A few years ago I completely lost my mind and signed up for a half-marathon — 13.1 miles of torture and agony and pain! Okay, that may be a little dramatic. A little.
But it’s pretty brutal.
And I am not an athlete. At all.
What I am is a woman who hates to exercise and has weight issues. And chronic pain.
I know I need to get as strong and fit and healthy as it’s within my power to be – because of all the things that are not within my power.
So I was trying to motivate myself…. I thought maybe if I signed up for a 5k (3.1 miles), I’d feel the pressure to get in shape. I’d have a deadline to work toward and a financial commitment, with the registration fees.
Only I couldn’t find a 5k in my area. Instead, I found myself on the website for the Disney Princess Half Marathon in Orlando.
Anything with “princess” in it gets my attention.
I learned that participants dress up as Cinderella or Snow White or Sleeping Beauty — their favorite princesses — in full costume or just tutus and tiaras. And every woman who finishes the race receives a beautiful medal.
I feel like I should get a medal every time I exercise. And an excuse to wear a tiara in public? I’m in!
So I signed up and talked my little sister into joining me. And although we only got through the last four miles by saying to each other over and over and over — “We never have to do this again” – I actually have done it again four more times.
Because I’m still a woman who hates to exercise and has weight issues.
I’m now getting ready for my sixth half marathon a week from Sunday, on November 24th. This time I’m also walking to raise money for a really good cause. (More on that later.)
But while I’m thinking about it, I wanted to share with you some powerful lessons I’ve learned along the way – five things half-marathons have taught me. They’re true for the race on Sunday and true for the race of faith.
1. You don’t know what you can do until you try! We all have a million reasons, a million excuses for sitting on the sidelines. But there is adventure out there, waiting to be had. Excitement, exhilaration and yes, exhaustion! It’s an incredible experience to push yourself physically, mentally, emotionally, even spiritually. You learn so much about yourself, so much about life and faith, discipline and determination, perseverance and endurance.
2. There are people who have walked this road before you – and they can give you great advice! (You don’t have to learn everything the hard way.) I found out that there’s a whole community of walkers and runners, eager to share what they’ve learned. They explained how to train, how to prevent blisters and chafing, how to increase my pace, how to prepare for the big day, and what to expect afterward. I couldn’t have done it without them!* The same way I can’t do life, without my brothers and sisters in Christ.
3. You have to give it everything you’ve got… Commit yourself to putting in the time and effort. The more you put into the preparation (the training), the less painful it will be, and the faster you’ll recover.
…. And you’ve got more than you think! In every race I’ve had moments when I felt I couldn’t take another step. I was certain I was at the absolute end of my strength. Sometimes this happened in mile 8 or 9, sometimes in mile 3! But since no one magically appeared, offering to carry me across the finish line, I had to keep going. And guess what? I did. My feet were not bleeding (like they told me they were) and I did NOT die. I learned that I was – and am – capable of a lot more than I’m often willing to try. This is the life lesson that comes back to me most often. How many times have I quit too soon or given less than my best – convinced it was all I could do? (Narnia fans, think of Bree the Horse who discovered he wasn’t really running “as fast as he could” until the Lion started chasing him!)
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…” Hebrews 12:1
4. Get your sisters (and brothers and friends) to walk with you! When one of you is struggling, the other can be strong. You can challenge each other, inspire each other, commiserate together, and celebrate your victory together. It makes such a huge difference!
5. Keep your eyes on the prize! In the end, the only way to push through the pain and keep going is to stay focused on the finish line. Runners like to say, “The pain is temporary; the glory is forever!” We know the glory goes to Jesus… but that way, it really is forever! The glory of what He’s accomplishing in us and through us, what He’s teaching us and what we’re teaching others. And isn’t it so true of life itself – we’ve got to stay focused so we can finish well. Focus on the eternal glory!
On November 24, I’ll be walking once more — this time in the St. Petersburg Women’s Half Marathon. Walking to get back in shape, walking to lose weight. But I’ll also be walking to raise money for the food, clothing, and education of some precious little girls in India — born into brothels and rescued before they themselves can be trafficked. (For more, see As Our Own.)
And I’ll be reminding myself of the things I’ve learned from my earlier half marathons, applying them the bigger race of life: pressing in and pressing on, by His grace.
* Training to walk a half marathon is actually pretty simple. You walk briskly 3-4 times a week for 45 minutes, increasing your pace until you can average 3 miles in that time. This is the level of fitness we’re all supposed to be aiming for anyway! Then six weeks before the race, you start adding in one long walk each week, to teach your body endurance. You walk 4 miles one Saturday, then 6 the next, then 8, 10, 12. You take a week off from your long walks to rest up, and the following weekend walk 13.1! If I can do it, you can do it, too.
UPDATE: We did it! On November 24th, my brother Nate and I finished our half marathon in 3:43 and raised over $700 for As Our Own! Thank you for your prayers and encouragement!