Friday, October 8, 2021

Grace for the Grind

Well, I guess I'm feeling a little pensive today. Tomorrow is the big race. I have no clue how long I've been training for it but it feels like an eternity. (Okay, that's a bit overly dramatic, but it feels that way.) "Daunting" is the only word that comes to mind. At 7:00 am we runners will be bused to the starting line in Burkeville, VA. Do you even know where that is? Most people don't. The starting area will be energized like you can't believe. But then, after we start running, the field of 73 contestants will thin out. During a 31 mile race it's likely you will never see another competitor out there on the course. I will run for many hours alone on the trail, seeing only aid station workers every 5-6 miles. The "monotonous trudge" will have begun.

"Monotonous" is the operative word here. You have to maintain a pace that will keep you from flirting with the race cutoff time at A4 (aid station 4). At some point in the race my imposter syndrome will kick in. "You don't deserve to be out here with the big boys, Dave. You're not an ultra runner." I can see it already. At any moment the RD (race director) will tap me on the shoulder and say, "Sorry, Dave, but there's been an unfortunate mistake. We emailed an acceptance letter to the wrong person." Even if that never happens, I'll still partly feel like a fraud.

Ultra runners have one goal, and that is to run as efficiently as possible. They have to learn to move very consistently for a very long time. The greatest danger is overdoing it to the point where you burn out psychologically. And why do they do it? I'll let G. K. Chesterton answer that question: "A man must love a thing very much if he not only practices it without any hope of fame and money, but even practices it without any hope of doing it well." 

The New Testament has a lot to say about this kind of dedication -- when life becomes same-old-same-old and monotonous. I don't know about you, but I find it easier to be a Christian on the heights or in the depths. On the heights we are sustained by the thrill of it all. In the depths we are driven to God by sheer desperation. For me, it always takes a lot more grace to face the grind -- those ordinary, day-by-day, run-of-the-mill times when we have to run and not grow weary. Thankfully, there's as much grace for the grind as for the glorious heights and the inglorious depths. His grace is sufficient for it all.

That's why I love trail ultramarathons. No fanfare. No huge crowds like in Chicago or DC. Just a monotonous trudge. And an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the blessings I so often take for granted. Truly, it's "life in a day."