Beyond the Buff Jesus: Praying with my feet

I decided last summer that I was going to run a half marathon this year. I wanted to feel strong and to have an accomplishment that was mine alone, something that I had pushed myself to do simply so that I could feel proud of myself.

I found the race that seemed most appropriate, the Tuscaloosa Half Marathon, in a place with fewer hills than Knoxville and the added benefit of being full of Alabama fans.

If you are going to run for 13.1 miles, you might as well run with your people. Planner that I am, I set up a training schedule and marked it out on my calendar, read countless articles on things you should know before running 13.1 miles: the right foods to eat, the right clothes to wear, how to stretch the right way so your body does not feel like it is falling apart the day after a long run.

It was all mapped out, and I was ready to get started. Because the race was not until March, I had to keep myself motivated until the training plan started in November, so I ran a few 5ks in the fall. I forced myself out of bed early in the morning not to drink tea and listen to NPR, which are my favorite morning activities, but to run miles and miles in the dark, hoping to see a sunrise.

Granted there were some setbacks like falling down the hardwood steps in my parents’ house on Christmas Eve or the days that I felt too anxious or simply felt too many feelings to convince myself that running was a good idea. There were days that the track running through my brain was, “You are not strong enough. You will never be strong enough. This is ridiculous.” Those were bad days.

But over time I found that I was no longer telling myself how ridiculous I was for thinking that this was a good idea, but rather praying. I gave thanks to God for creating me with a strong body, for the air that filled my lungs, for the thrill of realizing I was doing something that I never thought I would or could do.

Some days my prayers were desperate, asking God for some relief from the overwhelming nature of school, event planning, work and life. Some days I found myself mentally shouting at God over the state of the world and this country, for the amount of pain that people feel.

And some days I was quiet, listening for God and noticing the things around me. On weekends I could observe families playing at the parks I ran past, dodging little kids learning to ride bikes and smiling big whenever a little one would wave at me.

During the week I would relish the time I had to run alone, passing few other runners. Those were the days that I so often found peace and joy despite the amount of reading I needed to do, the number of emails I needed to send, or the dishes I needed to wash.

Running has taught me that my to do list will wait, and that doing something that makes me feel strong is a worthy thing. Running has helped me see the beauty in the small things: the gleeful squeal of a little girl figuring out how to ride her bike, the reflection of the clouds on a lake, and the way that runners wave at other runners. Running has helped me connect with God in a new way, one that illustrates for me the greatness of creation.

I ran the Tuscaloosa Half Marathon on March 5th and it was the proudest I have ever felt of myself. I hurt everywhere when it was over and there were so many moments along the way that I did not think I had it in me to finish, but I did.

Running gave me some things that I never imagined it could. I am stronger and healthier than I have been in a long time, but my body is not the only thing that is stronger. Running has helped to strengthen my relationship with God, and now I know that the prayers that are most authentic are those that come when I am praying with my feet.

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