In case you haven’t noticed already I’m not built, mentally or physically, quite like anybody else. So this next admission shouldn’t really surprise anybody too much. I like training for a race much more than I actually like racing. The reason is that finishing a race seems so final to me, it’s like everything I just trained so hard for, and poof, in a 8–24 hour period (depending on length of race and conditions most ultras last at least that long) of pushing through pain and mental fatigue and emotional letdowns you cross a line in the dirt and suddenly it’s all finished. You pick up your medal or finisher shirt, check out your time and head for a nice cold beer and “real” food with your friends. And the race is over, it’s done.
Sure just like anything else you look at what you did during the race and assess what you could have done better, what you really enjoyed, what sucked beyond any kind of belief you thought possible. The rest of that day and even into the next week you swap stories with buddies — the hills always get steeper, the mud muddier and the creeks and rivers deeper (these are runner fish stories) and you look back with fondness on an accomplishment.
But in my mental disordered world with the sense of accomplishment, there is also a sense of finality and I don’t like finals. I didn’t like final tests in high school, I dislike end of year evaluations at work, like final good-byes even less and I just can’t wrap my mind around the fact that what I had been training for is done, it’s over, it’s final. So in my mental disordered world, I began to look at the “race” as just another training run, another opportunity to push myself physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually past what I previously thought was possible. As I churn out the miles I block out the aid stations, the people cheering and my fellow competitors and especially that silly thing called a finish line with its big clock and a huge banner. Then I run the race as if I’m training for the race, with perseverance, and with an unexplained joy that I am on the journey. I love the finisher shirts because it’s something I can throw on when just hanging out with friends but don’t really know what to do with the medals (hey dude check out my medal doesn’t seem right to me) but as soon as that particular race is over, it is compartmentalized as either a really good training day or an absolutely crappy, never want to do that again training day.
Then I can center myself and re-focus on running this race of life always persevering through whatever struggles and difficulties I am sure to face with a new found wonder, joy, and peace.
This incredible opportunity we have called life is not about the finish, although a lot of people seem to be focused on the finish. No this incredible opportunity of life is about how you approach each and every single challenge and about preparing and training yourself to meet the next challenge head-on and then the next challenge and the challenge after that and so on.
Figuring out how to address these challenges is what will propel you on through life whether you’re just beginning mile one or whether you’re fast approaching the last mile in whatever length of race you’re running on this great earth.
These are some tips for not making the finish line the finish but a just another mark in the journey.
Tips For Making the Finish Line Just a Line In the Dirt
1. The run today begins the run for eternity.
As I was training to run my first marathon I got a month away from the start of the 2011 Marine Corps Marathon and suddenly I just wanted to every day after my run spend some time at the computer and whatever I had been dealing with at the time, whatever I was praying during the run immediately get it on paper and record it for all time. At the end of the thirty days, I had a prayer journal that became my Life is a Marathon prayer journal. It still just sits on my computer but maybe someday I’ll get it published, who knows really. Anyway, this what I wrote for Day 30 counting down to race day. It was appropriate then and even more so now. “Thirty days from now the nerves will kick in as we stand in the line waiting for the official start of a long, long day. This run began months ago though as we began to prepare for this event. We trained hard, we disciplined our bodies, we woke up at ungodly hours to get a run, we pushed our bodies to do things we never thought we could do and now we are here. Thousands of years ago a race began also. This race wasn’t a race against time or against other runners though. This race was a race to eternity, to a place seated in heaven where we will run for all time. In this race it also takes discipline, it takes sacrifice and it takes a whole lot of training. This training is training for eternity though, not just a grueling day on the pavement.”
Scripture: Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs……all athletes are disciplined in their training……So I run with purpose in every step…..I discipline my body like an athlete, training it do what it should. 1 Corinthian 9:24–27
I was actually shocked at the number of times run, runs, running and runners shows up throughout the Bible. I’m not going to go so far as to say this Holy Book is a book about running but it sure seems that way when you begin looking at all the different references to running. It got me to thinking that perhaps it really is about running and this strange form of freedom/exercise so many of us do on a regular basis may be something that we all should be doing on a regular basis. The thing missing from the abridged verses above is the fact that in a four verse stanza “run” or “runners” appears five different times. My favorite verse in there is verse 26 “So I run with purpose in every step.” What does it mean to run with purpose? To me, you have to define the word “purpose” in order to understand it. As a noun “purpose” means “the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists.” As a verb “purpose” means to “have as one’s intention or objective”. Merriam Webster online dictionary defines “purpose” in one area as following, “suggests a more settled determination”. I really like that thought. It makes me focus on my run as something more than just getting in a couple of miles, enjoying the scenery, passing time with a friend but as something I do with a settled determination. For me, a settled determination is that I am going to spend eternity in heaven and that everything I am doing on earth is just a precursor to heaven. This to me settles me and gives me the determination to live and run my life with a determination that is already settled, I know what and why I am doing everything I am doing. My future and my eternity are already settled and I don’t even need to think about them. It is finished!
As I take off to go on yet another run in my beautiful mountains I know that this run is just the beginning of the run for eternity, it is a small step that I take with determination to propel me towards my already settled future. It absolutely fills me with confidence and peace, as if the struggle has already been determined and whether this is a good run or a bad run, a pleasant run or a beat you up run, I already know it’s just one run in the many runs I will be running all through eternity. That to me is just a small part of living an ultra life but what a great small part!
