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This past Saturday, I experienced both the joy and the pain of running my second-ever 30k race.

Held at Graham Swamp Preserve in Palm Coast, Florida, the SWAMP Trail Race has a distance for everyone.  Depending on your level of crazy, you can choose from the 10k, the 30k, the 50k, or the 100k (all being “ish” in their actual total mileage).  The SWAMP is run on a loop course, with 10k runners doing one 6.24mi loop, 30kers doing 3 loops, 50k runners doing 5 loops, and 100kers doing an amazing 10 loops.  It was started 6 years ago by the very talented race director, Dawn Lisenby.

With RD Dawn before the race

Being finished with the race, much of what sticks out in my mind is the feeling of successfully completing it.  Sure, by the third loop I was saying to myself, “What on earth were you thinking Erin?!” and, “Never again!!!”  However, now that it’s over and it’s been a few days, I’m ready to do it again. 😆

But no matter how excited I may be to run it all over again next year, it doesn’t take away from the difficulty I faced during the race this year.

No doubt, this race was super challenging.  The terrain was much more difficult than anything I’d been training on.  And the weather was much warmer than anything I’d been training in over the past several months.

The struggles I encountered got me thinking though.

If it weren’t for these challenges, would the race have held as much appeal?  Would it have strengthened me in any way?  Or increased my ability to endure even more difficult events in the future?

The more I think about these questions, the more I come to the conclusion: probably not.

And the reality is – real life is so similar.

The challenges many of us will face during a variety of endurance athletic events parallel the challenges we face in everyday life (and how we overcome them). 

As I continue to reflect on the race and it’s difficulties, a number of things come to mind that illustrate the parallel between racing and life.

If you are a sister in Christ, I pray these things I’m about to share will encourage you to press on and be strengthened in the Lord.


Boy were there hills.  At least, for this flat Florida girl. 😜  There was a lot of climbing, but also a lot of descending.

Just like in life.  

Pictures never seem to do the hills justice…

Sometimes, God is going to place a hill in our life (or maybe even a mountain).  But rest assured, that when he calls you to climb that difficult hill or mountain, he’s going to equip you with whatever you need to get to the top (2 Corinthians 9:8).  The climb may be exceedingly challenging, but he promises to be with you (Joshua 1:9).

I’m sure you’re familiar with the phrase, “It’s all downhill from here.”  Fortunately in life, just like in my race, a challenging climb is usually followed by a descent of some kind.  We don’t typically stay in a climbing season forever.  During the SWAMP, there would often be a stretch of flatter ground for a short period of time afterward, but there was always a downhill section.  On these downhills, I could run at a greater speed and, at times, it felt effortless.  Relatively speaking, of course.

Throughout our lives, we’re going to experience these times as well.  Let’s praise God for these times – these times when we can look back at all that he’s gotten us through and when we can enjoy a season of effortless joy because of the hope we have in him.

There were also flatter sections on the trail.  On these parts, it was easier to just go.  To keep trucking along, putting one foot in front of the other.  No pulse-increasing ascending, but no effortless, downhill flying either.  On the trail of life, we’re also going to face those kinds of “sections.”  Times when everything seems to be hunky-dory and we’re just coasting along, doing our thing, without too much difficulty.

We think, “I’ve got this.  No big deal.”

While “flat sections” in life aren’t inherently bad, they can be dangerous if we allow ourselves to fall into laziness or complacency.  The faithful men and women mentioned in Hebrews 11 didn’t make it into the “Hall of Faith” by living lives of ease and self-sufficiency.  They trusted God enough to follow him up whatever hill or mountain he called them to climb.  We don’t know when that next challenging hill is just around the corner.  Instead of simply coasting, we need to be prepared.  Likewise, we need to be prepared to finish the race well (2 Timothy 4:7-8).

Weather/Race Conditions

Whoooeee!  The SWAMP was warm this year.  And humid.  Not Florida summertime hot and humid (thankfully), but definitely hotter than it usually is in February.  According to the race director, it was the hottest SWAMP on record.

My son and my friend’s daughter about summed up how we felt in the heat during the race 🤣

I don’t know about you, but when it’s warm and humid during a training run or race, I’m prone to complain and whine about it (even if only to myself).  Sometimes I’m even tempted to give up.  I feel discouraged, disheartened, and weary.

Regular life “conditions” have a way of bringing this on in me as well.  Sometimes things just don’t seem to be going like I think they should, or my boys are fighting, or I haven’t gotten enough sleep, or I’m just not feeling great for whatever reason.  I feel tired and weary.  All of which often lead me to a grumbling spirit.  

But this is not what the Lord calls us to.  Instead, he tells us to give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18) and to do all things without grumbling or complaining (Philippians 2:14).

So when the heat and humidity of this life cause us to grow weary, let us go to the one who promises to satisfy and replenish the tired soul (Jeremiah 31:25). 


At various points along the race course, there were obstacles. Rocks needed to be navigated around.  Roots needed to be carefully watched out for.  Along the course of our lives, we also face obstacles.  They can be small, like losing our keys right before we need to leave for work.  Or they can be much larger, like losing our job (or our husband losing his job) or getting a scary diagnosis from the doctor.

