I’ve mentioned my love of running before, but these days, it takes up a lot of my thoughts. Just a few short weeks ago, I registered to run my first marathon and sat down with my husband (who also happens to make a great unofficial running coach) and mapped out my long runs from now until mid-June, when I’ll run the marathon.
I wish I could say I feel completely confident about reaching this new goal, but overly tight muscles and memories of old injuries keep threatening to drag me down. Anyone who has run a marathon will tell you that overcoming the mental hurdles is half (or more) of the battle. And so I know I need to win the mental race before I’ll be able to endure the physical one.
That’s where patience and discipline come in. Let me be the first to admit that neither of these two virtues is a strength of mine, but I know I’ll need to cultivate both to toe the line at that June marathon with a firm hope of finishing.
Running the marathon is a bit like enjoying a fully grown and thriving tree planted in your yard. Trees don’t just spring up fully grown overnight, just as humans don’t typically wake up one morning and find themselves magically able to run 26.2 miles.
As I look out at three young trees in my own yard and wish for them to grow healthy and tall and strong, I can see parallel lessons for completing the marathon. You may not run, but I share these lessons with you because achieving your own dream may also feel like running a marathon, and some of the insights here may help you achieve that dream.
1. Strong roots = healthy tree.
The three young trees in my yard have been growing underground in ways that I can’t see, but their roots are what will sustain them in wind and drought and storms. Similarly, you haven’t seen my running log probably haven’t seen me out on a training run, but my running roots are getting established. Over the last seven years, I’ve logged miles and miles that are all part of the preparation to get me to the point where I am now – optimistic about possibly completing a marathon, despite the rocks and storms that may lie ahead.
You know what else gives my running stronger roots? Lots and lots of prayer. I don’t listen to music when I’m out running, and that gives me a lot of time alone to think and pray – lifting up pleas and praise to God, depending on what’s happening in my life on any given day I head out for a run. I like to think of these prayers as an emotional taproot that I’ve been establishing, one that will sustain me on race day.
What roots are you establishing to achieve your dream? And do you see prayer as an integral part of a healthy root system?
2. Don’t underestimate the power of water.
Quite simply, just as trees need water to thrive, so do humans. Runners, especially. I temporarily forgot that essential lesson this past weekend. I was running a half marathon in considerably warmer, more humid conditions than my winter training has provided. Though I carried a bottle of gatorade with me, it was too sugary sweet for me during the race, but because I had it in hand, I skipped past a few too many water stops along the course.
That’s when I got cold. No – it wasn’t because a lovely breeze had picked up across the water as I ran over a bridge. No – it wasn’t because of the cloud cover (a blessing from God that kept me from getting into serious trouble and needing an ambulance). I got cold because I wasn’t drinking enough water, an early warning sign of heat exhaustion. And because of it, I had to slow down and walk more and drink a lot of water simply to cross the finish line.
For you, actual thirst quenching may not be an integral part of achieving your dream, but I’ve written before of waterers who can help you quench an emotional or mental thirst through their encouragement of your dream. My husband and other running friends are waterers whose counsel will sustain and encourage me when marathon training gets really tough (which I expect will happen in approximately 10 days when I run farther than I ever have before).
3. Grow a little at a time.
This is where those pesky areas of patience and discipline come in. Those three trees in the yard aren’t bogged down by fear. They’re doing exactly what they’re supposed to – growing a little bit at a time, not trying to over-reach but simply taking in water and sunlight and good soil nutrients to reach up a little taller each passing season.
I’d love to be able to go run a marathon next weekend and cross it off my bucket list, but I know that’s not practical, and I’m pretty sure that would skip past the lessons of patience and discipline that God wants to teach me over the next few months as I build up my mileage each week. Every long run will be just a little longer than the previous one, training my body in a gentler way that will strengthen me and keep me less likely to get injured by expecting too much from my body.
Are you writing a book? You simply cannot write it all in one go. Are you trying to raise great children? That’ll take 18+ years to see to fruition. Are you moving into a scary but exciting new role at work? You will not be perfect at it from the moment you begin (you may never be perfect at it). All dreams come with challenges, and they’re going to require daily growth – sometimes frustratingly slow – before you can look back and see what you have accomplished.
4. Take rest days.
This is also where those pesky areas of patience and discipline come in. Trees have seasons of rest, seasons when they do not bear fruit or flower or hold green leaves, but even during those seasons of rest, they are still living and strengthening.
When you have set goals, expect some setbacks. Maybe your whole family came down with the flu during a week you had planned to finish a special project. Or maybe you ran a half marathon without drinking enough water and now your quads hurt so much you can barely walk without pain, much less go for a short run (ahem).
Rest days are important, even though you may chafe at them. God rested. And He insisted that His people rest, too. Don’t try to outdo God by ignoring the essential need for rest. Rest, renew and recharge – ready for the next effort.
I’d love to know what dreams you have and whether you see them as the growing tree or the marathon training. What roots have you established? What or who will water your dream and wait with you while it grows? Do you have tips for learning patience and discipline? I’d love to hear from you and run alongside of you as your dream grows toward harvest.