Why Do You Run Marathons?

gb1.jpg I was asked that question recently, and wasn’t entirely sure how to respond.

But before we get to that, an order of bidness: Apologizing for “not having blogged much lately” is lame. I see bloggers do it all the time.  And despite the fact that I’ve done it several times myself, I’ve come to the firm conclusion that the single lamest thing a blogger can do is to apologize for not blogging much—especially for someone like me who, though I enjoy blogging, I have about fourteen priorities in life that come before blogging.

Moreover, an apology for not blogging much seems to imply that I imagine that when I don’t blog I’m disappointing a bunch of people who are leaping out of bed in the morning, running to their computer before their coffee maker or Bible, desperately hoping that I’ve penned something.  A friend of mine who (ironically) recently started blogging nails it when she says, “Honestly, I see [blogging] as just another way to broadcast yourself, because we all know that the world does not have enough of YOU, so you better find as many ways as you can to put your two cents in the world.”

I’m glad people read when I write. I really am.  I’m glad that people sometimes find things that I say useful.  I love when good discussions happen in the comments section. And there was a time when, honestly, I was the one desperately longing for the validation of a comment, or breaking ____ page loads in a day. I’m past that. My identity is much more securely rooted now in my sonship to the Father, who has adopted me through Christ; in my husbandhood to my bride; in my fatherhood to my kids; and in my calling as an ambassador of the gospel.

So, all that to say: If I have anything worth saying and I have time to write it here, I will.  If I don’t, I won’t.  And when I do, I’d love to hear what you think about it.

…So, why do you run marathons?

The first answer to that question is really a historical one, rather than a philosophical one: I used to be fat.  No, not phat.  I’ve never really qualified for “phat” because I’ve never worn a clock as a necklace.

But, man, was I f-a-t.  In January of last year I was about 65 lbs. above the upper end of what physicians and health experts call “ideal weight” or “healthy weight” for a person of my frame size.  I was a big boy. I frightened small children and had village lynch mobs hunting me.

I was in fairly decent shape after college, but once I managed to get a ring on the finger of a pretty girl and headed to grad school with her, where I sat all day long and studied and snacked and studied and snacked and drank coffee and Mountain Dew and studied and snacked, etc., I left my “shape” to become very Fred Dukes-like

The problem with me losing weight and getting healthy was twofold. The first problem was sin. I’m not saying all obese people are in sin. But most are, and I definitely was.  After reading a book called Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate, by Jerry Bridges, I was convinced that my weight was a result of undisciplined, gluttonous eating and poor stewardship of the body God had given me for long-term effective gospel ministry.  The first way I addressed the issue, then, was to confess the sin that had led to my beefy-ness, to repent of it, and to renounce it.

Much to my chagrin, however, I found that repenting of my sin did not automatically lead to much weight loss.  Wouldn’t it be nice if it worked that way?

The second problem for me was motivation.  Much as I would like to say that “having a healthy heart” or “living a long and happy life” or “being around when my kids get married” or “not having my heart explode from bacon inundation” were great motivators to be healthy, they just didn’t work.  None of them were compelling enough to get me onto an ellipsis machine when I just didn’t feel like it, or stop me from buying a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos when they sound good (which is, obviously, all the time). It’s not that I don’t want those things. I do want them.  But they felt too abstract. Too distant.  I needed something concrete.

Twenty-six miles and 385 yards is pretty concrete.

A marathon isn’t just something you can “wing.”  You can wing a 5K.  You can wing a 10K.  I knew I could probably wing an ugly half-marathon.  You can’t wing a marathon.  It’s a long, long way and if you don’t keep up a pace fast enough to finish in 6 hours the race marshals, who follow the pack on the Course Closing Bus (a.k.a. “The Bus of Shame”) at a 6-hour and 15 minute pace, insist that you get on board and ride to the finish area, where you receive no finisher’s medal, no free cookies and potato chips, and have nothing to show for your $90 registration fee but a big bag of failure.

