Intentions of the Holy Father for April

Ecology and Justice. That governments may foster the protection of creation and the just distribution of natural resources.
Hope for the Sick. That the Risen Lord may fill with hope the hearts of those who are being tested by pain and sickness.

What I Learned By Not Running Sixteen Miles

Sunday evening I was scheduled to go back to the C & O Canal Trail and run sixteen (16!) miles. I started a wee bit earlier than I had the week before, hoping to avoid the deep darkness and the Terror of the Woods. I got to the Canal and stretched, and off I went. The problem was that the date being a week later, and so close to the autumnal equinox, we are losing a half hour or so of daylight each week at this point, and so very quickly it began to get dusky again. On top of that, some Spanish rice and chicken, which I had scarfed down a couple hours earlier hoping to digest quickly for some last minute energy, was causing some, um... mild unpleasantness. Now, don't get me wrong - my symptoms were limited to some moderate distension, a bit of gas (sorry), and some very mild cramps. Nothing that can't be run through, but the sort of symptoms that tend to demoralize.

As I ran, it got darker and darker. My halfway point was also the starting point (I was doing two laps on a there-and-back course) and as I approached it, I realized that it was 8:15 p.m. and just plain dark, and I was only halfway done. Now a debate began to rage in my head: to bail out and call the run a make-up for one of the 7-8 mile tempo runs I'd skipped while trying to adjust to my new academic career, or push through and finish the sixteen miles? The distension and other symptoms were subsiding, but could always return. The darkness would certainly get darker, and then the trail (safe from bandits, I think) would become a bit dangerous because of physical obstacles. "WUSS!" something inside of me shouted. "Isn't it be better to dig in, push on, and develop my fortitude - moral, emotional, physical perseverance?" something else asked plaintively. Prudence? What would prudence say? The debate raged and raged, absorbing my thoughts and began to steal away my enjoyment of the run, and even my peace.

Now, prudence, far from being prudery, is the virtue by which one knows the most important good, and the best way to achieve it, and by corollary, how to prioritize other lesser goods beneath it. It is the most practical natural virtue, so I said a quick prayer for some, tried to clear my mind, and thought. The purpose of this run is to get into better shape to prepare me for my marathon. If I injure myself in a pothole, that won't happen. More importantly, this marathon isn't the most important thing: I still had some Syriac homework to do, and class in the morning; if I ran for another hour, and was consequently whacked physically, those things would be shot - and they are more important than the marathon or the workout. While my stomach didn't feel lousy, it didn't feel great, either. Tomorrow I could run without the Spanish rice and chicken. Feeling like a wuss isn't pleasant, but it isn't as important as these considerations: (1) school/work, (2) safety, (3) marathon performance. In fact, if I was doing this just to feel good about myself, then damaging my career and injuring my body would be counterproductive, and one of those was certain to happen, and the other one increasingly likely. OK... so at the eight-mile mark I stopped running, walked back to my car, drove home, ate my dinner of leftovers, and did my Syriac homework.

Last night, with the day planned out better, I drove back to the C & O Canal Trail and did the sixteen mile run. All of it. I stopped for a minute or so a couple times in order to stretch out better, and overall enjoyed the run. My average pace was about 8:27 min/mile if memory serves. My roommate ran the first 12 with me, and then met me at my finish mark, water bottle in hand. I've never been so flush with gratitude in my whole life. We went home and had dinner, a pit stop at McDonald's for milkshakes and 7-11 for a big bag of ice were our only distractions. After eating dinner and icing my leg joints for 45 minutes or so, I went to bed. Today, my legs are tired, but limber, and I feel fine.

So what I learned about being a Christian by not running the sixteen miles the first time around was this: when we are in the throws of a struggle, our decision-making process can become very convoluted. Virtue and vice become jumbled, and the right path gets lost from sight as surely as when I was running in the dark. Our emotions rise up in a great rebellious assault, and our minds get clouded as we begin to rationalize. Telling rationalizations from true and good reasons becomes nightmarishly difficult. I think I made the right call to give up my run the first night, but it was hard to make the call. Likewise, when fighting temptations to sin, it can be very difficult to figure out the right thing to do. It is best in life, as it would have been in my run, to make a sound decision before getting into the thick of things, and then to just hold the course against all comers - trusting that our first decision, made in the calm, clear daylight, will turn out to have been the right one.

The Jesuits recommend a frequent spiritual exercise called the Examen, in which we look over a block of time past and block of time to come, in the calm recollection of a prayerful heart, resolve to do better, and practically speaking how we will do so, anticipating obstacles, and making prudent decisions before all hell breaks loose in our psyche. C. S. Lewis identifies this phenomenon of good-decision-stuck-to-even-when-it-becomes-hard-later as the basic, natural, human sort of faith, faithfulness, fidelity. It's what married couples and religious do when they make their vows - only, those choices are so monumental that merely human faith is insufficient, and for fulfillment of those choices grace from God is needed.

That's the lesson: make good decisions before decision-making gets difficult; then when the hard times come and all hell assaults our resolve, we need only pray for the grace of fidelity to our good decision.

And yeah, sixteen miles IS the longest run I've ever, ever done in my entire life. Not too shabby, if I say so myself. Marine Corps Marathon, here I come!

1 comment:

Chavon said...

A bit of gas?? Chavito, have you ever heard of too much information?