This essay is part of our summer series called “Running for His glory,” focusing on the intersection between running and faith. Heather is a new friend I met through the Hopewriters online writing community. Heather shares how running has transformed her prayer life and gives some practical ideas on how we can incorporate prayer and scripture in our runs as well.
By Heather Lobe
I laced up my sneakers and packed all of the essentials for my longest training run yet – 11 miles. Breathing in deep through my nose, I pushed off against the greenway path and steadied my pace. Mile by mile, I prayed for the individuals whose names were in my pocket on a 3×5 note card.
With the rhythm of my feet on the pavement, and the sound of the rushing water with the river next to me, I entered into a time of communion with God. The rest of my week was packed full and overflowing, loud and chaotic, but in those long runs it was just the Lord and me. This was a chance to clear my mind and embrace the beauty of the open sky above.
When my lungs or legs grew tired, I flipped my index card over to remind myself of that day’s meditation. For that run, I prayed through Isaiah 40:30-31:
“Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
I wasn’t always a runner. In fact, there are distinct memories burned into my mind of timed tests during physical education classes in school. We were supposed to run laps on the track, and I just remember feeling so bored from the repetition of the flat red track. I had trouble running a full lap without stopping, so I often just used my long legs to power-walk as fast as I could around the track. Whenever I passed the gym teacher, I worked my way up to a jog for as long as I could endure.
In 2014, I entered a season that opened up time and space for me to address some areas that I had been neglecting for years. As I took stock of my mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health, I realized that I needed to do a better job of taking care of myself. I entered into a time of counseling, joined a support group, and decided to nourish my body with healthier eating and exercise.
In that period of finding myself again, I decided to become a runner.
When I first started out, I was discouraged that I couldn’t even finish a mile. I pushed too hard. I tried to run too fast. It was too much too soon.
I learned to embrace the process and just start small. Run 3 minutes, walk 2. Run 4 minutes, walk 1. Run 5… see if you can keep going. It took a month, but I finally was able to run a mile without stopping. It seems like such a small accomplishment, but it represented the beginning of a journey for me.
Eventually, I signed up for 5k races and regularly ran 3 miles at a time. In 2016, I signed up to run a half marathon in the mountainous college town where I work. During that training time, I decided to press in to the quiet. I started to pray as I ran. This opened up a completely new way of approaching those training runs and the long stretches of time dedicated to race preparation.
God revealed some amazing lessons about communicating with Him through my half marathon training:
Prayer is not a stagnant thing. I am missing out if I believe prayer requires me to kneel beside my bed or talk to God when I am in the pew at church. God invites us into regular conversation with Him and wants to be part of every ounce of our day. He invites us to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). We can pray while we drive, walk, parent our children, sit at our desks, cook dinner, or sit with hurting friends. We can offer up our requests and listen for His voice even in the busyness of our weekly routine or in the rhythm of a training run.
Scripture is a powerful prayer tool. Over the course of my training, I wrote various words from Scripture onto a 3×5 notecard that I could carry in my pocket. Some were verses that gave me strength or courage to keep pressing into my run, and others were calming truths I needed during that hard season. When I don’t have the words, I can use words that God gave us to return to Him as a plea, a meditation, or an offering.
We are called to pray for others. For most of my life, I think my prayers sounded more like, “Dear Heavenly Father, Gimme, gimme, gimme.” During my long runs, a friend suggested that I pray for a different person each mile. On the back of the notecard with my verse for the day, I also wrote a name next to each mile I was planning to run.
Something transformative happens in our hearts when we repeatedly pray for others in our lives. It takes our eyes off our own problems, and joins us as partners in prayer with others who also have needs. My notecard even contained a few names of people I really didn’t want to pray for who caused hurt or who I was having a hard time forgiving. I focused on asking God to bless those people and to soften my heart towards them. He was and is faithful in answering those prayers.
Take it one step at a time. Training to run a half marathon (13.1 miles) happens one step at a time. I cannot jump past all of the hard stuff in my life to get to the finish line. As I worked through sore muscles, shin splints, tired lungs, and adjustments to my protein and caloric intake, I grew in my capacity to listen to my body and learned how to move forward in my training – one run at a time.
That same season was filled with many questions about the future and how to move forward, but God taught me to trust Him to lead, one step at a time. I prayed for His wisdom to show me the next right thing, and He used my training to remind me to slow down my tendency to run ahead and just listen to Him.
Heather Lobe is a grateful believer in Jesus Christ who has seen firsthand how God redeems broken lives and heals our deepest wounds. Heather is a writer, speaker, and worship leader with a heart for others to know Jesus. Active in her local community and the Celebrate Recovery ministry, Heather’s heart is for women to know that they are known, loved, and healed in relationship with Christ. She delights in making gratitude lists, finding good local coffee, and running and hiking the mountains of Roanoke, Virginia where she lives with her husband and son. You can find more of Heather’s writing at www.heatherlobe.com, and she’d love to connect with you on Instagram.
*Are you a runner or enthusiastic walker? Dorina and her husband Shawn recently started the Glory Chasers running group on Facebook. They offer up courage, coaching, and community for Christian runners. If you’re a runner or know one, join us!
Read more articles in the “Running for His glory” series:
-In “When God brings you full circle,” Dorina describes how sometimes we have to return to particular places, relationships or memories in order to measure just how far we’ve come. She learned this on a trail race she ran a few times in different seasons of life.
-In “How running found me,” Danielle E. Morgan shares her story about how running found her as a young adult and has shaped her health, her mothering, and who she is in Christ today.
-In “Battling negative self-talk,” Kristy Wallace runs us through how she reframes her internal dialogue using scripture. She runs and meditates on specific passages throughout the week.
-In “How running provided healing during mental illness,” Abigail Alleman shares her personal story of how running provided an avenue for her to continue healing during dark seasons.
-In “Discovering running as soul care,” Erin Reibel talks about how she grew into loving running as a busy mama. She consider it an important soul care practice.
-In “How I started running for all the wrong reasons,” Gloryanna Boge shares about how she started out running for all the wrong reasons, but God redeemed it for her.
-In “Run the hill,” Mark W. Jackson unfolds how running hills has helped him learn perseverance through life’s trials.
-In “Finding God’s sanctuary on the trail,” Allison Tucker shares about how God meets her on the trail. I love that she is a grandma who still ventures out into God’s sanctuary in Creation!
-In “Learning to breathe at higher altitudes,” Dorina Gilmore talks about how God breathes life into us, and we live on borrowed breaths as we run life’s path today.
-In “How one mother trusts God’s timing,” Lindsey Zarob shares about how pregnancies took a toll on her body. She had to press the pause button on running for a season, but God brought it back around for her in a new place and new way.
-In “When you feel like running away,” Shannon Rattai writes about how running has become a kind of therapy for her where she can release her burdens and anxiety to God.
-In “How running taught me to stay,” Jennie G. Scott writes about how running has helped her to stay the course God has set out for her in this life.