The Pikes Peak Ascent is one of America’s epic races. Starting at 6,000 feet above sea level, runners navigate a narrow trail to the top of Pikes Peak, which is at 14,115 feet. I’ve run the race twice and it is intense, to say the least. The Pikes Peak Marathon is even more extreme. Runners arrive at the top, turn around, and run back down. This race, which I’ve also run, to my regret, proves that running downhill is much more difficult and painful than running up.
Eight years ago, when I decided to run the Ascent, I realized that this half marathon was going to be as hard on the body as most marathons. The training schedule called for hours of training, ten to be precise, every week. It hurt. My body was in full rebellion. I quickly learned to put in earbuds and turn my music up loud so that I couldn’t hear my body screaming at me to stop.
The Man Who Challenged My Mindless Training Method
I live in Colorado Springs, where some of the world’s most fit people live and train. One of them is Matt Carpenter, a world-class, world-champion ultra-marathoner. He’s won the Pikes Peak Marathon 12 times. Incidentally, he also runs a frozen custard shop for tourists at the foot of Pikes Peak. I tease him that fattening everyone else up is his way of gaining a competitive advantage.
One day, I crossed paths with Matt training on Pikes Peak. I noticed he didn’t have earbuds in. No music. A few days later, I saw him in town and asked him about it.
Matt said, “When I wear earbuds and listen to music, I can’t hear my body talking to me.”
I laughed and said that was exactly why I did wear them.
Matt replied, “You’ll notice that all truly competitive runners are extremely thoughtful about everything they do. It might look like they’re in a trance, with their brains turned off, but in fact, they’re tracking their heart rate and breathing, monitoring their muscle strength, and carefully planning their steps. They’re deeply thoughtful at every moment of the race.”
The Importance of Thoughtfulness
For Matt, thoughtfulness brought clarity and perseverance. For example, while running, his body might be telling him, “Hey, we’re dying here,” but then he’ll see he’s still 10 beats away from his optimal heart rate for training. His body is lying. In response, he doubles down and pushes through the pain to a level that lesser-disciplined runners, such as myself, will never reach.
For me, thoughtfulness during my long runs just made me more aware of how miserable I was. When I ran, I wanted to think less, not more.
But here is a very important distinction: I run to finish. Matt runs to win. It’s not Matt’s stubbornness but his thoughtfulness that keeps him competitive year after year.
The Fork in the Road
In 1 Cor. 9:24, Paul said, “Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win!” As Christians, we have to answer this question: are we trying to merely finish the race of life with as few slipups as possible and then sliding into heaven, or are we determined to win by helping the whole world obey Jesus in every area in which He has authority (Matthew 28:18-20)?
My experience tells me that most people think only of making it to the finish line with their spiritual lives somewhat intact. They don’t expect to condition themselves to win.
People who run life’s race merely to finish don’t concern themselves with being thoughtful. They rarely wrestle thoughtfully with unanswered questions that require hard thinking. Rather, they struggle with unquestioned answers, beliefs they hold out of ease and convenience. In my book Unquestioned Answers, I highlight the top ten sayings that keep Christians thinking at a shallow level. For example, “God said it; I believe it; that settles it for me.”
Thoughtful Christians don’t fear difficult questions. They expect them. Rather than blind faith, they ask questions such as, “is the Bible really true for everyone, everywhere, all the time? If so, how do I know? How ought this change my life? How would I explain this belief to others?
Christ has called us to be thoughtful and intentional as we follow Him on the race set before us. We ought to dig deep and look beyond pithy, bumper-sticker theology. As I wrote Unquestioned Answers, I became convinced to question the clichés that keep my faith at a shallow level. I question these not out of cynical suspicion, but in order to go deep into God’s truth.
So let’s stop trying to avoid hard thinking about our faith and run to win. Are you with me?