In 2010, I was standing at the finish line of the Los Angeles Marathon, waiting to cheer for my oldest daughter as she completed her race. I remember watching the runners and thinking how normal they all looked (well, at least most of them looked normal—there was the occasional runner wearing a gorilla mask or tutu or dribbling a basketball while running barefoot). For the most part, the runners I saw were not eccentrics, nor were they elite athletes: They were normal people like me.
I remember thinking, I could do this. It can’t be that hard. I decided right then and there that I was going to run the LA Marathon the following year. And I did! I actually ran 26.2 miles all the way from Dodger Stadium to the Santa Monica Pier—in the pouring rain and freezing cold, no less.
The reason I finished the race was not because I tried really hard but because I trained really smart.
There is a huge difference between trying and training.[i]
I knew if I was going to succeed at the marathon, I would need help, so I found a trainer. She mapped out the number of miles I needed to run each week (on average, I ran thirty-eight miles per week for twenty weeks) and advised me what to eat and how much rest I needed between runs. She even helped me buy the right type of shoes and running gear. I learned a lot about running, and I trained hard during the months before the marathon.
You can imagine how good it felt when I crossed the finish line on race day. Actually, I burst out crying, I was so glad it was over. Those last few miles of the marathon had been absolute agony—I was in so much pain I just wanted to run into oncoming traffic and get it over with. But I pushed through the pain and the mental anguish, and because I had trained smart, I had developed the mental and physical ability to run 26.2 miles.
Now, imagine the outcome if one day I had said to my wife Susan, “You know what honey, I’m going to run the LA Marathon tomorrow. I know I’ve never run that far before, and I haven’t done any training. But I’m going to try really, really hard.” If that’s all I did to prepare, how far do you think I could have run on race day? Not very far, right? Why? Because I hadn’t trained myself to run 26.2 miles. The truth is, no amount of willpower would have made any difference—without proper training, I would have failed to finish the race.
My training routine wasn’t complicated, but it did involve an intentional process composed of three ingredients: information, relationships, and direct interaction. These same three ingredients facilitate the Christ-formation process.
[i] I credit the idea of trying versus training to Dallas Willard in The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives (New York: Harper & Row, 1988), 3.