As I tied my shoe laces Saturday morning, I felt such pride in myself. It was 7:30 a.m., and here I was getting ready for a run while the rest of my town was sleeping. I grabbed a banana and my water bottle and headed to the car. Today was the day–four miles–and I was going to get them done while the air was cool and crisp, while my neighbors snuggled under their warm blankets.
But as I pulled into the packed parking lot of the park, I realized I wasn’t nearly as awesome as I thought. Evidently, a lot of people exercise early on Saturday morning. Nevertheless, I got out of the car ready to start my goal, albeit feeling slightly less important.
About a month ago, I had decided I wanted to train for a half marathon. I had run one about six years before, before I had kids, before I had become, apparently, out of shape. The training so far wasn’t going as well as I’d hoped. Running long distances has never been easy for me, but the first time I trained, I was able to increase my mileage each week. Now–well, let’s just say that if those heart sensors on treadmills had an alarm that goes off when one’s heart is about to explode, the paramedics would be ready and waiting most days of my training.
This particular Saturday was no different. As my feet hit the pavement, my mind was thankful for the cool morning air and a change in scenery from the gym, but my body didn’t care; it wanted to go to bed. I knew from past experience that I take a few minutes to get going, to get a good pace and rhythm, but after five minutes, I was already struggling. My legs didn’t want to move, and I had to pee. Why, no matter how many times that I pee before starting, do I still have to pee two minutes into a run (I would guess childbirth has something to do with that answer. You men have it so good)?
It’s way too early to quit, I told myself. So I moved along and decided by a mile in, I’d find my groove. But after running one mile, I was still running at the pace of toddler learning to walk. I tried to stay positive and kept going. I smiled as a little chipmunk scurried in front of my path. I reflected on the wonder of God as a beam of light rays pushed through the tree branches ahead of me. I found a moment of joy.
And then I watched the 70-year-old man pass me on the left while I was contemplating if my own lungs would collapse.
I had run almost two miles, and I was still struggling. The little inclines were killing me. I was huffing and puffing. My legs felt tired, and my breathing hadn’t adjusted to a comfortable rhythm. I never found my groove.
I might have to stop. I didn’t want to have to holler after that 70- year-old that I was dying and needed his help to get me to my car so that I could go to Starbucks. I was ready to quit.
But I couldn’t.
My plan said I was supposed to run four miles that day, and if I didn’t run four, then the rest of the weeks of training would be that much harder.
So I kept going, shuffling my feet one in front of the other, hoping I didn’t see anyone I knew. But then something amazing happened.
Shortly after two miles, I noticed I could breathe. All of sudden, my body began to run on its own instead of me forcing it to move. I was now running at the pace of a four-year-old walking. I had found my groove. For the next two miles, I ran. I even passed some people. On a long, flat stretch, I picked up the pace again, and for a few moments, I slightly enjoyed myself.
When I saw the small, wooden sign marking my goal, I pushed myself and yearned for that finish. And when I finished, I felt good. My face was beat red, my stomach hurt, and I wanted to throw up–but I felt good. I could finally pee. I had finished. I had finished.
I wonder how many times we quit something one mile too soon.
While I was running, I felt like for the first time I could truly understand what it means to run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith (Hebrews 12: 1-2). Sometimes marriage is not easy. Raising kids is not easy. Having a positive attitude at work is not easy. Sometimes, it’s easier to quit.
But if we would’ve held on for one more mile, would we have finally found our groove? Or would God have sent a little chipmunk or light rays through the branches of a tree to cause us to smile for a moment, distracting us from the discomfort of not being able to breathe easily, giving us just enough of a boost to continue a little further?
I’m convinced that my life is very much like running four miles. For some, they seem to run with ease, passing me on the left while I’m huffing and puffing and wondering if this is the end for me. But there are always those moments, always those moments scattered throughout my run to bring a smile to my face. And once in a while, I even fall into a groove, and when I do, I’m always glad that I didn’t fall down on the ground and ask the 70-year-old man to take me to Starbucks instead.
Two days ago, I watched my two-year-old daughter play with her best friend. I’ve never seen two children so small actually play with one another and not just alongside one another. They talked in their baby voices and laughed and chased each other, and they gave me that boost I needed to run uphill that day. So when I was digging through my son’s poop later that day looking for a Lego, I just thought of those sweet, little girls and realized now was not the time to throw in the towel–even though I still hadn’t found that stupid Lego and will have to dig again later this week.