I always dreaded the practices when my high school track coach would send the team out on a town run designed to meander around the streets of Lindsborg. If I remember correctly, it was supposed to be a “recovery run” after a meet. But for me, a sprinter, there was nothing “recovery” about it.
Those lengthy runs were enjoyable for some, but they brought out the worst in me. I wasn’t in shape for running miles. I trained for short bursts of speed. I sprinted 600s to train for my 400s. I was OK with that type of training. Even though the workouts weren’t easy, training for sprints played to my strengths as an athlete.
Distance runs did not. As I plodded along at a pace that felt both maddingly slow and altogether too fast simultaneously, I thought my lungs might explode. I’m not sure if there’s a thing called sprinter’s lung, but even if not, I have it.
Those runs were some of the most painful workouts for me, physically. They were also humbling. A natural competitor, it was difficult to go from winning stacks of medals in my own events to getting passed by what felt to be an entire track team. All the while, it was just a matter of time until my noodle-legs wanted to quit, and most of the time, I let them. Even when I told myself I wouldn’t walk no matter what, I generally gave in to the temptation at some point along the route.
I’m not proud of that as I look back. I gave up too easily. Even though I always finished the workout and arrived back at school, I didn’t complete it without complaining–even if I just grumbled to myself. I didn’t rejoice in my training. I didn’t agree with my coach’s decision to send sprinters on a distance run. I didn’t see what good it would do me.
Lately I’ve been thinking about this analogy in relation to my Christian faith and life’s circumstances. My mom’s cancer diagnosis is the latest event in a series of difficulty that has lasted years. My perseverance has been challenged. I’ve had to reckon with my impatience. I’ve had to wrestle and admit my weaknesses–weakness to trust, weakness to forgive, weakness to let go and move forward.
I’ve needed to face the fact that life as a believer is more of a town run than a sprint.
I’m not sure I’ve ever fully accepted that.
I want things to go fast. I want God to accomplish things at a sprint–and sometimes He does. But most of the time? I have to slow down and wait.
I have to push through exploding lungs and noodle-legs in my quest to finish the race with strength. Each circumstance pushes me a little further past what I feel comfortable with. But that’s all part of training.
Now as a track coach myself, I have learned that most athletes won’t push themselves past a certain point on their own. Most athletes remain content to run parallel to discomfort rather than push the barriers. It’s scary to cross that line. But once an athlete consistently pushes through the discomfort in their training, it becomes less difficult. Once that level of training is mastered, another barrier can be pushed.
The reason my coach trained me with 600s rather than 400s was to make the 400 meter race feel easier. If my legs and lungs were used to pushing for 200 meters more, race day wouldn’t feel so intimidating.
The reason I train my jumpers with plyometric workouts is not because I take some kind of sick joy in watching discomfort. I don’t relish in listening to them complain. I push them because I know that’s what it takes for their jumping to elevate to the next level, no matter where they start. As a coach, I know it’s good for my athletes even when they can’t see it.
When I began running my spiritual race, I had virtually no endurance. I was out of breath with the warm-ups. I needed trained. Each push of discomfort has expanded my lung capacity and strengthened my legs. Has it felt good while it’s happening? No. There have been times I’ve slowed to a walk.
But I’m growing more capable of endurance. The training won’t stop on this earth. That’s OK. I just need a firm understanding of the benefit of training over the long-haul: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:1-5)
As I run with endurance the race set before me, I desire to be an athlete who trusts her Coach in the discomfort of training, gaining endurance, character and a shameless hope.
Malinda Just has been writing Lipstick & Pearls for the Free Press since 2008. To read more of her writing, visit her blog, www.malindajust.com.