Running as a Discipline

I used to play basketball, and was actually fairly decent at it for a 6’4" white guy from Southern Idaho.  Playing basketball in college for three years was a great experience. I had fun playing and improving as a player, and met a lot of great people, like Daniel.  A few years ago while playing a church league basketball game, which is often not anything like church, I tried to make a back to the basket post move, like one that Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs makes look routine, and my body moved slower than I expected and the move did not play out like I had pictured it in my head.  At that moment I knew it was time to change my game, and now settle for the occasional straight on lay-up, spot up jump shots, lots of three pointers, and hardly ever playing basketball.

I’m too competitive by nature and when I play basketball my competitive instincts kick in, which ultimately leads to a depression because I can no longer play the way I once did, even with the modifications in my game.  Instead of playing all the time I now coach high school boys the finer points of the game while sharing with the life and subtle spiritual lessons, and occasionally run up and down the floor with them.  This past season after a scrimmage in which some of us old guys took on our varsity team, which ended up getting second in the state, I was even able to put down a dunk which made me feel good about my physical conditioning but also left me really sore.

A little over one year ago after the basketball season had ended I stepped on the scale and noticed that I weighed the most I had ever weighed in my life.  This realization and some nudges from Heidi, my lovely bride of 16 years, motivated me to do something about my weight and my health.  So, I started running, and eating better the Monday after our season ended and my life has been amazingly better ever since.

Running was not new to me when I started that February day a little over a year ago, in fact the previous fall I had trained for a couple of weeks in order to join Heidi, and my cousins and her husband for a two mile Turkey Trot relay run.  I ran track in high school and college as a sprinter, ran cross country my senior year of high school, would often go for long runs on the weekend during college, and over the years had started and stopped running several times occasionally participating in a 5K fun run.

When I started running two Februarys ago I did so with a 10 kilometer race in mind, and a training plan from the internet to prepare me for my race.  I was diligent to follow the training plan and finished the race without dying.  A couple of months later I ran a 5K that coincided with the Rogue River Rooster Crow Festival in Southern Oregon while on vacation and visiting my in-laws.  After that race and continuing our vacation on the beautiful Oregon Coast I began training for a half-marathon which I completed last October in just over two hours.  

A couple of weeks ago I found myself running at two in the morning as a member of a team competing in the Sawtooth Relay which runs from Stanley, Idaho to Ketchum, Idaho and covers 62 miles.  Each of the six team members runs two legs, and as a team we took ten and a half hours to finish our jaunt.  While most people might not see this as a fun way to spend a weekend, I thoroughly enjoyed myself while running, connecting with the other members of my team, and spending the rest of the weekend in Sun Valley.

Running has its obvious benefits to our health, I have lost and kept off 30 pounds since I started running, but I believe the benefit of running or other exercise significantly affects other areas of our life, including the spiritual.  This past Sunday I shared a sermon on the importance of having balance in all the different areas of our lives, and how they all contribute to and improve the health of the others.  I, and a whole lot of other people contend that a person’s whole spectrum of health is important and the physical, spiritual, mental, and relational need to be in healthy and in balance in one another.  I have found this to be true in my life, and my experience in running the last year has helped me realize this truth.

Explaining all that running does for me can be hard at times, but I do know that I am a better person when I run.  I sleep better, I eat better, and I would like to think that being in better shape makes me a better lover.  I know I am a better husband when I run, and if you asked my three sons - Samuel, Jacob, and Braden - they would confirm that I am better father when I run.  If you ask the people I church with as pastor they might even tell you that I am a better pastor when I am running, and I would have to agree with them.  I know I feel more creative, have less stress, have more energy, feel good about myself, and just plain feel better when I run.  

Running also helps me feel closer to the Creator.  The runs I usually go on, especially the longer runs, are out in the country where I run my fields of row crops, and get to view the Owyhee Mountains.  As I run and am surrounded by the sights of nature, and songs and flights of many birds I am reminded of how God set all of creation in motion and I am thankful that I get to be a part of this great world.  

A lot of people plug their ears with ear buds connected to their phone or iPod when they run, I don’t.  I like music, but when I run I don’t want the extra noise.  I like the quiet, maybe this is the Quaker in me, or maybe God is pushing me to remember the need for silence, solitude, and prayer in my life.  I use running by myself in the country as a time to think and process things that are going on in life, and ideas that run through my head.  Often I get done with a run and have figured out a solution to a problem, or at least the possibility of a solution.  

Often times I don’t think anything at all and just enjoy the silence and the quiet of the run.  Solitude is an important discipline to me, and one I don’t get to practice very often unless I am in my office or in the bathroom, and in those settings only occasionally.  I enjoy running by myself because of the opportunity of solitude, just God and me, my runs provide.  

As I run I often will pray or meditate on Scripture or other phrases.  I learned a trick from a friend of mine a number of years ago to use the rhythm of my breathing and foot strikes while running to guide the repeating of scripture or phrases.  The phrase “Abba, Father, I belong to you.” is one of my favorites and often as I run I will say each word on the strike of my feet and as I breathe out, as I make my way down the country roads around Homedale.  I do this prayer exercise with other phrases and also with short sections of scripture.  I also just pray, either in my head or often out loud since no one else is around to hear.  I have grown closer to God while running and my spiritual life has become much more rich and deep.  

Running itself can become the act of worship to God as my body , mind, and spirit work together to push myself to my limits, or I simply settle into my plod along pace.  I think there are times when I simply glorify God by being out there running, taking care of my body, and trying to glorify God in the process.  Once in my basketball playing days, during a game I can remember having an incredible worship experience in which I played extremely well but really didn’t know how I was doing what I was doing.  If God can be worshipped through the game of basketball, surely running, even slow running, can do the same?

Running works for me, and on days I don’t run I try to go for a walk, work in my garden, mow the yard, or do something to keep the physical side of me in balance with the other areas of my body.  Running might not work for you, and if it doesn’t I would encourage you to find your exercise that will help you be physically healthy and at the same time might also help you connect to the Living Christ.