I have always been a sporty person. I grew up in a family of sports lovers, where my older siblings taught me the games and skills necessary to compete. Basketball was my first love growing up, but I played a variety of sports with the neighborhood kids and my family. We were either watching sports, playing sports, or playing sport video games. All of this instilled in me a desire and a drive to be the best, made more apparent by the super competitive family I am in.
Fast forward to seventh grade gym class and the always favorite mile run test. I had never cared about running in my life. I would jog this test alongside my friends and never cared what my time was. However, this time the test was different. You see, I was attending a new school, so when we started the test and a girl ran out in front, I did not think much of it to begin with. However, being the competitive, junior high boy I was, I developed an unsettling feeling when she was still winning at the half mile marker. How could I let this person beat me? I started to kick things into gear immediately, but no matter how hard I tried, there was no way I was catching her. Everyone else knew she was a great runner and expected it, but I was mad that a girl beat me. So I did what any boy my age would do when defeated by a girl at something: I joined track so I could get faster and reclaim my pride. Unfortunately, I changed schools two weeks into the season, so I never got a chance to race her. However, we were facing her school at the end of the year, so I was determined to practice hard all season and beat her time at when the race came around. What I did not realize at the time was that this thing I was so focused on, which started out as a revenge trip, ended up changing my life forever.
I soon found out that I was a good distance runner and that I really enjoyed it. Fast forward to the meet I had my eye on, I was undefeated in the season at the mile and half mile race. At the end of that day, I not only crushed the time of the girl who had beaten me, but I won both events. I reclaimed my pride and fell in love with distance running. I would go on to run cross country and track in high school, as well as cross country at the collegiate level. I have done a handful of half marathons and a triathlon. I am three years out of college now and I still enjoy going for runs or bike rides. Endurance sports are a huge part of who I am and I cannot imagine my life without them.
While being an endurance athlete is a huge part of my life, the very thought of it leaves countless others baffled. “Wait, you enjoy running? I don’t even like running for my sport.” You get these types of comments all the time. “How do you motivate yourself to go run 10 miles everyday?” is another one that constantly gets me. Ah yes, motivation. It is the key to success. Motivation, while huge when it comes to the lives of endurance athletes, is not the lone wolf when it comes to characteristics of success. You also need determination, discipline, and grit. Without these skills, it will be nearly impossible to reach your goals and be successful at anything. I would push myself to go the extra mile (literally) or run the last 400 at a faster pace. I would push myself during core exercises for a strong core, something which is essential to good form. It is not easy to be a good runner, as it is not easy to be good at almost any sport or skill. It takes many hard hours of working out, practicing, and pushing yourself. All sports require this, but I believe endurance sports are a little harder since you are literally pushing the limits of the human body in order to become faster.
I never had an issue pushing myself, whether on the track or during workouts, because I had goals I was determined to reach. I worked even harder during the “off-season” (which is in quotations because in collegiate cross-country your “off-season” is two weeks). Apart from the team, I still had to make sure I ran everyday and did my workouts. I enjoyed it. I lived for it. In this, you can see the aspects of motivation, determination, discipline, and grit all being played out. I work out so hard even to this day, because I need to practice the art of self-discipline, determination, and grit in an area of my life that is easy for me, so that I can shine in areas of difficulty. If I have already trained myself in those skills and have built the confidence for something which is second nature, I can overcome and press forward when things get hard. Despite what many people may tell you; life is hard. Trying to use these skills when life is not going well is even harder. I refuse to give in during my exercising because I know if I am unable to persevere in an area I am strong, I will never be able to do it in the other areas of my life.
Being a person of faith, I like to relate what I am going through with what The Bible talks about. It talks about perseverance and self-discipline quite a bit, for God knows how hard it is to live this life, make the right decisions, and deny those that are unhealthy for you. Paul uses 1 Timothy 4:8-10 as a strong metaphor, stating that physical training has some value, but that spiritual training has value for all things. We strive and labor our bodies because we have hope in the living God. He uses the same metaphor in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. We have to train ourselves in our spiritual lives just as we have to train physically to be a good runner. It takes the same skills of self-discipline, determination, motivation, and grit to persevere in life. Thankfully, God has provided these things. Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 1:7 that God has given us a spirit of self-discipline. The motivation is the hope in the living God we saw in the earlier passage. There is good that comes from this perseverance we are to strive for. James tells us, “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved he will receive the crown of life” (James 1:12). Paul also shows us that perseverance leads to character, which leads to hope (Romans 5:3-5).
This perseverance is good for us as it brings us rewards, character, and hope. It is not always easy to persevere, especially under trails and tribulations, but that is exactly why it is important for me to practice perseverance in my physical training. This is why I urge everyone to find something they are passionate about and use it as a way to practice these qualities. When the hard things in life come, when the trials and tests show up at your door, you know what it takes to push through and you have built up these skills already. When I have the option to end the workout a few sets early, to not go the extra mile, to not push myself through the last 400, I think about that. If I quit now, how will I ever stand the harder tests of life? How will I be able to grow spiritually if I cannot even grow physically ,which is a lot easier for me. If I cannot succeed in the thing I am good at, how will I succeed in the thing I am bad at (or not as good at)?
I focus on the words of Paul in Philippians 3:13, “forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.” I do not narrow my focus based on how much my legs hurt in the moment. I think about how my life is going to hurt and suffer if I cannot press forward through life when it gets difficult. If I cannot withstand the temptations and cave in. If I cannot be a hard worker and provide for myself and my family. If I cannot continue to love and fight for my wife and my marriage and my kids. If I cannot be all that God has called me to be and fulfill the calling He has placed on my life. My desire is to live this life to the fullest and to obtain the prize when I die. For me that prize is getting to Heaven and hearing my Father say “well done, my good and faithful servant.” I want to know that I made an impact in the lives of others and that many people were blessed because of my life and many will be saved because I did not back down when life got hard or when God’s commands seemed too big and impossible. For me, I do this by practicing these skills in my running. For you, it might be getting your degree, a good career, picking up an instrument, using your voice, your paintbrush, or whatever your passion is or whatever you are striving for.
If you are practicing these qualities in those things, you will be able to go through life already having the skill set to face any obstacle, roadblock, mountain, or valley. You will come through standing with a better character and a hope that you will be able to attain the prize waiting for you at the end of this journey. It can all begin today. Just choose something to become and work these skills in that area of your life, passion or hobby. When life comes at you fast, you can have the confidence you will not only make it through the storm, but that you will grow through it and be better off because of it. All it takes is a little perseverance. Make today matter so your tomorrow can be brighter.