This essay is part of our summer series called “Running for His glory,” focusing on the intersection between running and faith. I met Jennie through the Hopewriters online writing community. Jennie and I had this enlightening conversation earlier this year on her “In This Skin” podcast, which includes a bit about how running has helped us both. She writes in this essay about how running teaches her to stay the course God has set out for her.
By Jennie G. Scott
Salty streaks ran down my cheeks as my ponytail bounced behind me. I couldn’t tell if the streaks were sweat or tears. Probably a combination of both.
My lungs burned, my legs ached, and my watch calculated the miles. When I laced up my running shoes that morning, I didn’t know the training run would be what broke me. Not physically — that was the part I could handle.
I didn’t run a step until after my second child was born. Six months after I delivered her, I pinned on my first running bib – and almost threw up during the race.
The marathons I’ve run since then were easier than that 5k. (Training makes a difference.)
Now, years later, running is a part of my lifestyle. It’s one of the ways I keep my body healthy, but more importantly, it’s a way to keep my invisible self in shape. When I run, the distractions disappear that usually keep me from thinking about the hard things. It’s as if I’m a captive audience to my own thoughts. The cadence of each footfall gives rhythm to the thoughts I’d rather keep at bay. The monotony of the run opens the floodgates of my mind.
That morning, I chipped away at the miles my training plan spelled out. As I did, my body reluctantly complied with what I asked it to do. I’ve heard it said that the first mile is a liar, and I couldn’t agree more. The first mile always tells me to stop and that it’s just not a good day for a run. But there always comes a point when the body gives in and agrees that yes, perhaps, a run is what we need.
I followed my normal route, barely noticing the lake on the left and the construction on the right. Instead of my brain registering what my eyes saw, it drifted to the hurt that was filling my heart.
I pushed it down to prevent it from coming to the surface during the work day and in the evenings with my children. I pretended I was doing fine.
But I wasn’t.
Step after step, arms pumping in propulsion, my body took over and let my heart have room to move — a luxury I’d been denying it, since I couldn’t trust what it would do.
That morning, it finally acknowledged the truth. With nothing in the way, my heart released its pain, its feelings of betrayal, its questions, and its doubts. My heart was honest for the first time in weeks, and the physical release that came with my run brought an emotional release I desperately needed.
It’s amazing how often a run will release an emotion.
In my years as a runner, I’ve logged thousands of miles, run dozens of races, worn out more shoes than I can count, and have even won my age group a time or two.
But more than that, I’ve learned countless lessons you can’t see from the outside. The most important of those? Running has taught me to stay.
It’s forced me to stay in the moment. My first marathon training partner told me, “Just run the mile you’re in,” and I can’t think of better advice for life. We can’t undo the past, and we can’t live in dread of what might be. All we can do is stay here, in this moment, fully present and fully alive.
It’s taught me to stay when it hurts. When you run, there’s always an element of pain or discomfort. A calf muscle that’s tight, a blister from last week’s long run, a sock that’s twisted in a shoe, or some chafing you couldn’t prevent.
Runners can’t prevent pain; we can only learn to handle it. Life will hurt, no matter how well-trained we are or how much preparation we’ve done. Pain is inevitable and inescapable, but we get to choose how we’ll face it when it comes.
Running has taught me that everything I’d rather run from is usually what I need to face the most. Every race has a hill that elicits groans, a gravel portion that tests the nerves, or a weather condition we couldn’t predict. Though our preference would be to run around those obstacles or avoid them altogether, the only way is through.
The only way is to stay.
Running has taught me to stay in spite of my doubts, my insecurities, and my feelings of inadequacy. At the starting line of every race, I look around and wonder just who I think I am. I gauge myself against the clearly more experienced runners, the ones whose muscles look well-toned and whose gear looks more professional than mine. I look at them and doubt myself, but then I turn up my music and remember my training and acknowledge that I, too, have a place in this pack. I stay, and I start, and somehow I always finish.
Running reminds me that while the easiest choice may be to run from difficulty, sometimes the best choice is to remain in it. This is true in races as it is in life. Stay the course. My runs teach me to stay the course God has placed me on. This pain, this detour, and this unexpected obstacle will not derail me.
Friend, if you stay, you will grow. If you stay, you will change. If you stay, you will become stronger.
Jennie G. Scott is a former high school English teacher who now uses her love of words to share the hope of the Kingdom. A writer, speaker, and runner, she is a self-described deep thinker who can spend way more time than she should choosing the just-right word. She is a mom of two who has journeyed through single parenthood into marriage with the most patient man on the planet. She writes online at ww.jenniegscott.com. You can also find Jennie on Instagram @jenniegscott or hosting the “In This Skin” podcast.
*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.