Monday, November 19, 2007

Big Numbers in Small Chunks

This morning I calculated that I could end up with between 850 and 900 miles for the year by December 31st. That would be more than twice the mileage that I have ever run in any given year. The reality is that the big number is more a function of many 4-5 mile runs rather than the occasional 14-mile run. The big number comes from consistency in the small numbers over time.

A decent life lesson. A person who is consistent in their schoolwork or job performance or relational connections will be miles ahead of the person who is brilliant from time to time, but slacks off in between the flashes of brilliance. Relationally this is certainly true. Just having a great date or a good meal together with friends feels fantastic for a while, but if the "event" is followed by weeks or months of distance, then it seems like something out of a museum more than a living, breathing relationship.

Same seems to be true spiritually. You go to a conference or a retreat or a moving worship experience and it feels really good, affirming, and satisfying. But if God is forgotten (in reality or practically) for the next few days or weeks, then that great experience becomes mostly something to look back on with some level of longing. Then the danger is that a person's spiritual life becomes a matter of chasing spiritual mountaintop experiences more than pursuing God.

In all of these aspects of life the hard work is in the consistency of the day-to-day. But that is where the reward is as well. Then, before we know it we can look back and see how far we have come--and celebrate!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Second is Harder

During my 5.2 this morning, I began seriously considering whether to attempt another marathon. No conclusions yet as to that ultimate question, but I do think that making the decision to pursue the second may be much harder than the first. With the first, most of the experience is hypothetical--no real experience at the kind of distances in training or the time and energy involved to do it right. With the second, all of that is very real. I know how much time it will take. I know how I feel after the really long runs. I know some of the inconvenience that my training was to the rest of the family. Do I want to go through all of that again? More details later.

Sometimes I wonder what happens to some people whose faith seemed dynamic in college, but seems pretty ordinary afterwards. I wonder if now that they know what it takes to live a dynamic faith, it doesn't seem worth the effort to stay there--or to try to get there again. Or perhaps what seemed dynamic in earlier years no longer feels so dynamic because they have been there before. Perhaps their faith is every bit as strong as ever, but they just don't see it that way. After all, once you've run 8 - 10 miles pretty consistently, 3.5 doesn't seem like much.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Time Lapse

How quickly things can devolve. This past month has flown by with lots to do, but running has been sporadic. In the wake of accomplishing the BIG TASK, it was too easy to back off and slack off. But enough is enough. Yesterday evening's 3.8 felt way harder than it should and reminded me that I am not 25 anymore. "Springing back" has become a much more relative concept.

The ordinary drift of life appears to be away from all things healthy and good. As much as I have enjoyed the past few months of running again, and the attendant health benefits, it did not take long for that discipline to somewhat fall by the wayside. (N.B. I have run about 15 times since the marathon, so it's not like I just sat on the couch for the past month, but it has not been the same. (Is someone sounding a little defensive about this?))

Whether in the realm of the physical, the spiritual, the relational, and probably even the financial, the direction of an unattended life is to devolve toward breakdown and lack of health. If you leave a metal shovel outside it doesn't get shinier--it rusts. If you don't attend to your family and friends, then those relationships will stagnate and fall away. (How many high school and college friends do I still have vital relationships with? Maybe 2 or 3.)

Attending to life is not hard or really complicated. It is just so ongoing. It requires a continued vigilance. Not a lot of skill or specialized knowledge. Not always a lot of time. Rarely much money. Mostly just staying with it--pressing on.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

On to the Next Mountain

This morning was my first run since last Sunday's marathon and it felt pretty good. No new pains that I didn't expect and I hadn't forgotten how to run over the past three days. It has been fun to sit back and enjoy the satisfaction of achieving a long-held life goal, but sitting back and reflecting only gets me so far. By Monday afternoon or Tuesday, I was beginning to wonder, "What's next?" Not that anything needs to be next. It would be perfectly acceptable to check marathon off of my life list of things to do and move on to other arenas. I'm not sure about that one yet.

