I picked up running while I was in college.
It started out sporadic, maybe once or twice a semester, until my senior year. Senior year began with a broken heart from a broken relationship and I had begun working out more to deal with the angst and frustration. I ran 5 days a week for most of senior year, but never ran further than a mile or so.
The mountain where I grew up had narrow and winding roads with cars that would drive too fast around sharp corners for it to be safe to run there, my mom said. My brother and sister didn’t pay attention to that warning and would run on our roads anyway, but I usually opted for the treadmill or driving a couple miles down into one of the neighboring towns where there were sidewalks and more people around. Even still, my running habit wasn’t serious; when talking about it with friends who were beginning to train for half marathons and full marathons, I would always say, “I just don’t have the stamina for that. I’m more of a leisurely jogger, anyway.”
Two summers ago, I decided to actually set a goal and see if I could make this sporadic habit into more of a lifestyle, more of a rhythm for me to relieve stress, strengthen my heart, and accomplish something begun.
I downloaded a “couch to 10K” app and went to work.
The cool thing about a training program is that you start slow. You start small. You literally start with running sixty seconds, walking for ninety seconds, then running again for sixty seconds and repeating that pattern for twenty minutes. You do that three days out of the first week.
The following week, you run ninety seconds, walk for two minutes, run again for ninety seconds, repeating for a total of twenty minutes.
By the fifth week, you find yourself running for five minutes, walking for three, running for five, walking for three, and it’s working.
Around the mid-way point of training, I was running on a treadmill when the app crashed unexpectedly, but I didn’t know it. I was letting out some pent-up stress and jamming to good music and I didn’t even realize that I’d run for a mile and a half without slowing down or stopping. It was that moment when I realized, this works. Stamina isn’t something that you are or aren’t born with – it can be built.
I learned that my body could recognize a rhythm and rise to the occasion, and even be pushed further than I thought possible.
I also began to feel more comfortable in my life when running was a part of it. Something would feel off and unnatural when I wasn’t prioritizing it. My muscles and emotional being began to crave it, desire it. I get to run tomorrow, was a more frequent thought as I would fall asleep at night.
And that’s when I knew: I’m a runner. This is not just something I’m playing around with, trying out, seeing if it’ll stick.
This is part of me.
Several months ago, I was teaching my high school students about the importance of developing a “secret life” with God – a history with God. You can only ride the wave of your parent’s faith or your youth pastor’s faith for so long; if following Christ is of value to you, it’s vital that you prioritize and cultivate your own relationship with Him. If not, you may graduate from high school and move away to college, away from the burning lights of believers that surrounded you for years, and wonder why it’s so hard to see.
I was trying to communicate that you have to learn how to keep your own flame going, that it’s not going to happen with the flip of a switch or a radical emotional encounter at a camp or a conference, but with consistency over time.
All of a sudden I realized – that building of consistency, of history, of a connection with God that stands alone from any experience of your family, your leaders, or your peers – it’s like training for a race.
It’s built over time.
It’s built slowly, and sometimes in fits and spurts.
It takes effort that may feel foreign, uncomfortable, or frustrating at first.
But the truth is, in those spaces that you create for just you and Him, He begins to show up in ways that draw you deeply into His goodness … His nearness … His acceptance and breath-catching love.
And you want to go back to that space – to Him – again and again and again. Being with Him and hearing His voice, sensing His feelings about you, picking up on His cues and direction and insight begins to feel like the most natural, most comfortable, easiest place to be, and you wonder how your life ever happened without Him before.
I told my students, it feels awkward right now. It feels like you show up, fumbling around in your Bible, maybe spewing off a laundry-list of prayers to this unseen being that you know somewhere-deep-down has a vested interest in you. It feels strange and like you’re doing it out of obligation – but stick with it. Press on. Soon – very soon – you’ll be desperate to come back. And you’ll be experiencing more of the abundant life He has in mind for you than you ever have before.
The effort is worth it.
The time is worth it.
Things are changing in you for the better – whether you’re immediately aware of it or not.
Photos by Madison Kay Photography © 2017