We've officially passed the half-way point in the 2009 5K season. Last Saturday's Independence Day race in Fort Loramie was race number six of twelve. I'm running better than I did last year, and yet for some reason I still feel a little disappointed. Here are some points of reflection for the season thus far.
1. Sometimes I don't understand myself. Training can be frustrating. I can have a couple of good, back-to-back 6.5 mile training runs, and then go out and really struggle after two miles, finally giving up and walking after three. It leads me to wonder which me is going to show up? With every run, I wonder whether it's going to be a good run or a bad run. A spiritual analogy to concupiscence and sin seems apt.
2. I ran a strong race in the third race of the season at Anna. After that race, I was confident that I was going to break into the teens. The fourth race, the Daffy Derby, was an evening run. I paid too much attention to the runners ahead of me, I was unable to hold the pace, even though it was slower than at Anna, and I ended up walking after 2.5 miles. I was very disappointed with myself. Following that race, I decided that I needed to run at my pace rather than worry about the leaders. The same thing is probably true in the spiritual life. Rather than try to match the holiness of others, I should concentrate on my own relationship with God and my response to his grace.
3. My hip has been bothering me a lot, to the point that I really needed to concentrate if I wanted to walk without a limp. Naturally, it affected my training. My confidence was already shattered after the Daffy Derby, but now I also had to worry about aggravating an injury. I had to try and find a balance between running enough to maintain conditioning and allowing my hip to heal. Sometimes slow and steady is better than strenuous. In terms of spiritual analogy, I think of a husband and wife who are at different points on the scale of spiritual awareness. One spouse might want to jump into the pious devotions with both feet, but doing so could alarm the other spouse and create some serious tension in the marriage. A little prudence goes a long way. By the way, my hip, thankfully, has not bothered me at all since Independence Day.
4. A lot of these races start with a rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. At Fort Loramie, we were invited to join in the singing, and I think that most of us did (it was the Fourth of July, after all). My wife's cousin was standing near me, and I saw him wipe a tear from his eye. My eyes were welling up, too. The whole first half of that race, the national anthem kept repeating in my head. After that, I had to concentrate just to keep running.
5. Fort Loramie was the first race this year in which I've actually been involved in a last mad dash for the finish. As we rounded the last turn, with about a tenth of a mile to go, three of us in the same age group were tightly bunched together. I don't know who moved first, but all three of us spent everything we had left to get to the line first. I ended up in the middle of the pack. In retrospect, it was fun, but at the time, I just wanted to collapse in a pile.
6. The last half mile has been really hard for me. It takes an extreme focusing of the will for me to keep running when my body is telling me to stop and walk. Every race ends up being a contest of the will. I can only pray that, by exercising my will to resist the voice that tells me to walk, I am thereby exercising my will to resist other, more deadly (in a spiritual sense) temptations.
7. I've never thought much about my weight being in issue in my running, except for the fact that the Oktoberfest 10K features weight categories (I won the over-225 lb category last year). There have been some instances to make me reconsider. After the Anna race, another runner asked me how much I weighed. After telling him that I weighed 230-235 lbs, he commented, "Just think how much faster you'd be at 200!" At the Daffy Derby I was told that the heat would be hard on heavier runners like me. At Fort Loramie, I was chatting with the runner who edged me out at the finish. I commented that he's really running well - more than a minute better than he ran last year. He told me that he isn't training any harder, but he's dropped ten pounds from a frame that was smaller than mine to begin with. All this has me seriously thinking about whether I should make an effort to shed some of my extra weight. The spiritual analogy seems obvious -- our attachments are like the extra weight we carry that prevents us from attaining true holiness.
8. The Anna and Botkins races were photographed by DAT photography. They place water-marked images on the internet for review and runners can purchase prints that they want. In reviewing some of my pictures, I noticed that my form was really bad. There's not much I can do about my right foot swinging wide, but I was running with my palms down, swinging my arms across my body. I've changed the orientation of my palms and focused on swinging my arms in a vertical arc. It should be a more efficient form. It seemed to help somewhat at Fort Loramie, anyway. Spiritually, we can slip into modes of piety that are "bad form." A spiritual director is like a coach who can point those things out so that we can run with the greatest possible efficiency. Poor form doesn't just slow us down and make us work harder than we need to, it can also contribute to injuries.
Does running always have to have a dual meaning? Of course not! But the fact that it analogizes so well provides me with plenty to think about, reflect upon, and pray over.