For the past few months, I’ve been training for an upcoming 15k (9.3-mile) race. A dear college friend and I plan to reunite for the first time in years to run a race together in her hometown of Jacksonville, Florida, and I can’t wait! But since I’m a heretofore hobbyist runner with the occasional 5k under my belt, upping the ante toward—gulp—nine-plus miles has been an exercise in self-discipline and all-out grit.
As I’ve pounded out the head-clearing miles, I’ve filled my ears with a mix of upbeat pop tunes to keep a rhythm under my feet. But music isn’t my only motivator. Various Scripture passages have also come to mind that inspire perseverance, endurance, and a sense of the holiness of physical fitness. Meditating on each of these six verses has helped spur me on with more peace and joy.
Whether you’re gearing up for a competitive race or just want to inspire yourself to try a quick neighborhood jog, try opening your Bible to any of these passages.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us” – Hebrews 12:1
There’s a reason this verse rises to the top of most compilations of Scripture for runners. It’s pretty much the ultimate biblical running creed. I love the thought that St. Paul’s 2,000-year-old analogy of the life of faith as a race holds up even today—with special meaning for those of us who run. As a Catholic, this verse is a beautiful prompt to picture the saints in heaven cheering me on as I run the race of life and a 15k.
“Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win. Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one.” – 1 Corinthians 9:24-25
The Christian life and endurance sports have a lot of parallels—so it’s no wonder St. Paul compared them so often! Since I’m an amateur athlete, I may not be running for any medals or to achieve the fastest time in my age group. But I am aiming for the prize of a meaningful personal accomplishment: crossing the finish line on a difficult race. Pressing on toward that goal is not only a reward in itself, but also a metaphor for pursuing righteousness.
“Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope.” – Romans 5:3-4
Let’s face it: running isn’t easy. In fact, it’s pretty stinkin’ difficult! It wears out our muscles, taxes our lungs, and leaves us sore the next day. In short, it’s a form of suffering—but one that ultimately produces the worthwhile fruit of physical fitness.
In this verse, I hear the promise that suffering of all kinds comes with the hidden benefits of perseverance, character, and hope. When my legs are tiring out and my endurance is fading, it convinces me that pushing through a little physical suffering develops virtues I wouldn’t get by taking the easy road.
“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body.” – 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
This deeper dive into God’s purpose and power in the human body begs the question: Why do I run in the first place? My top reason for keeping up a running practice is that I care about my health. I love how this verse encourages me to be the best caretaker possible of the precious gift of my body.
“Whatever you do, do from the heart, as for the Lord and not for others.” – Colossians 3:23
Colossians 3:23 tells us we can—and should—strive to bring glory to God in everything we do. As Catholics, we consecrate (or devote) many things to the Lord, like our marriages and our homes. How about devoting a race to his glory? This might look like raising funds for a good cause through your running. My personal favorite is an annual “Nun Run” that raises money for a local monastery. Or simply give God thanks for each mile achieved.
“The patient are better than warriors, and those who rule their temper, better than the conqueror of a city.” – Proverbs 16:32
For me, a surprising side effect of training for a longer race has been a renewed sense of patience. When I set out for a long run, I have to mentally prepare for the fact that it may take me an hour, two hours, or even longer to reach my distance. This proverb, which smacks of the old tortoise and the hare fable, reminds me that patience and self-control often make the difference between success and failure with running. I may need to slow down or stop along the way, and that’s OK. As long as I keep going, I’ll get there.
Originally published January 21, 2022.