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  • Aileen McKernan

Going the Distance

“Do you have any exciting plans for the day?” inquired the Starbucks barista as his coworkers were finishing up my sugar free decaf Cinnamon Dolce Latte behind him, a special morning cup of joy I indulged in at 6 am on the way to the lake.

“I’m going to run this morning,” I replied.

His eyes lit up, “How far?”

I said, “Oh like 7 miles, about 90 minutes on the trail.”

“I’m a runner too!” He exclaimed.

We exchanged coffee, money, and pleasantries as the sun rose beyond the horizon of the Starbucks building, inviting me into the adventures of the morning.

I grabbed my coffee and took my expectations to the trail.

Pushing my mileage and times lately, I wasn’t sure if I could swing 7 miles. Especially after a weekend full of a long run, a strong recovery run, and a functional leg workout yesterday morning. But when I went to bed last night, I set my sights that I’d be on the trail today for an hour and a half to two hours.

I arrived at the lake in anticipation but unsure of the route I was going to run. I had a general idea, it was important to me after pushing some runs over the weekend, to get back to my roots in the hills, of running for fun. I would have to hit a few hills in order to cruise down the switchbacks I like to pick up speed on. Because I didn’t know how far I could run, I decided I needed to hit my joy spots early on.

As I started up the mountains, I couldn’t believe how quick I was passing the trail markers. “Oh! I’m here already!” I exclaimed out loud to myself and the birds and any nearby squirrels if they were listening. The steep climbs of a few months ago felt hardly taxing today. I hit my switchbacks quick, made it down the trails and realized I still had a lot more time and miles on the trail if I was going to make my goal. I was already tired and to hit 90 minutes seemed daunting.

I’ve been learning how to build endurance on the trails. That means I don’ typically run by how my body feels or how tired my legs are. I try to stick to my goals, my times, my miles. Yes, the joy factor is the most important factor when I’m running, but I’ve learned if I let my body, my flesh dictate how far I’ll go I would never go very far.

When I pulled up to the lake this morning with my steaming Starbucks latte and my homemade breakfast bowl half finished, I thought it’d be so easy to just eat a nice breakfast at the lakeside and not even run this morning. I mean I’ve been pushing it. It’s ok to take a day off. Yes, it’s ok to take a day off, but if I took a day off, I wouldn’t accomplish that what I set out for, that which was in my vision, to enjoy a 7 mile, 90 minute run this morning.

That is my idea of joy. Its not that it’s always easy. But it is what brings meaning and purpose to my morning and then my day knowing I got to spend time communing with God and myself in the woods with the birds and the fresh air and the trees and the water.

I made it back to my car in about a half an hour. I wasn’t satisfied with stopping even though I could have been. My legs had a good workout, but my lungs said otherwise. I’m used to running now. So, I trudged on. Not begrudgingly, but a trudge was the pace I could manage at the time. I hauled my butt onto the road into the park not quite sure where I was going at this point.

I couldn’t quite handle the biggest hill in the park that leads to my favorite descent. I cut it out of the route and dropped onto my favorite trail near its mid-point. I made it to the other side of the lake, did a loop in the windy woods and headed back towards my car. I could see it in the distance and yet my running app told me I just hit 5 miles at one hour and ten minutes. I was at another crossroads.

Do I continue? Or am I content?

I was content. I didn’t want to continue. I flashed back to the Starbucks drive up window an hour or so earlier where I unknowingly prophesied to the barista that I was going to run 7 miles this morning, about 90 minutes. Hmmm, 5 miles, one hour ten minutes or 7 miles? Do I have any more in me? I wasn’t sure. I decided I would just take the longer route back to my car. That would put me near 6 miles.

As I launched on to that route, a vision flashed in my Spirit. I saw a map, a route, up the hill, down the orange trail, off at midpoint back to my car. I knew if I followed that plan I would be back at my car in just about 7 miles, 90 minutes into the run.

I laughed out loud. Probably like Sarai laughed when God told her she was going to have a baby. She was way past age. She knew that she hadn’t had a period in a very long time. The idea that at her ripe age of 90 that she was going to have a baby seemed preposterous – as preposterous as running up the hardest hill of the morning to the top of the park to run my last mile and a half.

I said out loud, “Can I do this?”

As I said it, I realized, I don’t think the question is can I do this? but am I willing to do it? Or am I willing to at least try to do it?

When I see visions like that and I know for sure that its not coming from me, but that its inspired –You see I know me, my body and my brain were telling me, It’s ok to stop, you’ve done enough, but what I saw was beyond my capability that I knew it was from The Holy Spirit, I know that it was an invitation to enter an adventure. It is something greater than me.

If I saw it and believe its from the Rock that is greater than I, than despite the fatigue, despite the questioning, if it’s there, and it’s before me, then I’ll be able to apprehend it. I said, Ok, what’s it going to take? It was more like a question to God. Now what? I took a few swigs of water and set my sights up the hill. I didn’t know what lay ahead for me, if I was going to power walk it or run it. I decided I was going to at least run up the first corner to the bird feeder, a place I can just make it to before I usually then power walk the steepest part of the hill. There has only been one time in a handful that I’ve run the entire hill. I just didn’t think today was going to be the day to do it again.

I made it to the bird feeder. I was out of breath, but I had been running strong at least. I felt a prompting from the Lord, if I could just get my breath under control, I could run a little further. I was gasping and struggling for my next inhale. I struggled to get it under control, but sure enough I had run a little further. And because I had run a little further, I decided to run a little bit further. Next thing I know my breath was under control and even though my pace had slowed to a crawl I managed to the praise and glory of God to run up the entire hill for the second time in my life.

At the top of my favorite trail, I was elated, but I knew I still had a technical trail to run down to return to my car. The Orange Trail at Walnut Creek is my favorite trail of all time. It is pure running pleasure, the joy of my day. As I regained my breath and my will to finish strong, I ran the rest of my race with bravery and endurance, agility and strength. I bounded down the Orange Trail, finishing at just over 7 miles and 1 hr and 37 minutes.

I finished the race strong and knew in my bones, in my guts, in my soul, what it means to finish the race with endurance. I knew what it felt like to run strong, to give the course everything I had and then to have strength left at the end. And I imagined that is the way that the Lord is calling us to walk and finish our walk with Him, through the valley of the shadows in this life. Despite fatigue, despite feelings, despite doubts, despite misunderstandings, to draw upon the inner strength of His life in us for all that we face. That strength empowers and enables us to overcome obstacles, sometimes at a crawl, to cruise down trails like deer, to enjoy beautiful scenery and new sights, and to apprehend and experience His beauty along the way.

This is the meaning of my life anyway and I hope and pray and believe that all my runs and all my days can be filled with such strength and confidence in the one who is able to do exceedingly above and beyond all I could hope for, ask, or imagine according to the power at work within me, the resurrection Life of Christ Jesus.

May all your days be so filled too. Much Love Always,


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