One of my favorite stories from the Bible is the account of Elijah running through the desert for a whole day before collapsing under a juniper tree and asking God to please let him die. God didn’t let him die, but instead sent an angel to care for and nourish Elijah so he could continue on his journey to Mt. Horeb, the mountain of God. (To read more about why he was on the run, and what he experienced when he got to Mt. Horeb, check out 1 Kings 18-19).
My husband admires Elijah mostly for his great faith, but he also admires his running skills and likes to refer to Elijah as the original ultramarathoner. This past weekend, my husband joined the ranks of Elijah and other ultramarathoners who have run for a full day.
Yep, my own true love spent a little more than 21 hours running in the woods to complete a 100-mile race. It was dark when he started out and dark when he finished, but there was a whole day’s worth of light in between.
One of the things you’ll quickly learn about my husband is how important running is to him. It was his first true love, a love he found before he gave his life to Christ and an integral part of his life by the time he met me. Even when we first met, I had no idea how much running would weave itself into our marriage.
He has unofficially coached, mentored, encouraged or set an example for countless runners around him throughout his years of running. He and his best friend from college bonded over the races they ran together during their four years together in the same city, and even now, living so far apart, they look for races to run together. I’m not sure I ever would have run a marathon without his wisdom and encouragement. And a friend who ran a lap with him this past weekend told me how happy he was to pace my husband during the race because, “He has played such a key role in getting me running. This is a small way I can say thanks.”
I have a hard time wrapping my brain around what my husband accomplished this past weekend, but at some point during the second dark of the race, a light came on for me as to why anyone would be crazy enough to want to try this: the challenge is worth it for what it tells runners about their character.
Ultramarathoners run for as many different reasons as there are different runners. There’s a physical challenge, and definitely a mental one, and a spiritual challenge for some runners, like Elijah, who struggled with his own trust in God when he stopped in the desert. Marshall Ulrich, one of the greatest ultra runners of our time, will tell you that runners are often running from something or to something. There are selfish runners and selfless runners, those who only take during the run and those who take time to inspire and encourage others as they run.
A few days before the race, my husband said he’d been praying about a way to use this race for God’s glory. He hasn’t gotten any discernible answer yet, but I have faith that God will use this willing servant to His glory, to further His purposes, because he has given this man a gift and a love of running and a desire to serve others.
In 1 Corinthians, Paul writes this about running:
Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one
receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone
who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They
then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.
Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim … but I discipline my
body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I
myself will not be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)
All the runners who finished this weekend’s race in less than 24 hours got this shiny prize:
My husband was excited to have earned his new belt buckle, and I fought back tears as the associate race director handed it to him, so proud of what he had accomplished. But I’m even more proud of the heart that beats behind all the discipline and races, because it’s a heart that chases hardest after an imperishable wreath.
Do you have your own perishable wreaths you compete for? Maybe not even a sport, but a particular vocation or avocation that fills you with passion? Are there ways you have been able to use that gift toward God’s glory, as a way of striving for an imperishable wreath instead of only a perishable one?
I’d love to hear your stories and hope you’ll share them in the comments below. And be sure to come back next week, when I’ll bring you part 2 of “True love and running,” where I get to introduce you to a lovely, inspiring, ultra-running couple.