Faith, Life, running, workout

The Long Run: My Half-Marathon and Spiritual Training Plan

As you all know, I’m in the midst of training for my half-marathon. I’m on week 4 of training (after repeating the 2nd week after a hard week of running for me), and this Saturday, I run 6 miles. I’m pretty psyched. I’ve run that length before – it’s only a 10k, but I’m excited to be running it just in training, down my local road, 6 miles from my house to my sister-in-law’s. So excited!

I’m following the Hal Higdon half-marathon training plan and planning on running my first half-marathon in June. From there, I’ll jump into another training program as Adam will be training for the Ragnar 200-mile Relay Race in the Adirondacks. If you’re not familiar with the race or didn’t feel like clicking the link, the Ragnar Race is a relay race made up of teams ranging in number from 6 to 12 people, running 200 miles from the Adirondacks to Lake Placid in a race that takes from 20 to 34 hours, depending on your speed as a team. You run through the night, get transported in your own team vans, and run your heart out. We are excited to a join a team of some of Adam’s Word of Life buddies! That means we won’t be running the Adirondack half-marathon this year, but this will be so much more intense!

As I train for my first half-marathon before this intense relay race, I am excited for what I am learning through this process. Yes, I’ve talked about this before (here and here) and how running can teach us about the Lord and about ourselves, but this race training has been special to me.

The Hal Higdon race training schedule offers a little coaching on their site for us runners. What they’ve written can be and has been a wonderful reminder to me in my spiritual race:

Running for the long run:

“You can skip an occasional workout, or juggle the schedule depending on other commitments, but do not cheat on the long runs.”

Although this spiritual race does not allow for “cheat days”, our spiritual run is most-definitely like this counsel. Although we may have preferences to our days (Sundays and Wednesdays for church and prayer meeting) and times of day for spending some time alone in the Word and schedule conflicts that sometimes causes us to be creative with our time in order to ensure we take this time away with God, our focus has to be not on the today and the single passage we’re ready but on the “long run”, eternity, and how today, this “workout”, applies to my ultimate purpose here, not winning a race or placing in my age category, but glorifying God.

Run slow:

“As an experienced runner, you may or may not have run a prior half marathon, but hopefully you have done enough races, so that you can predict your race pace. If not, don’t worry. Simply do your long runs at a comfortable pace, one that allows you to converse with your training partners, at least during the beginning of the run. Toward the end, you may need to abandon conversation and concentrate on the act of putting one foot in front of the other to finish. Or, feeling inspired, you may decide to pick up the pace, converting your workout into what I describe as a 3/1 Run, the first three-quarters at an easy pace, the final one-quarter at a faster pace. One important point: If you find yourself finishing at a pace significantly slower than your early pace, you probably need to start much slower, or include regular walking breaks. It’s better to run too slow during these long runs, than too fast. The important point is that you cover the prescribed distance; how fast you cover it doesn’t matter.”

As I read through this counsel from Hal on running and speed, I couldn’t help but remember my first outdoor long run last Saturday. I had to run 5 miles, and as I was chugging along, I recalled this counsel about talking to my running partner. Of course, I was running alone, but my immediate thought was how comforting it was to know that I wasn’t running alone in actuality. I could still gauge my running speed and comfort by talking to my running partner.

I often pray and run together. No, I’m not super-spiritual, but it’s a great place to find oneself quiet and thoughtful and without distraction. Since I’m running by myself, I can simply pray out loud to pace my breathing.

The overall lesson I get from this counsel on running pace is that it’s as much important to finish strong as it is to start strong. Yes, sometimes we have to slow our life pace and go spend some alone time with God to refocus — walking break? – but with our mind on the long run, we can focus on pacing ourselves to finish strong.

Walking breaks:

“Walking is a perfectly acceptable strategy in trying to finish a half marathon. … I suggest that runners walk when they come to an aid station. This serves a double function: 1) you can drink more easily while walking as opposed to running, and 2) since many other runners slow or walk through aid stations, you’ll be less likely to collide with someone. It’s a good idea to follow this strategy in training as well.”

Walking breaks…. Did you ever think of church as an aid station? Think about it. You’re running the race and you getting tired, feeling discouraged, not sure where you are in this spiritual race but wanting to go faster, go further. You come to church on Sunday/Wednesday and feel encouraged, rejuvenated, recharged with a great dose of some spiritual electrolytes.

Is that how you view the church and the body of Christ, as enablers in this race?


“What is cross-training? It is any other form of aerobic exercise that allows you to use slightly different muscles the day after your long run.”

Call me crazy, but when I think of cross-training in the realm of the spiritual race I’m in, missions and ministry come to mind. Not only do they continue to help me train in this race and to grow in character, but they exercise other muscles and help me grow in areas I otherwise would not be exercising.

