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Book excerpt: Run The Mile You're In, by Ryan Hall

Taken from “Run the Mile You’re In” by Ryan Hall. Copyright © 2019 by Ryan Hall. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com.

In “Run the Mile You’re In,” which was released April 16, Olympic athlete and American record holder Ryan Hall shares behind-the-scenes stories of his astounding career, and the principles and inspiration he’s discovered to pushing past limits and living a life of God-given purpose.

Mile 17 – Worship

 

Coming into the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials in Houston, Texas, I had just completed two of my best races ever, having run 2:04 in Boston that spring and then 2:08 in Chicago on a warm fall day. I’d already been to one Olympic Games, so I wasn’t feeling as much pressure to become an Olympian, but I also really wanted to improve on my 10th place finish at Beijing. But my training buildup hadn’t been remarkable.

After years of running the marathon, my workouts were a good indicator of how fit I was. I usually had a pretty good idea what was possible when I was standing on the starting line, but I tried to have an open mind and believe that anything is possible with God (Luke 1:37). I figured I was probably in about 2:08 shape in Houston, based on my being able to do a 15-mile tempo run close to a 4:50 per mile pace at sea level. A big challenge I faced heading into this Olympic Trials was coming down with plantar fasciitis a month before. Every run I went on, it felt like I was being stabbed with a knife in my heel. Anyone who has had plantar fasciitis can relate, and most people have their own theory on how to fix it. The best advice I ever got came at the local PT’s office, where I was sitting on a table getting some treatment. An old-time runner who was sitting on the table next to me also receiving treatment gave me this advice: “It’s going to hurt, but eventually it will get better.” Sometimes the simplest advice is also the most profound. Nothing seemed to be offering much relief from the pain, and I finally heard the words I needed to hear—that it was going to hurt for a while, and then it would get better. After I let go of the frustration and just accepted my situation, I felt lighter and was able to better work through the pain without the huge stress that frustration brings.

Even though physically I wasn’t in the best shape, spiritually I was more connected with God than I’d ever been. Sara and I had recently relocated to Redding, California, and were auditing classes at Bethel Church’s School of Supernatural Ministry. It was an amazing experience sitting in those sessions and feeling a lot of strongholds being dealt with, the biggest of which was my inclination to be so performance driven. Relearning that God didn’t love me any more or any less based on how I performed in life or out on the roads was freeing.

I had been doing faith-based coaching for more than a year and was quickly learning how to hear from and connect with God. I had always experienced a spiritual connection with God when I ran, especially out in the forest by myself, but now things were different. I felt freer and lighter than I had ever felt because my connection with God was so much deeper now, feeling more loved by God than ever. When you really experience the love of God, you can’t help but go through life feeling light and free.

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In the last week before the Olympic Trials, Sara and I went to our group at school, where we sat in the middle of the room. One by one, about 50 students gave us encouraging words. I was wrecked—in the best possible way—by the end of that session, because what they said resonated so profoundly with who I was and what I was going after. The students had spoken of how God saw me and also of what my potential was. Every word felt like it came directly from God and encouraged me in just the way I needed encouragement before the race. My usual questioning of my fitness gave way to the greater reality that I already had the greatest prize I could attain and my value was not dependent on how well I performed at the Trials. When I feel this way, I can’t help but be filled with gratitude toward God for His great love for me, and this gratitude gets expressed as worship through the act of running.

A turning point in my last week of training for the Trials came from my feeling that God was telling me I needed to rest more. Rather than sticking to double-run days leading up to the Trials, I skipped all my 30-minute afternoon runs, giving my legs more recovery time. I was amazed by the difference I felt. I went from feeling heavy legged to feeling like Tigger, bouncing along with every stride. I believe it was listening to God’s leading to take extra rest that was the difference in my making that Olympic team.

Arriving in Houston, even though my circumstances weren’t ideal with my foot injury, I felt light and free, ready to pour myself out in worship to God during the race. I’ll never forget walking into a large auditorium for the prerace technical meeting. The room was filled with about 300 runners. I don’t think I have ever felt so much tension in a room. It was palpable. Yet I felt as if I were observing this tension from the clouds. I could feel it, but I wasn’t in it. I was full of God’s peace and presence.

