Remix- Running

Posted on April 18, 2011

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With Easter coming up this weekend, it’s an excellent chance to run this remixed essay from last year.

I hate to run. 

I wish I’d known that when I started running a couple of years ago.  How was I supposed to know?   The models on the cover of Runner’s World all had six-packs and huge, goofy smiles like they had just finished riding the tilt-a-whirl at the fair.  ‘Come run,’ they seemed to be saying to me, ‘It’s better than crack, and less expensive!’ This turned out to be a lie- not the crack part (that may also be true)- but definitely the ‘less expensive’ part.  I started running, and less than two weeks later was in a specialty running shoe store, buying footwear so scientifically advanced that NASA fires them into deep space, hoping to scare aliens with our advanced shoe technology, as well as our Spartan commitment to physical dominance.  The shoe names help with that.

Store Employee: Ok, sir, I see you’re interested in the Brookzuno Wave-Beaster Annihilation shoe.  In addition to the nacelle in the heel that emits a tachyon burst every time your foot strikes the ground, there’s also a built-in heart monitor, a BlueTooth link-up to both your iPod and your personal performance tracker, and a sensor that attaches to your nipples and reads your diaphragm to prevent any bladder dilation.  That costs $375, with 10% off for how you wandered through the store for a full hour until I offered to help.  We call it the Family Circus Discount.

Me: I’d like to pay full price.

So if I’d known that I hate to run, I could have saved myself a good amount of both money and time.  It wasn’t all a waste, though.  At one point I got so thin my pastor mentioned that I might think about eating something once in a while.  And I ran two half-marathons in pretty good times, although I mostly remember, not the performances, but the innumerable children that always rocketed past me about five miles into the races, powered solely by Cinnamon Toast Crunch and RockMonster energy drinks.  I’m sure the race directors would have loved to test the kids for performance-enhancing snacks, but I doubt they could have caught them.    

It’s not even that I don’t like to run, per se.  I love basketball, soccer, volleyball, football, whatever.  If it’s a sport, chances are I’ll try to play it.  I’ll scramble around like a balloon with the air going out of it and love every second.  But I don’t like just running. Nothing appeals to me about lacing up shoes, hitting the road with some music and racking up some miles.  My lungs clench up.  I get angry that I’m not moving faster.  Boredom sets in.  And I’m alone with my thoughts, the primary one of them being, “How much longer do I have to do this before I can stop this nonsense and go read some ‘Calvin and Hobbes’?”

The one consequence of growing up in a church environment is that every good story has been told and heard before.  Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, that one pot-luck where everyone’s mom brought grilled cheese- these celebrations are sometimes just a little too familiar.  But the other day I was leafing through Matthew in Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of the Bible The Message, and found this part of the Easter story.  It’s right after Mary Magdalene and the other Mary discover Jesus’ empty tomb.

[The Angel said to them] Now get on your way quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He is risen from the dead.  He is going on ahead of you to Galilee.   You will see him there.’  That’s the message.”  The women, deep in wonder and full of joy, lost no time in leaving the tomb.  They ran to tell the disciples.  Then Jesus met them, stopping them in their tracks…..They fell to their knees, embraced his feet, and worshiped him.

This got me thinking about running.  What did it feel like to be the two Marys that day?  I imagine them tearing towards the disciples with reckless abandon, their lungs burning, feet kicking up dust as they raced over the Middle Eastern terrain.  They had just seen Jesus alive, and so their feet, which had been as dead as Jesus was, came to life also, crackling with electricity.  This was not a Sunday morning cruise while listening to their ancient Semitic iPod’s.  They weren’t trying to keep their target heart rate up or maintain 7 minute splits.  These ladies had somewhere to go.  They were running.

Like I said, I hate to run.  But when I look at what I like to do in sports, clearly it’s not as simple as that.  Because I do like to run- in fact, I love it.  It just has to have a purpose.  I need mark a man, get a ball, execute a play, something, anything that is an external motivator.  If you set me on a cross country course and say, ‘Run!’, forget about it.  I’m gone.  After 2 miles, with any luck, I’ll find a RedBox and that will be that.  But if it’s a soccer game and I’ve got to go get a ball 20 yards ahead of me and beat a guy to do it, it’s definitely going to happen.

I’m after that same sensation that the two Mary’s had on Easter morning.  They were propelled by a vibrant experience of the living God.  They saw the empty tomb, heard the angel say ‘Go,’ and they were off.  Their running was directly related to Jesus’ resurrection- it gave them purpose, and so their running was free and joyful, no matter how far or hard the journey to Jerusalem was.  I’m sure they ran out of breath- the Gospels don’t say but I doubt these women looked like Jillian Michaels.  And their legs probably got tired too.  But I doubt they stopped much.  “Jesus is alive!!”, they probably kept telling themselves.  “It was REAL!”

Too often my soul-running more closely resembles the time I’ve spent in my expensive running shoes.  It’s vague, purposeless, and not driven by anything but habit.  I’m not careening with 100 volts of God’s realness in my spiritual legs.  I’m just out for another boring run.  I try to be obedient and on my best behavior, because it’s important to have good morals, and to read my Bible and a Christian book every night like a nice boy.  But I’m certainly not motivated at all. No wonder I’ve looked at God sometimes and said How much longer do I have to run for?  As long as I’m alive?  I’ll never make it.

In this way, Easter is a little bit about running.  Jesus’ resurrection took all of the moments that the Marys shared with him and framed them in the context of his God-ness.  They felt, probably for the first time, the full weight of knowing that they had experienced God- his love, his teaching, his goodness, his realness.  And so they ran to tell the others.

God is what turns our 3 mile death jogs into Mary-and-Mary free-for-all’s.  Without the experiential knowledge of his goodness, we won’t last long on the run.  We’ll get bored or discouraged and wonder why we’re even doing it at all.  But, like the women on Easter morning discovered, our dead lives and dead feet are no match for the reality of who God is, and who he is for us.

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