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Editor’s Note: As part of our “Comfort and Joy” Advent/Christmas blog series, newly commissioned missioner Allison Dethlefs shares how her love for running has led to deep and lasting relationships. 

Most people probably wouldn’t associate long-distance running with comfort and joy.

It’s quite understandable—years ago the thought mostly filled me with horror and dread.

But that was before my dad dragged me into my first half marathon my senior year of high school, and before we started training for full marathons together as I entered college (I’ve now run four.)

As those years rolled by, I changed and grew as a person, and my appreciation for running changed and grew too.

I began to see long-distance running as a chance to explore cities, to redefine my own self-imposed limits, and to delight in the marvels of creation. But more than anything, I began to understand running as an invitation to relationship, an atmosphere where carefree timelessness can be cultivated, stories shared, ideas developed, and friendships deepened.

Running through Central Park during a weekend trip to NYC

Running through Central Park during a weekend trip to NYC

Running with my dad over the last six years has fundamentally shaped our relationship and the person I have become. Pounding out those miles with him has been one of the greatest sources of joy and comfort in my life and something I have come to see as “sacred time and space.”

So, coming to DC in the middle of training for yet another half marathon threw me for a loop. Training here alone, it began to dawn on me that, once I leave for mission this coming January, it may be a very long time before I can run with my dad again.

This realization had been weighing heavily upon me when, one day, one of my community members tentatively asked if I would help her train for a half marathon. I agreed enthusiastically, and soon, two other women decided to join.

My dad drafted us up a running calendar, and our training began.

Morning after morning we met, half asleep, in our dark dining room and headed out the door. Morning after morning we explored the DC streets and trails, lugging ourselves up hills, swapping stories, taking group selfies, and huffing and laughing along the way. We talked about holiday traditions, contemplated the beauty of nature during a radiant fall season, shared about our families, friends, and faith, and encouraged and comforted each other in times of struggle or hardship.

The whole group

The whole group

Day by day, I found deep consolation in the presence of Maria, Cassie, and Sarah, my running mates. And day by day, I came to understand that running in relationship is more than just a special connection I have with my dad: it’s a call and a vocation of mine—one that I’m meant to share.

Today, December 13th, Cassie, Sarah, and Maria will be running their first half marathon together in Springfield, VA, while I run a solidarity half marathon in Omaha, NE, in their honor.

And even though I won’t be with them, in the same way that soon, I won’t be with my dad, I know in my heart that I will continue to spread the comfort and joy that running has brought me no matter where I go. Because running for me is about relationship, and that’s never going to change.

Question for reflection: How can you “train” during this Advent season? What can you incorporate into your day to set aside time for reflection and relating with others?

Featured image: adaptation of photo by Pexels – labeled for reuse

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