I never knew “Runner’s Block” was a real thing.
Whenever I didn’t feel like running I’d hear the voice of my friend Don King (no, really, that’s his real name) say, “yer just bein a slackah!”
When I shared with him that I’d been diagnosed with a double hernia a few weeks before the Flying Pig marathon we were training for, he simply said, “Quit bein a weasel!”
When I did a midlife career change and went to seminary full time and worked part time on top of that, I decided to give up running. I couldn’t afford to join the team at Reach the Beach that year, so I thought I’d take the year off. When Don heard of it, a pair of brand new running shoes showed up in my mailbox, along with a plane ticket and the encouragement, “C’mon Jay, stay on the road!”
To this day I can still hear “Slackah”, “weasel” and “stay on the road” in Don’s Bostonian accent.
But lately, that hasn’t been enough
As the days have gotten shorter and colder, and life has gotten busier, time on the road has been replaced by time on the couch, time in bed, time at work and time anywhere but on the road.
I tend to go through the same thing this time of year, every year. Carrot sticks and water get bumped off the plate by cheese puffs and beer. It seems like the slackah and weasel in me take turns running the show, while the runner slips meekly into the background all too willing to give in. My focus is more drawn to comfort and ease of life than challenge and adventure. What used to motivate me no longer works and I become a bystander to my own life. The great goal of training for a marathon or setting a personal best time slip to the background as the here and now of comfort, ease and instant gratification noisily clamber to front and center. Before long, my excuses and justifications become ritual: I’ll start tomorrow, as soon as it stops raining, when my schedule loosens up, and on it goes.
Then it happens. Well, more than it. They happen. Someone asks me how my running is going; I see myself with my shirt off in the full length mirror; runner’s world shows up on my facebook feed, and some scrawny kid at church says “we should run in this race” then adds, “Oh, but you’re probably not ready.”
I ask myself, “How did I get here again? I thought running was going to be a lifestyle. When will I finally get tired of this up and down cycle and simply do what’s right and good for me?” It seems like every time I try to get back on the road I find ten reasons not to.
So, rather than simply get back on the road, I think.
I think about why I am where I am.
I think as I read some articles on runner’s block, and then I think some more.
And when I have thought enough, it comes to me:
I don’t like running in the dark.
During the winter all my daylight is taken up with work, meetings, appointments—daylight type stuff. My “discretionary time”, after family time, is either early morning or later in the evening. And both are dark.
It’s not that I’m afraid of the dark. It’s just hard for me to head off into the dark. Sure, I wear a vest and have a flashlight. But the light shines only so far around me. And the rest is dark.
In the daytime, I can see the landscape ahead, I know where I’m headed for the next mile or two. In the dark that’s just not the case. OK, I’ve run this route a hundred times, but in the dark it’s…, well…, uncertain. I can’t see far enough ahead. I can’t see what’s way up there. I can only see the length of the flashlight beam, an occasional set of car lights and a few streetlights. The rest is dark
“Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path”.
I hate that verse. OK, OK, maybe “hate” is a little strong, especially when it comes to the Bible. But why couldn’t it be, “Your Word is a light to the whole landscape so I can see every twist and turn and decide whether I want to take that path”?
If I were one of the original followers of Jesus, I think I would have had a bunch more questions than they had when He said, “Follow me”. Like, “So, uh, how does this thing turn out?” and, “Where we goin?” and “Is this really going to be worth my time..?”
I don’t know if they had similar questions, but we never get a record of Jesus answering them. It’s simply, “Follow me”.
You have to be willing to live with a lamp only on your feet and a light only on the immediate path in front of you. The rest is dark. Faith.
I suppose that’s what Jesus was trying to get us to see when He said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but have the light of life.”
To live life fully, Jesus says, is to be willing to live with the dark. It’s to step out, even though you don’t know exactly where you’re headed. It’s to trust that you will have enough light for the next step, even though you don’t see the whole landscape. It’s to trust that someone greater than you has the big picture in mind, has your path in sight, so you don’t have to know every detail.
Stephen King wrote a book on writing and his contention is that the story and the characters take you where you need to go. You just start with an idea and don’t really know all the details, but in the act of writing, the landscape appears and you just take the next step as it leads. Your job as a writer is to put in the time every day, to simply see where the light is on the path right in front of you, and follow it. The story will take care of itself
That’s probably why I’m attracted to writing, but at the same time find it so difficult.
Kind of like faith.
Kind of like living in the dark.
Kind of like running in the dark.
To go on an adventure, you need to take the first step and trust that even though you can’t see the whole landscape, you will have enough light for the next step.
I gotta admit, I think that’s one of the things that attracts me to Jesus. The only thing He promises me is that he will be my light for the journey. He doesn’t promise me the whole landscape—just enough light for each day.
When I look back on my life, my greatest adventures have been as a result of not really knowing how things were going to end up, but just taking the first step…into the dark, trusting that there will be enough light.
I got an inquiry from a friend the other day as to why I hadn’t been writing and wondering if I was still running. It was just what I needed to get back on the road again, even if it is into the dark and only being able to see a flashlight’s distance ahead. The rest I’ll just have to trust.
I’m still learning my friends, when you have a lamp for your feet and a light for your path, that’s enough.
It’s dark out, but I gotta run.
Stay on the road.