“I wouldn’t run unless something was chasing me.” That’s what I used to say. But now, as I’m approaching my forty-second birthday, I realize that something is chasing me. So now I run.
I never thought that I would become a runner. I never understood those people, with their athletic clothing and their sportsy jargon. I’ve never been an athlete. I’ve never had much stamina or endurance. As a kid, I played one season of soccer, but quit after that. My asthma prevented me from sports that involved a lot of running. In addition, I’ve always hated the jarring sensation of my heels striking the pavement as I run.
But now I run. Because something is chasing me.
My fitness journey began in January, when I noticed that I could no longer fit into some of my favorite clothes. At the same time, the scale tipped past the point where I was comfortable. So I set a weight loss goal for 2014. But by the beginning of Lent, I had only lost three pounds. So I decided on a low-carb fast for Lent, that would add a spiritual dimension to my need to lose weight. During Lent, I began to get more spiritually and more physically fit. The pounds began to fall off. At Easter, I decided that the dietary changes I’d made needed to go beyond Lent, and needed to become a lifestyle change. So I eat differently these days. And it’s a good thing. Besides the weight loss, I’ve noticed a few other medical benefits to my new diet. For one thing, I no longer have acid issues. And, with all the pollen we had this spring, I didn’t have any problem with asthma.
So a month or so ago, I started running. I had no respiratory excuses. I researched breathing techniques. I learned how to run so that I avoid over-striding, which causes the heels to strike uncomfortably and can lead to damage. I started out walking, and then moved to walking and running at intervals. Now, I’m delighted to find that my intervals are changing, and that I’m able to run more and walk less. I never imagined myself as a runner, but as I lace on my shoes it’s starting to feel like something I look forward to, rather than something I dread. I even bought myself some of those athletic clothes that I always thought looked so dorky on other people. But my perspective is changing with my body, and I think I look pretty good.
I’ve learned that there’s something meditative about running, which appeals to my contemplative, monkish personality. There’s something about the repetition of footfalls, combined with synchronized breathing that lends itself to mental chanting. As I run, I find myself repeating things like, “Though outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly we’re renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 4.16).” I like that one, because it has a good cadence, and it rhymes! Then there’s the more simple, “Put off your old self…put on the new self (from Ephesians 4.22-23).” Or, “Rise on wings as eagles…run and not be weary (Isaiah 40.31).” These types of scriptural meditations aren’t new to me, but adding them to the rhythm of footfalls and breathing has become something that I look forward to.
I’m still a slow runner, but I’m making progress. I don’t have a lithe runner’s body, and maybe I never will. But outwardly, I am wasting away—and that’s a good thing. And as my waist is wasting, inwardly I’m renewed day by day.
Today I’d like to encourage you to combine spiritual fitness with physical fitness. You don’t have to be an athlete to get better day by day. Just get started slowly, and eventually your baby steps will lead to running with endurance the race that the Lord has set before you (Hebrews 12.1).