Uncommon Core

You guys, It’s official: I am insane training for a second marathon.

You could say my first marathon didn’t exactly go as planned. (You can read all the gory details here.) I THOUGHT I would cross the line fast enough to qualify for the Boston Marathon. Instead, I hit the wall at mile 15, shuffled along for the next 11.2 miles, crossed the line a (mere!) twenty minutes and three seconds shy of a BQ,  wandered around out of my mind for several minutes, went into some degree of shock, and very nearly passed out in a Porta-John.

Who WOULDN’T want to do that again!?

I certainly didn’t plan to. Until a few conversations with some seasoned marathoning friends. When I described my experience, I expected them to say, “Oh yes, welcome to the marathon! We all feel that way every time! You have to really love running until you pass out in a pile of defecation if you want to be a marathoner.” To which I would’ve replied, “I’m not that kind of crazy.”

What they ACTUALLY said was, “Yikes. Marathons are definitely hard – but THAT’S not supposed to happen. Something was definitely off. With the right changes, you could race faster and finish stronger.”

Ah, there’s a better way to do this, you say? Well, hello there, hope. Nice to see you.

In this very early stage of training, I’ve already made a few key changes. A main shift is a greater emphasis on strengthening my core. I know, I know – why focus on CORE strength when I’m a RUNNER? Aren’t “core exercises” just for nice abs? Shouldn’t I focus more on LEG strength?

Sure. Naturally, my leg strength gets attention too. But when my hamstrings flare up, do you know what the real culprit probably is? I do, finally. It’s a weak core. How about when my low back starts screaming? Yep: weak core. And when I’ve run for miles and my legs are wiling to give more, but the rest of my body feels sluggish and heavy? You know it: weak core.

My core isn’t just about nice abs. Hardly. My core is what holds me UPRIGHT. When my core is weak, other parts of my body start to overcompensate in an attempt to hold me UPRIGHT. My low back. My hamstrings. Eventually, I’m shuffling along, still moving forward, going through the motions, but struggling just to stay upright. I STAND UP on my legs. But my core holds me UPRIGHT.

As is often the case, running reminds me of life, and in particular, my relationship with Jesus. When we walk with Jesus, it’s tempting to pay most attention to what’s visible, what’s obvious. So, like a runner who only builds leg strength, a Christian may give all her attention to what’s visible – to serving and volunteering and doing good stuff. Is it important to do those things? YES, OF COURSE. We aren’t just supposed to feel bad about the hurt in the world; we’re supposed to get up, go out, and DO SOMETHING TO MAKE IT BETTER.

(And a runner who doesn’t get up, go out, and RUN isn’t much of a runner, is she?)

BUT, there’s a CORE we can’t afford to ignore. Just like a strong core is crucial to running well, staying healthy, and holding myself upright, SO is the core of my relationship with Jesus. The core is the stuff others may not always see. The behind-the-scenes, deep-down-inside stuff. Like spending time in the Word, in prayer, and in worship. You might call these your spiritual core strengthening exercises.

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. (Ephesians 6:13)

I used to think this verse sounded redundant. “So that… you may be able to stand… and after you have done everything, to stand.”

To stand… and… to stand.

But it’s starting to make new sense to me. Just like my marathon experience: I finished (which is a victory in itself, yes), but I crashed and burned across the line. Rather than accept that as “just the way it is,” let’s reevaluate. Let’s not settle for “at least I finished.” Sure, SOME days, finishing at all is the best I can muster. But let’s not have “finish and then pass out” define the event… Something better is possible.

In the same way, if I can make it through most of the day, but by the end I’m crashing and burning into the finish (read: my husband gets home and I’m DONE, have HAD ENOUGH, am TAPPING OUT)… wouldn’t it be encouraging to know this doesn’t have to define my life? To know something better is possible? Sure, some days, finishing at all is the best I will eek out. But the verse says, “after you have done everything, to stand.” Not, “after you have done everything, to collapse into an exhausted, bitchy mess.”

Why is it such a struggle to remain upright through the finish of my day? Maybe, rather than relying on Jesus, I ACTUALLY tend to gut it out in my OWN strength (and then inevitably finish on empty). (And unfortunately, “empty” usually strikes about five minutes before Matt walks in.) (P.S. Jesus, help that man.)

I’ve held onto this post for a week, waiting for a great victory story about strengthening my core relationship with Jesus – how, after I had faced everything the day threw my way, I could STAND. But truthfully, that day didn’t happen. And I realized I may end up hanging onto this post forever. Yet, while it’s been defeating to crash and burn into the finish every day this week (month?), it’s still encouraging to know it isn’t meant to be that way. Something better is possible. That’s not condemnation. That’s HOPE.  

We have access to core strength that allows us to stand firm in the battle – and after we have done everything, TO STAND.


2 thoughts on “Uncommon Core

  1. Lisa Preuett

    Loved this one Amanda! Of course you know I love all the parallels between running and our walk with Jesus. I might consider doing another marathon, but not anytime soon! I am training for a half marathon in October and it feels so good to say it’s only a half! You get a new perspective on running after you’ve run a full marathon, right?


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