After what seemed like the coldest Iowa winter on record, in April 2001, my pastor-husband, John, and I stumbled out of our winter cave and once again took up our love of running. As we re-acclimated our out-of-shape bodies to the idea of exercise, our lungs weren't the only thing getting a breath of fresh air. This nonministry activity lent a welcome break from church and the temptation to revolve our relationship around it. That's when we got the crazy notion: "If occasional running afforded us uninterrupted time, imagine what could come of marathon preparation." The hours of training would translate to hours of togetherness. Most of all, we reasoned, this would be something totally different from ministry. It seems our reasoning was a little off.
Our crazy notion became reality on May 1, when we signed up for the Twin Cities Marathon. Five months out from race day, we laced up our running shoes. As our training miles mounted, so did the parallels between prepping for a marathon and ministry — namely, the survival skills.
We were partners from the onset. Neither of us could have survived without our teammate. When one of us didn't feel like rolling out of bed for an early morning run, the other did. When one was feeling sluggish or suffering from an injury, the other offered encouragement. Because of the other, each of us was able to complete the training and the marathon.
Not only did the team approach better equip us for our task at hand, but our marriage also flourished because of our we're-in-this-together mindset. We dreamed the same dreams and strived for the same goal. What was important to one of us was important to the other. To top it off, running together made the whole experience more fun.
Knowing where we were going and why we were heading that way in the first place sustained us through the ups and downs. Many days in the course of our training regime were a blast. We felt great, had increased energy and endurance, and our feet seemed to glide when they hit the pavement. Those days were fun; other days were not so fun. In fact, we almost would have chosen a root canal over logging a few more miles. Humid Iowa air, achy muscles and bodies begging for sleep sometimes made for misery. Throwing in the towel certainly crossed our minds. But calling it quits wasn't an option.
From the start we knew we would face hardships of all kinds. Just as Luke states in Acts 14:22, "We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God," we recognized we would need to endure pain to accomplish our goal. Thus, we drew for ourselves an exhilarating mental picture of crossing the finish line on a cool, crisp, Minnesota autumn day; we played the picture over and over in our minds. That vision kept us going.
Being beginners at this 26.2 mile attempt, we sought advice ranging from popular runners' magazines to friends who had already managed the feat. We quickly derived that if we were intending to output the miles required of us, then we'd better adjust our input as well. We liked that idea — the suggestion to eat more wasn't something folks pushing 40 hear every day! Our bubble slightly burst, though, upon the realization that we weren't just talking about more; we were talking about more of the right thing at the right time. The proper blend of fats, proteins and carbohydrates would significantly affect our performance.
At times we devoured our eating manual and its step-by-step instructions. Our morning runs following a day and evening of proper intake would feel smooth and natural. We didn't seem to be fighting against our bodies. Likewise, running the morning after a night of "whatever goes" was a struggle. In a sense, we paid for it and had trouble finishing even a short run. Ingestion mattered. It mattered a lot — and would even more as the calendar edged toward the big day.
The week of the race, in hopes of meeting the additional demands on our bodies, we feasted on two staples — pasta and POWERade; pasta for quick energy and the drink for proper hydration. They became our mainstay in hopes of building a reserve that would kick in when we hit the proverbial wall. It worked. At mile 20, when we had nothing left of ourselves to put one foot in front of the other, we relied on our stored energy.
Training for and completing the Twin Cities Marathon on October 7, 2001, ended up being one of the greatest experiences of our marriage. We're a little smarter for it on the ministry front, too. It seems easier to understand why Paul so often used the metaphor of running a race when exhorting us to remain steadfast in our calling. And if a little of our marathon experience will rub off on our ministry, all the better.