Marathon Training & the God-Shaped Hole

The first week I moved to Greenville, I decided to train for a half-marathon. Within thirty minutes, that decision jumped to training for a full. For years I have been a casual runner, but I had never clocked more than eight miles at a time. The initial 13.1 miles have always been a bucket-list item I knew I was capable of. The 26.2 seemed inhuman, which I guess was the appeal. It was a reach, a stretch that would take a lot of discipline, pushing myself beyond anything I had ever attempted. As I wrote in the September moving-to-Greenville post, I knew I would never have more time and less commitments than I do right now. I’m only responsible for myself, and I’m not committed to a gazillion different activities yet. Training would give me some built-in routine in this new life chapter.

Through September and October, teaching, running, and being a weekend warrior consumed nearly all of my energy and time. I was still getting to know my kids (my students; I already refer to them as my kids) and figuring out the culture and customs at Carolina High. After school, I threw myself headlong into running, instituting a pretty structured training regimen and rarely straying from it. The mileage built. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday runs went from 3,5,3 miles to 4,6,4 to 5,7,5. My body adjusted. My legs strengthened, my period decided to take a hiatus, the slow, strong beat of my heart thumped in my ears as I fell asleep each night, and after high-mileage runs, my stomach woke me up at 3 am, ravenous for more food.

Long Saturday runs were strangely gratifying and exhausting. It’s not just that fifteen mile runs take two-and-a-half hours. It’s that your body is worthless for the rest of the day. You need an ice bath and recovery food and a really long nap. As mileage increased, so did my accumulation of running accessories – wireless Bluetooth earbuds that don’t’ fall out after a mile of sweating, trying out different running belts (flip belt is the way to go), a new pair of shoes, and energy goo packs.

Running became the thing in my life, which is crazy, because I’ve always thought of this sport as Georgia and Rosa Marie’s “thing.” I’m still slower than my sisters, but the miles I logged started making what seemed impossible a reality. I think there might be different hit levels of that so-called runner’s high, because it’s not always there for me. I just do it, and usually I feel fairly energized afterward. Regardless, if you do something enough, it becomes habit, it becomes part of you, and I started to really love it.


Mid-October, I went out for an 18-mile run, which ridiculous as that sounds, I could actually mentally wrap my mind around accomplishing. Miles 6-13 were the strongest I had ever felt. As my body started digging into reserve energy and dusk set in, I actually hit that runner’s high. Speeding down the Swamp Rabbit Trail from Furman, my legs felt like they weren’t attached to me, they were just going, and going fast.

I stopped at the Swamp Rabbit Café and downed another goo pack. I walked a few paces, and unlike the sensation of flying I had experienced only a mile before, I felt a sharp pang on the outside of my left knee. Give it another mile. You only have a few more to go. I rested again at Soul Yoga, where there’s a big parking lot that a lot of trail users make their main start/stop hub. Rather than just a stab of pain, when I stopped this time I felt like I might crumple in on myself. I hobbled over to a crew of trustworthy-looking salt-and-pepper-haired cycling men who had just finished up a ride and timidly asked if one of them could rescue me and take me home.

That was the beginning of IT band knee pain and the end of disciplined training. Welcome to the world of a running injury. In my training, I was doing a lot of things right, but in the past month, I’ve realized that I was not warming up and cooling down very well, or at all. I would just knock out a run and move on to showering and cooking dinner. Those precautions are there to make sure your body is ready for the real work and to prevent running injuries.

After the knee night, which was a week and a half before my half-marathon, I rested and only went on one run before the race. I was wary that I still had a knee issue, but I really wanted to run and do well. I felt my knee about halfway through, but I ran through it, and ran under two hours, which was my goal. When I crossed the finish line, there was a definite sense of accomplishment, but I knew my knee wasn’t okay.

IMG_0281 2
Spinx Half-Marathon, 10/28/17, 1:57:39

This past month has been hard, and a big part of that has been the lack of a running regimen and the unknown of whether or not I can run this marathon on December 9. I ran a mile on Tuesday and Wednesday on the treadmill and it was all good. I tried on the Swamp Rabbit trail on Wednesday and my knee said no. Regardless, one mile and 26.2 are very different. I’m not in the same shape I was a month ago. The marathon is getting so close now that my hopes for getting back out are not high. I know there are future marathons, and I’m certainly not going to set myself back even further running something I shouldn’t. It’s just that I worked so hard, and I started to really want it. Prayers for full recovery are still very much appreciated.

This post is to share about how running has become such a huge part of my life in the past few months, but also to explore a deeper notion I’ve been chewing on as I nurse this injury.

