On February 2, 2014, I will run my first full marathon, 26.2 miles, in the city of New Orleans. I have been training diligently for one full year to prepare my mind and body for this challenge. Throughout the journey of working toward this goal there have been wonderful moments of accomplishment as well as tear-filled setbacks, and I have loved experiencing all of it. As I look back, I realize I completed every single training run outside in nature, and almost every one of them by myself. In these 650 miles, I have learned some valuable lessons about patience and endurance that apply to far more than just physical fitness.
After a particularly brutal 20-mile training run, as I was limping around the house in pajamas, I heard a friend of mine had completed her 20-mile run that day as well. But she had gone to work that afternoon, and taught fitness classes that evening, when I could barely move off the couch. I quickly learned that comparing myself to others while pursuing this goal was a sure way to become discouraged. No one has the same challenges and difficulties, and no one progresses at the same pace. I decided that instead of comparing myself to others, I would run this marathon, and then in future races I would compare myself to me.
I have always been a proponent of setting goals and working toward them. But I learned it takes more than determination to get out of bed on a dark, cold morning and pursue those goals one lonely mile at a time. What it takes is joy. Alone on the trace I found moments of pure, unrestrained thankfulness and joy that I could not help but express, loudly. In those moments I forgot about the miles and the muscle aches, and with arms outstretched, I would sing to the trees and the sky and the morning sunshine as it reached through the leaves to touch me. I found every color in nature enthralling, and was overcome with gratitude for the intricate spider webs that brushed against my face and the occasional rabbit or raccoon that crossed my path. I am certain I left more tears of joy on that trace than drops of sweat, and with each one I learned that joy is the most powerful energy, the most effective motivation, for achieving any goal in life.
I also learned the value of the difficult parts of the journey. We practice endurance by staying in the training even when it is grueling, unpleasant, exhausting, and uncomfortable. Over the past year, two training runs stand out in my mind as the most challenging and gut wrenching. In both of those I felt as if I’d never finish, but through them I learned the beauty of patience and the necessity of faith in the midst of difficulty. The Bible says in Hebrews, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
It is my goal to run this marathon strong and injury-free. But my finish time is not nearly as important as the lessons I’ve learned in training for it. Whatever goal we set for ourselves, if we can focus on our own progress, find joy in the journey, and value the rough patches along the way, we will have greater success than we ever anticipated.
Every decision counts.