When I was warming up for the race, I was so relaxed that I nearly missed the start. I decided to visit the porta-potty one last time, and when I came out, all I saw was the women warming up. When I looked down the road, I saw all the men lined up on the starting line. I quickly did one last stride, arriving at the start with about 10 seconds to spare. I say all this to emphasize how being connected to God brings freedom, relaxation, and joy, allowing one to perform at new levels. (Just make sure you don’t miss the start of your race!)

When the gun fired, I went straight to the front. Houston’s course was flat and fast, so I was eager to make it a fast race from the start. We were out aggressively and on pace to run very fast through the first 10 miles, despite its being a windy day. The lead pack gradually dwindled until it was down to six or so guys at the halfway mark. I was still experiencing the presence of God and feeling like I was more in church than at the Olympic Trials. It was incredible.

Then something shifted. Instead of focusing on being connected to God, I got distracted by the wind. It’s embarrassing to admit that something as small as the wind could alter my connection with God, but sometimes it’s the small things that disrupt our spirits, because often our guard isn’t up with the small things. I became frustrated that I was having to lead almost the entire race, breaking the wind for everyone behind me. My frustration wasn’t justified, though. I had the freedom to choose my race strategy, and I was choosing to lead and to run hard. But that frustration began to grow.

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A few miles later, I was weaving across the road, trying to get someone to help me with the pace. From that moment on, my connection with God was broken as my focus shifted away from Him to the wind, and my body quickly started feeling the consequences. With one lap to go, only three of us remained in the lead group. We all knew that if we worked together, we all would make the Olympic team. Abdi Abdirahman, one of the three, fell back a few miles later, leaving Meb Keflezighi and me alone at the front. At about mile 24, I hit the dreaded “wall.” I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience, and I felt unable to push. It was humbling. I remember saying a prayer at that point: “Lord, help me get there.” I didn’t know how I was going to cover the next two miles in my depleted state, but I knew I needed to reconnect with God if I was going to make it.

As I reconnected with God through prayer, I felt grace for every step. It wasn’t my fastest two miles ever, but I was able to hold on to my second-place position and qualify for my second Olympic team. Reflecting on that Olympic Trials, I can’t help but wonder how the race might have played out had I not gotten frustrated by the wind and instead kept my connection with God the whole race. I’m not saying I would have won, but I think it would have been a much different, more enjoyable experience had I stayed connected in worship.

What I learned that day is how important it is for me to guard my connection with God. The Bible says that the devil is always on the prowl, looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). While I don’t like being overly focused on the devil, I have learned to be aware that we have an adversary who is the “father of lies” (John 8:44). For this reason, I don’t know whether every lie that comes into my head is from the devil, but I do know that it is of the devil, because of his identity as the father of lies. And we need to identify these lies so we can combat them with the Word of God. The lie I believed that day was that it wasn’t fair for me to be doing all of the work on a windy day. Yet that simply wasn’t true. I had chosen to run at the front, and it wasn’t anyone’s responsibility to help me. Believing that lie, though, led to frustration, and that frustration led to my body getting tense and tight, which kept it from operating at its maximal potential.

Being in a state of worship and connection with God is incredibly empowering, yet it can also feel nebulous at times, leaving me thinking, What does it really mean to worship God through running? Pondering this thought, I’ve realized that worshiping God through anything is simple, really—it’s just doing whatever you are doing with the heart posture that it is for Him. Getting to this point at the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials was built through worship, the encouraging words of others, and learning to see God as He sees me. Once we get to that state of connection with God and can feel our worship pour out in the process of doing our craft, let us hold tightly to this posture, for it can easily slip, as it did for me with the wind. I needed this lesson, because after this race I was confronted by distractions and lies that threatened to take my focus from running for, to, and unto God.

Some of the moments when I entered this state of worship while running the strongest happened when no one else but God was there. I can still remember one run when I was out in the forest all by myself hearing nothing but the wind through the trees and the quiet patter of my feet on the dirt trail, floating effortlessly, having my heart, mind, and body set on Him in a deep state of worship. It gave me the chills then and it still does now as I remember it. These moments, unlike winning an Olympic gold medal, are available to all of us, and they are even more valuable.

Taken from “Run the Mile You’re In” by Ryan Hall. Copyright © 2019 by Ryan Hall. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com.

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