This I am sure of. Resting on yesterday's successes gives a nice feeling, but does not provide a future accomplishment. I never want to be that person who always looks back at what he has done in the past to find adventure. I need some kind of adventure or new horizon that is still up ahead--something to strive for and something to pursue.

Same is true with faith. For many people, their college years or some younger time of life was a dynamic spiritual time, but the present and future are bleak (or just gray). Unless we continue to pursue new horizons of faith, all we will have of value are recollections--not a great way to live in my book.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Additional Reflections

Now that I have had a little time to reflect on yesterday's adventure--and that of the past several months--I am struck by the focus of time, energy, and thought that went into finishing 26.2 miles yesterday. For just a few minutes around mile 14, I found myself thinking, "I'm not sure that I can actually do this." Even though the heat and my early faster-than-wise pace were having their effect, I beat that thought into submission as I recalled all of the hours and miles that had gone into getting to that point. At that moment I determined that I would finish, maybe not fast, maybe not at my target time, but I would finish.

An email from a friend on Saturday night wished me well and that I would enjoy the run and not just gut it out. At that point around mile 14, gutting it out seemed like the only option. I wish that I could say that all changed, but until mile 25, it was a matter of gutting it out. After all, I didn't train in order to not finish. The goal from day one was to finish--even if the finish felt rather ugly.

18 weeks ago, I could not have run 26.2 miles. Yesterday I did. And the reason was the persistent application of effort, over time, to increase my capacity to run. This is true in other areas of life as well. At the outset we have a dream, or an idea. It may be beyond our present day capacity, but by the application of discipline (which is really nothing more than consistent effort over time so that we can become what we are not, but what we desire to be) we grow our capacity. Sometimes the growth is so incremental that we can only notice as we look back. But this kind of discipline always has a good result.

Not just discipline, but a willingness to try--to ask "Why Not?" At 47 years old, after three knee operations, I finally said "Why Not?" For some reason, and I don't know why now, I became unwilling to remain limited by my past failures to move to higher levels of fitness and physical accomplishment. I suppose that it can happen in other areas of life as well.

Finally, putting the commitment out in public in front of people I care about helped me to keep on track. Once I started this blog, and people were reading, I could not just drop the idea when it got difficult or unpleasant. And your encouraging comments along the way simply helped to spur me along. "Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses ..."

I look forward to Thursday when I can start running a little bit again. I wonder how it will feel with the marathon milestone in the rear view mirror--probably pretty good.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Marathon Finisher

I can now add marathon finisher to my life list of things I have done. I finished today in just under five hours--much longer than I had anticipated, but finished. It was somewhat different than I expected, but everything after 20 miles was brand new territory. It was difficult (as would be expected), but I avoided the cramping that afflicted many of the runners. The heat and humidity were Florida-like and the race's medical director spoke to all of the runners at the start and told us that no one would be getting a personal record today, but that due to the high heat (for Minnesota in October) we should slow down and enjoy the run.

What was most unexpected was the spectators. Along the entire route people were lining both sides of the street cheering and enjoying the festival atmosphere of the day. As people would cheer for individuals you could see the encouragement lift their spirits. They would pick up the pace or at least run a little straighter. It didn't seem to matter whether the runner knew the cheerer. The fact of the encouragement was all that mattered.

How often do we not encourage someone because we don't know them or are not sure how they may respond? Many of you who have said that you have been reading this blog have been encouraging to me. Thank you. It has meant a lot to hear your responses to the thoughts I have written. I think that I will continue with this blog in a few days when I start running again in anticipation fo the Holiday Halfathon that I am running with my brother in December. Thanks again for all of your encouragement.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Goals -- setting and revising

I have been wrestling with whether to revise my earlier-stated goals for the marathon. I initially wanted to run the race at 175 pounds and finish in under four hours. One of those is not possible and one is still within reach. For some reason, I dropped from 207 to around 190 like clockwork by about halfway through the training program. Then for some reason my weight stabilized and I have not been able to get of off 190 despite increasing my miles and pace. Admittedly, I have not been watching my eating as closely as earlier and maybe that would account for the holding pattern. I can take that one up again in post-TCM life.

