On the weekend I ticked off one of the running goals I’ve had for a few years, to run a half marathon at a sub 4 minutes per kilometre pace. And I did it at our state’s premier half marathon event, the Perth Half Marathon, run by the always excellent Western Australian Marathon Club.
It was a perfect Perth winter’s morning, cool, calm and dry. Perfect PB/PR weather. With the Western Australian capital being one of the most isolated cities in the world, we’d weathered the pandemic storm pretty well, so mass participation events were back on!
Consequently everyone who was anyone in the Perth running scene was there. It was going to be a hot race, this first race back. And that meant personal best territory. I would rather come top 100 with a big PB, rather than top twenty with a “meh” time.
And so it proved. 1:24:06 (3:58min per km), with a last 10km in 39:20 and a last 5km in just a tick over 19 minutes. Here’s me in the finishing chute about to stop my Garmin (I grow a long white beard to intimidate younger runners as I go past them 🙂
I posted the Strava result on Facebook, you know, just to ensure that people actually knew this important piece of information. All that hard work and training paid off!
Oh, and the shoes. The new shoes. It was kinda funny reading the comments on Facebook about how it must have been the new shoes that “done it”. Indeed there was a run of comments below my boast, er post, that just said: “The shoes!”
By “the shoes” we don’t just mean any old running shoe. We mean the famed and fabled Nike Vaporfly Next%, which are the go-to shoe for anyone running half marathon to marathons these days. You know, the shoe that Eliud Kipchoge ran the first sub 2 hour marathon in last year? Those shoes. The Nike Vaporfly Next% has changed how we think about running shoes.
And they’re hard to get. Rare as hens’ teeth and consequently just as expensive. I have scoured eBay (900 dollars?!), looked around the US and UK running sites, asked run coaches here in Perth. Nothing! Always too late! Never in my size!
But one day, as luck would have it, a friend knew a friend who had a special link to the Nike store, right here in Perth just as a pair my size came in, and I snapped them up online and then raced into the Perth Nike sanctuary, er shop, pick them up.
When they put the box on the counter and opened it, the roof split open and a shaft of light fell across the box, followed by a small puff of gold dust and a few shimmering peacock feathers. I caught the train home hugging those bad boys tighter than a pair of 1970s running shorts hugged a moustachioed marathoners’ well honed glutes.
I then Facebooked and Instagrammed me in the shoes. It was a bit like the fourth parable that’s missing from Luke 15, you know, the one about the lost shoes. Rejoice with me, my neighbours!
Four weeks out from the half marathon and I had my shoes! The shoes that would make all the difference! So with that purchase made and safely in the house, I put the box away, settled into life, gave up my training schedule of 100km per week, ate too much food, went to bed way too late, and sat around doing no exercise. After all, it’s the shoes that “done it” right? I would run that race and get that PB all because of the shoes.
Wrong. I got up every day like I had before. I slogged out the midweek long runs in the cold dark mornings. I did a few solo 32km runs with 16km at marathon pace. I ran the interval sets at race speed, and time trialled a fast 10km (not in the new shoes), that came close to my PB. I ran when it rained. I ran late on days that I’d had an early meeting. I ran slowly when my ITB was tight and sore. I got up and ran on mornings that I’d had little sleep, when everything in my body was saying “Sleep in!”
Here’s what I have learned after ten years of running: The shoes won’t do it!
The shoes won’t make up for the lack of training. Whatever shoes they are. I clocked up a solid 440km in July. Why? Because the shoes won’t do it!
With a marathon in September, I decided not to taper for the half marathon, but to run the race on slightly tired legs. When I crossed that line with a two-minute-something PB, I knew I’d run the right race, with the right training. Why? Because the shoes won’t do it!
I follow a program every day, and I follow it er, religiously, ticking off the sessions one by one, and never giving myself an excuse (outside of injury) not to do a session. Why? Because the shoes won’t do it!
When it comes to our spiritual lives, it’s easy to fall into the trap that it will be the shoes that do it.
In the struggle against sin and the flesh, in the desire to be holy and godly, we so often go looking for the spiritual equivalent of a pair of Nike Vaporfly Next%. We go on a search for a killer app, a spiritual experience, a program or book that promises to deliver the spiritual PB we are longing for. There are plenty of websites and programs that beguile you with the promise that the shoes – their shoes – will do it. Will give you the missing PB you’ve been longing for. Will help you finish the race.
I know this because I’ve done it. I’ve looked to the shoes to do it. When younger especially. I’ve had a few spiritual experiences that I was longing for that I still look back at, and quite frankly can’t full explain! And I was hoping that the shoes would do it.
But in looking for victory over lust or laziness? Looking for a way beyond that bitterness? Looking for a way to be more generous and forgiving and loving? Looking for a way to bypass the hard gospel work of day to day discipleship? I’ve learned over time that the shoes won’t do it.
Look, I get that the Lord Jesus has given us his Holy Spirit to transform our lives. That’s not something we can conjure up. The way God works is that He works and wills his work into our lives making us want what He wants for us. (Phil 2:12-13).
But the same Lord Jesus who promises us the Holy Spirit also says this in Luke 9:
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”
Which is Jesus’ way of saying “The shoes won’t do it.”
That’s the gist of the Christian life. Self denial and daily death to self. Self denial and daily death to self. Rinse and repeat for the course of a lifetime. The way to run the race with endurance, to reach the final day and hear “Well done good and faithful servant”, is self denial and daily death to self. The shoes won’t do it.
Look, I realise there are mountain top spiritual experiences that change things in us. No denying that. But let’s not become spiritual junkies, thinking that the “next percents” are somehow available to us at a price, and in such a way that we can bypass the daily training of the Christian life.
I’m 53 next month and have followed Jesus since a young lad, and I’ve got to say as I look back over the race I’ve run so far, it wasn’t the shoes that did it. It was the daily stuff. The daily training stuff that has enabled me to run the race thus far.
The daily decisions to kill sin before it killed me. The morning discipline of prayer and reading Scripture even when I don’t want to. The difficult decision to be generous with what God has given me even though the flesh would hold it back for myself. The daily decision to love my wife even when we’d had a fight, or when one of us (usually me), was being awkward and unfeeling.
The daily decision to love God’s people even when they frustrated me. The decision to meet often with the gathered people of God and allow King Jesus to rule and reign among us. The daily training regime of repentance and sorrow at my hard heartedness. These are the things that have taken me the incremental “next percent” in the gospel race. They are all willed in me by God through His Spirit, but I must do them daily.
And if I don’t, then no spiritual pair of shoes will do it for me! Yet how often many of us in our spiritual lives are like the running shoe junkie with thirty pair in his or her closet, none of which have bypassed the need for hard training!
The spiritual life is spiritual. But it’s not magic. There’s no way to bypass what Christ has called us to do: self denial and daily death to self.
Which is why Monday morning, the day after the race, I laced another far less salubrious pair of shoes and went out for a recovery run. Which is why I looked at the weekly calendar and have, so far, ticked off the Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday training.
Why? Cos the shoes won’t do it!