Last week, the world celebrated Global Running Day, so this week I’m writing about the sport that I’ve slowly come to love.
I emphasize the word slowly very deliberately. I’ve been running on and off for probably six years, but it wasn’t until two or three years ago that I came to enjoy it. I should also add that I am very much an amateur runner. I’ll admit that to anyone, and proudly. I’ve never ran a marathon, and I likely never will. I can’t run that far, and I can’t run that fast. Yet I am a runner.
To me, it’s a lot like being an Orthodox Christian.
If you think about it, running is the easiest sport to take up: all you need is a pair of running shoes. Virtually anyone can run. Personally, I never played sports growing up, so I was never conditioned for cardio, but one day I decided to run a mile. I failed. But I continued to try.
Then, one day, I actually ran a mile.
Once I knew I could do it, I worked on my posture, breathing, and time. I’ve also learned a lot about what shoes to wear and what not to eat before a run (read: cafeteria burritos. Enough said). I know better than anyone that I am not good at this by any standards. But I’ve come pretty far from where I began.
For me, this failure and continuation and triumph and growth cycle perfectly encapsulates what it’s like to be Orthodox.
When I first decided to go running, I wasn’t sure that I could do it. It seemed like a big commitment. It was similar to when I made the conscious decision to make Orthodoxy a central part of my life. I wasn’t sure that I could pray, fast, and attend Liturgy like I needed to. I have failed at those things just as much as I failed at running my first mile. Yet I don’t want to give up, because I saw myself grow through my failure as a runner, in the same way that I have seen myself grow through my trials as an Orthodox Christian.
It’s not easy, and it’s not pretty by any means. I can’t even begin to tell you how much pain I’ve been in as a runner, and as an Orthodox Christian. It’s a different kind of pain, but it’s pain nevertheless. Still, usually, the triumphs are worth what it took to get there.
Also, although I usually run alone, there have been times when I’ve gone running with friends, and it’s a great experience. It can either be humbling and inspiring, when someone needs to push me when I want nothing more than to give up. Or it can be an opportunity to inspire someone to keep going until the end of the mile. This is a lot like life in the Church. Mostly, I find myself being inspired by others, but there are also the moments that I take as a teaching opportunity to share what I know and to help others grow closer to God.
There’s a general sense of community among runners, even a virtual one (which is how I found out about Global Running Day in the first place). When I can’t physically run with my friends, we set up running challenges, which are a great way of staying in touch, and holding each other accountable; we want to talk about our triumphs and our rough days. This is the same community that I try to cultivate with other Christians. The people that I want to surround myself with are the ones that inspire me to continue.
To me, there’s no better kind of runner to be than an amateur runner. It means that I have so many opportunities for growth. The same goes for Christianity. I’ll never be a saint, but I should always try to be. I should always look to those role models for inspiration and guidance.
And now that I can run a mile, it doesn’t mean that I can stop running. Yes, there are times when I get bored and don’t want to continue, and yes, there are times when I don’t want to run at all.
These are the most important times to get out there.
Just because I know that I believe in God, I can’t just let myself stop there; I can’t stop growing closer to Him and learning about His works. There were, are, and will be times when I am bored in church, when I get tired, and when my mind is focused only on the difficulties of having faith. The only option is to continue to run...ultimately, closer to Him.
Maria is the Administrative Coordinator of Y2AM. She is a New York native who isn't completely sold on the city's charm, yet has never left. A proud graduate of Fordham University and occasional runner, she is happiest whenever chocolate, a sale, or a good Gilmore Girls reference is involved.