What my running shoes taught me about life

This morning, for the first time in six long mornings, I was able to go for a run. I love to run, so going almost a week without doing so felt like torture.

I hadn’t been running for two reasons: first, a couple months ago I injured my knee while lifting weights. I have heard many stories of people running on slight injuries only to cause permanent damage, so I wanted to take plenty of time to heal. Second, on Monday I washed my shoes. Not because I want them to look immaculate, but because they were caked with enough mud to make fitting my feet in them impossible. The mud came from my participation in the Highland Games this past Saturday. No, I didn’t go to Scotland, though I would have loved that (and probably would have fit in well, too, with my red hair and pasty white skin). These Highland Games were in Pullman, Washington, where I went to college.

Maybe if I didn’t live in Washington state my shoes would have dried faster after I washed them. As it is, they took six days to fully dry, and each day I checked them I was disappointed–until this morning. They were finally dry, and without hesitating I put on my running clothes, strapped on my watch, tied my shoes and ran out the door.

I did a quick run, only two miles, because I am just beginning to run again since I injured my knee. After finishing running, I looked down at my shoes and saw some dried mud still wedged into the pattern etched into the soles. At first I was frustrated because I had spent half an hour scrubbing at the shoes almost a week ago, determined to remove all the dirt. In spite of my efforts, some mud still clung to the shoes.

Then I realized that my shoes and my life have much in common.

Running shoes

I have owned these shoes for over a year. They are not new, especially not in a runner’s mind (I’ve heard I should buy new shoes every 300-500 miles; I’m close to reaching that bottom limit with this pair), and they certainly don’t look new. They have been through mud many more times than just this past weekend; the soles are worn down significantly; and the holes in the outer material are becoming prolific.

Yet they are still holding up. They still hold my feet well and provide plenty of cushion and support, as well as prevent me from feeling the rough surfaces beneath my feet. The colors on them have dulled a bit, but they still clearly show off the patterns sewn on them. And they have been broken in, but they are not at all broken.

I can relate to that. I am not new to this world: my twenty-third birthday passed this year, and though I don’t consider myself old, I have learned much in my two decades. Nor have those two decades left me in pristine condition, as innocent and vibrant as a newborn: I have endured pain, sorrow and loss, and have known confusion about what I should do in hard times. I have built people up and I have let people down, gaining and losing friendships as a result. I have even lost a job which I obtained almost immediately after graduating from college, and struggled to understand if I should stay in the industry or find work in another field entirely.

Yet I still feel the joy of life pulsing through me. I find reasons to smile and laugh every day. My family gives me support and helps me along as I figure out how to live this first year outside of school. And my friends help me go on adventures, have fun shooting guns, and patiently listen to me complain about painful, difficult weeks.

Like my shoes, I have mud caked on me.

Like my shoes, some of that mud will never come off.

Like my shoes, it’s OK that the mud remains.

The mud is my memories. It shows me where I have been: the tragedies I have endured, the pain I have felt, and the regrets which haunt me. But it shows me the good in where I have been as well: the adventures I have been on, the thrills I have had with friends, and the lessons I have learned to help me become a better person.

I also realized that, like my shoes, I have a limited amount of time. One day soon I will discard my shoes, and another day not long after that, I will discard my well-used and worn-out body. And in both cases, what comes next is better than what I had previously.

In my two decades I have had plenty of wear-and-tear. And I know this is only the beginning: the mud will continue to pile up, the holes will grow larger and multiply, and the colors which shone at first will continue to dim.

But there is one vital difference between my shoes and my life: my shoes will continue to decline, while I will continue to improve. And I know that improvement is only possible by the grace of God.

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

// Matthew 6:19-21