I have mentioned on occasion that I am training for the Indianapolis Mini-Marathon later this spring. It is just nine weeks away, and I am getting excited! Last week they announced that the event will be entirely virtual because of the covid-19 pandemic, which is a bit disappointing but understandable. I will still run my 13.1 miles on or around Mother’s Day weekend, but I’ll run here in Midland – maybe on the Rail Trail. I ran there for the first time last week, and I enjoyed the scenery as well as the lack of motor vehicles!

My training for this mini-marathon includes some really good coaching from the good folks at the Nike Plus Run Club. They have a free app which I use to track my runs, and they offer a 14-week training program for preparing to run a mini-marathon. Each week consists of five unique and challenging runs which allow me to change my pace, rhythm, distance, and effort, all while learning more about how my body works and how to succeed in this practice of running. I’ve enjoyed it very much so far.

Coach Bennett is the name of the primary coach throughout this training program. He introduces each week’s schedule, explains why each run matters, and offers lots of encouragement along the way.

A couple of weeks ago, while I was nearing the end of my 10k “long run” for the week, Coach Bennett said something remarkable. He said (and I’m paraphrasing): “I know the end of the run is coming up. You might feel the temptation to push harder and run faster over these last few hundred meters, but I don’t want you to do that. And I don’t want you to let up off of your pace and slow down, either. Keep giving a solid effort. Maintain a controlled, comfortable pace all the way to the finish line.”

That was hard to do. After running for 6 miles, it was hard to keep going at the same pace for those last 0.2 miles. My body was tired, and my energy level was getting lower. My legs felt good but it seemed like my stride was getting shorter. I was ready to be done, to get in the car and drive home.

The only problem was that I was still 0.2 miles away from the car. I wasn’t at the finish line yet. I could have given in and started walking instead of running, but one way or the other, my legs would have to propel me the rest of the way. Giving up was not an option.

Maintain the pace. Keep giving a solid effort. You may need to take a breather for a little bit, and that’s okay. But the finish line is still ahead of you, so don’t stop now.

I could turn the corner right here and apply this principle to our spiritual lives: as long as breath fills our lungs, we must keep running toward Jesus, keep living for Christ, keep running the race with perseverance. I could even back that up with scripture (1 Corinthians 9:24-27, for instance). But I want to put a finer point on this idea.

We have to keep running the race through the entirety of the covid-19 pandemic.

It’s been a full year, I know. The first official death in the USA due to covid-19 was recorded a year ago. Since then, over 524,000 Americans have died from this disease. That’s an average of more than 1,400 every day, for a full year. That’s about 0.16% of the nation’s entire population, or 16 out of every 10,000 people. That’s a lot.

Vaccines are giving us hope. We have three available for use now: Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson. The best advice I have seen from experts in the field is that we should get whichever vaccine becomes available to us at the earliest opportunity. I am fortunate to have received my first Moderna shot last month, and I’ll get my second one next week. People over 50 years of age throughout Michigan will be eligible to receive a vaccination by the end of the month, if not sooner. I know it is an anxiety-inducing struggle for some folks who are waiting eagerly for their turn in line to be vaccinated. I know others are just plain sick and tired of this pandemic and want to life to go back to “normal.”

Maintain the pace. Keep giving a solid effort. We’re not at the finish line yet.

With the onset of spring, many people will feel the urge to relax – to get together with friends, to skip physical distancing recommendations, to put away those blasted face masks. Churches in particular face the pressure to get back to “normal” soon – we all feel the loss of the gathering of God’s people for worship.

But we’re not at the finish line yet. One way or the other, we have to move forward for the next 0.2 miles. It may look and feel like an eternity, but we have to keep going.

Coach Bennett has taught me that the real growth in a long run happens in that last section of the run, those final several hundred meters. That’s when we are stretching ourselves to the limit. That’s when we are testing the depth of our resolve, when we are learning how to stay mentally focused on the process of running. That’s when we get to choose to keep going, to finish the race, to persevere.

Maintain the pace, friends. Keep giving a solid effort. We’re not through this pandemic yet. I believe our response to the pandemic is just as much a sign of our spiritual well-being as anything else in this world could be. Covid-19 is a generation-defining moment, much in the same way that 9/11 and Vietnam and WWII have been. How we choose to persevere right now says a lot about our spiritual health and vitality.

The end is in sight, but we’re not there yet. Get your vaccinations. Keep wearing your masks. Maintain the pace. I’m cheering you on, even as I run right beside you.

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