With apologies to President Kimball, Shorten Your Stride! Or, thoughts on running, scriptures, and pushing metaphors too far.

6.5 miles in full outfit- Smartwool, gps/hr, camelbak, ipod, goofy grin, etc.

6.5 miles in full gear: wool, gps/hr, camelbak, ipod, goofy grin, etc.

As I lie in bed before falling asleep, the mental inventory of the day can take a toll, inevitably a combo of Jesus’ “these you ought to have done without leaving the others undone” and Paul’s  “I do not act as I mean to… the good things I intend to do, I never do.” 1 Among all the other omissions and commissions of modern life, it’s very healthy to have at least one personal victory each day. If that personal victory turns out to have mental, physical, and emotional benefits such as running does, so much the better.  I’ve become much more of a runner in recent years than I ever was in high school or college. Consequently, I’ve thought more about President Kimball’s saying and taken more note of the various running metaphors in the scriptures.

Paul spent 18 months in Corinth, where the Isthmian Games were regularly held. It’s probably not a coincidence that he uses sports metaphors from running (Gal. 2:2, 5:7, Phi 2:16), as well as boxing (1Co 9:26), wrestling (Eph 6:12), combats (1Co 4:9, 15:32) and maybe chariot racing. 2

  • “Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in a way that you may win it. Athletes exercise self-control in all things (ha!); they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one.” 1Co 9:24-27
  • “Let us run with patience the race that is set before us.” Heb 12:1 (Not really Paul, btw.)

King Benjamin gives excellent training advice; run too fast, and you’ll burn out quickly and risk injury. Overtrain and you’re certain to injure yourself. On the other hand, not running at all or always running the same routines means you never improve.

  • “See that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order.” Mosiah 4:27

I ran track in high school, to get in shape for soccer season. I did sprints (100m, 200m, 400m), which don’t require much in the way of serious cardiovascular training the way longer events do. I’m amazed at the Olympic runners who run 3 miles and then can run their last lap faster than I ever ran a single lap (me, 57.2 in a 400m. Mo Farah, 52.94 at the end of a 5k.)

Go here if you want to see the whole thing. Darn good race.

Spencer Kimball cools his feet.

Running faster over short distances means increasing your leg strength, increasing cadence in strides/minute (how fast your feet go), and making each stride longer. We did training towards each of those things; I vividly remember the coach shouting “stride out!” as we repeatedly tore down the track. President Kimball was famous for living his dictum to “lengthen your stride” meaning do more!  Let me look at this from a runner’s perspective, and then see if I can shoehorn it back into a useful metaphor.

Running puts stress on the body, though it can be minimized. (What follows is a simplified and perhaps controversial discussion.) When walking, some weight remains on one foot while the other touches down; when you run, all of your body weight is transferred onto one foot, then the other. How that foot lands determines how the immense impact force is distributed. When you walk, you naturally land on your heel. The invention of running shoes in the 70s essentially consisted of putting a significant amount of cushioning in the heel, enabling one to run with a heel strike. This is not natural. Try running barefoot, and you’ll see why. Landing on your heel transfers all that impact force directly into your ankle, knee, and hip joints and muscles, removing half your leg from the equation.  As it turns out, when people run without thick running shoes, they naturally land on their mid- or front- foot, which allows the foot muscles and calf to absorb and share all those impact forces. (Observe those shoeless toddlers next time they run down the church hallway. Or Harvard’s biomechanics lab. Many runners commit the biomechanic sin of over-striding. That is, not only do they heel-strike, but they do it with their foot far in front of their center-of-gravity. Their stride is too long. This creates higher stresses and more injuries.

As I’ve shifted from my early coached sprint training to longer racing, I’ve had to very consciously shorten my stride and change how I run. If I didn’t, I probably couldn’t run at all, as I got injured fairly often by running with that long stride. If you watch those Olympic runners vs. me, they definitely have longer strides and faster cadences than I do. But I am not an Olympic runner and at this point in my life, I’ve mostly given up that ambition.

Let’s return to the metaphor. I view life as a long race, not a sprint. I need to make sure I don’t go out too fast, like I’m running a 100m instead of the ultra-marathon life actually is. Burnout and injury are very real spiritual issues that sometimes people don’t come back from. Should I lengthen my stride, or will that injure me? Is my long strategy better served by shortening my stride but increasing my cadence? (That’s something else I’ve worked on.) Do I run too much in bursts and busts instead of easier but constant progression? Do we need a spiritual couch-to-5k-program in the Church? Or more customized coaching and evaluation guides, “you there, slow down! You over there, stride out a little more! You’ve got the capacity for it!” Interpret as you will.  As for me, I’ve got a run to do.

