”God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts to us in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” C.S. Lewis
I managed to complete my first trail run the day before I left with my family for a week in Alaska followed by a week on Little Gasparilla Island (tough life, I know). When I finally returned home, my farm needed some serious attention, and considering I only had a couple weeks before I would leave for my annual pilgrimage to northern Minnesota, I put aside any hopes of serious running, or so I thought. My wife was making dinner, a very involved meal of roasted pork and vegetables, when I got the urge for a quick run. I threw on my trail shoes and asked how long I had before dinner: 30 minutes- perfect. I ran about a mile down the road, a quiet country road winding between cattle and horse farms but bookended by new housing developments, until I found a trail that led into a massive preserve called Triple Creek. I’ve attempted this trail twice before, with toddlers in tow however, and never managed more than 1/4 mile. I calculated that I could run for about twelve minutes and still make it back before my half-hour cutoff, so off I went. I was running fast to cover as much distance as possible, and although nothing was marked, it seemed like an easy out-and-back trail to follow, that is until I came upon a gorgeous stretch of pine flat-woods with a soft, winding path that looked to curl back towards the entrance. This must be a loop, I thought, or at least pretended to think, as I bounded gleefully down the sandy trail. At the first fork I veered left, then right, then I took the middle path. It didn’t take long for me to admit I had no clue which path to take next in order to make it home in time for pork. The sandy path became a flooded swamp, and a seemingly infinite number of diverting paths left me squinting at the setting sun attempting to navigate my way home. Nine miles later, I stumbled onto my porch, covered in sweat and mud, and peered through the window to see my wife cleaning the kitchen, clutching her phone as she debated calling the police. I truly felt bad, though I have to admit, it was a good run.
About a week later we decided to go out after dinner for ice cream, and I figured it would be the perfect time for another run, this time with my xero running sandals. We drove to Jeremiah’s for some tasty dessert, and then my wife drove the kids home and I took off down the road feeling like one of the Tarahumara, with nothing between me and the road save for a thin slice of hard rubber. At mile three of this eight mile return home, my right calf tightened like a slow cramp that had no intention of ever stopping. I slowed but kept running, feeling the pain and marveling at how quickly my homeward-bound journey had gone from care-free and fun to grueling. I decided to push through the pain, embracing it less as an inconvenience and more like a right of passage. Mentally, that worked, and after a couple miles I was able to speed back up to my normal pace. I finished the run but was left very sore and full of knots. After a couple days of rest and stretching, I decided to run five miles to pick up my bike at a cycle shop and ride it back. To my delight, the right calf felt pretty good; the left calf, however, did not.
This was actually 24 hours before a sprint triathlon I had signed up for a few months prior, and although I had already decided to focus on running more than the tri, I still wanted to perform well. That night and the next morning I could barely walk without wincing, but again, it loosened up after some good stretching. I had the fastest swim time, the third fastest bike time, and the run… a disaster. After thirty or so good strides my left calf grabbed hard and held on tight. I limped through two miles as if I were a soldier still fighting after being shot in the leg. My grit did pay off, though, and I was able to open up and run hard for the last mile plus.
I would have been justified feeling frustrated or disappointed by the painful experience, but surprisingly I did not. Quite the opposite really. I felt more like I was being tested, or perhaps a better word, prepared for something greater. God has been at the very center of this adventure into trail-running, and when God is involved, everything has a purpose. I’m not suggesting that God reached down and afflicted my calf with painful soreness, just that pain is not without its value. Pain shapes our character in a way that nothing else can. It sharpens our focus, hardens our resolve, and yet most importantly highlights our weakness. Pain awakens us to our absolute reliance on the only one that can take away our pain, or at least help us bear it. God doesn’t cause pain, but He uses pain to call us to Him where we will find true comfort. In the end, pain will make you stronger.