the race that is set before us

IMG_0017 therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. / hebrews 12:1

i know it is cliché, but for me, running is more than just exercise for the body. it engages my mind, my thoughts, my focus. and even, my heart. some of my best lightbulb moments occur on my morning runs. there is something amazing that happens without fail around the 5.5 mile mark, the fog lifts and a brainstorm begins. my body kicks into autopilot. i feel like i can run forever and not feel a thing (i think they call that a "runner's high". oh magical endorphins.). the music is pumping and my heart is pumping and the ideas are pumping too. sometimes i am struck by some great theology from a song i am listening to. sometimes concepts that i have been pondering finally come together and make sense. sometimes a random thought or word pops into my head that leads me down a wonderful path of creativity or planning.

and then there are those rare occasions when i become so engrossed in the rhythm of the run that everything else fades away, my mind quiets. i can go for a few miles without realizing it. that is such a cool feeling. and the best part is that i am usually brought back to reality by some moment of beauty in my surroundings. the sun beginning to peek through. the beauty of the colors of the desert. birds chirping. tiny leaves flitting about.

for the better part of my pregnancy with ridley, i traded in my distance running for convenient (and air conditioned) workouts at home. i did insanity workouts with ben, i did lots of yoga, i did tracy anderson method. but as i eased back into a workout routine after ridley's birth, one of the things on my list was to get back into my running groove. the first few runs were rough. summer runs are a tough place to start. but it felt so good to lace up and go. the initial postpartum runs were 3-4 miles at a snail's pace. as those became more comfortable, i added distance. for me, distance isn't an issue. if i had all the hours in the world, i could run and run. my limitation is time. and so, i realized that i would have to push myself and focus on my pace.

when it comes to running and my life, the pace is the hard part. i can very easily "settle in" and get comfortable at a 10 minute per mile pace. i can do that all day. and for a while there, i was happy with my 6+ mile runs at a 9.25 average pace. the first mile is usually one of my fastest. i settle into the run after that. i find my happy place, my happy pace. i had found my groove! running is easy! i have all the endurance i need! but that isn't what this exercise is about. it is about trying, testing, getting outside of your comfort zone. let's see what i am capable of...

so last fall, i decided to switch it up. i would do 10K runs 3-4 times a week with a long run on saturday. on weekdays, i would stick to runs that are familiar. a reliable route at the same time every day. runs that make it easy for me to hit the pavement before the sun comes up (and that allow me to return home before ben has to leave for work). but, the focus would be on improving my time. making them quick, getting my body used to six plus miles at a faster pace.

in december, i maintained my quick and easy runs on weekdays but really bulked up my saturday run, logging some serious miles. that has become my training day. i get to see what i am made of. i get to test my endurance. on january 1, i started the new year with a 14 mile run. it felt great. it had been about two and a half years since i had logged a half marathon. i had gotten close to 13.1, but usually stayed below the 12 mile mark. now that i have busted through again, it is all open road.

two weeks ago was another milestone: i maintained a sub-8 pace for a little over 8 miles on my saturday morning run. sub-8 months postpartum. that one meant a lot because after all that pace work for the past few months, i finally stayed below the 8 minute per mile mark on a longer run. it wasn't more than a few seconds under eight, but it counts. victory! i know that for some folks, that's nothing. but for short-legged, non-athlete me, that takes some pushing. i can't just settle into that pace, that requires me to be focused and in control of the run. for the last six years of my "running career", i have been all about the mileage. there was a period of time when i was running 5-6 miles a day, 6 days a week. for months. but this milestone? this was really something for me. it was a goal that i had set for myself for the first quarter of this year. a half? sure, i can do that. no sweat. well, not *no* sweat. this is arizona. and it is friggin' 90 degrees in FEBRUARY!!! have i mentioned my outrage about this yet? and marathon, i am coming for ya. but quickening my pace, that is where my challenge lies. she's going the distance, she's going for speed... (remember that song? so good.)

some days are for long runs. some days are for recovery runs. some days are for quick runs. some days are for sweaty runs. some days are for frigid runs. some runs are easier than others. and sometimes, the run is uphill and against the wind. a few days ago, i had what i consider to be the perfect run. everything was working in my favor. and gosh do i savor those experiences. because more often than not, the run isn't ideal. but i have been thinking about that hebrews passage a lot. the race that is set before us. what race is set before me now? is this a season of life where i am competing in a sprint? hurdles? 10K? half-marathon? marathon? triathlon? each race requires different training. each race requires a different physical response, different muscle memory, different mental exertion, different focus.

the race set before me right now is a wild one. it feels like a hybrid 100 meter dash / triathlon. i am hustling. there are moments in the day that feel like a full-on sprint. but most of the time, i am just pushing myself through each stage of competition. continuous and sequential endurance disciplines. swim. cycle. run. in immediate succession. i know it won't always feel like this, there will be seasons that are slower. when i can just settle in and enjoy the surroundings. take it all at a leisurely pace. where i can be alone with my thoughts and have time to ponder and decompress. but right now, during this time of life (raising and chasing young children, planting our roots, planning and dreaming, building our careers, advancing, learning new disciplines, pursuing additional degrees), it is go-go-go. and when one portion of the race ends, another begins. a fresh challenge. and you know what, i am okay with the fast pace. it is invigorating. and it will make my recovery run feel that much better.

just do it.