My neighborhood is snugly built into the side of a small mountain. Because of this, I begin every run from my house going downhill -- and, more notably -- I finish every run uphill. When you're aiming to cover some distance, there's something daunting about the knowledge that a mountain looms ahead of you.
Even when I'm running on even terrain, my mind can wander to the steep hills that eventually are coming. Instead of being present in the here and now, I project to the future. How much will it hurt? What if I can't make it?
I found myself in this trap during one of my longer runs. My breathing was steady. My pace was on target. The air was clear with the promise of fall. Yet, none of this resonated. My focus lingered on the final summit ahead. The more I meditated upon it, the more my running deteriorated.
It was at that point when I felt God's presence. "Don't you know that I'll be with you then, too? Robin, I'm with you every single step."
So many parallels can be drawn between running and life. With every slow run -- those days where my legs are leaden, when my gait lumbers more than it lilts, when my confidence wanes, when I want to break stride and walk, when the only positive note is that I finish -- I remind myself that I'm stronger because of persevering. It's more to my credit to finish a miserable run than to finish a run which is going well.
If running always were easy, what would I be learning? I've needed my crummy runs just as much as I've needed the excellent ones. They a metaphor for running through challenges in life -- warning me about the downfalls of focusing on the mountains ahead, reminding me of God's continued presence.
I pray when I run. I pray for others, lifting up their concerns and needs before God, and ask for wisdom in my own life. On occasion, my mind sifts through a Rolodex of every Bible passage I can muster up pertaining to races or perseverance. ("I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me" and "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith" are two personal favorites.)
And, yes, sometimes I still count my steps -- or the number of mailboxes I pass, or the seconds it takes me to pass the next driveway. You can't entirely kick this habit, I presume.
Encouragement comes out of the blue. During one run an elderly man watched from his mailbox as I ascended a hill, and he let out a single, low cheer and raised both his arms in a victory stance when I reached the top. "This hill is a killer," I admitted to him, breathless. He smiled, nodded, and replied, "That's why I drive it."
He waves each time I run past now.
One week from today it all comes together: Race Day is near.