Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly” (1 Cor. 9:26).
Everyone, and I mean everyone, has an opinion about running. From my perspective, it seems that most people can be placed into one of three broad, sweeping categories: people who hate running, people who don’t like to run but do it anyway, and people who love running.
Though I grew up playing sports, I’ve always been a don’t-like-to-run-but-do-it-anyway kind of guy. For as long as I can remember I’ve run three miles two or three times per week. The distance is perfect: just long enough to offset my sedentary office job, but short enough to avoid any sort of real commitment. When people ask if I like to run, I tell them, “I like running for a purpose.” By “purpose” I mean running down the sideline for a touchdown, trying to catch my dog, or avoiding a coastal monsoon. But running just to run? Pointless. Purposeless.
When my girlfriend, Natalie, approached me this spring about joining her for a half marathon, I thought she was joking. Over the next half hour, as I realized she was serious, I manufactured every excuse in the book. Finally, I told her that I’d do it if she could convince my friend Brent to do it with us. My strategy was solid: Name the one person I know who’s more apathetic about running than I am.
The only thing I didn’t account for is Natalie’s uncanny ability to convince people to do things they wouldn’t necessarily do on their own. After Brent went all in, I begrudgingly paid the registration fee and signed up for the race.
With only two months before race day, we began training. Day one required the longest run of my life: four miles. For some reason, adding an extra mile to my normal three-mile routine seemed daunting.
But then a funny thing happened. As I began to run, the experience was different than ever before—both mentally and physically. Instead of dreading each step and focusing on finishing just for the sake of being done, I actually enjoyed myself. As I crossed the finish line, part of me even wanted to keep going.
Entering into the evening activities, my mind started to race. Where did that come from? Why was it so enjoyable? What made the difference?
Then it hit me. I wasn’t running just to run; I was training with a goal in mind. I was running with purpose.
Running the Race
I’ve read 1 Corinthians 9 many times. Again and again I’ve used Paul’s running metaphor to illustrate the link between the physical and spiritual. But until I began training for my own race, I never truly understood the real meaning behind his words.
In verse 26 the apostle expresses his approach: “Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly.”
He goes on to paint another colorful example, describing a boxer flailing about, beating the air without a target in sight.
His point is clear: When you run with an end goal, it changes the way you run.
Over the next four months I’m going to give you a window into my half marathon training—from the beginning to the finish line. I’m not going to pull any punches; as in life, there’s both joy and pain throughout the journey.
And that’s exactly why mind-set is so crucial. There will be days I won’t want to run, days the pain is intense and the end is nowhere in sight. Sometimes the voices in my head will tell me it’s not worth it; other times my legs will feel as though they’re about to give out at any moment.
I know it won’t be easy, and that’s exactly why today is so important. Because today—no matter what happens tomorrow—I’ve made my decision.
I’m running with purpose.
Jimmy Phillips (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes from Bakersfield, California, where he is marketing and communication coordinator for San Joaquin Community Hospital. This article was published July 14, 2011.