The question isn’t so much “What obstacles will we face?” but, rather, “How will we choose to climb over or go through those obstacles?”

Are we going to give up and quit? {That’s tempting in a race sometimes!}  Are we going to try to navigate the obstacles in our own strength and in our own wisdom?

Or will we press into the only One who is able to deliver us from or through the challenging situations he allows into our lives?

I pray we choose the latter.


During the race, I had to take in fuel, even when I didn’t feel like it.  My body needed hydration, electrolytes, and the right kind of calories to be able to keep going hour after hour.

Friends and I set up a makeshift aid station with plenty of fueling options

Similarly, in life, we need to take in fuel, even when we don’t feel like it (although we should certainly ask God to give us a hunger for his food).  But instead of Tailwind or Skratch, or dates or gels, we need Living Water (John 7:37) and the Bread of Life (John 6:48-51).

What happens when we don’t adequately fuel during a long race (or training run)?  We bonk.  We get lightheaded, nauseated, dizzy, weak, tired, or sometimes feel like we can’t even go any further.  Without the consumption of the right kind of fuel and fluids throughout the course of a race, we struggle to sustain our energy levels.

The same is true in life.

Without the consumption of the right kind of fuel (God’s Word), we can struggle to keep up with the challenges of this life.

We need spiritual nourishment.

And where do we get spiritual nourishment?

The Bible.

God’s Word is most nourishing to us when we study it regularly and systematically.

And I don’t mean that we should go and cherry-pick verses whenever we feel like we need some kind of feel-good fuel.  God’s Word is most nourishing to us when we study it regularly and systematically.  Book by book. Verse by verse.  Doing so helps us to understand the whole of God’s story, and not just the parts that tickle our fancy.

Regularly and systematically reading the Bible is kind of like the Fox Squirrel, who categorizes and stores tree nuts (his most nutritious food source) to prepare for the oncoming winter.  When we go through the Word – book by book and verse by verse – and when we meditate on and memorize Scripture, we’re storing up nutritious nuts in our winter pantry.  We don’t know what troubles may come our way, or who we might need to offer an encouraging word to.  But the more nuts we collect, the more we’re able to nourish ourselves, as well as others, during the race of life. 


Let’s talk about pain.  It’s never really very pleasant, is it?

During the race, I suffered from a number of painful things.  Open blisters.  Chafing (note to self: reapply Body Glide next time!). Knee pain.  Muscle soreness.  Leg cramps.

But you know what?  Having already been through some of these in training and in previous races, I survived.  By God’s grace, of course.  None of these things did me in.  If anything, they made me stronger.

The painful circumstances we encounter in life also have the ability to strengthen us – namely, our faith – if we allow them to.

James 1:2-4 says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

When we suffer and go through painful situations, we’re to “count it all joy.”  I know, easier said than done.  But it is possible if we have the Holy Spirit alive in us.  And we can rest assured that these trials are doing something in us.  They’re creating in us a firm and lasting faith.

As John Piper, founder and teacher of desiringgod.org and author of over 50 books, has pointed out, “our light, momentary affliction isn’t meaningless.  It’s doing something.”  According to 2 Corinthians 4:17, it’s “preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison…

2 Corinthians 4:17

What on earth does this even mean?

Well, the apostle Paul (who wrote the book of 2 Corinthians) was no stranger to pain and suffering.  He endured countless beatings, imprisonments, lashings, a stoning, shipwrecks, danger from robbers (and a plethora of other dangers), hunger, and thirst.  

And yet, he regarded these things as “light and momentary afflictions.”  How is that possible?  Only by comparing them to the glory that awaited him in heaven.  He’s not saying that these things weren’t painful, but in light of eternity, they were as nothing.  They were temporary.

The same is true with any pain we must endure here on earth.  But as we experience pain and suffering, whether it be seemingly minute or large and weighty, let us never forget the affliction our Lord suffered for us on the cross (2 Corinthians 1:5).  May that give us comfort and hope to press on.

Wrapping it up…

So, dear Sister, the next time you face a challenge in your own life, I pray that you will view it not as a disaster or an inconvenience, but as an opportunity for you to build your spiritual endurance (and the ability to encourage others because of it).

Just as a difficult race can have an impact on making us a stronger, more mature runner, so can a difficult circumstance in life. Allow the Lord to stretch you, but also to strengthen you by the power of his Spirit.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6).

Disclaimer: You should understand that when participating in any exercise or exercise program, there is the possibility of physical injury. If you engage in exercise or training I recommend, you agree that you do so at your own risk, are voluntarily participating in these activities, assume all risk of injury to yourself, and agree to release and discharge Running With Roots from any and all claims or causes of action, known or unknown, arising out of Running With Roots. Please speak with a medical professional before making any changes to your diet or exercise. I am not a doctor or registered dietitian. The views expressed are based on my own experiences, and should not be taken as medical, nutrition or training advice.

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