During that intense training period, I also joined a women’s study with my roommate called A Woman’s Words by Chrystie Cole.17_EZER_WomansWords_1280-2-1-650x650 All humans need to be aware of their words, but since women are so relational, it’s especially critical that we consider the way our communication builds people up or tears them down. I learned a lot about tempering my own blunt honesty, but what hit home the hardest was actually in a chapter about gossip and meddling, where Cole gives examples of different stages of life and how we can be glorifying the Kingdom of God in each of them:


As a single woman who is in the working world, it’s common to spend inordinate amounts of time thinking about yourself and structuring your life in such a way that you are at the center…You get caught up in thinking and planning for your future and investing in your own goals, dreams, and desires. The temptation to build a perfect life for yourself – spending large amounts of time, energy, and money on things that only benefit you. But the time, energy, and talents you have are not your own. They don’t belong to you, and they aren’t meant to be spent on you alone. This is a time to think about the needs around you and how you can invest in others and pour yourself out now (Cole 63).

Yikes. That is so me, especially for the very reason I started running – I’m not plugged in yet. When I read this as I was training, I thought to myself, Okay, I’m not pouring myself out yet. I’m running. But just let me get through December! I want to make this goal! I’ve never been a Netflix binger or time-waster, but lately I’m not serving or giving myself away very freely either. I still have teaching, but without running, I have become very aware of the time I have and how I don’t really know how to use it well or to generously give my resources away to others.

There’s a reason “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3, Deuteronomy 5:7) is the first commandment. Christian or not, I think we all have a God-shaped hole in our heart, and we fill it with Him, or we fill it with our own interests and desires. I had filled a big chunk of my hole with running, and when it was gone, it left an intense, unsatisfying emptiness in its wake.

I started stuffing that hole again with a handful of Bumble dates, some fun weekend adventures, and a good dose of journal complaining and depressing self-pity. Like most idols, none of it is truly bad in and of itself. Running is a great form of exercise. I should be dating in my mid-twenties. I’ll always be a mountain soul. However, it will always boil down to the priorities of my heart.

Even if gossip and meddling doesn’t sound like something you actively engage in, Cole also points out our perpetual use of social media. Is not our constant scrolling and keeping up with others’ affairs a 21st century form of toying with happenings that really don’t matter to our work? Why must that be human nature, to want to be involved, to have something to turn to? From running to swiping right to Zillow searches, these frivolous activities and pursuits won’t satisfy in the long haul, and oftentimes will not even suffice for mere weeks.

We have idols because we are made for worship, but in a broken world, we are bent. A lot of the time, we just choose the wrong things to bow down to. Likewise, we are made for meaningful work:

Work is the intentional employment of your energy and gifts to strengthen those entrusted to you, and to remake the world around you so that God’s glory and goodness are increasingly evident (Cole 59).

According to Cole, we should work harder than we feel we have energy on things that are clearly our responsibility.

IMG_0550This is not just being busy; it means being accountable, leaving little mental or emotional energy for things that have nothing to do with me. The gap between energy and responsibility, Cole explains, is faith, pushing me to depend on God when responsibility exceeds energy (60).

Convicting, no? I don’t think I’ve really lived in that gap since early college, or perhaps even high school. Living in the faith-energy chasm is not a natural inclination. I like to have my life together and balanced on my own. But we see God move when we let go of controlling every facet of our lives. Not only is Christ’s faithfulness steadfast, his love enduring, and his grace as far as the east is from the west, but his power is made perfect at the end or our rope, when we are weak (2 Corinthians 12:9). He promises to come to the aid of the weary.

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. -Isaiah 40:28-31

I would still really like to run a marathon, maybe (???) this one in a few weeks, or at least another one sometime in the coming year. That will always require demanding amounts of time and energy. But I’m becoming more aware of the sweet season of life I am in, and the choices that come along with it. I do get tired of being independent and on my own; given those circumstances, however, the only one standing in the way of giving myself away is indeed myself. Every day is a choice – live my life or live the life the Lord has intended for me.

Scripturally, the prophet Micah has one of my favorite versions of those intentions:

He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God? (6:8)

The church I am going to now has a lot of young families and a desperate need for nursery care. Last week I signed up. The high schoolers I teach everyday need more love, in and out of the classroom. I want to start doing some after-school activities with them (Outdoors club anyone? Reaction: “Miss Compton, I HATE the outdoors. All those bugs and walking… nah-uh.” We’ll keep considering that possibility, haha.) Rather than simply seeking friendship, as my roots deepen here, I can seek out intentional ways to be kind to the friends I am making. Running or not, there are countless needs I have the capability right now to meet. As I settle in, I am beginning to turn once again to Jesus, ask Him to straighten out the bend in my own selfish ways, and to use me to address and fill the empty vats of love and justice in Greenville.

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