The time is a goal that I am still going to shoot for. My training and other long runs have been on such a pace that finishing in four hours is within range. I am going to try to run each mile in about 9:05. (9:08 would actually me to the finish in four hours, but I can multiply 5's better than 8's to stay on pace along the way.) One of the challenges will be to not start too fast. The adrenaline of 10,000 runners and lots of spectators--plus plenty of nervous energy wanting to get burned off--will push me to take off fast. But I would pay for that early exuberance in spades by about mile 15.

I have been trying to imagine what it will feel like to come up the last part of Summit avenue and turn the corner by the Saint Paul Cathedral. I am anticipating a mixture of relief at being so close to the finish line and sadness that this adventure is coming to a close. I'll let you know if my imaginings bear any relation to reality.

By the way, if you want to see other info on the Twin Cities Marathon, the official race link is

Thursday, October 4, 2007

An Ending--of sorts

This morning was my last scheduled training run before the Twin Cities Marathon on Sunday. I feel a sense of satisfaction with having made it through 18 weeks and more than 450 miles of training--and without any significant injury. Thanks to Hal Higdon for the training program and to the family and friends who have been so encouraging along this journey. But the adventure is not quite over. There is just this small remaining matter of 26.2 miles to run on Sunday. Wouldn't it be absurd to stop now? To celebrate the training and skip the race? After all, just about everything that I have done for fitness over the past 18 weeks has been pointing to Sunday.

Finishing well is a challenge for most people--even those who start well and do the middle part well. Whether it is a project, or a running event, or life itself, finishing well is not easy, nor is it something hat you just coast into. So many Biblical characters failed to finish well. They may have had early successes and mid-life strength, but the number of end-of-life champions is limited. That is a topic that merits further discussion some day.

For now my focus needs to be on finishing well on Sunday. I am prepared. I am more ready than I ever have been before. I am probably more fit than anytime in my life since college or before. Now it is time to tame the butterflies and finish well.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

A Matter of Perspective

This morning's run was scheduled for just 3 miles--which at this point doesn't feel like much. Six months ago the same three miles would not have felt somewhat effortless and I would have marked the day with a sense of accomplishment. Today it just felt like marking time. Perspective makes such a huge difference. Compared to my former coach potato existence, 3 miles is a lot. Compared to next weekend's 26.2 mile adventure, 3 miles is just a beginning.

Last Friday Hannah left the country for about 4 1/2 months on a missions project. In the run up to Friday, I was rather glum as I thought of her being gone and only being able to skype and write. But when I was feeling a bit sorry for myself, I was reminded that other parents are sending their 18 year olds off to Iraq and Afghanistan--not for 4 1/2 months, but for 12-18 months. All of sudden, my perspective shifted, and while I will still miss Hannah while she is gone, 4 1/2 months is not really that long.

On Sunday I will need to keep the perspective that I am ready for this adventure (ordeal?) and that no matter how difficult it feels at any given moment, after 4 to 4 1/2 hours, I can stop and will be finished. I hope that this perspective will help me to persevere when the task feels like it is too much and to finish well.

Monday, October 1, 2007

The Home Stretch

Yesterday I put in the last "long" run of the training program--about 8 miles. A week from today, I anticipate taking the stairs gingerly and considering ibuprofen to be one of the major food groups. But I also anticipate wearing my TCM Finisher t-shirt to work. This week I am scheduled to run 2, 4, and 3 miles on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday respectively. I will follow through with the program, even though running such short distances doesn't feel worth it because it will take longer to get ready and get cleaned up than it will to run. I simply need to keep the goal in mind. Wednesday's run is not the goal, the goal is to finish 26.2 next Sunday.