Midweek training:

“Training during the week also should be done at a comparatively easy pace. As the weekend mileage builds, the Tuesday and Thursday mileage stays the same: 3 miles. Run these miles at an easy, or comfortable, pace. How fast is “easy?” That can vary from day to day. On Tuesdays after two days of comparative rest, you might even find yourself running faster than race pace. On Thursdays after two days of training, your “easy” might be a slower pace. Don’t get trapped by numbers. Listen to your body signals as much as the signals coming from your GPS watch. Wednesdays feature a mini-build-up from 3 to 5 miles with some of those workouts done at race pace. More on that below. If you strength train, Tuesdays and Thursdays would be the best days to combine lifting with running. Usually it’s a good idea to run before you lift rather than the reverse.”

I could not cut out any of this running counsel, because there’s so much here that relates directly to the spiritual run. Should we ever run “easy” runs spiritually? Of course, that’s not what I’m saying, but I do believe in a few very serious things about our spiritual walk.

Running the spiritual race is not a sprint. It’s a marathon. Therefore, pacing and running with a mind for the long haul is incredibly important. If I spend my whole life running around, attending conferences every other week and reading all the 6-inch commentaries on all the most-argued spiritual topics of the day, I just might burn out. Even Christ took those times away to have a good, slowly paced quiet time with the Lord.

Race Pace:

“What do I mean by “race pace?” It’s a frequently asked question, so let me explain. Race pace is the pace you plan to run in the race you’re training for. If you’re training for a 2:00 half marathon, your average pace per mile is 9:09. So you would run that same pace when asked to run race pace.”

It’s so important to set goals for your personal spiritual race. We set them in our physical lives to make sure we achieve goals by certain times, and it’s a wonderful thing to set goals in our spiritual race as well. These goals can be as simple as memorizing verses, spending an allotted amount of time in the Word per day, praying through a prayer list, etc.

I have a hard time pacing myself when I run. As I’ve begun to run outside, I’ve gotten better and better at this, but I have to be honest that this is more than a running problem. I’m a 110% person, so if I set my mind to something I want to do and be the best. However, in doing things this way, it is important to keep the “long run” in mind. Am I running this spiritual race for the prize at the end, in eternity?


“Doing at least some racing in a training program can be a valuable experience, because you can learn how races operate: everything from where to pin your number (the front) to how to drink at the aid stations (walking works well). You can also use races to determine your level of fitness and predict how fast you might run in your goal race (using various charts on the Internet).”

Whether you’re headed for the international mission field or learning to lead a local Bible study or simply building relationships for the glory of God, don’t expect yourself to do thing perfectly the first time. Of course, this doesn’t give you the leeway to slack, but realize that “perfect practice makes perfect” applies to our spiritual walk. Running wholeheartedly towards your spiritual finish line means that this training time we have must be practiced perfectly over and over so that it (evangelism, your spiritual gifts, etc) become a lifestyle and a regular occurrence. Just like practice races get our physical bodies and minds ready for the long runs we’ll race eventually, spiritual “practices” set up our hearts for success by making necessary components in our spiritual racing habits and first responses.


“Despite my listing it near the end, rest is an important component of this or any training program. Scientists will tell you that it is during the rest period (the 24 to 72 hours between hard bouts of exercise) that the muscles actually regenerate and get stronger. Coaches also will tell you that you can’t run hard unless you are well rested. And it is hard running (such as the long runs) that allows you to improve. If you’re constantly fatigued, you will fail to reach your potential. This is why I include two days of rest each week for Novice 2 runners. If you need to take more rest days–because of a cold or a late night at the office or a sick child–do so. The secret to success in any training program is consistency, so as long as you are consistent with your training during the full 12 weeks of the program, you can afford–and may benefit from–extra rest.”

In 1 Kings, Elijah is fleeing Jezebel. At one point, exhaustion takes over: (vs 4-8)

But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” And he lay down and slept under a broom tree. And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, “Arise and eat.” And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank and lay down again. And the angel of the Lord came again a second time and touched him and said, “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.” And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God.

As silly as one might think the importance of sleep is, here in the Bible, we have a perfect example of the importance of perspective. When the physical body is tired, not only is the ability to function physically impaired but one’s spiritual judgment and whole view on the “long run” can be skewed.

Don’t under-estimate the power of a long night’s sleep to rebuild perspective and endurance.

Wow….. Don’t you love when God teaches us spiritual lessons through everyday things?  We can all recognize that sports draw out the heart in a new and revealing way; but, as I train for my earthly physical races, I have been humbled by what God is teaching me in my spiritual race training as well.

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