The end of my running season is approaching. I could run in a local non-tour 5K this Saturday, but I’m choosing not to. That leaves two races on my calendar. The big annual event in our little village is the Oktoberfest, and it has a 10K (6.2 miles) race associated with it. Lots of locals who don’t run at all the rest of the year will lace up their shoes to run in the Oktoberfest 10K. I join them because a) it’s kind of a big deal; b) a group of my fellow employees enters as a team (we took second place last year); and c) the race features weight divisions (I took first place in the over-220 lb division last year). Therefore, I have to run, if only to defend my fatso class title. That race is a week away. The other race is two weeks after the Oktoberfest, and is the final race in the Shelby County 5K Tour. I haven’t done as well in the tour this year – my times are slower, and I’m out of the running for first place in my age group, but I could still place second, and I have yet to win a door prize this year.
I’ve been averaging about 20-25 miles of training per week, since early April. For serious runners, that doesn’t sound like much, but I’m over forty years old now and over 220 pounds. These days, when I go out for a run, I feel it in my knees. I find myself trying to balance my need to train for the last two races against the need to maintain the integrity of my knees. Once we enter the off-season, I’m going to have to find a lower-impact form of exercise to engage in for a while.
The thought occurred to me this week: I don’t need to run those last two races. That’s certainly true. I’m not a professional athlete. Nothing requires that I maintain a minimum level of physical fitness. I could begin my off-season today. As usual, however, I immediately reminded myself of the spiritual analogy. Nothing requires me to do anything more than comply with the precepts of the Church: attend mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation; fast and abstain on prescribed days; confess mortal sins once a year; receive Communion once a year; and contribute financially to the support of the Church. Nothing requires me to pray Morning Prayer or Evening Prayer (lauds or vespers). After all, I’m not a priest, deacon, or vowed religious. I don’t have to pray the rosary, or make a holy hour, or read the Bible.
It’s not really good to think in terms of only what’s required, though, is it? There are folks who trudge off to the gym to “workout” with the least possible effort. You see them in the cardio room, putting in their allotted time on the stair climber, but supporting themselves the whole time on the rails, with their arms extended and their elbows locked. They do it out of a sense of duty, or to be able to say that they do it, but their heart isn’t really into it. That’s not how I want to exercise. That’s not how I want to pray, either.
I want my prayer to be motivated by love, even if the love has to be willed because the emotion is absent. As for my exercise, well, that’s as close as I get to penitential self-flagellation. It is a training of my self-discipline as much as anything else. “I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave….” (1 Cor 9:26-27)