And if anyone’s on the social areas of RunKeeper (website, not app) or TrainingPeaks, let me know. Nice to see friends out there.





Show 2 footnotes

  1. These are paraphrased, and read more as pertaining to to-do lists than moral obligations.
  2. These according to the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, “athletics.” This is one of the reference works included in the IVP Reference Collection I discussed here with Bible Dictionaries.

11 comments for “With apologies to President Kimball, Shorten Your Stride! Or, thoughts on running, scriptures, and pushing metaphors too far.

  1. ji
    March 15, 2013 at 11:06 am

    The scripture tells us not to run faster than we’re able…

  2. Ben S.
    March 15, 2013 at 11:15 am

    Rephrased that way, it’s a bit tautological, no? I suspect several different readings are possible. For formal exegesis, I’d argue against both my interpretation and yours. But from the creative perspective of my post, I would paraphrase as “don’t run faster than necessitated by your race.” In other words, sure I can sprint, I have that capability and strength. But it’s a bad idea if my race is long.

  3. RickH
    March 15, 2013 at 11:25 am

    I’ve used RunKeeper, but I recently discovered “Zombies, Run!” Waayyy more entertaining.

  4. March 15, 2013 at 11:37 am

    I like the idea of a 0 to 5k program, or at least a reset button when we feel uncomfortable with the stride we are at. I think the problem is that some challenges from a church that prizes volunteer human interaction are going to be challenging for anyone and no one can be ready for them all.

    I’ve always seen Benjamin as calling to us to know our own limits and to work to our best abilities within them. Nothing Tautological about that.

  5. ji
    March 15, 2013 at 11:42 am

    I don’t know what “tautological” means — but I think the scripture means to do the best one can — and one person’s best might differ from another person’s best.

    Yes, don’t run faster than is necessitated by your own race (your race, not your neighbor’s race).

    Here is where individual and local inspiration is needed — there might be a time to call the church as a whole to run faster, as President Kimball did, but running really is an individual matter, and I need to do my best in my circumstances, maybe with some guidance from my family or local church.

    Maybe sometimes, when the coach is urging the team as a whole to work harder, maybe I need to slow down and rest, so to speak. The coach will speak loudly to the team as a whole one instruction and will whisper or nod to me another instruction.

  6. Greg Neil
    March 15, 2013 at 12:01 pm

    If life is an ultramarathon then it’s ok to walk the really steep sections, stop occasionally at the aid stations, and run sometimes with a friend pacing you. And get a caffeine boost when you need it.

  7. BarefootMike
    March 15, 2013 at 12:40 pm

    I grew up as a competitive long-distance runner and continued into my 30’s, when my knees started hurting. I gradually transitioned to running sans shoes and in Vibram FiveFingers, because that was the only way to run pain-free. I had to un-lenghthen my stride to run barefoot, but it has made all the difference.

  8. March 15, 2013 at 1:44 pm

    BarefootMike, I also run in Vibram’s, though in London’s winter, I’m using some Merrel Trail Gloves with Smartwool socks.

    RickH, my watch tracks my workouts, since I don’t have a smartphone. It uploads to TrainingPeaks, which I export to the RunKeeper site for its social aspects, e.g. where my sister and brother are both building up to running a 5k, and a friend has dropped 20lbs so far. Have you seen this race series? Really brings the zombie motivation to life.

    JI- I’d agree with that. As for the tautology, all bachelors are single. Water is wet. By definition it’s impossible for us to run faster than it is possible for us to run. It is possible, on the other hand, to run faster than our strength.

  9. WVS
    March 15, 2013 at 2:21 pm

    Great pics and post Ben. And ji, get out your dictionary.

  10. Kevin Barney
    March 15, 2013 at 9:43 pm

    A tautology is a representation of the same thing (as in Ben’s examples in no. 8 above), from Greek tauto- “the same” and logia “saying.”

  11. Matt W.
    March 17, 2013 at 9:58 am

    It is possible to attempt to run faster than we are able and to feel bad about our own general slowness.

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