Run so as to live
“Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win. Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. Thus I do not run aimlessly.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)
Twenty six miles is an awfully long way to run. So far the longest I’ve run is 15. 15. Though I’ve always loved running, the farthest I used to go was three miles. Just under half an hour. I’d take a nice turn around the neighborhood, wave to my dog-walking neighbors along the way, and happily return home for a snack and an afternoon of homework.
But now I’m training for a marathon. I’ve done two half marathons, so I’ve practically already run a full. There were only six months in between.
I love every minute of it. I love the early mornings, the long runs alongside my dear teammate and fellow marathon trainer, the jello legs and the sweaty piles of clothes and the progress. Oh, the progress! I have found little else that is quite as satisfying. I didn’t just wake up one morning and decide to run 15 miles. No. But I do wake up many mornings, the temperature sometimes in the teens, my warm bed clinging to me, a long day looming ahead, but I wake with purpose. It’s not always easy to carve out an extra hour or more for a run, but my word is it worth it. The wind along the Hudson may draw tears from my eyes, my sore legs may beg me to give them a rest, the crowds of New York may prefer that I refrain from dodging about in their midst as they, too, maneuver the sidewalks. But running brings me to life.
I know I will not come in first place. Not anywhere close. I do not (literally) run so as to win. I’m not seeking a perishable crown. But I do run to live. I do not do so aimlessly. There is much that I’ve learned as a runner. I love order. I love to be obedient, even if to a training schedule. That characteristic of mine comes in handy. Running teaches me how to be virtuous. That isn’t to say that I have suddenly become some pinnacle of virtue—not at all. But it’s this profoundly simple, tangible way to do what I don’t want to do (get up early, freeze my ankles off, move my weary legs one more step) and to not do what I want to do (uh, stop running) for the sake of something good. For my health and wellbeing, for taking a step closer to my goal, for treating my body like the temple of the Holy Spirit that it is.
The most glorious moment of every long run is that turning point. When I’m on the brink of utter discomfort and exhaustion and throwing in the metaphorical towel but I don’t. I hold onto that towel for dear life, and I push on, and trudge up that next hill or tread lightly on that icy patch or give a fellow runner a weak and weary smile that says, “We can do it!” That moment is pure gold. And not the perishable kind.
So, there I was on my first 15-mile run, living and loving my life with vigor. I prayed and thought and my heart and feet thumped. I smiled at the runners and bikers I passed. I circled neighborhoods and appreciated snowmen and delighted in puppies playing. And I didn’t want to keep going and I wanted to keep going and I kept going. I ran and ran and ran. And I lived.