“You don’t run. But you’re more than able.”

This is a quote from a book I’m reading called Running Like a Girl. It was said by the author’s dad, who ran marathons. She was griping about how she couldn’t do a marathon like him. And he responded that she could. She just didn’t.

This is true. It’s not just something runners says to non-runners, because they don’t understand how difficult it is to run. It’s something they say to non-runners because, more often that not, they were once non-runners too. I was. And now I’ve completed two marathons and four half-marathons. I now truly believe that anyone can finish a marathon. You just have to train yourself.

I read Thomas Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain a few months ago. I remember vividly a similar statement from him in that book. He had an epiphany. The only thing holding him back from being a saint was himself.

Whether it’s running a marathon or being a saint…the only thing holding you back is YOU.

This was extremely helpful to me today as I struggled with how to connect some of TOB to running. After all, the point of TOB is that men and women are created differently. They are equal in dignity, but they are physically different.

Applying this to running brings up the fact that men tend to be faster in races than women. Mainly because of a biological feature – their aerobic capacity. There’s scientific jargon that explains what that means, but I won’t get into it.

As a runner, I didn’t quite know how to feel about this. I want to create a running program for women precisely because I think it can make them feel empowered, both spiritually and physically. Empowered in the same way that JP2 made women feel after his talks on TOB, the feminine genius, and the vocation of women. But if I tell a woman that she could never be as good as a man? That’s not exactly something that makes me feel good, even if I’m not trying to beat a man in a race.

At first, I was going to bridge this divide using this article, which states that “experience trumps gender. Both elite male and female runners are excellent pacers, not necessarily because they’re fast, but because they know their bodies, are mentally tough and they practice pacing—something all runners can benefit from.”

Now back to how I started this blog post. Both men and women can be elite athletes. They just have to train themselves to be elite athletes. Similarly, both men and women can be elite religious people – saints! They just have to live their lives in chastity and purity, which I have no doubt takes training.

I thought this was good. Unfortunately, I also found articles like this one, which sort of threw the analogy off. “Q: Will women ever run a marathon faster than men? A: Unfortunately the answer is, unless they become men, no, they won’t.”

I was back to where I started. Because no, I don’t want women to think they should be men to have the dignity they deserve – not even as runners!

But then, praise the Lord, I found this article that altered my original metaphor in a better way. “Far from indicating that female runners can’t get faster, the research merely proves the value of tailoring training to their specific needs…Research on the differences in physiology don’t suggest that female runners can’t improve performance, it merely emphasizes that female athletes can’t train like males.”

YES! YES!! YES!!!

This is so empowering. I love running. It makes me feel so proud of my body and what it can do. And that feeling isn’t because I’m trying to be more masculine. It’s because I’m appreciating my body for its inherent femininity. I can’t train like a man. I can train like a woman.

Similarly, female saints reached holiness in a manner that distinguished them from male saints. All of them trained for the spiritual race. All of them reached that finish line in different ways.

But the key thing is – all of us CAN reach that spiritual finish line, no matter male or female. We just need to decide to start. And once we do that, we need to take our body into account, rather than fight against it. We need to know ourselves and our biology so well that we can create an individual training plan to reach perfection.

Don’t try to be like that man over there. Don’t even try to be like that woman over there. Be you. God created you that way. God loves you that way.

-Johnna

 

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