As I took my first post-half-marathon run this morning, I found myself contemplating two questions. First, what could I have done differently during my training to improve my time on race day? Secondly, what does Galatians 5:25 mean when it says, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit?” Two seemingly totally unrelated questions, I know, but surprisingly, the answers converged by the end of my run.
The Hapalua Half Marathon was my second half marathon, so, naturally, I hoped to match or beat last year’s race time. The courses were fairly similar—thousands of runners, beautiful surroundings, and a killer hill extending from about mile 9 through mile 11, where both courses then mercifully turned downhill toward the finish line. That hill…that was the problem in this year’s race. Last year, I gutted it out with one fairly quick stop for water. This year, I walked the entire hill, which, undoubtedly, contributed to my slower-than-desired finishing time. Why did I walk it this year? Why didn’t I have the ability to run it?
My overall fitness level is certainly not what it was last year, and the humidity was definitely higher this year; however, as I reflected on it this morning, I had to admit to myself that how I trained for this race, specifically, how I established the habit of walking the final, mile-long hill on my return trip, has to have made a big difference. As I planned my training runs this year, I set my distance so that on the trip home, I would finish my required mileage right at the bottom of that hill; or, if the last mile was included in my distance, I would choose to walk it, regardless of what that did to my time. By training in such a way, I did not allow my calf muscles to strengthen, my lung capacity to increase, or my mentality to toughen, essentially cutting my legs out from under me when I hit the hill during the race (pun intended).
I believe this illustrates what Paul means when he says, “Keep in step with the Spirit.” Galatians 5:16 explains that the reason for keeping in step with the Spirit is to avoid the pitfalls of sin: “…walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Just as through the Holy Spirit we are saved, so by the Spirit’s power we can live a life of obedience to God. And that means when obedience gets hard, like running a hill, I shouldn’t fall out of the race and walk. Instead of making excuses for myself, like, “I’m too busy to spend that much time praying,” or, “I’m too tired today to reach out to that person who needs to talk,” or, “I’m going to allow myself to indulge in too much dessert just this once,” I should pray to God and rely on the Holy Spirit to help me live in obedience, even when it’s hard, or even when I just don’t want to. Oh Lord, help me to run the hills of this life hand-in-hand with the Spirit!
For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. Romans 8:5-6