The Race

I commit to a lifetime of ongoing conversion and transformation, recognizing that I am always on a journey with both gifts and limitations.

~ Christine Valters Paintner, Monk Manifesto

Rex Stout, author of the Nero Wolf mystery series, was a genius. Once a word was down on paper he never changed it. For one who perhaps expects too much of herself the impossibility of such an ideal is laughable. And liberating. 

Recognizing something is impossible is just as freeing as recognizing something is possible. 

A year ago the idea of running a mile seemed impossible. But my stress level was so high last December I found myself eagerly doing intervals on a treadmill. I thought it would take me months to be able to run a mile. It only took a few weeks.

“Soon you’ll be getting a 5K team together,” said Michelette. 

I scoffed at the idea of a 5K. But then, sure enough I found myself thinking about it. Maybe . . . just maybe. 

Knowing I’d never put in the work without a tangible timetable, I signed up for the Carying Place Labor Day Race for Home. For two months I ran two to three times a week going as far as I could in a twenty-five minute time period. But I couldn’t do a full mile without stopping. What was possible on a treadmill where my pace was regulated and the air easy on the lungs just wasn’t happening outside. So I googled “couch to 5K”, found a 5 week program designed by an Olympic track coach, and began again.  

Three times a week I pushed myself through the intervals. By the end of July I felt discouraged. Most days I could sort of make it a mile without stopping. Sometimes I could do 1.5. With the race a mere month away, I knew I wasn’t going to make it to 3.1 continuous miles. 

I commit to a lifetime of ongoing conversion and transformation, recognizing that I am always on a journey with both gifts and limitations.

Conversion is one of the vows taken by Benedictine monks and oblates. I’ve read about it as a principle of daily improvement; of trying and failing and beginning again; and a willingness to be surprised by God. Conversion is a liberating principle. St. Benedict never asked for perfection. He demanded ardent commitment yet remained realistic about the frailties of being human. 

Quite without realizing it, in training for the 5K I embarked on a journey of conversion that tested my comfort zone and forced me to find the gifts in my limitation and my capabilities. Which is to say, I got to practice adjusting my expectations. My new goal was simply to complete the 5K even if I had to walk. 

Having never done this before, I didn’t quite know what to expect. I pictured a bunch of lean athletes in fancy gear running like gazelles, and little old me in my cheap cotton trying not to fall too far behind. Thank God I was wrong! 

Over five hundred and fifty diverse people ran and walked the course: some were solo, some in groups; there were moms and dads pushing strollers; old men, young men; old women, young women, and one in a Wonder Woman costume. Some had designer athletic wear, most didn’t. Only a fraction of the runners looked like the low body fat versions in my stereotyped imagination.

With all the positive energy and excitement of the crowd the first mile was easier than any mile I’d run before. The later half of the second mile was a challenge, but I kept pace with a woman from church and met my spontaneous goal of two continuous miles. On the third and final mile I kept up with two gentlemen in the their seventies who were doing run/walk intervals like me. This made me so happy. 

Recognizing something is impossible is just as freeing as recognizing something is possible. 

If I had held tight to my original goal of 3.1 continuous miles I would have failed, cried tears of disappointment, and been stuck in my bitter narrative that nothing ever happens the way I want it to.  Instead I lived my commitment to conversion. I celebrated the gift of being able to run at all, honored my current limitations, and crossed the finish line crying tears of joy.  

I’ll never write like Rex Stout and I’m good with that. After a modest rest I’ll get back to running and try again at a Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot. And if I’m not able to do it, or frankly no longer interested in doing it, that’s ok. What matters is not that I keep a commitment to 3.1 continuous miles, but to conversion; to transformation and to the recognition that this journey is always filled with gifts and limitations.  


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