Keeping the ultimate goal in mind is a challenge for most people I know. Even when we have good intentions about how we will spend our time, energy, and money it is so easy to get sidetracked. One key to long term success in life is to keep the main thing the main thing. Of course, what is crucial is to make sure that the main thing that we are pursuing is truly worth being the main thing. Not a bad question to assess--how much of my life am I keeping focused on the main thing?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Thinking Solitude

Last Sunday our pastor encouraged us to find solitude--the quiet place in life to listen to what God may have to say, or just to clear our minds of the constant din of modern life. He suggested that we turn off the radio in the car for the week as a way to find that solitude. Because I am a good sport, I am keeping the radio off this week. But finding solitude has not been an issue for me since April.

I run by myself 98% of the time. I don't mind having someone else run with me, but I do not feel the same need for it that some others seem to. For me, running = solitude. When I run I am free to allow my mind to be still, or to be filled with thoughts. (While I do pay attention, it doesn't take too much brain power to run a loop from Point A back to Point A.) There are some common places that my mind wanders and sometimes I wonder why. When you put your mind in neutral, why does it go one place or another? Does it go to what is most important? Most pressing? Most pleasant? Most feared? Running has carved out space in my life for me to think.

If I were to stop running after the Twin Cities marathon, I think that I would miss the solitude most of all (or maybe the endorphins--hard to tell). I do not have any other margin in my life just to think. If it were not for running time, when would I think about my career? My family? My past and future? The possibilities? What I would do if I won the lottery? If I did not take time to think, I suppose that the miles would feel even longer than they do. Someone I know does multiplication tables in her head to pass the time. It works for her, but I would rather think.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

A Dread Bug

Somewhere I picked up a bit of a bug. Not the worst bug I've had, but bad timing. After a couple of days, I was finally able to run again today and it was less than stellar. I was able to slug through 6.5 miles, but could not have made another 20 today. I will try to get rid of this bug and get my strength back.

Sometimes people are stymied by their own mistakes, but sometimes we face challenges that are not of our own making. If we can do something about a difficulty, then we should. Otherwise, we just need to make it through the difficulty and out the other side. Perseverance seems to be the key to most of life.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Executing Past the Finish Line

Just a week and a half until the Twin Cities Marathon--the target of the past 16 1/2 weeks of effort and exertion. As I lay in bed this morning debating whether to get up and run, I reminded myself that I am too close to the goal to back off from what I set out to do. Will this morning's run end up making the difference between finishing or not finishing the marathon? Certainly not. I am as ready as I will be. Getting up and running this morning supports the broader goals of discipline and perseverance--even more important than finishing 26.2 miles.

Most people that I see are not limited by a lack of ideas or even a lack of opportunities. More often, people are limited by a lack of disciplined execution, deficient work ethic, and incomplete follow through. There may be lots of reasons for these factors, but the bottom line is that most people are limited because they do not do what needs to be done--period. Make no mistake, consistent execution is not easy, nor is it the natural order of things. But those who learn to execute, especially in the face of limiting factors, will rise in any organization.

The building blocks of execution are in the small things. If I cannot get out of bed and run on a daily basis, why would I think that I can manage a team on a multi-million dollar project? So for me, this marathon thing is much more than just crossing the finish line on October 7th. It is about continuing along a path that was set by my father--do what you need to do to get it done, whatever the "it" may be.

Thanks Dad!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Fresh Again

This morning's run was the first run in the past couple of weeks that has felt really good. It is hard to think of what is different today, but it was a pleasant surprise. Part of the difference may be realizing that it is all "downhill" from here. My training lightens progressively between now and October 7th. Next weekend's long run is 12 miles, the next one is 8 miles, then comes the marathon. In a sense, the next couple of weeks are a matter of keeping the machine running smoothly and not hurting anything.

