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Mar 28 2016
What hitting the running trail taught me about the Christian life.

I can trace my zeal for running back to a single moment: Summer 2003, at Yosemite National Park. My friends and I sat down to eat chips and deli sandwiches in the park’s Village Store when I realized I’d left my water bottle in the car. As I trudged the dusty 100 yards back through the dirt parking lot, I was appalled by my own dejection. How did I become a person too lazy to walk the length of a football field?

That single moment catapulted me into more than a decade of fitness fanaticism. I’ve benched my body weight; scaled 14ers, some of the biggest mountain peaks in the US; hiked the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim, and finally, last year, completed my first marathon. This year, as the running season ramps up, I’ve already begun hitting the pavement here in Colorado to train for my first triathlon and my second marathon (and okay, the Bolder Boulder).

Of all my fitness endeavors, running has done the most to improve both my physical and spiritual fitness. Given all the lessons I’ve learned on the running trail, Hebrews 12:1 resonates deeply with me as it tells us to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Heb. 12:1).

1. Dream Goldilocks dreams.

Setting goals can be tricky, because they must be challenging, but also achievable. Too far in either direction, and they won’t stretch us or will set us up for failure. Both outcomes end in disappointment. Like Goldilocks, we want to land in the middle ground that’s “just right.”

My goal for my first marathon wasn’t to BQ (runner’s parlance for a fast enough time to qualify for the Boston Marathon). My goal was simply to finish. I took stock of my running times and abilities, and I knew I could work my way up to 26.2 miles, but not in a fast enough time to earn a spot in the one of the best-known races in the world.

This measured mindset applies also to sanctification. The Christian life is both journey and process; we are not yet the person we want to be nor the person God ultimately calls us to be. Too many Christians make the equal and opposite errors of trying too little or too hard. Try too little and we fail to grow in holiness at all; try too hard and we risk hopelessness at our perceived inability to grow. The task is to learn to dream Goldilocks dreams, to take steps towards holiness and to trust the work of the Holy Spirit for our spiritual growth.

2. Go rote.

When preparing for my first marathon—and now, my second—I didn’t feel like completing a training run. I don’t always love running, but I love having run. (Running is often like writing—I love having written, but don’t always like the process.) When I don’t feel like running, I go rote, following through with my plan without thinking too much about it. I run and the accomplishment colors my entire day in a rosy glow.

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