still, that gel packet gave me what I needed to finish (even though at a slower pace than I wanted).

You can’t make it through those long, trying, up-hill-both-ways spiritual days without the proper fuel either. If you know you’ll be facing a difficult spiritual challenge at work or with that one certain neighbor, ask for prayer, spend extra time in the Word, or listen to a podcast of your favorite preacher. This is our spiritual food.

  1. It’s easier to run with a friend.

I always run alone, and I did this race alone. (My husband was there, but he didn’t run.) Many people, however, ran in pairs. Not only did they have the distraction of conversation on the downhill intervals, but they had encouragement on the uphill segments. They kept up with each other and slowed down together when necessary. I could see the race was easier for them.

We’re not meant to do the Christ-life alone either. A spouse, friend, or relative can make all the difference in completing the challenges God sets before us. Maybe she’s not called to the same path, but she can still stay beside you, listen to you, encourage you, and remind you of why you’re even in the race. We have to be authentic, though. We have to say, “This is hard for me. I need your support.”

Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. -Hebrews 10:24

  1. Stubbornness counts.

The nice word is perseverance, but when you’re on the last hill of the last lap and all you want to do is quit…when your legs cramp every time you slow to a walk but your lungs scream every second you’re running…when you’re questioning your own sanity and vowing never to do anything so foolish again…well at those times, stubbornness is the better word.

Did you ever think of stubbornness as a gift from God?

I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. -Philippians 3:14

The same stubbornness our
parents bemoaned when we were
children will carry us through
difficulties as adults.

Sometimes we just have to keep going. Sometimes we have to call that bitter friend again. Sometimes we have to return to that Godless, thankless workplace because God hasn’t given us permission to quit yet. Sometimes we have to count down the days until that loved one comes home from the hospital. In those times, the same stubbornness that our parents bemoaned when we were children is what carries us through. It’s a gift. (If you see it in your children, think about how to mold it away from selfishness and toward perseverance.)

  1. Soreness goes away.

half-marathon: after (c) Carole Sparks

I limped across the finish line to the cheers of race organizers and many of those who finished before me. My husband had to help me to a bench because my legs hurt so badly. Within minutes, the pain got even worse. I cried; I chased ibuprofen with gulped-down bottles of water; I ate a couple of bananas; I swore off running for good. It was at least half an hour before I could even walk to the car. The next day, I winced every time I stood up or sat down. Within a week, however, the soreness was gone and I laced up my running shoes again.

Time and distance
foster perspective.

There are incredibly painful things in this life. Unlike my race, most of them we don’t choose…would never choose (although some are the unintended consequences of our choices). But the burden of such pain does lighten. Time and distance foster perspective, and we realize how much we learned from the painful experience. That realization validates the pain, and we can finally walk away…not forgetting, but progressing.

  1. Most medals are just cheap pieces of plastic.

half-marathon: plastic medal (c) Carole Sparks

As I crossed the finish line, someone draped a shiny gold medal over my head. I was so proud! I did it. Sure I had to walk more than I anticipated, but I crossed the finish line. As you can see, I took pictures with my medal and wore it around for the rest of the day. As I took it off later and hung it on the corner of my mirror, I noticed how light it was. What looked like actual metal was actually just painted plastic. Disappointing.

So much of what we work for in this world is fake, inconsequential, petty.

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. -1 Corinthians 9:25

There are more important rewards, and I’m not talking about the medals that go to people who run full marathons or even those who win such races. I’m talking about treasures that last (2 Timothy 4:7-8, Matthew 6:19-21). Sometimes we need to step back from our lives and ask ourselves, “What am I chasing? For what am I working so hard?” When we lay our answers beside Scripture, we’ll know if our medals are cheap plastic or the real thing.

So there you have it: a half-dozen things I learned from running a half-marathon. Would I do it again? Well, it’s been almost a year, and I still say ‘no.’ But I’ll probably go for a run in the morning.

The hardest run of my life: 1/2-dozen things I learned from a 1/2-marathon. (click to tweet)

Have you ever participated in a long race of some sort? Maybe figuratively? What did you learn? Please edify all of us by sharing in the comments!


4 thoughts on “A Half-Dozen Lessons from a Half-Marathon

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