Life/Spiritual Lessons from Running UltraMarathons
People often ask, “What do you think about when you are running all those hours?” I usually answer, “Everything and nothing.” That actually sums it up pretty well. I can run for hours and my brain flows from one topic to another naturally. I talk to God about stuff going on in my life. I thank Him for the abundant blessings I enjoy. I think about my family. I ponder the many mistakes I’ve made in my life.
I’ve been running alone in the woods and laughing out loud at the absurdity of life and then crying at a deep conviction in my heart; sometimes all in the same run. It’s therapeutic. Funny thing is, I forget the specifics of much of it by the time I hit the shower when I get home. I solve my problems, the world’s problems, and everyone around me’s problems, then forget it. It’s a purge.
However, though those specifics are often flushed from my memory, much of the core principles and realizations stick. Being a Christian, many of these thoughts are spiritual in nature and have affected me greatly. In an effort to help me flesh some of these things out, I’m going to be blogging a little bit. Sort of a public journal of sorts. Feel free to ignore, comment, critique, or whatever.
So….here we go….
Lesson 1 - Don’t Give Up
Anyone who has run long distances can attest to the impulse to just stop. When your legs burn, your feet hurt, your stomach is in knots, it’s hot, it’s cold, my “wherever” is chafing, or whatever issue is going on at that moment, the easy thing to do is to call it quits….to end the pain. I’ve told quite a few people this, but it’s true, “I’ve never run an ultra without having a time of wanting to just quit.” Every. Single. Time. Sometimes it comes at mile 25, other times it’s at mile 70, but it always seems to come. My brain is flooded with negative thoughts:
“Why am I doing this?”
“I’m not having fun.”
“This is stupid!”
These thoughts come when my body is hurting...when there is no runner’s high. It’s actually a “runner’s low.” So many bystanders see and remember the start of the race and the finish, but never see the grind in the middle. That’s where it’s tough. At the start of a race you’re fresh and excited and ready to go. Adrenaline rules the first few miles. Near the finish line you’re excited and relieved to be almost done and excited at what you’re close to accomplishing. However, in the middle of a race, things get tough. You’ve been out on the trail for hours...pushing...suffering... and still have many hours and miles to go and you’re already dealing with issues.
In other words, your flesh, your body screams for you to quit! You have to will yourself to keep going. You have to deny that deep, powerful impulse to pack it up and go home. It’s a struggle. Should I listen to my flesh or should I do what I came here to do? The easy thing to do in that moment is to quit. It’ll be easy to rationalize it. “Dude, I’ve already run farther than 99% of people have ever run. No one will blame me!” Sometimes people encourage you to quit. Last year when I ran Arkansas Traveller 100 a month after the Tahoe 200, I hit a major low. I still wasn’t fully recovered from the grueling 200 in the mountains around Lake Tahoe, but I was running the AT100 to get my qualifying race for the Western States lottery. It was hot and I was tired. I had run the AT100 the year before and enjoyed it. Not this year. My parents were there to crew me and I remember telling my mom, “I am NOT having fun.” Her and my dad are amazing parents and said they would support me in whatever I decided to do. My mom encouraged me to quit. She didn’t like seeing her “little boy” suffer. Maybe I should call it a day? I had nothing to prove. I considered it and actually came close to pulling the plug on the race. But, as in other races, I couldn’t shake the thought, “You didn’t come here to run 40, 50, or even 99 miles. You came to run 100 miles and finish this race.” I wasn’t injured, I was just uncomfortable and hurting. I needed to suck it up and do this thing. I dug deep and got it done, getting my Western States qualifying race ticket. That ticket would get drawn for Western States 2019! I would not have had this awesome opportunity if I had quit.
Life can be a struggle. Somebody reading this is like, “Yeah, no kidding buddy.” I hear you. Even for the Christian, life happens. Ignore the “name it and claim it” crowd that tells you that life should be perfect for the Christian and you will never had any problems. That’s very untrue and very unbiblical. So many of God’s children had struggles you can read about throughout the Bible. The rain falls on the just and the unjust alike. We all deal with sickness, death, family issues, financial issues, etc. How many times in your life have you said:
“Why am I doing this?”
“I’m not having fun”
“This is stupid!”
When life gets tough, the temptation is there to give up; to stop striving to do our best. We think it would be easier to quit trying to live the life we were meant to live. We are tempted to settle for a mediocre, milk toast life. Why sweat when I can relax? Is it worth is? What’s crazy is that even when we do the right things, the hard things, people will often shun you and turn their backs on you. It happens. People are people. But it hurts.
Just like in a race, life is full of highs and lows, peaks and valleys. Some days are predictable, easy, and carefree. Others are filled with uncertainty, grief, and hardship. That’s life. Consider this, what if life was all rainbows and butterflies. What if it was all easy? What if challenges never came? I would submit to you that we would be weak, shallow people; devoid of any deep character. No scars from the battle that toughen us and make us who we are. It’s in the struggles that we grow. It’s in the heat of a battle that we discover the potential that God has placed is inside of us.
So, whether you’re a runner of many miles or not, remember to press on in the struggles. Remember why you started and remember what you’re here to do and dig deep and do it!