Thursday, March 3, 2016

The Secret to Endurance

by Danetta Kellar

The words on the park sign jumped out at me like a happy dance.  

Trail Run Tomorrow, 7am

I had always wanted to do a trail run, it was the beginning of summer, and I was just starting a week’s vacation in one of the most beautiful mountain parks in the country. I was all in.

The next morning I showed up bright and early, ready to take on the mountain. My first clue that I was out of my league was the highly technical gear fellow participants were wearing. As I eyed their special trail shoes, I began to wonder if my expensive road racers were going to hold up. Chatter floated about, discussions about elevation accommodation, thin air, and adjustment. Some talked excitedly about the trail ahead, having spent the past two weeks pre-running it and training on it to be prepared for today’s race. These people were serious.

I was feeling more and more concerned, but I pushed it aside and reminded myself I had just finished a marathon several months earlier. This race was a fraction of the distance. I could do this. Besides, it was a beautiful day and a beautiful place. I was determined. The crisp mountain air and the sunshine seemed to promise success.

We took off, and within five minutes the trail began to climb straight up. Up, up, and up it wound under a canopy of emerald trees, through waving ferns and over the knobby roots of ancient oaks. I had never seen this trail before, and had no idea how long we would climb. 

Three miles later, we reached the top ridgeline. The air was thin and I couldn’t seem to get enough in my lungs. My calves were burning and I imagined the tendons popping away from the muscles, my legs completely collapsing. I had to stop for a stretch to ease the agony.

As I leaned hard against the rough bark of a tree, ten people raced past me. Three of them were under the age of 12.

Devoted to my plan and determined not to be beat, I jumped back in and started the dangerous descent down the other side of the mountain. Tiptoe running, I carefully navigated the muddy path as it narrowed to less than six inches wide in spots. It was a slow process. 

All the while, the birds were singing, the squirrels laughed from their high branches, and the water in the creek sang as it tumbled past. Unfortunately for me, though, the path was so tedious I could not take my eyes off my feet to enjoy my incredible surroundings.

Two miles later, I crossed the finish line. I was second to last.

I thought back to my recent marathon wistfully, all 26.2 miles of it, and it looked easy.

Today’s much shorter trail race had challenged every muscle in my body and every fiber of my mental determination. I had been unprepared, impulsive, and a bit too smug about my own abilities. As awards were handed out, those who had trained well walked forward to receive the accolades they deserved. I was just happy to be done.

Have you ever taken on a commitment with excitement and joy, energy and anticipation, only to find that its execution is burdensome, agonizing, and almost impossible to see to completion? 

How can we so eagerly begin, only to flag before the finish line? 

I have a tendency to live my life like I ran that trail race. 

I run ahead, bent on achievement and a bit too smug about my own abilities, my own strength. I push myself up, up, up the steep incline of my self-imposed goals until my soul is crying out like torn and bruised muscles extended beyond their ability. I push myself so hard that I spend the rest of the race unable to enjoy the beauty of the life around me, the blessings that enrich my world with their songs and laughter. 

I am running exhausted, depleted, living for the finish line, not sure exactly where it even is. By this point I have lost sight of the joyful impulse that marked my bright beginning. I wonder to myself what on earth I was thinking when I committed to this endeavor.

In the meantime, others race right past me.

The secret to our endurance lies in the choices we make even before the race begins. 

There are many signs along life’s road, enticing us to be and to do. So many races we could run. Knowing the right course takes thoughtful consideration. Consideration before I lace up my racing shoes.

Lean on, trust in, and be confident in the Lord with all your heart and mind and do not rely on your own insight or understanding. In all your ways know, recognize and acknowledge Him, and He will direct and make straight and plain your paths. -Proverbs 3:5-6 (AMP)

In my own insight and understanding, I am Wonder Woman. I can do anything; plus, where there is a will there is a way, right? (I have an extra-generous dose of will.) I fly around in such a rush of doing that I frequently mistake my insight and understanding for God’s wisdom, and I take on tasks that were not meant for me in the first place.

This is an exhausting way to live.

Stopping to recognize and acknowledge God in all of our goal-setting is vital to how we will run the race. 

It does not actually take much time. In fact, it takes more discipline than time. It is a discipline to train one’s self to stop, recognize, and acknowledge the One who makes our paths straight and plain. 

We have a God who directs our paths. 

He will show us our own way, the way prepared for us. We must take time out to seek Him, to bring before Him the many goals and aspirations we juggle, and seek His leading. Many times a good idea is only that. A good idea. It may not be the best for us, or for a particular time.

Stop. Recognize. Acknowledge. This is the secret of endurance. 

I can face any pain, any challenge, any race, if I have first stopped and made clear my direction by the One who makes my paths straight. Not only will I run, I will finish with joy.

I hear they have extended the trail run course on the mountain this year. I haven’t decided yet if I will run it again, but I am sure about one thing. If I do, it will be after more thoughtful consideration and training. I will be stretched and ready, and I will know before I go if it's the right race for me.

Tell me how you have learned to run the right race in your life. Join the conversation!


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