There is something qualitatively different about training for a marathon, as opposed to the 5K training that I was doing last year.
My 5K training revolved around trying to improve my pace. There were some mileage base runs, but my main focus was on finding the 6:10 to 6:20 per mile gait that I would be able to maintain for two miles, knowing that I would die (metaphorically speaking, of course) in the third mile and finish with rubber legs.
The training I’m doing this year, however, is all about increasing the distance that I can run, and that means slowing my pace down. I’m estimating that my pace for the marathon will have to be in the 8:30 to 9:00 per mile range. My problem is that I can’t run that slowly! Even when I go out at what I think is a snail’s pace that I’ll be able to maintain forever, I still find myself running at 8:20. Thus, whenever I go for a long run, I have to constantly tell myself to run slower.
The key point that I’m trying to make here is that the kind of training you do is very dependent upon the type of race that you’re planning to run. So, when St. Paul says to run the race so as to win, the first question to ask is what’s the distance? I guarantee that if you try to run a marathon like a 5K, you’re going to burn out early.
Paul, of course, was not talking about a physical race. He was using a material example to illustrate a spiritual principle. There are different spiritual training programs, and it’s necessary to fit the training program to the event in which you’re competing. In practical terms, a layman father of seven or eight can’t fully embrace a contemplative or Benedictine spiritual program. Even so, I don’t know for certain what distance I’m training to race. Should I be focusing on quickening my pace, or slowing my pace? Without a spiritual training program, it feels as though I’m just running aimlessly in circles, which might keep me fit, but won’t win any races.