I completed a 100-mile ultramarathon.
I chose the Maryland C&O Canal as my 100-miler because it is local to Baltimore and flat. Precursor races included running 50 kilometer, 50 mile, and 100 kilometer events. I even hired a coach as the task seemed impossible and to push myself beyond my usual limits.
Every physical body has the ability to morph from couch potato to fitness guru — like the athletic version of turning water into wine! I’m a regular person that God sculpted into an endurance athlete with persistence and hours upon hours of sweaty, grinding workouts.
As an added and unexpected bonus, my ultra-journey taught me hard lessons about life. The road of perseverance — whether in training for competition or any demanding aspect of life — is covered with jagged obstacles and streams of struggle. God calls us to walk the path of Christ, which He promises will be a life-giving but still difficult road.
The point of sharing my stories isn’t so that people become endurance athletes. The lessons He showed me are applicable to any challenging situation in life, including our Christian walk. The same discipline I utilize in my training benefits me in my spiritual life. When the road becomes difficult or I feel far from God, I need endurance to press on.
The following are my top five tips for faithfully enduring.
Say No to Fear
The week before my 100-mile ultra, anxiety coursed through me as I imagined pitfalls ranging from blisters to broken bones. Race day, I suited up in my hydration vest, gaiters, and the all the gear I needed for the journey.
God blessed me with weather that was in the high 40’s and sunshine that burned away the mist as the morning wore on. Still, my fears welled up inside me as the start time drew near.
Fear of failure and rejection permeate our spiritual existence. They infiltrate everything from how we pray at meals to worrying about what our peers think of us in different circumstances.
Similar to race day, fear attacks us in life. It’s a tactic used by the enemy to paralyze us from pursuing success. When dread hems us in, we fail to reach people in our athletic and spiritual domains. Sometimes when we feel fear, we pull away from God and retreat.
Deuteronomy 31:6 says, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”
Plan of attack: When fear comes, we need to suit up and show up anyway. God has shown His faithfulness, and we need to focus on times when we’ve seen God prevail. The Bible is full of encouragement. We can turn to God’s Word for guidance and inspiration.
Stick to Your Plan
After the race start, all the ultrarunners scampered down a cliff clutching and releasing young trees that swayed in the grip of their hands, and hopscotched over rocks and a fallen log to cross the stream twice. Once at the bottom on the flat tow path, I began to work my own plan.
I determined early on in my training that I would run/walk. One hundred miles is the distance from Baltimore to Philadelphia, and I wanted to complete the race safely. I stuck with my eight minutes easy running/two minutes walking routine as the fog billows obscured any view of the water. Others may run the entire distance, but I knew I needed to proceed at a pace I could hold for hours on end.
Our lives are similar. The pace one believer moves at is independent of another follower. Proverbs 16:3 notes that if we commit what we do to the Lord, He will establish our plans. Each of us learns lessons at different times in our lives, so we have to pursue our own spiritual race.
Whatever plan you have for your spiritual life (attending church, participating in a small group, daily quiet time, fasting, or personal worship), keep at it when life becomes difficult. Continue with the plan you set for yourself as this buoy for the soul keeps you afloat.
Plan of attack: Be committed to your spiritual goals. Even when times are tough or you don’t really feel like it, continue on your personal growth path. God is faithful to those who show up even when they may not feel like it. Develop a relationship with an accountability partner who can walk with you through your personal journey, providing encouragement when needed.
Be Ready for Bumps
I started to develop a blister on my right foot and my right pinky toe began to burn like a Bunsen burner. My crew chief, Rachel, tried to clip my toenail and wrap it, however the dressing compressed my foot like a vice. The front of my shins radiated pain like an electrical current with each footfall starting at mile 70.
In the second half of the race, I developed significant nausea. The risk of passing out or being unable to continue from lack of calories hovered in my mind, so I forced myself to eat hamster bites while running and toddler portions at the aid stations.
Circumstances in life will crop up that can throw you off your game: an illness, family situation, or mental stress. Conditions can also emerge that affect your spirituality: hurt, shame, and guilt. Proverbs 3:5-6 says that we should submit our ways to God and He will make our paths straight.