Once I registered for the Twin Cities Marathon last fall, Race Day loomed on the horizon like an inescapable doom. Kill or be killed. I had to train for it. I would not ride the Bus of Shame.  And even though there was some initial discouragement in how difficult the first 4- and 5-mile runs were for me (realizing that the marathon was six times as long), the miles got easier, 6-mile and 8-mile runs eventually became routine and, of course, any time I felt like skipping a scheduled training run I felt the Bus threatening.

Before long, running wasn’t work. It became a joy. I got antsy when I couldn’t run. And, what’s more, I rarely felt the urge to cheapen a good workout by dropping a #2 combo from McD’s or an entire bag of Funyuns on top of it. I started eating for strong running. Less crap. More complex carbs and greens. Less weight. More energy.

So… Why do you run marathons now that you’ve already finished one?

Finishing a marathon brings an almost indescribable sense of capability.  Because the training regimen is so much work and because the task seemed so impossible 16 weeks prior, crossing the finish line after 26.2 miles instills an unshakable optimism of possibility.  Endeavors that I would have categorized as laughably impossible for me before now seem entirely possible with the right plan and enough hard work.  There is a mindset shift that happens in marathon finishers. They know that there is at least one thing that they can and have accomplished that the vast majority of the human race will never accomplish. They never ever say, “I could never do _____.”  They say, “If _____ is worth doing, I can do it.  I just need the right preparation.”

That’s probably as close as I can get to explaining why I love running these. I’m about 45 lbs. lighter than when I started, which means I still have about 20 to go. And running has become a place where stress melts away, God speaks clearly to me, situations and experiences are processed, and problems and perplexities resolve. But perhaps more than anything, it is the constant reminder that hard work + discipline = accomplishment that draws me to marathoning.  It brings confidence, in that regard, to my ministry, to my prayer and meditative life, to my marriage and family life, etc.  Success in all of these things is no mystery. They just all demand discipline, devotion and unrelenting work.

I’ve now run two marathons and I am running another one in the fall.  I may not always marathon.  It’s time consuming.  At times the training is monotonous.  I could spend more time with my family or in ministry without it. But I’m not entirely sure I’d be as good a father, husband and pastor without it because of how it seems to strengthen me in those roles.  In other words, I’m not convinced that [Bryan – marathoning] ≥ [Bryan + marathoning].

Besides, the experience of finishing a marathon has such deep echoes in Scripture (1 Cor. 9:24; 2 Tim. 4:7; Heb. 12:1-2) that point to a time when this life will finally be through. The experience of running strong and crossing the finish line well at a marathon makes me long to live strong and finish life well, and I suspect I’ll always desire to have that experience again. To keep it fresh.

Who knows.  One marathon at a time.


7 thoughts on “Why Do You Run Marathons?”

  1. I want to say how awesome it is that you devote yourself to this. I was thinking just the other day how your running creates a model for others connected with you to look up to. Not like you are some mythical figure of awe, but that you are a living testimony that hard work can make a real change in our bodies and our outlook.

    I have to say that one of the things that got me running was a backpacking trip last year. It was just three of us; two guys and a girl. Here she was; overweight, asthmatic, a smoker, and kicking our butts. “Der” That was the first light that went on that said, “Time to get into shape”.

  2. I like the third to last paragraph best. Thanks for articulating that! I have certainly found that looking squarely at the stewardship of my own body and addressing it has influenced EVERY area of my life-all for His glory. There is a connectedness with God when I train that I see as another facet of worship. God created us to move! I’ve done 5ks, a 10k, duathlons, triathlons and will be running my first half marathon tomorrow. The entire time I’ve trained for the half I regularly thought, “Now I get it! No one just does a marathon. They work up to it.” I never thought I would do what I’m doing now, much less really enjoy doing it! But, God has used training, moving, running after what He wants for me and desires of me, to change my life perspective-to change my life!! Thanks again, so much, for posting this! I just don’t see much written on what I call “stewardship fitness” that I can agree with so fully. Truly the icing on my day Pastor Bryan!

  3. Wow, I’m incredibly inspired by this. You actually made me think, if just for a moment, that I might be able to do something as crazy as running a marathon.

  4. i’ve never thought of you as beefy. what’s wrong with beefy? the only thing cows eat is grass (vegetable) and I would still say they are beefy.

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