The marathon of my soul

I ran a marathon a couple of years ago. After my second half, I figured, might as well. It was long and painful and probably what I'm most proud of. For days in the aftermath, I hobbled up and down subway steps, pondered the steady pain in my right foot, and cried while limping along a sidewalk. (It's going to be okay! was a smiling stranger's encouragement. I love New York.) And while the absurdity of running 26.2 miles has caused me to swear off running another until my 50th birthday (a good way to celebrate, don't you think?), I've still got the running bug.

I'm now training for another half, another chance to shave off minutes from my time, to set an ambitious goal (1:45, but don't tell), to remain faithful to my trainer Hal and his methodical schedule. And when my alarm goes off before the sun has greeted the day? When I have a ten-mile run ahead of me on a rainy Saturday? When my legs are ready to give out and I notice the hill up ahead? That's when I think: This is good for my soul.

Ever an analogist, I like to think of life as a marathon. It takes courage, endurance, discipline, and grit. It involves pain, injury, heartache. I choose to leave my obliging bed for my 5:45 wake-up call when a run awaits, and I dare to press on when rainwater has seeped into my socks. I forgo my longing to slow down and instead add a spring to my step in that last uphill of a half mile to my door. To be a runner is to rise to the occasion when virtue beckons.

But then, joy. There's the exhilaration of the finish line, and plenty of triumph along the way. The runner's high, those blessed endorphins that carry me through the day. And the community. Every Wednesday night, I join my beloved running club for a five-mile loop. I hardly notice the distance as Steve and I discuss our travels. Eric the math teacher and I like to sprint to the end. Kelly always sticks with whoever is trailing. There's a certain kinship in running, a mysterious bond in pounding pavement side by side for miles. I am a much better runner when I am not alone.

In the spiritual life, too, there is consolation and desolation. Just as there are those runs on perfectly crisp fall days when I wish I could let my legs carry me forever, there are those periods of prayer when I feel delightfully caught up in the tender love of God. There are hills in the rain on a late night alone, and there are seasons of spiritual drought when prayer is nothing more than a chore I resent. But that's why I tape up my 12-week running schedule beside my calendar and look at it daily. That's why I show up on Wednesday nights, however little energy I have. That's why I tell you my goal for my race. I cannot go it alone.

Just as 26.2 miles was my objective two years ago, sainthood is what I set my sights on now. I run so as to win, and I live so as to gain an imperishable crown.





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