If you live up north and happen to be a runner then you probably understand the difficulties and challenges of running in icy conditions. If you don't run and don't live up north but have experienced ice skating then you might also understand the challenges and difficulties of running on ice.
This is my first winter as what I would call a "runner", meaning that I run at least 4 times a week and look forward to my runs and miss them when I have a day off. I do believe this qualifies me as a runner, despite the fact that I never ran in high school, have never won a race, and don't belong to a special club. I run. I read running magazines. I purposely fuel my body to run better, faster, and longer. In my mind, this makes me a runner.
I began my running habits in the summer when the roads were clear and the most taxing weather was heat which could be avoided by running early in the morning or choosing shady paths. But now the seasons have changed and so have the running conditions. Instead of clear roads I'm dodging snow piles and ice patches. Instead of looking for shade I'm searching for sun. Instead of sweating I'm pulling out extra layers and doubling up on gloves. The running experience has changed dramatically.
And I love it.
I thought that the cold might deter me from my running routine. I feared that with the changing of seasons would come a change of heart but that is not the case. Instead, my love of running has been renewed. With the snow and ice have come new challenges and new insights into how to be a better runner.
While running on ice the runners focus is shifted from pounding pavement to staying upright. Conversation becomes difficult to maintain because your mind is so fixed on avoiding the slick spots on the road. The music playing through headphones fades away. The road noise disappears. All of your focus is placed on the path ahead and the best way to navigate it safely and effectively. Form becomes paramount. Speed is no longer a top priority. The run becomes an obstacle course of ice patches and your goal is to run with the best possible form and posture so that your feet can hit the ground steadily and securly.
This morning that was the challenge ahead of me on my run. Last night a thin dusting of snow coated the ground and beneath it lay a thick layer of ice. I hadn't planned on lacing up my sneakers first thing this morning but it was as if I was being called out the front door. God was bidding me to come and run with Him. How could I say no?
So I layered up with a water-wicking shirt, sweatshirt, and wind breaker; put on my two layers of running tights and knee-high ski socks; laced up my winter sneakers and secured my hat, face mask and two pairs of gloves. Then I stuck my ear buds in and turned on my Christian Pandora radio and headed out to the cemetery near my house.
It didn't take long to realize that this was not going to be a quick three miles. The roads winding through the cemetery were coated in ice with little snow coverage to provide traction. This meant I would have to be on high alert if I wanted to remain upright.
I started out slow and steady to get my bearings and get into my rhythm. But something kept tripping me up. It wasn't my feet, it was my headphones. They have always remained in place, never giving me trouble even during my longest of runs, but today they kept falling out. After stopping a few times to put them back in I decided to quit messing with them and pulled them out of my ears, continuing my run without the hassle they were creating. Instead of music I was left with the calm of a cold morning and the crunch of ice and snow beneath my feet. The sound of my rhythm was comforting.
As I ran my mind shifted from lyrics of a song to my running form. I noticed that my feet weren't hitting the ground with the precision that would keep my from slipping. As soon as I started thinking about how I was lifting my feet I found that my gait was more secure and steady.
Then I realized that I was looking straight down instead of looking forward and down. I shifted my glance up and out. The view was more beautiful than I had previously realized. The sun was hitting the trees and making the brilliant white snow gleam. The ice was making everything sparkle. God's creation was, once again, dazzling.
On that run I was given the opportunity to stop focusing on distractions to get me through my three miles and focus, instead, on the form that would carry me forward. The ice forced me to improve my form.
Just like with running, God can use the ice in our lives to achieve the same purposes. He can use slippery surfaces to shift our focus away from our circumstances, away from distractions, and onto the form of our faith.
When the road is clear it is easy to let our minds wander and faith grow stale. During the summer months, the seasons of ease and comfort, we can easily stop relying solely on our faith. When we are confident in our own power to sustain us and our own power to carry us forward we tend to stop looking to God to do it for us.
But when we hit ice we go calling out for His help. On ice we are sliding and slipping unless He reaches out to us with His steady and secure hand. We can no longer focus on how fast we're moving forward or how many miles we've covered, our minds are totally fixated on staying up - being held upright by our Savior.
If it weren't for the ice on my runs I might not have realized how much improvement I needed to make on my form. If God hadn't allowed my life to hit ice I might not have realized how much work needed to be done on my faith's form.
God has allowed the ice in my life to grow and strengthen my faith. My run through life isn't about how fast I accomplish it or how many miles I log, it is about staying devoted in faith to my Savior, relying solely on Him in all circumstances and in all seasons. That is truly good form.