Running: An Odd Expression
“Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?’ And Elisha said, ‘Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit.’” (2 Kings 2:9)
I run a lot.
And I run some considerable distances through some often-questionable terrain. I once talked my family into dropping me off at the south rim of the Grand Canyon and meeting me on the other side. I came pretty close to becoming a statistic that day – and I loved every minute of it!
Most of my conversations about running come back to why. This ranges from a genuine interest in running to concern for my sanity but on some level, I almost always get this question. The answer has evolved along with my running. If you are curious how 2 Kings 2:9 fits into the picture, you’ll have to stick with me for a bit.
New and Renewed Runners
When I first started running it was primarily for health – I had a few extra pounds that I didn’t like, and running seemed like a cheap way of getting rid of them. I put my Born in the USA cassette in my Walkman and hit the road. Even today, physical fitness is still one of the primary reasons I run. Another PCC’er, Paul Myers, wrote a great article on health; it goes hand-in-hand with physical fitness. I encourage you to read it.
I have been a new or renewed runner at least four times so far. I hung out in this category on and off for most of my life with long periods of no running when the seasons of my career or family convinced me that I was too busy.
Ironically, when the stress of my career and life balance got to its worst point I turned back to running, and I’m convinced that it saved my life. Over a period of a couple of years, I lost almost 70 pounds and felt better in my skin than I had since my teenage years when I first started to run.
The Next Step – Racing!
After spending some time getting into shape and hopefully learning good run technique, most runners start thinking about their “times.” For all but a few, this is a race against the clock more than a race against others. There are some benchmarks that we set for ourselves to validate ourselves as “real runners,” but then we usually just move the bar.
This was true for me for a long time. I struggled to identify myself as an athlete even when I started getting onto the podium in my age group. Replacing the image that we have of ourselves is always a struggle and running is no exception. This phase of running was a precarious part of my life as I tried to get faster and faster at the risk of hurting myself by pushing too hard.
After some success in a few categories, I am finally comfortable with the title “athlete”. There is way too much to unpack about that, but I do think that running gives us a great opportunity in this area that many sports do not –I don’t meet many 50-year-olds still playing football or lacrosse or field hockey! Because most races are age-grouped, running provides an opportunity to measure ourselves in a meaningful way for those that need that type of fulfillment.
The Love of Running
When I finally gave myself permission to just have a look around and enjoy the fact that I can run day in and day out, I finally fell in love with running. I always liked it, but I didn’t have that “gotta do it” love until much later.
For me this really kicked in when I discovered trail running. Trail running is an often-lonely pursuit. Even when running in an event, you can find yourself alone on the trail for long stretches of time. The type of running that I do is called Ultra Running. I’ve never been a fan of that title, but I also can’t think of a better one – it’s defined as anything longer than a marathon but implies that it will be much longer and on much less-forgiving terrain.
Running as an Expression – a Double Portion
This is where it all gets a little weird and hard to articulate. We all have ways that we express ourselves and personal ways of worship, and I think everyone needs to find that true expression for themselves.
Mine happens to be running.
I remember attending a church when my wife and I were new to the area and “church shopping.” During the worship part of the service, they had two dancers on stage. I remember thinking that it was strange and wondered what was going on. I even considered telling my wife that we could scratch that church off the list!
But now I get it. Not all of our talents are what I would call “gifts” in the spiritual sense, but some of them allow us to express our thanks to God in ways that are unique to us. To me, those are the gifts – no matter what they are.
The world of ultra running gave me an opportunity to open myself up to God in a very personal way. In races designed to push you to your limit, there almost always comes a time of reckoning—that moment when you ask yourself “why?”
When I reach the point of physical exertion and pain that every fiber in me wants to quit, I pray. I don’t bargain. I just let God know that I know He is in charge of the big and the small and whatever His will is, I can live with it. There is so much freedom that comes when you are at the edge of yourself.
Until recently this was always something very personal to me that I never tried to unpack for anyone. But through one specific prayer, and then a simple response to a call from God, it has become a way for many people to identify me.
The prayer came during a very long race (even by ultra standards) when I had too much pain way too early. I was literally on the top of a mountain and had tear-inducing pain in my left leg. In that moment, I asked God for a double. Recall 2 Kings 2:9:
“Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?’ And Elisha said, ‘Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit.’”
It’s a little nuts that Elisha would ask Elijah, who was probably the greatest man of God of his era, to be twice as full of the spirit. But that’s what he did.
In that moment of pain, I went for it. I asked God not to just take me through the race but to make it mean something. I think my plan for that was to have it mean something to my family, but God didn’t take it that way.
Not long after that race I felt called to do a run on 9/11 that has since grown into an annual event to celebrate First Responders. Any anonymity that I had while running around in the woods was lost. It has been a blessing to share what I do on a lot of levels, but at times, it also feels like I have lost a part of myself.
When I start to lament that I am in more of a spotlight than I care for, I take myself back to that mountain and remember all that God has done for me and what it has meant to others to express myself in this strange way.
So why? Why do I run? Why do I willingly push myself to my physical limit?
Because I realized that this talent that I have is truly a gift to be given back to God and shared with others even when I would be more comfortable keeping it for myself. I encourage you to find your gift and start giving back as well.
Everyone has unique God-given gifts and talents that can be offered back to God as worship. If yours is running (and even if it’s not!), join us this Saturday, September 17, for our Run for Tanzania. You can run, you can walk, you can get out on the trail with your friends and family or all on your own. But come on out and offer your praise to God while supporting a great cause!