I stood outside the Pentagon as dawn rose and thousands of runners made their way to the starting line. I walked up toward the start line and assembled myself at the corral for my projected time. Showered with red dawn light, I warmed up and said a prayer. As paratroopers rained on us waving giant American flags, I updated my Facebook status and waited for the cannon that would mark the start of the 42nd Marine Corps Marathon.

My first marathon is not the tale of the power of an iron will. It is a story of falling in love with running. For most of my life, I hated running. I tried it every once in a while, but it never took. Then two years ago, after a number of transitions in my life left me feeling a bit stressed out, I laced up an old pair of sneakers and took them for a spin.

Running worked its magic in me. It gave me the power to transform a bad day into a good one; frustration into inspiration; a trail into a creative studio. Mile by mile, I fell in love with running. This love motivated me to “go the distance.” It inspired me to explore the limits of my potential. 

Here is what training for and running my first marathon taught me:

Attitude is everything
I can't control what happens to me, but I can control how I respond to it. The marathon was a 26.2-mile battle between mind and body. But it was the icing on the cake after 367 miles of training. My marathon training can only be summed up as the toughest physical challenge I’ve ever faced. It threw all sorts of things at me: a few niggles, a couple of injuries, chaffing, hanger, cramps, and achy feet. A positive attitude is everything. Nothing can hold me back unless I let it. Every day I reminded myself that attitude is a choice. So I chose happiness. I chose optimism. I chose peace of mind. And I am happy I made those choices because the training was the real marathon.

Running is a prayer
Running became my creative and meditative space. Every run became a catalyst in my journey of faith. Pre-dawn runs promoted awareness, peace, and harmony. Running on a dark trail allowed me to gaze at the stars, to greet nature as it awakened, to listening to the rhythm of my breathing. The wild exuberance of dark woods nurtured my soul. Every training run became a prayer of gratitude for my body. I especially liked to run while pondering Psalm 85:11, “Truth springs up from the earth.” I would let every short, quick stride fill me with the truth, the peace, the mercy, and the love of God that springs up from the earth.
Stress helps me grow: Training for the marathon taught me the importance of embracing stress. It was a mindset reset. The more I learned about running the more I realized that stress helps me grow. As a runner, my muscles need the "stress and rest cycle." That’s how they grow and get stronger. Run. Rest. Repeat. Rest is very important because it is during the recovery that the body gets stronger. The stress of the work out is equally important. This helped me realize that the stress in my life can help me grow if I let it. For me, it is usually the small things that stress me out: having a messy kitchen, lack of sleep, people being late for meetings. They are tiny things but they bug me. Running reminded me that stress can be good for me depending on how I engage with it, adapt to it, and learn from it.

Consistency is key
I am not a fast runner and my running form needs lots of work. But over the last year, I have become a better runner. A more aware runner. Definitely more observant of my body. Consistency was the key to improve, to grow, to be present, and to enjoy the process. Training for the marathon reminded me that how I show up to the small things is how I show up to the big things. How I showed up to my warm up, my running drills, stretching, foam rolling, and my recovery, that’s how I showed up to my long runs and to the Marine Corps Marathon. This is also true in life. How I show up to set up the Teen Center, driving my son to swim practice, or doing the dishes – that’s how I show up as a youth minister, as a parent, and as a spouse.  Consistency is key. Consistency is the sister of faithfulness. I do not have to be successful. But as a Christian – as a minister, daddy, and hubby – I am called to be faithful. And that begins with the small things: “If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones” (Luke 16:10).

A community is vital
I ran the 42nd Marine Corps Marathon, but I would have never gotten to the start line – or the finish line without the community of people who supported me. Without the love and care of my wife and son. Without running friends who shared their wisdom with this newbie. Without patient staff at running stores who gave me wonderful tips to get through training and to prepare for the marathon. Without an online community of marathoners who kept me accountable and sane. I was always grateful to see another crazy runner on the trail at 5:00 a.m. and to do the runner’s wave. The wave is a sign of respect, of camaraderie, and of kinship; that we’re both members of an exclusive, sweaty club of people who love running. At times, my kinship with other runners makes me wonder why I do not feel the same affinity towards all people. After all, we are all children of God. And that is a stronger bond than runners’ love of the sport. But as much as I ponder this, and as much as I have the desire for this type of affinity with all people, I have not developed it yet. Nonetheless, I will keep working on it. And I will keep giving thanks for all people in my communities: runners and supporters, family and relatives, church and other faith communities, and all children of God.