2. Hold Onto Hope
I was recently completing a long training run and I had gone over 10 miles and was just thinking “3 more miles, just 3 more miles” when it suddenly hit me “that is what hope is like”. In the United States, we elected a president on a great bumper sticker slogan and he delivered on change but the hope seemingly never happened for vast swathes of the country. But maybe the hope is happening and we just don’t know it. Hope is something that we expect or patiently wait for, but it’s not like that special something we hope we get. We tend to make hope like a present or gift or something we receive. But hope to me is an active word, you have to be moving towards something to hope for it. You can’t just sit and wait……expectantly……patiently……..doing nothing but expecting great things to happen. Otherwise, we would all be silent monks, just hoping our life away (no offense to silent monks intended). But just as the running hope is the finish line or the finish of the desired mileage, hope in life is something we pursue, trusting that God will truly direct our steps and that his plans are good. Jeremiah 29:11–12 “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, you will listen.” What are you expectantly pursuing today? What has God put on your heart to hope for? Figure it out and then go out and pursue it because the hope you hope for isn’t going to just pop in to see you, it is waiting for you to pursue it.
Much of living an ultra life is about hope, it’s about a faraway finish line but to receive that hope means you have to be actively doing something to pursue that hope. So live life to the full, that incredible ultra life and start pursuing what you hope for.
3. Trust That Your Path Has Been Set For You
A couple of years ago I was in marathon training mode with no injuries beyond some blisters and life was just awesome. I had upped my training to doing two-a-days, trying to pile up mileage. I also at the time happened to sometimes have to spend a lot of time on my feet doing site surveys for my job. And one day I had a huge complex to walk off, parking garage and multiple parking lots, got home and my foot just didn’t feel right. It was like I had this sharp stabbing pain on my arch and every time I took a step it hurt. So I iced it down and went to bed. The next morning it was worse and kept getting worse. I finally made a doctor’s appointment thinking I had broken something in my foot. I was discouraged because I had just done 40 miles the week before and was looking to up it to 45 and then 50. As I was sitting on the table getting my foot ready for an x-ray this verse suddenly hit me and I realized that I was trusting in my own strength and resolve more than I was trusting in God. So I sat back and just quietly said, “whatever your will is Lord, work this out in my life so that no matter what You get the glory.” The x-rays came back negative and the doctor told me to take a couple days of rest, buy a plantar fasciitis boot and showed me some exercises to do. I don’t understand the body but I know the One who does and obviously, that was His advice also. God’s path is always one you can trust and follow. Rather than trying to come up with your own plan or possibly follow someone else’s plan for your life, trust His. Proverbs 3:5–6 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.” No matter what your path, whether that be a 50 miler or homeschooling your children, trusting God will reveal the right path for you to take.
A huge element of living an ultra life is being willing to step back from your own path and to learn to trust that somebody else has done a much better job of revealing and keeping you to the correct path for your life.
4. Standing Firm
I will never forget the feeling as I hit the boardwalk with just 0.85 miles to go to the finish line in my first half marathon. I felt pretty good even though it had gotten pretty hot and they raised that last bridge and made it look like a mountain. I had kept to my strategy and I was feeling good. And every time I looked up the finish line seemed further away. I gritted my teeth and lowered my head and I just knew it seemed as if my feet were moving forward but then I looked up again and the finish line seemed further away! That is often what life is like……the finish line of what we are striving for seems so far away, seems like God is moving it further and further away and then asking us to just keep enduring to the end. And we want to shout and collapse in a ball and whine and tell him how unfair life is. But he says that if we will endure whatever comes our way (notice God never says, “it’s all going to be great!?), that we will be saved. Mark 13:13 “And everyone will hate you because you are my followers. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” The Greek word used in this passage for saved is sozo and in this case it means that God is going to bring someone safely into His kingdom. He is not going to rescue us, he is just going to bring us across the line into His kingdom (both here on earth and in heaven) safely. When I hit the finish line of that first half marathon my first emotion surprised me for it wasn’t not what it was — I felt relief. My first emotion was sort of one of confidently knowing that even though the finish kept looking further away I knew all along that I was going to cross it and I was safe to go out and run another day. It wasn’t a “finish” but more of a culmination of the efforts I had put forth so far and that I was safe to go out and keep running. That is what I feel every day I walk out His precepts in my life, as if I am safe to continue to run the race with endurance and faith. How are you running your race? How do you want to finish today? You can choose to be relieved that it is over or you can choose to be safe and secure to know you finished today and you can safely begin to chart out tomorrow.
Living an ultra means that even when the finish line looks far away and maybe even looks like it is getting further away instead of closer, that you stand firm in your beliefs. Believe that you have put the time into your training and that all the hours at the gym and on the trails will get you through everything you will face along the way to the finish line.
These are just a couple of what I call “trail markers” in my hopefully soon to be finished book, Living An Ultra Life, but they should give us all an idea of what it means to look at finish lines not as the finish but just a line in the dirt that someday will hopefully end with us crossing the greatest finish line of all, knowing with assurance that we have done everything we can on this earth to make our families, our workplaces, our communities and the people we are privileged to have as readers of our words better somehow.
Thanks for reading and let’s all live life to the full and demonstrate that maybe, just maybe, there are good things in store for those that persevere and try to do good in our culture.