A few years ago it dawned on me that I was seriously out of shape. My work had become more sedentary, and I hadn’t made up for that. I enjoyed exercise but never seemed to find the time or motivation to stick with it, day after day. Part of the problem was that I put accomplishments in my work ahead of my health.

Then I read a newspaper article about the local annual marathon. Perfect! There was a goal to strive for, a reason to exercise. I’d train hard and enter next year’s marathon.

My “training program” consisted of running as hard as I could till I was completely breathless, walking till I caught my breath, and then running as hard as I could again. Over and over. When I could take it no more, I’d go home and collapse. It felt good to finally be getting some exercise, but I soon noticed that I wasn’t making any progress.

I figured I needed some professional help, so I found a few websites dedicated to running. Some were informative, some overwhelming. Most encouraged me to invest in things that were out of my reach, such as expensive gear and gadgets or a personal trainer.

Even more daunting was the concept of consistent, long-term training. Expert after expert wrote, “Start slowly, build up slowly, but do something every day.” I’m more of a go-for-quick-results person. Long-term projects drive me nuts. Witnessing my own reaction to this approach to exercise helped me realize how that attitude affected other areas of my life. Important things were going undone, because they required small steps repeated over time.

Meanwhile, the only people who actually ran marathons or became fit or reached their life goals were those who worked up to it slowly, day after day, over time. I determined to make that change, starting with my exercise. I began slow, tried to pace myself, and told that ugly voice in my mind to pipe down when it said, What good could this little bit possibly do?

About that time I also read a fantastic article on healthy living that emphasized bringing spiritual power into the health and fitness equation. I started praying more, asking God not only for His help to make progress in my running, but also for His guidance in going about it.

At first, I ran at a slower pace than before and not for as long as I would have liked, but I tried to do it every day. Each day I could run a little farther in the allotted time, and I began to really enjoy it. I also found that I had more energy.

At one point a flu knocked me for a loop. Even after the fever left, the fatigue remained for several weeks. When I was finally strong enough to resume my daily runs, I figured that the level of fitness I had worked up to in the previous months had been undone completely. All that time and effort lost! I didn’t even want to try. Maybe tomorrow.

One day I tossed my excuses out the window. I would just take it slow and easy, and see how far I got. To my surprise, I was at about 75% compared to what I’d been able to do before my illness. All my hard work hadn’t been in vain. What’s more, as I ran, I started to feel better. Breathing deeply, running through the fields surrounding my home, was invigorating. I think that was the day I realized I loved running. Fitness was a worthwhile goal, and the thought of running in a marathon had given me the incentive to get started, but the day-to-day doing was great fun in itself.

As I ran, I thought about other things that I’d been putting off because they required the same planning and pacing, plugging away day by day. The joy was in the running, in doing what I could each day to keep fit and healthy, to stay connected with family and loved ones, and to make progress in my work.

I also learned to use those times of relative solitude while I was running to not only think things over, but to pray about them. Now, as I run, I tell Jesus about whatever challenges I’m facing. Sometimes He gives me solutions I hadn’t thought of myself and probably never would have. But other times, just telling Him about my problems helps relieve the stress. I also use that time to pray for other people and situations, which is another thing I’ve felt the need to do more of but couldn’t find the time for. By the time I get home, the weights seem to have been left along the road somewhere.

I may never run that marathon, but toward the end of each day, you’ll find me running.