This weekend I completed my fourth half marathon. Over ten years ago, I signed up to run a half marathon, kind of on a whim. I wasn’t really much of a runner, I had never participated in a race before, and didn’t really know the first thing about distance running. I’ve learned a lot since then. I will never be an elite runner. I’m pretty sure I will never qualify to run the Boston Marathon. I might not even ever run a full marathon. But running these four half marathons has taught me a thing or two, not just about running, but about life in general.
On Saturday, I talked about how running half marathons has taught me to embrace the hard things in life, because it is the hard things that make life so amazing. Today, I want to share a few more life lessons that I have learned after running these four half marathons.
1. Preparation is key, but it isn’t everything.
A few months ago I stumbled upon Proverbs 16:9, it says “We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.”
When you sign up for a half marathon, you find a training plan that looks doable and works with your schedule, and then follow it as closely as possible. Ideally, you reach your goal of finishing your half marathon. At least that’s the way it’s supposed to work.
If you don’t train properly, you most assuredly will not meet your goal or if you do, it likely won’t be very enjoyable. With my first half marathon I wasn’t nearly as well trained as I should have been. I finished, but I was much slower than I wanted to be and it took me ten years to work up enough courage to even consider running another half marathon. It was a pretty miserable experience. My second half marathon wasn’t much better. I had attempted to stick to my training plan more closely, but a persistent calf injury kept me side-lined for far too long and I went into the race much less prepared than I wanted to be. I remember thinking as I approached the finish line, “I just have to get through this and then I never have to run another step in my life!”
This year I was well prepared. I barely missed a training run. I felt strong and was confident in my ability to finish the race. As I started my third half marathon three weeks ago my spirits were high. But a couple miles into the run my body started to fail me. My bladder was apparently sending out false signals. I made a couple stops at the porta-potties but couldn’t find the relief I needed. I’m not sure if you’ve ever tried to run for 11 miles with the urge to pee, but it’s incredibly painful and uncomfortable. There were also a lot more hills on this course than I had anticipated. As I approached the finish line I was so bummed. I knew that I should have had a stronger run based on my training and preparation, but I simply couldn’t get my body to perform at its best under the conditions. So I decided to sign up for another race to try again.
This weekend I knew that I could do better as long as my body cooperated. The weather was amazing. It was a beautiful and cool morning. The course was in my hometown, so I was familiar with the area and knew what to expect. It wasn’t a perfect race. Again, running is never easy for me. But I felt great and confident throughout. My body cooperated much better and I shaved five minutes off my finish time from just three weeks ago. Which is a pretty tough thing to do in such a short period of time. I never would have signed up for this second race if I had met my original goal three weeks ago. And I would have missed out on the great experiences that I had this weekend as well as the chance to show myself that I can run two half marathons in less than a month.
In life, we can do all of the right things. We can make the right choices, we can create elaborate and detailed plans and then follow them to a “T”, but sometimes in the end, the results just don’t look like what we were planning for. We are blind-sided by circumstances that are completely out of our control. We have to learn to “roll with the punches” and give it our best effort despite the less than ideal conditions. We are called to make our plans and prepare for what lies ahead of us in life, but God truly is the ultimate decider of our fate. We must relinquish our control to Him, recognizing that His plans are always perfect and all things will be used for His good in the end.
2. We were not made to go it alone.
Running is a pretty solitary sport. Unless you’re running a relay, there aren’t really teams. Your performance depends entirely on you…or so it seems at initial glance. But each of my half marathons was accomplished because of the support and the community around me.
In my first half marathon I came across another runner during a particularly difficult part of the course. We were both really struggling and doubting our ability to make it to the end. We were complete strangers, brought together only because of this difficult task we were facing. But we stuck with each other, encouraging each other, pushing each other, and supporting each other all the way to the finish line. I will be forever grateful for the girl I met that day on my run. I don’t remember her name or even what she looks like. Our time together only lasted for the final several miles of the race, but I couldn’t have finished it without her.
