I laced up my marathon shoes today for the first time since finishing the New York City Marathon. It felt GOOD. (I’ve run a few dozen miles since, but always in my training shoes — for the record.)
In the 17 years since moving to the East coast, I’ve only managed to “run through” the entire winter – whether outdoors or on a treadmill – a handful of times. This year was not one of those times. I entered the lottery for the NYC Half in March, hoping that would motivate me – but I didn’t get in. I signed up for another half in April – but didn’t even look at a training schedule until 6 weeks before (which would have been okay . . . had I run even once since Christmas). Even the frequent texts from my sister about her postpartum hill workouts and negative splits couldn’t get me out of bed in the morning.
There’s always the tipping point. A few weeks where I feel bad enough about my body and health. Sunlight peaking in the windows at 6:30am, slowly replacing the utter darkness of winter, when it’s often still dark at 7:30. A glimpse of warmer weather. (Let’s face it, I hate being cold.) An asked-for kick in the butt from my husband. (“You told me to make sure you went for a run this morning. This is your time to go.”)
So today I went. I laced up my shoes and descended the forty steps to the river, to the same path where I’ve logged countless miles. To the path where I’ve cried and laughed, raced and walked, shuffled along with my 8+ month pregnant body and then navigated with slow steps on my first outing with two littles under two. That river and those miles alongside it have seen much of my life. (In fact, many miles of this city have seen much of my life, as I wrote about here.) And today – there I was, a bit out of shape, but eager and determined. Ready to run.
Things were pretty much the same. The same path, the same water, the same tennis courts, the same playground, the same lighthouse. There are potholes in exactly the same places and the familiar net-less basketball hoops underneath the highway. The same breathtaking view of the rocky shore and the George Washington Bridge rising up into the sky and across to New Jersey. The Hudson River rolls on.
My run was less like walking down a street in our neighborhood, where every week one store closes and a “for sale” or “opening soon” sign appears on a different, previously-shuttered property — and more like coming home.
There have been so many times when I’ve felt distant from God. So many times when I’ve either purposefully turned away – in anger, usually, but sometimes in hopelessness – or just slowly drifted off into a different set of guiding principles. But He’s always been there. Every time I come back – He’s the same God. I learn new things about Him; perhaps another aspect of His character is revealed to me in a new light. But He’s always there, waiting for me to come back.
The Hudson, too, is always there, waiting for me to come back to it. Perhaps as spring becomes summer, I’ll start to notice little changes – a new sign, a fresh coat of paint along the playground fence, a new bird’s nest.
I pushed myself today. I didn’t wear my fancy running watch, but I did note the exact time and second I began running – and didn’t look again until I finished. I ran hard. I ran to force out all the negativity of winter; all the tortilla chips and ice cream that the cold, dark days inevitably bring; all the questions and decisions and uncertainties that are churning in my brain and heart.
As I did the math in my head while panting and walking off the run afterwards, I realized I’d been running eight minute miles. I pushed hard on that run. Because of the effort it had taken, however, I’m pretty clear on where my fitness level stands. I have a lot of work to do. I know that rebuilding my mileage is not going to be easy. I know the process of coming back. It takes diligence and practice, and it’s not a short road. It takes getting out there regularly, often seeking accountability and companionship, taking care of myself.
It takes remembering what I have done in the past.
When I come back to God after a period away, it’s no different. Often I have to push through the doubts and questions and anger and just get back to the basics. I have to come to Him and pray, honestly, starting exactly where I am. It takes the diligence of meeting with Him daily – whether in prayer or my Community Group or Scripture reading or some combination. It takes the honesty of approaching Him humbly – of admitting my weakness. It takes accountability and companionship. It takes actually getting out of bed when my alarm goes off so I can spend some time sitting in silence with God before the kids come barreling down the hallway demanding oatmeal and peanut butter and asking a million questions.
And it takes remembering what He’s done in the past. Remembering all the other times that I turned or drifted away, and later saw His hand, working things out for my good and His glory, drawing me back to Him. Remembering how He’s loved me and the incredible ways that He’s already blessed me, protected me, comforted me, and grown me in this life.
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God.
“The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”
On my run today, I felt God’s nearness. I felt His nearness in the comfort of seeing the same river, pounding the same pavement, feeling the familiar adrenaline rush. I felt His nearness because that path reminded me of where I’ve been — and of all that He’s done for me. I felt His nearness because with every step, God and the river and the pavement and the familiar comfort of running all started to meld into one.
When I started my run today, it felt like that path had just been waiting, all this time, all these cold days, for me to come back to it. For me to come home.