In college, I ran track. I was not very fast, but I grew up watching Jim Ryun run a sub-4 minute mile while in high school. I dreamed of being such a miler, clicking off each of the four laps on the track in 60 seconds. In reality, I rarely could run one lap under 70 seconds, let alone four in a row. Still I competed each year, yearning to improve.
One thing track taught me was the value of persistence, especially in the middle laps. The first and last laps of a mile race have their own magic which can pull the runner along. The first lap has the quick start and the pack jockeying for position. The gun lap has the pull of the finish line and the knowledge that the race will soon be completed.
It is the second and especially the third lap that always challenged me mentally and physically. The pain of running at race pace had become reality, but the finish seemed too far away to contemplate. If I focused on the pain, I rarely did well. If I focused on staying calm, relaxed, and fluid, I could maintain my semi-fast pace. By my senior year I knew the challenge I faced each time I approached the start line.
I think of this as I prepare to run Twin Cities Marathon on October 7. My training is now in the middle laps; my last long run of 16 miles is still ten days away and I have a few more track sessions to complete. Nearly every day I am up early to run so as to beat the late summer heat. My mind and spirit has begun to tire from the long training cycle and many miles. Still I have been here before and I recognize that I must be patient and persevere. After my last long training run, I will begin a three-week taper of reduced miles so that my body can adequately rest and recover for the race.
The Christian life also requires persistence and perseverance. The joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10), yet not every day will be happy. Life can be difficult and challenging; it can feel like we are in the middle laps of a very long race. Our prayers may seem to circle around our heads, never reaching God’s heavenly ear. Saint Paul reminds us that we are to keep on praying, keep on believing and trusting, even when the days seem long.
Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer (Romans 12:12)
My fall marathon will soon come and then be over. Yet our life in Christ will carry on for many more laps. Christ is not simply at the start or the finish, but running beside us each lap of the race, helping us to stay patient and calm. Thanks be to God.
Lord Jesus, open the eyes of my heart to see you each day.