I have a story of support and strength through friendship and community for all four of my races now. This past weekend my friend and I started the race together but didn’t really plan to run it together. We ended up running at the same pace and sticking with each other for the first six miles though. I’ve never run six miles without taking a walking break. My method of running involves a mixture of both running and walking, which helps me complete my runs much faster by incorporating walking breaks to give my body a little breather. But with my friend by my side I was able to match her pace and stay motivated to keep going as long as possible. There is no way I would have cut out those five minutes off my finish time if I wouldn’t have stuck with her for those first six miles.
Life isn’t exactly a team sport either. My performance in life isn’t usually affected by yours. We are all responsible for the outcome and legacy that we individually leave behind. But we were never made to go through life alone. In fact, it is only through community that we can accomplish the greatest legacies. We need each other. To support, to encourage, to strengthen, to mentor, to help through the hard times. We all must work together to reach our fullest individual potential.
3. You can achieve way more than you think you can.
In the 4th grade I hated running, so much so that I complained to my teacher during gym class that I couldn’t breathe when I ran. I remember she wrote a note to my parents advising them that they might want to have me tested for asthma. If you would have told me then that I would fall in love with running as an adult and choose to train for and complete four half marathons I would have thought you were insane. Why would anyone find running enjoyable?
As an adult I was actually diagnosed with exercise-induced asthma while training for that first half marathon over a decade ago. So often in life we hide behind our excuses and our problems, allowing them to limit us from realizing our full potential. I could have let my asthma diagnosis steer me away from running. The easiest way to cure exercise-induced exercise is to simply not exercise! But by that point I had caught sight of a vision that was bigger than me. I signed up for this race and I wasn’t letting anything stop me from finishing it, even a potentially dangerous medical diagnosis. I grabbed my inhaler and went running.
Most highly successful people can tell you about all kinds of limits and challenges that they had to overcome along the way, things that should have stopped them from reaching their goal. But they didn’t accept defeat and they don’t let failure be the end of the story. Keep moving, keep pressing forward, climbing over mountains, overcoming obstacles, and striving to move beyond the limitations of yourself. For behind you, there is a far greater strength and a far stronger power that can push you into opportunities you never saw coming.
4. The beauty is not in the prize, it is found along the journey.
The prize for finishing a half marathon is a medal. Certainly something to be proud of, but they aren’t even all that pretty for most of the races. Just a ribbon and some shiny metal with words on it. My four medals are tucked away in a cabinet in my living room. I hope to have my husband create a display rack for them soon now that I’m working hard to earn more of them, but truly they have no real value. It’s just a piece of metal that collects lots of dust. It will be boxed up and forgotten or thrown away once I’m gone. But, I run half marathons for far more than the shiny medal.
I run half marathons to prove to myself that I am strong and capable of hard things.
I run half marathons to notice the beauty of creation on my hours of training runs outside.
I run half marathons to create self-discipline.
I run half marathons to experience the freedom and clarity of mind that I’ve only found while out on a long run.
I run half marathons to join with a motivated, happy, and successful community of other runners.
I run half marathons to be an example to my kids showing them what hard work and dedication look like.
I run half marathons to remind myself that my body is not my own, it is a temple for the Holy Spirit.
I run half marathons to show my gratitude and thanks to God for the ability to run because I know there are many who physically can’t.
I run half marathons because in life there are many things that are out of my control, but lacing up my shoes and going for a run isn’t one of them.
There are so many other reasons that I run. I’ve learned a lot and become a better person because of my running habit. Whether you are a runner or not doesn’t matter. The lessons are still the same.
In life you will want to prepare, but you’ll also need to pivot and work through the unexpected.
You will need to put yourself in a community of supportive, encouraging people so that you can all bring out the best in each other.
You will need to push yourself beyond what you think is possible to achieve results that you currently can’t even imagine.
And along the way, you will realize that life isn’t about the end prize. The true beauty of life is found in the small moments along the way. The miles and miles of “training runs” that develop you into the person you were destined to become. To create the life and the legacy that God has specifically created you for doesn’t happen on your deathbed, it happens in each of the choices you make throughout each of your days.
Live your life well. Live strong. Live in the hard moments and the beauty. Live together. Live for something bigger than you.