Monday, July 26, 2010

Developing a Runner's Endurance

"God, I wanna run! I wanna move fast and feel free. I wanna be how I used to be!”

Twenty-two years after first being diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a progressive eye disorder usually resulting in blindness, I finally had to turn to a cane to get around. I’d gotten more used to it throughout the year but with my active lifestyle, sometimes I longed to toss the cane down, and just make a dash for it! I thought of my danger areas: supermarkets, banks, restaurants, libraries, hardware stores and other unfamiliar buildings. I really needed my cane there.

“God, just give me something, some tiny bit of freedom!”

I knew this kind of thinking wasn’t wise, that I should seek to be content in all circumstances, but of late my heart was rebelling. The initial thrill of mastering my cane had worn off and I felt the burden of everyday use wear me down.

So this spring I deliberately left my cane at home and began to run in my neighborhood. My mother grew concerned as I made my way over local streets. “Be careful of the cars,” she’d call. Or, “Watch out for the sewers and curbs!” I acquiesced but went on my way, determined to run the course just like any other runner might. I could see well enough to make my way over these obstacles.

“You’re gonna fool around and get hurt. I’d feel better if you run on the school track," my mom warned. But I ran on the streets anyway. I'd slip on some loose gravel, and trip on unseen sewers, or over the curbs. I got bruised and skinned up my legs and shins. After about my fourth or fifth near miss one day, I listened to my mom.

Running at the track was boring and tedious. It took four times around just to make a mile! Sometimes I forgot how many laps I'd run, which in turn, frustrated me. Some days I had really bad vision days. I crossed over some of the lanes, and once, collided with the fence surrounding the track. Other times I just missed barreling into other runners on the track. On these days I could easily feel defeated. But I wouldn’t allow myself to be derailed.

“God, it’s difficult. But I wanna do it! I wanna run like I used to. Lord, give me this time to build up my skills again.”

I needed a well-developed plan. Goal 1: run every sunny or warm day. (I was not so dedicated to force myself to run on rainy days, however). Goal 2: Be accountable. I began to post my runs on Facebook. Goal 3: Don’t worry about speed. Just focus on how many laps to complete each time. Aim for 3-4 times a week. Goal 4: Work on endurance. Goal 5: Increase speed and length. Goal 6: Successfully finish the season.

As God shortened the distances that I walked and lengthened the marks that delineated my runs, I began to change my attitude about the track. I accepted it as a safe boundary in which to accomplish my goals. What was my next step? Try to go further? Faster?

“Do you know how long it takes you to run a mile?” my friend asked.

“Well, I usually walk and run.”

“So you don’t really know, do you?” She seemed to be challenging me.

“I guess I could try to run all four laps without stopping,” I said.

“Try it and see or you’ll never know. Then add another mile, and so on.”

So I pushed myself. I made sure to lift up my feet and not trip over the turf. I propelled myself forward. Soon, I accomplished my one-mile goal. Then I’d walk. Run another four laps, followed by a lap of walking. Could I make it for the third mile? Some days I did. Others I didn’t. I went on to master a fourth mile. My goal is at least five miles of good running speed. That's twenty laps or more, depending on how many extra miles I ran. I came earlier and stayed later than others who used the track.

In my effort to reach my smaller goals, I didn’t even notice that I was accomplishing my biggest goal. I was running just like every other runner! I had the same concerns, the same shortness of breath, the same blisters, but also, the same great feeling afterward.

God was answering my prayer by giving me this outlet, a very specific Amy-time to dash. Once I realized this, I began to respond in a more positive way to using my cane at other times, when it served as a helpful tool around town and at night.

When I started running in the springtime, I was grappling with some heartfelt questions. They weighed my mind down exactly like the excess weight that had accumulated over the past winter weighed my physical body down. Undisciplined thoughts oozed out and accused God of neglect just as my muscles accused me of neglect when I attempted to run too far. I never could stretch them adequately. I treated my mind the same way by not stretching it long enough in the proper direction.

Besides wondering how I would cope with more vision loss, I worried about finances. I could barely support myself with the job I had. With my poor vision, I was unable to drive to find a better-paying job. Yet I was denied a government disability that would help me financially. Should I retrain, and if so, where and how would I pay for it? Also, I felt a need to share my life with someone. When would God would provide me with a Christian partner? During my morning devotionals, God remained silent on these issues. As spring turned to summer, my prayer group disbanded and that support also slipped away. God refused to spell out any answers to me. I didn’t know how to move forward or what choices to make. Meanwhile, I met someone but I wasn't sure how secure the relationship was or how God was going to work it out. I needed direction. Most of all, I wanted to feel at peace with my decisions. But any peace I felt was short-lived.

As summer progressed, something else began to emerge out of the time I spent at the track. Along with the clear proof that my breathing became more regular with longer runs, I noticed that God was toning my body. He began to build endurance in my legs and feet. I ran further. But along with the physical changes that came over me, God began to build spiritual stamina in my mind as I ran. When I railed at Him or complained about my choices and begged Him to tell me what to do, my thoughts began to untangle. The more I ran, the more the words came out from the pages of the holy book and into the voice I imagine Jesus having. God’s conversations with me deepened and I knew He was honing my responses, stretching my belief.

Some decisions came easily, “Take this second job I’ve opened up to you. You don’t need the disability pay. I will provide.” As far as pursuing more education, I felt Him say, “Hold off on that. I am placing you in your area of teaching expertise. This is a start and what you need for now.” But some questions remained unanswered. I pushed, “God, about this man I’ve met...?” I felt early confirmation but of late, God has remained silent. I want to trust Him. When it comes to the desires of my heart, my faith-muscle seems constricted. My me-muscle is stretched, bulked up and ready to explode into action. Finally, I humbled myself. “Lord, let me continue to wait on Your timing and trust You in every aspect of my life, including this one. ”

As August begins, I realize I’ve almost reached my goal of running a strong and fast five-mile race. Though my only competitor is myself, I feel the goal is well within my reach. That young blind woman who longed to run so freely without her cane early in springtime got her wish. God has given me lots of sunshine to train my mind and muscles, but I had those rainy days in which I didn't do well in exercising either. But now when I face the mirror, in spite of my poor vision, I glimpse the contours of the mature, disciplined woman God envisions me to be. God does that. He starts with our insecurities and unbridled passions and uses them along with our circumstances to transform us into a fitter, more-toned version of ourselves, but only if we let Him.


  1. Good for you and all the best for everything you do in life.

  2. Thank you, Lakshmi! Sometimes we end up learning much more from short and long-term goals than we originally thought we would. I've discovered that when I long for something, and I struggle within my own limitations and adjust to God's boundaries, He uses something in my life to lead me to a deeper faith. Have a wonderful day, Lakshmi, and come back to read my blog again!