“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the founder and perfector of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
Last weekend, I learned about running with endurance. Months ago, I signed up for my second half marathon in the past few months. Knowing that I like to train with a group, I led the Cross Train ladies in preparation. As always, training with these ladies was an absolute blast! We talked a lot; we laughed a lot; and we also worked hard. We did long runs, maintenance runs, speed work, technical drills and plenty of strength training. I felt very good about our upcoming race. The week of the race is always my favorite week as it is taper week. In taper week, we cut back on training and rest our bodies so that they are race ready. We add a few extra carbs to our diets and try to get a little more sleep. I did all those things and thoroughly enjoyed them!
On race morning, I awoke at 5:00 to make sure that I had a good breakfast, coffee and water two hours prior to my starting time. I had the plan for my race hydration and nutrition. As far as I knew, I had done everything to prepare me to accomplish the goals that I had for the day.
The race started. I had a lofty goal for my race so I started with a pace group that was just a bit faster than my goal time. Immediately, I knew something just wasn’t right. My breathing didn’t settle; my legs felt like lead; I wasn’t enjoying the race. Nevertheless, I had a goal so I kept pushing on towards my goal pace. Three miles into the run, I wanted to cry. Nothing was going as I had planned. My December run felt nothing like this one. If I hurt this badly at 3 miles, how was I going to run 10.1 miles farther?
Questions abounded in my mind — Quit? Slow down? Let go of my goal? How I toyed with quitting! I could make a good excuse—I had suffered from a cold last week. Quitting was acceptable, but I just couldn’t grasp the idea of stopping after all those weeks of training.
Slow down? That takes humility, admitting that I am not able to do what I had set out to do. Nevertheless, the longer I ran, the more I knew that slowing down was the only good option. I simply couldn’t keep up the pace. So what about my goal? Is it okay to set a goal and not reach it? What does that mean about me?
The Lord had some powerful answers for me that morning. He started with the reminder that even Jesus took breaks. He knew when he had to slow down and rest and spend time with his Father. There is value in recognizing our limitations and operating within them.
I did slow down, and I did let go of my goal. When I did, some pretty amazing things happened. Every time I passed by a police officer, I had the breath and the desire to say thank you. Thank you for making this a safe race course for me. Thank you for sacrificing a Saturday morning to stand out in the rain for hours. All those volunteers who handed out water, sports drinks and supplements — they didn’t have to be there. They served us in a much needed way. I thanked them and tried to share joy with them. When I passed spectators, I took in their words of encouragement and affirmation. I smiled and told them I appreciated their cheering us on in the race. I encouraged other runners and shared words of acknowledgement. The race did not get a whole lot easier for me. My breathing never fully settled; my legs still hurt; every mile was pretty painful. However, I gained a very valuable insight: when it comes to the end of my life, I want to be remembered for being a person of love, not a person who succeeded at all of her worldly goals. As I was able to let go of the lesser goal of a race time, I was able to pursue my greater goal of loving well.
There were other blessings along the way — when I slowed down, my friend and running partner caught up to me. Truthfully, I don’t think I could have finished the race without her. We didn’t talk nearly as much as the last race (or at least I didn’t), but she kept me going. I felt stronger and more motivated with her by my side. On the one stretch where she got weak, I got strong and was able to encourage and push her. We finished together and God reminded me once again that we are made for community; we are better together!
Finally, The Lord graciously helped me think through my goals in life. While running, I saw a picture of myself coming to the end of my true race. At the finish line, Jesus stood there with arms outstretched. His joy in my race was overwhelming. Despite all the times I missed my goals and fell short of my expectations, Jesus was not disappointed. Instead, he met all the goals and expectations for me. All my goals are complete in him. Better yet, he understood that I could never do it on my own.
Running the race with endurance is looking at Jesus. It means keeping my eyes on him, dropping the baggage and sin that holds me back, dropping the idea of quitting, the excuses, and looking to the joy set before me. It means listening to my body and feelings, listening to my limitations and working within them. It means knowing that I need God’s strength and the strength of the people he has put into my life. Finally, it means trusting in the Only One who could finish the race perfectly. My race is one of faith and that race has already been won by my Savior!