God, the Ultimate Endurance Athlete

November 29, 2021

David VanEpps

As an endurance athlete, there are many times when it takes every ounce of determination and perseverance to not quit.  A while ago, I completed an Ironman triathlon, which I’ve done several times before.  Consistent with each of my prior races, there were times when I was sure I would never reach the finish line, and I wanted to give up.  Then the question hit me, “What if God gave up?”

Running Away

For the first 43 years of my life, I ran away from God.  Yet, God continued to pursue me.  He must have wanted to quit.  He must have wanted to give up.  He must have wondered if I would ever stop running from Him and start running towards Him.

Thankfully, God didn’t give up on me. He was pursuing a moving target, as the closer He got to me, the more I pushed away.  I can’t imagine having the determination to pursue a seemingly impossible target, much less for 43 years. I imagine there were times when He felt like the finish line might be in sight, but more often than not, He must have operated on sheer determination and perseverance.  His “why” for pursuing me so relentlessly must have been overwhelmingly powerful.

Darkness

Every endurance athlete experiences moments of darkness in our races.  It may be a cramp that feels like it will never go away and may keep us from finishing the race.  It may be the clock and feeling like we’ll never make the cutoff time.  It may be hydration or nutrition that’s making us dizzy or weak.  Most commonly, it’s our mind that tends to play games with us over the course of 10-plus hour race.

While I’ve written about this darkness in my book, In Our Weakness We Are Strong, I had a similar yet different experience in my most recent race, Ironman Indiana. This time, the darkness was both figurative and literal. After completing the swim and bike legs of the triathlon, I made it to the run course.  The day was short already, being in early October, and the day was overcast with on-and-off rain all afternoon.  By the midpoint of the final leg of the triathlon, the marathon run, it was dark.  The course wasn’t well lit, and most of the runners didn’t have headlamps.  With nearly 10 miles to go on the run, it got so dark that I couldn’t see the ground.  

The physical darkness was mentally draining as every step required blind faith that I wasn’t stepping on a recently fallen apple or chestnut or that I wasn’t about to twist an ankle in a rut. At times, I nearly crashed into other runners, as neither of us could see each other.  More importantly, the physical darkness translated into mental darkness.  The stress of the darkness and the unknown took its toll and made the finish line seem even farther away, if not impossible.

Fourteen hours is a long time to spend alone.  It’s even longer when you’re trying to stay mentally focused on your “why” and maintaining the sense of determination and perseverance needed to finish the race.  The enemy speaks loud and often, and he repeats those things we hear every day, “You can’t,” “You’re not good enough,” “You should just quit,” “You don’t have what it takes.”  

Fortunately, there’s a God who speaks to us through His word.  He says that you are wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14), God has plans for you to be successful (Jeremiah 29:11), you are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), you can do all things through Christ (Philippians 4:13), and the Holy Spirit, who is in you, is far greater than the enemy, Satan (1 John 4:4).

While running the last 4-5 miles, I repeated a few of those verses to remind myself that my “why” is tied to Jesus.  My strength comes from Jesus.  Who Jesus says I am is the truth; who the enemy says I am is a lie.  After a long, wet, exhausting day that consumed nearly 14 hours, I crossed the finish line and praised God, as I knew it was His strength that enabled me to finish.

God Didn’t Give Up

If I were in God’s shoes, I’d have given up on me many years ago.  I wouldn’t have pursued someone for 43 years, especially as they were running the other way.  Thankfully, God never gave up on me.  In fact, He never gives up.  The finish line is His why, and His finish line for us is when we surrender and declare Jesus as Lord with our mind, body, and spirit.  

If God made it to His finish line for you, and you’ve declared Jesus as your Lord and Savior, this makes perfect sense to you.  If you’ve not reached that point yet, know that there is a God, He loves you, and He’s relentlessly pursuing a deep, personal relationship with you.  All you need to do is say yes.

Footnote

My “why” behind this race was to raise funds for the Hope Water Project, a charitable organization that uses endurance sports as a platform to share the love of God while raising money to build wells in Kenya. If you’d like to support the Hope Water Project, please visit my fundraising page by clicking HERE

Photo Credit: Tobias Seidl

  1. Gina Padilla says:

    Wow, that’s quite an image, I can’t imagine running in the dark. But God had you ever step of the way and He never gives up. Great post.

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