I was challenged a few years back when a friend wanted to start running with me. Now, don't get me wrong. I try to offer a friendly greeting as I trot along the roadsides in the early mornings. I smile and say "Hi" even on days like today when it's still dark outside. Friendly greetings are one thing, but running with a buddy on most days? Challenging!
You see, I listen to books while I run. I love the engagement of a great story as I put one foot in front of the other. It breaks the monotony and keeps my mind focused on something besides the pain. The offer from my friend was going to keep me from my books. I said "yes" anyway. And it changed everything.
My buddy was ten years my junior. He was completing a full 30 years as a Marine (Semper Fi!). When we started, he hadn't been running as much as in his younger years, but he still had to qualify in his annual Physical Fitness Test. He wasn't out of shape!
My years of distance running gave me a slight edge at the beginning, but it wasn't long before he challenged more than my book addiction. My pace began to get faster. I was less bothered by the physical discomfort. "Let's run the Half Marathon at Camp Pendleton," he exclaimed one day. A few months later we took off on the 13.1 mile course over Heartbreak Ridge. It changed my entire running perspective.
My buddy's job has taken him out of state during the week the past couple of years and we haven't been running together. I smile, say "Hi" and keep listening to books. But I discovered something: it's harder to stay focused and harder to push myself when I train alone. I lose something by not having a partner who is working on similar goals. It's easier to cut myself too much slack. It's tempting to think I'm doing better than I really am.
I see a parallel between my running experience and participating in another type of race. That's the race called life. Paul, the Apostle, used running symbolism to describe the life of a Christ-follower. "Everyone in a race runs to win," he said. Another time he mentioned, "I'm sprinting toward the finish line of the high calling of Christ Jesus."
In the life-race, I have discovered a critical truth: those who run alone never reach their full potential. I have recently stated it this way: "There is no significant, sustainable spiritual growth outside the context of healthy relationships." Without friends in training with us, we give up, we give in, and we easily quit altogether. With friends, we receive the encouragement, the challenge and the help we need to win the race.
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