3 Things I’ve Learned About God from Endurance Training

By Matthew Monk

I was talking to a friend of mine on the phone a couple of days ago and he said something profound.

“I think the concept of every answer we’re looking for already being inside of us is much more literal than we realize.”

It struck a chord with me.

The conversation got me thinking about my own journey. How my search for truth and meaning has lead me down many paths, one being endurance sports. Over the past 3 years I’ve taken on the mantle to train like I’ve never trained before. I’ve logged over 5000 miles on my feet, and found within myself, depths I never knew.

In the process, my training has developed into a practice of prayer and meditation as much as a physical discipline. In my experience, endurance training is a greater portion spiritual and mental than it is physical.

All that being said, here are 3 important lessons I’ve learned about God and myself in the course of my training.

1. Presence is Everything

Literally. From the perspective of my training as an endurance athlete, if I am not present, I am dead.

Follow me. Presence means being present ourselves and through being present ourselves we experience the presence or greater reality of our environment. I like to call this “God in all things.” Call it what you will, but it’s that unexplainable feeling of joy and connectedness in your gut. How you know without knowing.

During my first marathon, I had a serious crisis only 8 miles into the run. At first I panicked and thought if I feel this bad, this early (I had serious cramping in the IT band on my right leg), there’s no way I’m going to finish. Instead of thinking about what was 2.5 hours ahead of me, I focused on what I needed to do right there in the moment. I shortened my stride, checked my breathing and posture, slugged some water and was on my way. Before I knew it, I had run 14 more miles, felt light as a feather and was well ahead of my goal.

Staying present in our day-to-day helps maximize our efficiency and enjoyment of each moment, even if the moment is less-than-ideal. If we listen, each moment is a teacher, whether good or bad. If we stay present, eventually we blow way past our preconceived limitations and blast forward into new territory.

2. You really do have the breath of life.

There’s nothing that will bring you back to the present moment like breathing. If you don’t breathe, you won’t live very long.It’s a straight fact. (Please don’t be a stubborn a-hole and try to prove me wrong. We don’t have good enough legal representation to cover that).

In the midst of a 20 mile training run or marathon, what will make or break my experience is breathing and whether I remember to do it or not. Funny, is it not? Something so simple. Something we do involuntarily and unconsciously can bring me out of the depths of a world of hurt during a race or a long run.

Let’s do an experiment. Inhale. Pause. Exhale. Pause. Repeat.

Doesn’t that feel pleasurable? Don’t you feel more balanced and at peace?

Our lives are no different. Events come and go in cycles, inhalations and exhalations. If we remember to breathe along with whatever may occur, we will make it through, learn something in the process, and maybe even find some pleasure and fun in the midst.

The divine is in everything, breathing. By being conscious of our breath, we see the breathing of God into everything else.

3. Don’t Hide from Pain, Embrace It

“Somewhere along the line we seem to have confused comfort with happiness.”
—Dean Karnazes

When going out for a long training run or during a race, pain, discomfort and fatigue are inevitable. Conventional wisdom dictates, that if we ignore the pain, discomfort and fatigue, then it will all go away. This is false, both with endurance sports and in life.

If I catch a cramp, get a side stitch, feel ridiculously winded, or just don’t have it when I’m out for a run, I need to listen to what that pain is telling me. As much as society has conditioned us to avoid pain, in a situation like the one I’m describing, ignoring pain and discomfort could lead to me not finishing the race, or worse, injury down the line.

Pain, discomfort and fatigue are master teachers. In endurance sports they signal to me that I need to listen and run my body through a series of checks to determine what is going on.

In life, pain, fatigue and discomfort are also master teachers. If one of these three occur, it is God telling us to “WAKE THE F#$K UP!” Something is going on that we need to pay attention to. Any amount of pain, fatigue or discomfort is really a loving invitation to take ownership of an area of our lives we have previously ignored or left dormant

Embrace the pain. God never guaranteed you a life pain free. But God does desire that we all lead full and adventurous lives.

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