by Jake Reeves
Synopsis: Sports are often a significant part of family activities. Jake offers insights into the spiritual lessons associated with running: "Do you know that in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way to obtain it" (1 Cor. 9:24).
If you think about it, running is really a strange thing. Maybe you've seen the ole T-shirt saying, "Our sport is your sport's punishment." I get tired of seeing those shirts at cross-country races, but it is true. Runners choose to participate in an activity that most people find repulsive. Often, there are times that I question why even I am out there sweating away on the track. I would much rather be inside drinking coffee and watching television.
In this article, I want to take you through three key themes that runners and Christians need to consider.
Why do we run? Why do so many wake up at 5 a.m. and hit the road, treadmill, track, or trails? Why do we do that 12-mile long run on Saturday mornings? Why do we deliberately inflict so much pain on ourselves?
During a heavy training season, I get out of bed and spend the first hour of the day looking like a 90-year-old man, limping with a bad back. Why do we choose to hurt like that? Well, there are many answers.
For some, running is just fun. Imagine that! Although some are shocked to hear this, I will be the first to admit that I do not find running fun.
While some do love running, others love the physical benefits they receive from running, such as weight loss, lowered resting heart rate, toned leg muscles, increased Vo2 max (Maximum amount of Oxygen your body can use during exercise), etc.
Some run for the community or association by making friends while training or racing.
The reason I run is simple: I am addicted to competition and love racing. More specifically, I love winning. I've always been super competitive. I imagine that, when I stop winning, I'll be putting in fewer and fewer miles each week. Running fulfills that desire to compete and struggle for victory.
Another significant aspect of running is that it is the sport that the apostle Paul used so often to describe how Christians are to approach their lives.
People who know me well know that my favorite verse is 1 Corinthians 9:24, which says, "Do you know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So, run that you may obtain it" (ESV).
How cliché is that? The runner's favorite passage is 1 Corinthians 9:24. Very original. How could it not be my favorite? Running career aside, that is a particularly encouraging verse! Every day as a Christian, we should be running to win.
When I am preparing to win a big race, I must keep three key themes in mind. I think there are spiritual applications for these three keys as well.
As a competitive runner, you have to stay focused on your training, your fuel, and your plan. I would love to tell you how these three things can make you a better runner, and more importantly, a complete Christian.
For the longest time, I thought the key to becoming a better runner was pure repetition. So, in high school, I simply ran four miles a day, every day. Unfortunately, that will only get you to a certain level and then you plateau. Becoming a better runner requires specificity training. Distance running is a combination of speed and endurance, and you have to work very hard at training your body to become better at both of those. Bottom line: it's a ton of hard work.
Preparing for the Christian race is the same way. If you are running and your training is easy, then you are probably doing something wrong. Similarly, if you think being a Christian is easy, there is likely room for improvement. I must remind myself of that often. In Romans 12: 2 we are told to, "not be conformed to this world…" Conforming is the easy path. That's the light training that does not make you any better.
Being a Christian takes training, it takes hard work. Start by continually praying (1 Thess. 5:17). Constant communication with God is essential to running the Christian race.
Next, read up! I am a student of the sport when it comes to running. I continually read/watch what elite runners and coaches are doing. I do this to grow and learn. How much more important is that as a Christian? Be like the Bereans who searched the scriptures daily (Acts 17:11). Always remember that the first key is training.
Second, stay focused on your fuel. A top runner fuels correctly. This is where I can improve the most as an athlete.
I do some things right. For example, I have hydration down. When I took an 8th-grade sports physical for basketball, I found out that I was drinking way too much soda (Thanks, Dr. Paul Douthitt). I stopped drinking sodas that day. I'll have maybe one a month, but most people have more like two a day.
Most professionals suggest drinking roughly half of your body weight in ounces of water per day. You also must know when your body needs to replace electrolytes and food.
During training, there are times when your body needs proteins, and times when it needs carbohydrates. Also, spoiler alert, artificial sugar is "No Bueno!" for runners! A runner needs to put the right things in his body.
What are you fueling with as a Christian? When I decided I was going to make this point, the first verse I thought of was Philippians 4:8-9 which reads, "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." Christians should be taking in what is pure. Again, I ask, with what are you fueling: pure things?—Or junk?
Third, stay focused on your plan. A good runner who knows his race, the course, and the competition will have a winning plan in place. I want to take you through two different race plans that I had. One went great, the other, not so much.
In college cross-country, we ran eight kilometers (4.9 miles). All I wanted out of my college career was to run that distance in under 27:00 minutes at least one time. That's five consecutive 5:25 miles. While I ran many races between 27:05 and 27:45, it felt like breaking that barrier was never going to happen.
Finally, I decided that at the Union Invitational my senior year, I was going to make it happen. Mind you, the week before I ran that distance in 27:50, but I was still confident.
Here was the race plan: Union had two guys that ran low 26s every week. The idea was to run with them for four miles, then hang on that last mile, give it everything I've got, and break 27:00!
I executed this plan to perfection. The two guys from Union carried me to a 26:36 that day, and I was ecstatic!
However, plans do not always go that well. On December 2, 2017, I made my debut to the marathon. The plan was to run each mile in 6:10s (minutes per mile). Simple enough. Right? The problem was, I did not train enough to reach that goal. I executed my plan for seventeen miles, but at mile eighteen, every major muscle in my legs started to cramp. I had to stop and walk/jog the remaining distance. Apparently, you can't "wing" the marathon. Who knew?
Christians need a race plan. I do not think that we should run our spiritual race without a plan or goal in mind. There are many ways to go about this.
First of all, let's plan on having the right guide through our race. Psalm 119:105, "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path." God's word should be helping us run. Have it in your heart at all times as you struggle through this race. Christians should also have a goal in mind as they run. It should be our goal that when we finish our race, we can proclaim as Paul did, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith" (2 Tim. 4:7).
Lastly, have a plan in place for dealing with adversity as you run. Satan is going to be there telling you to stop. He will be trying to convince you to give up, quit. How will you deal with that? If Christians have put on the whole armor of God, they can finish the race without giving in to Satan's traps. Sometimes during a race, the pain is overwhelming. Giving up is so much easier than continuing to fight through the pain. Christians cannot give up. Let's go back to my favorite verse from 1 Corinthians 9. Winners don't quit! Run to win!
I hope to have shed a little insight into what it's like to run at a high level. I love racing, and I hope to be able to compete for years to come. I especially love all the references to running and endurance found in God's word.
Please read God's word every day and look for ways to improve your Christian race. I'd like to leave you with one of my favorite quotes from a runner named Steve Prefontaine: "To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift." I wonder if you can think of any Biblical passages that relay a similar message?
Author Bio: Jacob is a 5th and 6th grade teacher in Memphis, TN. The son of Chris and Cheri Reeves, he was raised in Cedar Hill, TN, and began running at Jo Byrns High School in the 9th grade. Jacob received an athletic scholarship to run for Bethel University in McKenzie, TN where he qualified for two National Championships. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jake during the Union Invitational in October 2013 trying to break 27:00.