Extending Paul’s Metaphor or Most of the Good Stuff I learned from Running

I Corinthians 9:24, Phillipians 3:12-16, II Timothy 4:7
Do 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.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

I like a good metaphor as much as anyone, I suppose, and I’m not afraid to extend a good one to the point of absurdity either.  So when the Apostle Paul starts throwing out metaphors about my other favorite passion, running, well, that’s a challenge I just have to accept.  So here we go.

But first:

Eight years ago, I weighed about 205 pounds; today I weigh about 160.  Eight years ago, I couldn’t run 800 yards without collapsing with exhaustion.

This morning I ran a very comfortable 12 miles at an 8:00 minute pace; this Fall I will run my 6th marathon in the last 6 years.  I’m a runner.

Running is incredibly important to me.  So I get Paul’s metaphor.  I like it.  It works for me.  In fact, if Paul was a real runner or more of a metaphor geek like me, I think he would have taken his metaphor a lot further because running is a good teacher.  Here’s some of what running has taught me over the last 8 years; most of which are lessons worth applying to the race that Paul is talking about.

1.     Get in the game; enter the race; show up.  As they say, this ain’t no dress rehearsal.  Stop spectating.  Put your shoes on.  It’s time to get moving.
2.     Follow the rules.  There aren’t many of them.
3.     Pace yourself – Consistency in training is better than intensity in training.  Life and running are lifetime projects.  The first marathoner to pass the 3 mile mark gets nothing.  Pace yourself accordingly.
4.     Have fun.  Again, this isn’t a dress rehearsal.  Live large and enjoy life.
5.     What you do today will not show up tomorrow; what you fail to do today will not be evident tomorrow either.  So don’t get discouraged if you fall on hard times while working hard to do the right things.  On the other hand, if you get lazy and undisciplined, and fall into bad habits and bad decisions, things may still go your way — for awhile — but life (and running) have their ways of getting even, eventually.
6.     Teamwork is important; practice it and get good at it.  Do your part.  Rely on others.  Be reliable.  Be a good teammate.
7.     Find a training group, be accountable to each other and encourage each other.  It’s hard to sleep in when the group is waiting on you.  It’s hard to sleep in or merely sit on the back pew of church if your church community is really counting on you.  Find a group that will miss you if you are not there.
8.     Run hills so that the flats will seem easier and you will be able to overcome adversity when it inevitably comes.  Life (and running) is hard.  Prepare for the hard stuff.  Don’t run from adversity, embrace it.  Master it if you can.
9.     Remember: Some days will be easier that others and some days you just won’t have it.  Some times your best effort will be pretty poor and simply won’t be enough.  Sometimes we fail.  Get over it.  And keep moving.
10.     Don’t worry about what others are doing – compete against yourself.  Make yourself better.  And be satisfied with your own progress, regardless of how others are doing.
11.     Work hard when no one’s looking.  Most of the time they aren’t.
12.     Work hard over the summer or during the off season.  Not sure there’s a spiritual parallel here but let’s face it — most of our progress comes while training, not during races.
13.     Win gracefully.  Outright wins in life (and running)are rare.  So we don’t get much practice at winning.  Still, we’ve seen other winners.  Emulate the gracious ones.
14.     Lose gracefully.  We get more practice at this one.  But it still isn’t easy.
15.     Encourage others.  Repeatedly.  And unconditionally.  Some of my most memorable moments in running (and life) were times when I spotted a discouraged runner who had slowed to a crawl and I was able to encourage them to pick up their pace and get back in the race.  It’s really amazing what a simple positive statement will do for a discouraged runner.  Or a single mom who has just lost her job.
16.     Inconsistent training leads to inconsistent results.  I promise.
17.     Have a plan and stick to it — unless you decide not to.  Because some times our plans are no good.  Sometimes someone or some thing has a better plan for us.  Follow the better plan and get better results.  Otherwise, stick to the plan.  The point is — train (and live) intentionally.
18.     Plan for the unexpected.  Something will go wrong.  It’s guaranteed.  Plan on it.  Manage it.  And move on.
19.     Get a coach.  Sometimes we just lose our mojo.  Sometimes self talk is not enough.  Sometimes we get so far off track we can’t find our way back.  When that happens, ask for help.  Find someone who’s been there.  Someone you trust.
20.     Know the playbook.  Read it.  Study it.  Know it.  Follow it.  Teach it to others.
