I’m almost ready for the Pittsburgh Half-Marathon. I’ve prepared for it rigorously — not just putting in the miles, but also losing the extra weight I had been hoping to shed. I’ve felt strong and proud and euphoric at times; but I’ve also felt weak and humbled and desperate at other times. I’ve worked to overcome injuries and position myself for success. In the end, however, there’s a lot left up in the air and we’ll only get to see how everything settles on race day.
Because this is my third big race — and probably the one for which I’ve most diligently prepared — I’ve been reflecting a lot on the spiritual implications of training, running, and racing. It’s such a rich metaphor! Even though I’m well aware of the ways that marathon metaphors are overused, I’ve been studying some of the relevant Bible passages. They are so apt, so insightful, so meaningful — and sometimes in surprising ways, decidedly contrary to the typical cliches.
Did you know, for instance, that the Bible says that neither training nor talent are necessarily advantageous when it comes to racing? See Ecclesiastes 9:11. “Time and chance happen to them all.” It’s true to life, as well. One of my friends and training partners had to pull out of the race just one month into the training program, because of severe leg pain, even though he happened to be the youngest, with the most prototypical “runner’s build.” Another friend and training partner — who happened to be one of the most experienced runners in our group — broke his toe just two weeks before the race, in a freak canoeing accident. Did either of these men do something wrong to deserve such bad breaks? Did they miss some special piece of training wisdom? Of course not! They were simply victims of time and chance. Their misfortune could have just as easily been mine. This kind of wisdom helps me to stay humble, both with my running and with my general bearing in life. Smug, self-assured self-righteousness is a grave danger that needs to be avoided at all costs.
And this is just one application of the Mara-meta-phor-athon of biblical wisdom that I’ve been turning over in my mind this week! There are lessons to be learned about pride and presumption (Jeremiah 12:5-8). There are parallels regarding strategy and tactical training (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). There is insight about perseverance (Galatians 5:6-8 and Hebrews 12)… about endurance (Isaiah 40:28-31)… about keeping one’s eyes on the prize (2 Timothy 2:3-7 and Philippians 2-3)… and much, much more…
Suffice to say: Running is a great inspiration for faith, and faith is a great inspiration for running. I’m glad I’ve decided to eagerly embrace both.