“It’s too much! I have to back off.” Two miles into my first tempo run this spring, I thought there was no way I could finish.
Six weeks ago I began training for the Chicago marathon. The first few weeks progressed well. Speed didn’t matter, it was about getting in the mileage. Week six would be my first week with a tempo run: running goal marathon pace for a set distance. The first one would be 5 miles. I set out aiming to run each mile in 6:50, just under the pace for a 3 hour marathon. This was the fastest I had run in months, and it felt uncomfortable from the start. I told myself to stay calm, have faith, and take it one block at a time. My first two miles were 6:47 and 6:49. Just under goal pace, but the strain of the fast pace was wearing on me. I could feel the impact of each step shooting up my legs.
Maybe I could back off, maybe I don’t need to push myself this hard. The marathon is 5 months away! I can do this later.
No, If I can’t do 5 miles this week, how will I do 6 next week? How will I work up to 26 miles if I don’t start now?
As slowly as I could, I took a breath in, and let it out. With no personal resolve left , I turned to prayer: God I don’t think I can do this, give me strength. The run didn’t get any easier, but I put my head down and kept going. Two blocks later, the pain and doubts subsided. I felt my breathing become more relaxed, and surprisingly the pace felt easier. The third mile was 6:40. At several points I found myself trying to slow down because I was running too fast. And a few minutes before I had considered giving up! But then the 4th mile I felt a slump again, 6:49. And it didn’t feel good. Again I wondered, I only have a mile left, I don’t need to push myself. I’ve done enough.
But what if I gave it my all? What could I do? I won’t know unless I give it a shot.
I said another prayer, then put my head down. Accepting the waves of pain, I focused onsteady breathing and maintain a steady stride. Despite the last mile being uphill, I found myself relaxing, picking up the pace. 5th mile time: 6:32. I found myself laughing before the run and twice during it I had considered quitting. Yet when I asked for God’s help and pushed through, I found I was capable of doing more.
It was during that 3rd mile that the thought struck me. Temptations are an opportunity to become stronger. I was tempted to stop on the run, to give up on the goal. By fighting through the temptation, I found a triumph on the other side. I know next week I will be less inclined to consider giving up. And if I face those doubts weak after week then by the marathon I will have learned how to manage the temptation to give up.
The spiritual life is the same way. Our life is full of temptations trying to deter us from our full potential. When we give in, we often end up wondering what if I had stayed the course? Well the saints give us some answers, and they seem to agree temptation can be a good thing, because it is an opportunity to be strengthened through trial.
“In temptations and trials the progress of a man is measured; in them opportunity for merit and virtue is made more manifest. When a man is not troubled it is not hard for him to be fervent and devout, but if he bears up patiently in time of adversity, there is hope for great progress.” - St. Francis de Sales.
“Virtue is nothing without the trial of temptation, for there is no conflict without an enemy, no victory without strife.” - Pope St. Leo the Great
When I do my tempo run next week, I’m looking forward to the temptations to quit. They’re preparation to run the race well. I hope in the same way you choose to see temptations as an opportunity to grow rather than an ailment to be feared.
The key to facing temptation without fear? Bring Jesus Christ into it. I asked Christ for help when I felt helpless on my run. And I found myself not just overcoming those temptations but blowing them away. St. Paul writes that “God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial He will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it.” -1 Corinthians 10:13. If it feels like we are being tested beyond our strength, we should recall the second half of that statement. God will give us a way out so we can bear the trial. This suggests that with God, we can overcome any temptation. If we try to do it without God, we will find ourselves in trouble. The next time you feel tempted and are at the point of giving in, try this. I ask you to honestly share your struggle with Jesus, ask for help, and give Him some time to see you through. Just as Christ was with me on that difficult run, He will be with you in your temptations. May they be an opportunity to test your faith and yourself.