“What have I gotten myself into?” That’s the question I asked after a casual conversation about running turned into a commitment to run in a half marathon. My husband and I were at a party when some friends convinced us we should all do an upcoming half marathon together. Somehow, we all thought that was a fantastic idea and agreed right then and there. Well, my husband had already completed two full marathons, so it wasn’t a big deal to him. I, on the other hand, was not entirely convinced.
I am not kidding when I say the day after the party, I immediately started training. I had 20 weeks to prepare and I didn’t want to waste one day for fear I wouldn’t be ready. I looked up a training schedule and got to work. I never considered myself a runner. I love dance and fitness, but always looked at running as something to “hurry and get over with,” so I could move on to the next thing. But, I must admit I admired my runner friends and I loved seeing all their race posts on social media. Running a long distance seemed like a very ambitious goal, and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to do it, but I decided to give a try anyway.
During the course of the next few months, I expected physical changes, but I ended up with much more. That first training run began an emotional and spiritual journey that led to some important lessons that had everything and nothing to do with running.
1. Adjust Perspective.
Perspective is vital to success in anything we attempt to do in life. When I first started training, I had a negative perspective. “Why did I agree to this?” “Now I’m going to have to train through the winter.” “The course will be so hilly.” “I don’t even like running that much.” “I have to spend so much time training. How will I make the time?” There were so many excuses! I really had to change my perspective from the beginning. I needed to shift to an attitude of thankfulness for the ability to run, healthy lungs and legs, a strong body, a safe place to practice, enough time to train, beautiful weather, the opportunity to run in a big race, the beauty of creation that I got to see each time I ran along the trail, muscles that could grow and change, the resources to learn more about training and preparation. I knew it would be hard, but hard is not bad. When we do hard things, we can change. So, I started being thankful for the challenge and the opportunity to grow. This wasn’t an automatic change of perspective. It was a choice, every time I ran. I had to decide that I would focus on the positives and think about the end result. It made running feel more like a privilege than a chore.
2. Eliminate Negative Self-Talk.
This really goes along with the first lesson. The greatest obstacle to success is often our own negative self-talk. We let experiences from the past shape the view we have of ourselves today. As long as I kept telling myself, “I’m not a runner. I can never do this. A half marathon is so far. Why would I even try this,” I kept holding myself back. Well, guess what? No one is a runner until they start running. My self-doubt needed to be replaced with confidence. Anyone can learn, practice, and improve. I needed to think about how to become a runner instead of focusing on what I lacked the ability to do. I started replacing the negative thoughts with positive ones. Mostly, I had to just take that first step and every one after that. With time and training, my confidence grew. “I can never do this,” changed to, “Maybe I can do this. I guess I am doing this. Wow! I can’t believe I did this!”
Prayer is really vital for anything we attempt, but it is also something that can become a “last resort” if we aren’t careful. Instead of going to the Lord out of thankfulness and worship, we sometimes go to him with our list of problems. And- I’m just going to be honest- I don’t spend the amount of time praying that I should. One huge benefit to training for the half marathon was all the time I was able to spend in prayer. I remember one day, on the longest run I had scheduled, my headphones inexplicably stopped working. I didn’t even have the option of listening to music or a podcast. And I needed to get that run in at that particular time. It ended up being one of the best runs I have ever had. It gave me a chance to really clear my mind of distractions and spend some much-needed time in prayer. With each lap I ran, I became more thankful for my blessings, while also realizing just how much I rely on God for everything. There were a few times I wondered if my legs would give way and I literally had to pray for the strength to keep running, just like I need strength daily to live in the way He has called me to
4. Slow Down.
This was probably the hardest part of the entire process for me. As I mentioned, I always wanted to get my running “over with” and move on to the next thing. I catch myself doing the exact same thing in life. I am always scheming, planning, and looking forward to what lies ahead. But sometimes it is so important to SLOW DOWN! In a short distance, we are able to push ourselves through on sheer determination, even if it’s hard. Knowing that it will be over soon helps motivate us toward the finish line. But, when running long distance, we need a slow and steady pace or we will burn out and be unable to finish. When I finally slowed down, I realized that I could run so much farther. When I ran my first 7 mile run (ever), I was truly amazed that I was able to achieve that distance. Since the race, I have tried to apply this practice to my daily life. Slow down. Be present. Avoid distractions. Don’t rush through everything. Take the time to enjoy the blessings around you. We have to pace ourselves, because it’s a long road ahead. Sometimes it takes time to build the character we need to face future challenges, just like it takes time to build endurance to run a long race.
