Running, they say, is 90% mental. And the other 10% is also mental. Now, while that’s a bit of an exaggeration, I have learned over the past ten years that it’s not very far off the mark. It takes an act of the will, a mental decision, to get out of bed early in the morning when I’d rather stay tucked in and cozy, lace up my shoes, and get out the door. Signing up for a race several months down the road is a means of throwing down the mental gauntlet and challenging myself to stay consistent with my running routine.
One means for staying mentally and physically nimble while training for a race is to switch up the distances I run each day. Some runs are short and fast, others are long and slow. Moving the goal out a bit more each week builds endurance. Even changing the goal and moving it farther out once I have begun a run builds strength, physically and mentally. It may be a battle initially to push the extra distance, but I’m forced to switch into a lower gear mentally and dig deep to reach the goal. Knowing that the distance of the race for which I’m training is fixed and won’t change once I begin on race day gives me courage and even a sense of peace on the days when training is hard.
Training, or The Race?
Our current Coronavirus quarantine situation feels like a training season. We have been sheltering in place at home for three weeks. Yesterday, the first date forecasted to be the end of the isolation period, came and went. The goal has been moved farther out—several times—and there are rumors it will move again. With every lengthening of our isolation, the potential for discouragement grows. It’s an understatement to say that we’re growing weary. For encouragement to keep running, I must look beyond this “training run” to the ultimate race I’m in.
This pandemic is not the race, the race is LIFE, and for Christians, the goals are holiness and Heaven. My metaphor breaks down here a bit, because this training season is also part of the great race. The finish line for when we reach Heaven is set at different distances for each of us, but that we will indeed reach it is immovably fixed and certain (Phil. 1:6; 1 Pet. 1:3–5). And I am not running alone, either during training or the race, but I am running with the Holy Spirit who guides my steps, fills my lungs, and empowers me from beginning to end (Phil. 2:13).
Purpose in Training
So, as this training season of quarantine stretches out, with an uncertain and ever-moving end-goal that keeps disappearing over the next hill, I pray that God would give us joy and endurance to keep running, however winded and weak we find ourselves. For this season is being used by the Lord for a good purpose in our lives, as he assures us in his word:
we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. — Romans 5:3-5
Joy, endurance, character, and hope that does not—will not—disappoint, because God has poured his love into us through his Holy Spirit. Oh, these are glorious purposes indeed. Can you see them in your mind’s eye? These are more than mere the aid-stations God gives to strengthen us for the great race. They are goals in themselves. As we run, God is making us holy and conforming us to the image of his Son, Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:29; 1 Thes. 4:3). Growing in Christlikeness helps to supply the mental focus and the spiritual drive to dig deep and keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Focus and Drive to Run
Will you pray with me that God will give us the focus and drive that he gave to the apostle Paul? His goal was Christ and his righteousness, and the resurrection from the dead, even through sharing Christ’s sufferings. He knew he wasn’t yet there, but in his mind’s eye he saw the finish line and he ran hard after it:
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. — Phil. 3:11–14
Paul isn’t our only mentor in pressing on through suffering to reach the prize. Our Lord Jesus, who knows and sympathizes with our weaknesses in this and every season, also knows what it is to strain toward a goal, even though great suffering lay in his path.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. — Hebrews 12:1–2
The joy was at the finish line, and Jesus endured the cross to get there. By crossing his finish line, our Savior gained glory not only for himself, but for everyone who believes on him in faith. And now, from his position in glory, Christ Jesus sends the Spirit to help us, and both he and the Spirit intercede for us as we in our weakness continue running our great race (John 14:16–17; Rom. 8:26, 34).
Keep running, weary Christian. This season is training, and it’s also the great race. Our race is run by us, yes, with all the strength we can muster. But we run with Christ leading the way. We are empowered 90% by the Holy Spirit—and the other 10% is also by the Spirit.