Thursday, March 10, 2011

Going The Distance

There's a certain level of discomfort we runners have to come to terms with. Fatigue, aching muscles, burning lungs. Especially when we first start out.

When I was a freshman, I planned to run cross-country. So, the summer before I entered high school, I decided to prepare for the seemingly impossible task of running three miles without stopping. I began jogging the pancake-flat roads in rural Brown County, Ohio (outside Cincinnati), on hot summer afternoons, dust kicking up behind me. Oftentimes, it seemed like I could hardly run another step, though I knew I'd barely reached a mile. It was hard. I was sweaty. My breath came in huge gasps. It seemed to take forever.

I wasn't cut out for this, I thought. I quit.

I saved my energies for the shorter, flashier distances of track, which I loved. There was nothing like the powerful spurt of a sprint and the adrenaline rush of overcoming your opponent.

But, after high school, I wasn't running 200- or 400-meter sprints anymore, and jogging sounded like a good plan. I started slow, short 2- or 3-mile distances, whenever the mood struck. No regular routine. After college, a workplace relay team formed for the marathon. My leg was 5.5 miles. I almost gave up. It was hard. My legs ached. I found that around my hilly Pittsburgh neighborhood the best 4-mile training loop involved an epic 1/2-mile-long hill so steep at one point you could actually walk it faster than trying to jog. It became a thing, between that hill and me. Making it to the top without stopping; making it through the run without stopping.

Now, through three kids and more years than I like to say, I still run. Not constantly, and not obsessively, but I run. And, I've become somewhat immune to the discomfort.

"I ran up The Hill three times yesterday," I said to my husband recently. We're both training for the Pittsburgh half-marathon this year.

"Are you crazy?" he replied. It's another neighborhood hill. Steep, and if you stop to think of it when you're running up, impossibly hard. But, if you can do it once in a day, I've found you can do it three times (and probably more).

It kind of reminds me of life. Lots of things are hard. For me, it's raising kids and being the Christian I'm called to be. It would be easier to have a cup of coffee and watch HGTV than challenge myself with reading a Bible passage. It would be easier to not fight the battles of respect and hard work with my kids and let them do as they please.

Way too often I take the easy route. I disengage, I back down, I get distracted by shiny things. I start thinking, this is hard, it's taking too long, I might get sweaty.

Just like when I'm running a hill, I need to remember the basics. Stay on your toes and lean into the hill. Don't overthink it. And above all, keep moving, however slow.

Dear Lord: While I may be used to pushing myself physically in exercise, I'm lax when it comes to my mind and soul. Help me to get in spiritual shape. Help me remember that it's okay to struggle; that, in fact, it's good for me. It's hard to be a good wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, writer. And, that's okay. My struggles bring me that much closer to You.