I just finished an 8 mile training run for the KC 1/2 Marathon I'll be running in October. I opened Sunday's message talking some about running, listen here. There's not much that compares to a long run. It's a test of mental and physical discipline. I'm alone with my ipod, the steady pounding of my feet, prayer and the ever increasing fatigue. I set a pretty slow pace on long runs, so I don't feel much of the "pain in the side" that you get from running fast but I do experience muscle fatigue. With about two miles to go, I started feeling some cramps in my quads and my calves. Two days earlier, I'd spent 3 hours passing out door hangers in the Double Gate subdivision, so I was still sore from that workout, too.
The interesting thing about the long run are the mind games. From the time I leave my driveway till the time I step foot back on it, I've got the question of "will I really be able to do this" running through my mind. At the same time, there's a dogged-determinism that I will do it, even if it kills me. I actually did almost kill myself in August of 2003, when I became completely dehydrated during an 18 mile run. My doctor said I just about did myself in, took me weeks to recover. Thoughts of "just walk" or "just give up" runs through my mind while at the same time I'm growing in confidence with each step. The key to finishing a long run is to ignore the pain, ignore the doubts and continue putting one foot in front of another. An hour and a half later, you're stretching your sore muscles in the comfort of your front yard.
Are you making the connection yet? In the bible, the life of a Christ-follower is often compared to an endurance run. This is from 1 Corinthians 9:
24Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.
25Everyone 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. 26Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. 27No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
And from Hebrews 12:
1Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
12Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. 13"Make level paths for your feet,"[b] so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.
Let me give another analogy. We don't just wake up one morning and decide to run a marathon, we have to build up our endurance. Two weeks ago, I felt terrible while doing a 6 mile run but because I ran almost every day between that run and tonight's 8 mile run, I was a lot stronger this evening. We build our endurance through regular "practice." What's the "practice" of a Christ-follower look like - at TFC we call it SOAP. Our times of training prepare us for the long difficult stretches where we must have endurance.
How do we endure those difficult stretches? How do we finish the race? It's simple; keep putting one foot in front of the other. The only way to finish the race is to continue putting one foot in front of another. Even if it hurts, even if we want to quit, we continue putting one foot in front of another. This life of following Jesus is a long run.