We all make mistakes and issues from our past can crop up. Rest assured these things do not define your worth. God already did that when He died for you on the cross.
Plan of attack: Even when we experience pain, we have to hold onto what’s important. Life doesn’t always go our way. There will be proverbial blisters and nausea. When we experience defeat or loss, we need to cling to God and His purpose for us. Spend some time in prayer asking God to provide strength and comfort. Ask others to wrap you in prayer.
Rally the Troops
I picked up my first pacer, Robbe, at mile 60. The rules of the race said we could have runners with us for the last 40 miles. My feet smiled as I switched into new shoes. I tossed back some hot soup, and Robbe and I scrambled down the cliff traveling at a snail’s pace as the darkness enveloped us.
We continued the eight minutes running/two minutes walking in the bobbing light of our headlamps for the next 10 miles. After my leg pain began, keeping this ratio become increasingly difficult. We started running seven minutes/walking three for awhile. Then we ran for five minutes and sometimes for two.
“One more minute,” he challenged. “It’s been 15 minutes since you ate something.”
Having people around you to encourage you and hold you accountable is incredibly important. I would have sunk in the quicksand of doubt without my people. Philippians 2:4 advises us to look to the interests of others. How our fellow believers fare around us is important. As Christians, it’s our role to encourage our friends on a path honoring to God.
Plan of attack: Join a small group and find a faith community or church which makes you feel at home. Worship together with your church family. Open your heart and be vulnerable with your small group. Share your goals with others to create a base for encouragement.
I hit mile 90 at around 7am and had ten miles to go with six hours left. I tried to run but my feet felt like victims of a sledge hammer, and I ended up power walking the last 11 miles. Rachel cut the tongues out of my shoes because it hurt to have them touch my skin.
The orange cones on the trail indicated the turn, and my heart leapt in my chest. My feet shifted back and forth on the boulders of the stream crossing as my muscles struggled not to give out. As the finish line came into view, my crew stood waving and yelling my name. I stopped and whooped.
At the finish, I threw my hands in the air looking up to the heavens for a Jesus high-five. Thank you, Lord, for this day and every blessing incurred. I buried my head in my Mom’s neck, and all my crew took a turn. I hobbled to receive my belt buckle when they called my name.
We all have periods when trouble seems to be absent and plenty more episodes when obstacles litter our path. Sometimes in our spiritual lives, depression or anger clouds our souls, and lifting our hands in worship or prayer feels hollow. During these droughts, keep reaching out to God. Psalm 18:32-33 tells us that God keeps our way secure. He brings us to new heights. Though you may be in a period of struggle, He will carry you through.
Plan of attack: Step forward in some small way toward your goal and toward God. Sometimes the path to the final result will look different than you originally thought. Trust in His plan. Surrender your need to control the situation and listen for God to reveal to you His next step in your journey.
Why is endurance in life important?
Situations arise where we have to dig deep to persevere. My Mom took care of my elderly grandmother as she struggled with dementia. The emotional strain and the amount of time required enormous amounts of perseverance.
I work as a physician assistant and spent some of my career working in oncology. Patients fighting cancer possess endurance like none I’ve ever known. They deal with treatments, side-effects, and life-altering prognoses.
I’ve struggled with depression in my life, and during those times, it was all I could do to keep going. Endurance was vital for my survival.
God uses endurance athletics to teach me. Romans 8:37 states, “We are more than conquerors through him who loved us,” but it isn’t always easy.
When times are difficult, we need to lean in close to God. We need to remember:
- Don’t listen to what fear tells you; find strength in who God says you are
- Stick with the plan during the roughest times
- Understand that there will be bumps in the road and do not be derailed when they occur
- Surround yourself with good company for support and encouragement when you need it
- Keep moving, even one small step at a time, when you feel overwhelmed
Whatever challenge you face, remember you can get through with God. Against all odds, Jesus can bring you to the other side with Him. God specializes in the impossible.