What Do Following Jesus & Training for an Ironman Have in Common? Part 3: The Core Issue

In this series’ two previous blogs, I offered a sort of introduction, written in red, to explain how this blog series started and its objective. From this blog forward, instead of putting this introduction at the beginning, I have tacked it onto the end. If you are new to the series, please take a moment to scroll down and read the brief introduction written in red.

Part 3: The Core Issue

While training for my first marathon, what would turn out to be my chronic “problem area” made its debut. Whether biking or running, this area is the first area (and sometimes the only area) in which I feel pain during long training workouts and the actual event. In fact, the pain can get so intense that it hinders my forward progress. Ironically, this “problem area” is not where you would expect it to be when you consider the primary muscles groups used to bike or run. Instead, the muscles in my right back shoulder play host to this “problem area,” and the culprit is a weak core.

Throughout all my previous endurance training and events, I just accepted that pain in this “problem area” would arise, and I set my mind to grit and bear it. However, just like my previously mentioned get-by swimming skills, I determined an Ironman is too long to avoid addressing my “problem area.” Alas, I must contend with the core issue. After all, a weak core is serious business. While a strong core equates to better overall athletic performance – go further, go faster, go stronger, go longer – a weak core not only diminishes optimal performance, it also makes a person more susceptible to injury. Interestingly, despite the core’s contributions to overall athletic performance in biking and running, neither discipline, in and of themselves, strengthens the core.

So, what will it take to resolve my core issue, my weak core? In addition to a swim, bike, run training schedule, I must take time to do specific exercises – exercises involving slow, small movements or static positions – and lots of stretching done consistently, over a long period of time, resulting in gradual, barely noticeable, progress.

Honestly, I stink at all of that! I don’t sit still well or for very long. I like to exercise outside, where I can accumulate miles, chart immediate progress, sweat and gasp for oxygen, since these elements (distance, dripping, dyspnea) are the real indicators of exertion, leading to athletic improvement, right? (I know. I am revealing way too much about my distorted ways of thinking about exercise, but, please, resist the temptation to evaluate my psychological issues in this area. Just enjoy the spiritual revelations for now.)

The deep and superficial muscles that stabilize, align, and move the trunk of the body, especially the abdominals and muscles of the back, make up our body’s core. What is our spiritual core, those deep and superficial muscles that stabilize, align, and move us as we run this race called life, enabling us to go further, faster, stronger and longer, while curbing the emotional and spiritual injuries that threaten us in the more difficult seasons of life? I would like to suggest that what we believe about God – Is there a God? If so, what kind of God is He? Is He good, and can He be trusted?  – makes up our spiritual core.

Contemplate for a moment how each of these different beliefs about God would drastically affect how a person approaches and pushes through a cancer diagnosis, something statisticians claim that one out of three Americans will experience. God is:

  • non-existent. There is no God
  • a harsh judge, who is keeping score of my “rights” and “wrongs'
  • an oppressive dictator, who uses people as pawns
  • an aloof boss, too busy running the world to notice me
  • the captain of His team, who cares only for those who play for His team
  • a loving father, who is incapable of anything but his very best toward me

How do we strengthen these core spiritual muscles, what we believe about God? The best way is to read about Him, get to know Him – His character, His ways, His story, His intention – from the pages of Scripture. Then we have Truth to hold up, through which to filter life’s experiences, the words of others, and the thoughts that run through our minds. Getting to know God through the pages of Scripture happens best when we read and meditate on it daily, consistently, just God and me – like my core building exercises involving slow, small movements or static positions. I allow God to stretch my heart and mind over time, resulting in gradual, barely noticeable, progress…until one day, when I am faced with one of those difficult life circumstances, like a cancer diagnosis that years ago would have caused me to limp along grabbing my shoulder in pain, I am able to keep moving, running this race with a spiritual strength I never imagined. 

May each of us find the grace to be still and quiet – setting time aside in the rigorous training schedule of life with all of its going and doing, demanding we get faster and stronger – to allow God to reveal Himself in the pages of His story, thereby strengthening the core muscles that really matter in this race called life.

You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.
 Jeremiah 29:13

Hello. My name is Monica, and I’m addicted to endurance sporting events. Early in my life it became apparent that I was not the fastest kid on the block, but I possessed the desire, drive, and discipline to go further. I completed my first marathon in my late twenties, and with that came my first endurance-sport-training-object-lesson on following Jesus. Since then, I literally expect spiritual lessons to be birthed throughout whatever physical challenge I undertake. My current endeavor? An Ironman – a triathlon comprised of a 2.4 mile swim immediately followed by a 112 mile bike and then 26.2 mile run – to be completed within 17 hours on 11/1/14 in Panama City Beach, Florida. Training for Ironman Florida (IMFL) has literally been a yearlong process, and I have been journaling all along the way. As the final countdown to IMFL nears, I will be reflecting on the journey, turning some of my journal entries into blogs to share with you. My prayer is that what Jesus has lovingly taught and shown me through the highs and lows of this journey might become life-giving Truth to you, too.