As I began to think more about the intersection of my running and faith I realized that the two have become so tightly intertwined that they’re nearly indistinguishable. As one goes to church to worship and feel close to God, I go out on a long run or push my body to its limits during a race to worship and glorify God.
For me, running has a deeper purpose than winning or setting a shiny new PR.
This purpose I often like to refer to this as my “why.” It’s that mid-race question that pops into everyone’s head right when your lungs begin to burn and your legs start to go numb, all the while the finish line is still out of sight.
“Why am I doing this to myself?”
The answer is different for everyone.
Some people run to win, others run to push their limits, and for some it is something entirely different. It’s often a blend of various personal ambitions, fears and higher callings that give you that incentive to push just a little bit harder.
Out of all of these, however, there’s one that stands above all the rest for me. When I’m toeing that starting line, nerves tingling with anticipation and even hints of dread, the one thing that gives me peace is knowing that I’m not doing this for me.
As a Christian I acknowledge that my abilities are truly a gift, and to treat them as such I do my best to reflect the One that gave them to me in my performance. So when I am on that starting line, I know that I’m not doing this for me, but for Christ — to reflect and glorify Him through the race I run.
Realizing this gives me a freedom I couldn’t begin to express.
Putting your trust into something besides yourself makes those bad races, missed goals, and bumps in the road not seem like personal failures or even failures at all! I can’t claim to be perfect at this — bad races still suck — but being able to look at it from the perspective that it’s something that can still be used to accomplish the real goal, to glorify God, is a game-changer. The way I see it, the days where things just don’t go how I wanted them to doesn’t necessarily mean they didn’t go the way they were supposed to.
Thanking God for the good days and the good races is easy, but thanking God for the bad days can be admittedly difficult.
Looking back, I can confidently say that those bad days just made the next good day all that much sweeter.
My experiences have allowed me to see that there’s often more to learn and grow from what many would consider “failures” than the wins in life. Success grows best rooted in failure. That’s been one of the hardest things I’ve had to come to terms with as an athlete, but I believe it’s also true in all facets of life.
Percy Cerutty, an eccentric Australian distance runner/ coach from the mid-1900s once commented that:
“Fail, it's not in my dictionary. I've got a good dictionary up there and the words 'fail' and 'failure' have been ruled out for years. I don't know what people are talking about who use that word. All I do know is temporary non-success, even if I've got to wait another 20 years for what I'm after, and I try to put that into people, no matter what their object in life.”
In a relatively black and white sport of winning or losing, PR or no PR, equating success and failure in the same way is an easy, if not ingrained, habit in runners. But that doesn’t mean it’s the best way.
Cerutty realized this truth in his own way and became a better athlete and human because of it. In my own life I’ve found my faith, my “why,” to be the thing that gave me the perspective of a more three-dimensional definition of success. It encompasses the wins and PRs for sure, but also the more traditionally negative aspects of sport and performance. There have been times where it was tough to see beyond performance, and that only became more difficult as I was running on the national stage more and more.
However, after having a couple of disappointing outcomes and realizing it’s not the end of the world to have setbacks here and there, I came to terms with the fact that to love running you have to love the bumps in the road.
It’s a pretty obvious conclusion when you think about it, but for me running had been so much about achievement that I partially forgot my “why.”
Loving the often non-linear path that this sport takes, and finding the positives in the setbacks, it has given me a far more fulfilling and healthy relationship with running than I’ve ever had. A word that comes to my mind when thinking about this is “grounding.”
For me having a purpose in running and in life, in general, that isn’t derived from my performance, health, accolades, etc. is an incredibly grounding feeling. Competing is no longer a source of anxiety, but something that fills me with joy.
This isn’t me saying just don’t care about performance and all these other things but rather, it’s my attempt to be more intentional about finding the positives in whatever the result may be. When I perform well, that’s my way of glorifying God with the unique gift He’s given me. When I don’t run a race as well as I would’ve liked, I still see that as an opportunity to worship Him, and take whatever lessons and positives I can from it and improve next time.
You can’t have the peaks without the valleys.