The past couple of week's malaise may also have been a function of feeling the "have to" of training more than the "want to." It makes a huge difference to me to have a choice in what I do--even if the activity is the same. It just feels different if I have to. It seems that people in our contemporary culture place a high value on choosing. We want to choose our TV stations (how many cable/satellite stations could we possibly watch?), our breakfast cereal (an entire aisle at Cub!), a place to worship (does any small town really need 15 different churches?). Even if Cub only stocked the three types of cereal that I would choose, I would think they were deficient if those were the only options. Would I be satisfied with a satellite plan that only included the four channels that I ever watch? What if there was only one church in our town?

Another reason that today seemed fresh again may have been that it is day one of my brother's half marathon training plan. While I usually look forward to running alone, I often find myself looking forward to running the Holiday Halfathon with him in 12 weeks. Whatever the reason, I enjoyed some of the fun coming back into my running today. Makes me look forward to tomorrow even more.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Not Another Treadmill

I am more glad than you can know that the marathon is not run on a treadmill. Some people seem to like them, but not me. I love the variability of the terrain outdoors and there is much more to see along the way. At the same time, in an unfamiliar place and unfamiliar running routes, at least no one ever got lost on the treadmill. Traveling presents challenges (and opportunities) with finding safe routes of the proper distance and I think I am getting better at it.

Part of what is tiresome about the treadmill is that I cannot detect progress from my surroundings. If I cannot see movement or progress, it is easy to believe that there is NO progress--which is simply not the case. And lack of progress is demotivating to me. I find the same to be true in my journey as a Christ-follower. If I am not experiencing what feels like progress, it is easy to become demotivated and lethargic in my pursuit of Christ. I have not yet figured out how to crest that particular hill, but I do not think that I am alone. How can we stay motivated to pursue Christ even when visible progress is elusive?

For today I am finished with the treadmill (5.5), and maybe I can even find a place to run outside tomorrow.

I am curious about the new book containing Mother Teresa's letters. From what I have read of the book, she continued to serve even in the midst of feeling distant from God and abandoned. I feel like I may be able to learn something from her perseverance. I should even be able to get through much of the book on my current trip.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Working the Plan

After this morning's run I am up to 560 miles this year. It has been surprisingly painless to this point and I am thankful to have remained largely injury-free. I credit the Hal Higdon training program with much of that success. It has been a program of measured increases in mileage that have allowed my body to get used to the new levels of exertion without breaking. To the point that I can rip off 7 1/2 miles this morning and think nothing of it.

In this case the plan is making the difference--not just in staying free of injury, but in knowing what comes next. I would be in a very different place of the plan had simply been, "train for a marathon." The plan I am using breaks the total mileage down by weeks and even gives the distance to run on a particular day. For what purpose? For the focused purpose of getting me not only to the starting line, but to the finish line in one piece. Certainly this endeavor requires a significant amount of personal effort and discipline, but without the plan, all of the effort that I could bring to the process would not be sufficient to see it through to the finish.

I continue to be amazed at how few Christ-followers, as well as their churches and church leaders, have a plan for spiritual growth and development. We put more time and effort into planning for a vacation that may last for a week than into planning spiritual development that may last for eternity. If churches and their leaders could focus on helping the people in the churches develop a personal growth plan, more good would come of that effort than a lifetime of sermons about marriage, family, and parenting. Doesn't it seem rather arrogant for someone to think that they can master (or even scratch the surface) of the greatest mysteries and highest calling of all time by sitting in a room for an hour a week and giving a little time during the week? Strikes me as self-delusional as well.

I know this for certain, I could not be looking ahead with eager anticipation to the Twin Cities Marathon if I had no plan and only trained for an hour a week or so.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Fresh is Fun!