5. Don’t Try to Do It Alone. Ask For Help.
Then Listen to the Advice. For some reason, I always think I need to do everything on my own, and I never want to ask for help. But, sometimes we all need help. And that’s OK. When my husband and I first got married, we tried to run together. He was already in amazing shape and used to running long distances, so it would make sense for me to listen to his advice. But, no. He would give me corrections and I would just get angry and tell him to run ahead. He would advise me on my pace and breathing, and I would ignore his advice. Every time we tried to run together, we ended up fighting. But, he was right! It took me a decade to realize that the advice he gave me was exactly what I needed to hear. If I had made those adjustments years ago, I could have been running long distances all this time. But, I had to come to the point of realizing that I don’t know everything and that’s OK. This time, I started my training with an open and teachable mind. I asked him to help me again, and he did. My personal growth started when I decided to let go of my pride and listen to advice. We all need each other and we can learn so much when we approach a situation with willingness to learn and grow.
6. Don’t Think About the Hills. Just Think About the Next Step.
About three-fourths of the way into my training, I knew I needed to add more hills to my running course. The race course was going to be very hilly, and I wanted to be able to make it. Ugh! Those hills were so hard! And sometimes they were really long. I had to learn to just take one step. And then just take one more. If I thought about how long the hill would be, I found myself so discouraged and overwhelmed that I just wanted to stop. I had to stop thinking about the hills, and just think about what was right in front of me. There are so many things in life that feel like an uphill battle. All we can do is just keep moving, even if we are moving very slowly. Even when it seems like it will last forever, the hill will eventually end. And it really makes us appreciate the flat ground again! Life is really hard sometimes, but if we can keep moving forward- even just a little- we will get through it stronger than ever.
7. Don’t Worry About Someone Else’s Pace.
When it came to race day, I had one goal in mind- Finish. I really wanted to run the entire time, so I knew I had to pace myself. As people started whizzing by right and left, my husband and I just kept running at the pace we decided ahead of time, a pace we knew would be sustainable for the whole 13.1 miles. It was tempting to speed up, because I wanted to have a good race time, but I knew I would get burned out early if left to my own devices. It is so easy to get discouraged when it seems like others are running so much faster, doing so much more, accomplishing so much. But, we need to keep whatever pace is right for us. Sometimes we find our stride and relax into it, while other times we lean forward and press on out of sheer determination. Either way, as long as we keep moving forward, we are still making progress. Dedication and discipline will eventually lead to speed and performance. If there is something you are working toward, just keep going. Don’t allow comparison to keep you from moving forward. Every step you take, even if it seems incredibly slow, will lead you closer toward the finish line.
8. Enjoy the Finish.
Wow! The feeling of crossing the finish line is indescribable! I imagined it so many times, but I wasn’t prepared for the flood of emotions I would feel as I actually approached the line. Finally, months of sweat, tears, pain, prayer, and perseverance paid off! I knew I had changed in a way that I can’t fully articulate. I went into this process thinking it would be a one-time thing just to see if I could do it. It ended up being one of the most physically, emotionally, and spiritually rewarding things I have done and I would absolutely go through the entire process again. I will never forget that finish! When you finish a hard race or accomplish a goal, enjoy the finish! Eat that celebratory donut or slice of pizza, appreciate your accomplishment, be grateful, REST. Be proud of yourself and what you can achieve through hard work and perseverance. YES! You did it!
Bonus- It will still be hard, but you can still do it.
I thought after the half marathon, it would be so easy to do a “quick” three mile run. It isn’t. It’s still hard. The biggest takeaway from all of this is that life is still hard, but we press on and do the hard things anyway. I am still not the world’s best runner, and running still isn’t my favorite activity. There are always excuses to be made and it takes discipline to get out there and start, knowing that it will be hard. But I think about all the benefits, and I make myself do it anyway. So, please be encouraged. If I can do it, you can do it. Just take the first step toward whatever goal you are trying to reach. Keep going even when it’s difficult. Don’t let negativity or self-doubt weigh you down. Pray and ask for help. If you need a break, take one. But start again. Go for it, and see what you learn along the way.
Have you recently tried something new? I would love to hear what you are learning!
I lift my eyes up to the mountains- where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. Psalm 121: 1-2