Countdown to Race Day

Countdown to Race Day

By Pastor Chris Duckworth

Back in May I registered for next April’s Carmel Marathon. I have never looked ahead to a race so far in advance. Perhaps that means I’m taking this race more seriously … or perhaps it’s just a function of the longings of deployment life. Either way, my sights are set on April 4, 2020, when I will run through my adopted hometown and, God willing if I do all the hard work and perform as I think I can, qualify for the 2021 Boston Marathon.

God willing?

So, I crossed out God willing, above. I first typed it because that’s what one says. It’s what I often say. “God willing, X or Y will happen.” But I will run a good marathon on April 4, 2020 not if God is willing, but if I do the work, if my body doesn’t break down (which it has done already one since I started training), if I don’t get deathly ill, if the weather is not horrible, if I don’t get mauled by an alien panda along the course, and so forth.

Of course, in the classical sense of a God who is omnipotent and omnipresent and omnieverything, God can will that Chris Duckworth run a good race or a crappy race. I guess. And God can will that galloping rainbow unicorns shoot laser bolts at evildoers of all kinds, too. But God doesn’t do such things.

My reading of Scripture reveals that God is much more concerned with the human heart, the faithfulness of those who call on God’s name, and the well-being of the poor than God is concerned with how a middle-aged guy runs a race. What does the LORD require of us? To do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8). There’s nothing in there about running a marathon. If anything, my intermittent obsession with running risks becoming a trip down vanity lane and an exercise in self-idolatry.

And more … if we say “God willing” or “thank God” for everything that is actually a function of our own work, we get into dicey territory of claiming that our achievements are God’s will.  And if my achievements are God’s will, then shoot … I’ve just made God in my own image and have so closely aligned myself with God that my actions and his are indistinguishable. Bam! Idolatry, again. And idolatry is dangerous for how we relate to God, to each other, and to ourselves. But more on that another day.

Here’s the deal: I’m pretty sure God doesn’t give a hill of beans if I run a fast marathon … but I do. And that’s good enough for me.

So, does faith have anything to do with running?

I am grateful to God for the relative gifts I have as a runner, for the introspection that running inspires within my head and my heart, and for the challenges that running presents to me. I usually avoid declaring God’s will in my life with absolute certainty. But I do give thanks for God’s blessings, if that makes any sense. Running is a blessing.
And more. God calls us to care for ourselves and others. Running is one of those ways that I care for myself. And, at times running has deepened friendships and fostered new relationships. Such relationships and friendships are sacred places of mutual trust and care – a real blessing.

Running buddies as sacred? Yes. Let me explain.

At the least, if I fall down in a ditch on an early morning run, I’m trusting that my running partner will help me up. But more. There’s something vulnerable about sharing in and enduring a physical struggle with someone else. It’s an odd kind of intimacy, of opening yourself to the limits of your own physicality, facing your own limits and daring to share and push those limits with someone else … all while they share the same with you. In my experience, that kind of mutual sharing of vulnerability is humbling, holy, and encouraging – and in my book, that’s a blessing.

Finally, I’m a better human being when I run. That, perhaps, is the best reason for me to run. It makes me a more pleasant person, a more faithful pastor, and a better husband, father, and Soldier.
OK. Faith certainly plays a role in my running. But I will not say that God’s will is for me to run the Boston Marathon. That’s a claim too far for me to make.

In terms of my running, the deployment has given me the chance to work hard and maintain a focus on my running that is hard to do at home. But, running in the desert takes some getting used to. When I arrived here I quickly adjusted to running in the morning with low temperatures in the upper 70s. By July, the morning low temps ranged from the mid-80s to the mid-90s! I never imagined I would go running at 94 degrees … but I did several times, and it wasn’t that bad.

Countdown to Race Day in Carmel MarathonI’ve run LOTS of miles, gotten some nasty blisters (so bad that I had to stop running for about 10 days), and seen several stunning desert sunrises. I ran alongside Abrams tanks that were heading out to training, and was a “heat casualty” as I nearly passed out from dehydration after an 18-miler (I learned my lesson, and got to see our medics do great work to get me back to life).

Most recently – and unfortunately – I pulled my hamstring. I had hoped to run a marathon in Kuwait City in November. Due to the hamstring injury – and several weeks of rest followed by several more of reduced mileage – I won’t be running that marathon. But even with the setbacks, I’m almost at the 1000-mile mark for the deployment (that is, since we arrived at Fort Hood), and nearly at 800 miles for my time “in country” (that is, in Kuwait and Iraq).

In many respects running has kept me sane. From the very real biochemistry of running and how it impacts my brain and my emotions, to the daily routine that makes running a sort of liturgy for my body, mind, and spirit, to the community of runners that gathers most mornings near the flightline, running has become a blessed routine that has truly made this deployment more bearable.