21.     Nutrition – watch what you put in your body and what you put in your mind.  Either way, it’s garbage in, garbage out.  Too much garbage over time causes real problems and will eventually slow you down or bring you to a complete stop.  Be intentional about what you put in your body and how you fill your brain.  Fuel your efforts with the healthy stuff.  Find positive people who promote positive thinking and stick to them.
22.     Take reasonable risks.  Sometimes, you’ve got to redline it.  Sometimes you’ve just got to go for it.  Other times, however, call for patience and caution.  Know which is which.  But don’t be afraid to redline it from time to time.
23.     Don’t get injured.  At least not the permanent kind.  We all get banged up from time to time.  IT Band injuries, low back pain, runner’s knee, piriformis syndrome …  Bruised ego, disappointment, embarrassment and heat ache.  But, if you can, stay away from the more permanent stuff — ACL tears, stress fractures, broken pelvis … destroyed reputations, broken relationships, criminal convictions, overwhelming resentment and other toxic feelings.
24.     Don’t overcomplicate things.  Running (and life) can get pretty complicated but, at their core, it’s really all about putting one foot in front of the other.  Don’t ever let either one get much more complicated than that.
25.     Focus on the fundamentals.  Posture, stride length, nutrition … love mercy, do justice and walk humbly with your God.
26.     Let running/training make most of your decisions.    Have another beer?  Probably not if you’re training.  Stay out later?  Not if you have a fifteen miler in the morning.  Dedication to a program usually helps us make responsible decisions.  That’s  a good thing and can even be a liberating thing.  Don’t fight it.
27.     Be confident but not overconfident.  As you toe the line, picture a fabulous finish.  As you approach the finish, keep your head down.  A cramp could be just around the corner.
28.     Know your strengths and play to your strengths.  We all have them.  Figure out yours.  If you haven’t discovered yours, ask a friend.  We all have our gifts.  We need to use them.
29.     Be aware of your weaknesses and work on them/stay away from them.  Just as we have gifts, we all have our share of weaknesses.  Knowing them is, ironically, a strength.
30.     Learn from your mistakes.
31.     Set goals and celebrate your successes.  Let’s face it, for most of us, winning is not in the cards.  But success is ours to define.  Define yours reasonably and celebrate like hell when you achieve it.
32.     Don’t beat yourself up when things don’t go well or you make a mistake.  Because you will.  Over and Over.  The idea is to get better.  To press on for the prize.  So press on.  And give yourself a break.
33.     Be willing to make sacrifices.  Life ain’t for sissies.  Neither is the marathon.  Be willing to make the sacrifices and do the hard work.
34.     Work all energy systems (aerobic v. lactate threshold v. anaerobic) v. feelings/emotions/intellect.  We need to love God with our hearts, soul and mind.  Equally.
35.     Rule of specificity v. Rule of Variety – both are important.  Pound the fundamentals.  But mix it up occasionally.
36.     If you’ve fallen behind or you want to catch up or you want to get ahead – consider a personal trainer.  Sometimes it’s just too tough to do it alone.  But there’s an app for that.  It’s called a good friend, a pastor, a counselor, a therapist, a gizzled old veteran runner or a professional running coach.  Don’t go it alone.  Get help when you need it.
37.     Learn from others who have had success in your sport.  Wheels are good.  But they are hard to invent from scratch.  And it’s wholly unnecessary to do so anyway.  If you know others who have navigated your confounding circumstances, seek them out for advice.
38.     Associative v. Disassociative thinking – try a little of both.  Studies show that runners who check in on their race progress periodically do better than those that do not check in at all and do better than those that never stop thinking about their race progress.  Keep in touch with your feelings and emotions and your progress in life.  But don’t dwell on these things.  Instead, live a little.
39.     Don’t let quitting become a habit.  Some things are simply too hard.  Sometimes bailing out is the height of wisdom.  But quitting can be addictive or, at the very least, habit forming so do it sparingly.  If possible, press on.  Reset your goals.  Make the best of bad circumstances.
40.     Never ever give up.  This is for a lifetime.  Giving up is not an option.
I have fought the fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
Run on!
Your Turn:  Any runner’s out there?  I’m sure you can add to the list.  Have at it!  Leave me your thoughts.
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