One of my greatest joys is new socks. I use new socks for celebration, reward, and a general pick-me-up. But this morning I not only had new socks, I also had a new place to run. Bloomington, Illinois is a city on the edge of wide expanses of cornfields--very pretty from what I saw covering 6.5 this morning. I would also get the sense that it is a health-conscious place because I saw more runners and walkers out before 6:00 a.m. than anyplace other than Virginia Beach earlier this summer. When I started it was still dark, then slowly the eastern sky turned purple, then pink, then orange, then blue as th sun made its way over the horizon. I had forgotten what a sunrise looks like when the land is flat and the whole sky lights up. The run was one of those that I wish didn't have to end and a part of that feeling was that a new place to run is an adventure to me.

Not every day can be a new place to run and a new adventure. But it does spice things up a bit. Any spiritual parallels? If some spiritual practice is getting dull, then perhaps I should find a way to put some new socks on it. I'm not sure what the answer is, but it is worth a try.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Pressing Onward

Six weeks from today I should be writing to reflect on the immediate experience of finishing the Twin Cities Marathon. Twelve weeks of training in the bank and six more to go. I am beginning to think that I may actually make it. Saturday I slogged through 18 miles (the last 3.5 being tough) and at the end I thought, "Yes, I could go another 8 if I had to." Now I have a couple of lighter long runs (14 and 15) before the dreaded 20-miler. I suppose the idea is if you can make 20 in training, then you can make 26.2 on race day.

What is it about having others around to encourage and cheer us on? From what I have been told, it makes a huge difference on marathon day. My sister-in-law said that it can make the difference between finishing well and surviving. (BTW, props to Terry for finishing the 60-mile Breast Cancer 3-Day walk. Way to go!) I notice the difference in training runs. for these runs it is just me and the road. No one cheering or shouting "Good job!" or "Almost there!" While the solitude is one the main reasons that I love running, sometimes some encouragement can help me to persevere. At the few races that I've been in this summer, it has been helpful to hear the encouragement from people, even though I don't know them and they don't know me.

It is easy to encourage other runners. It just takes noticing and a little bit of voice. Why is it more difficult to encourage people in the midst of everyday life? And don't we need every bit as much encouragement in the day to day? A man from the early church was so closely identified with his attitude of encouraging others that they changed his name to Barnabas--Son of Encouragement. What a great moniker. I wonder what kind of difference I could make for someone today just by speaking a word of encouragement--Good job! You're almost finished! Hang in there! I'll give it a shot this week and see what difference it makes.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

A Good Day

1:53:10. Perhaps that says enough. Yesterday's half marathon was a good day. Despite condor-sized butterflies, the day went just great. It was cool (high 50's), overcast, with just a slight breeze. Rain threatened all morning, but did not start until I was headed out of town after the race. Under two hours was what I was shooting for. I ended up taking nine minutes off of my previous best time for this distance. I am pleased.

This was the third time I have run the Mora Half Marathon and the organizers and other volunteers do a great job with a realtively small race. The people in town are friendly and the course has a nice blend of city and country without much for hills. There is a certain camaraderie around races like this. People who do not know each other chat amiably before the start. You may make a comment to someone along the race course that you have never seen before. Close to the finish people are cheering for each other. I think that it may be something about the shared accomplishment and the common experience of enduring through the event.

Yet a race like this means diffferent things for different people. Completing 13.1 miles may be every bit as significant for the person who finishes in 2 1/2 hours as it is for the person who completes the race in 1 1/2. Who knows what stories lie behind each runner's path to the starting line. For one it is another step in a well-correographed training program. For another it is a step toward renewed physical health and fitness. For yet another, it is creating mental space to think about things that must be pondered.

For all that and more, I love running.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Nerves of Jello

Tomorrow is the Mora Half Marathon. It will be the third time I have run the race, but for some reason I am feeling nervous. This is absurd. The distance is manageable (I've run further each of the past two weekends), I don't have a particular pace that I need to keep (although I would like to finish in under two hours), and no one else I know will be there (so I don't need to "keep up appearances" for anyone). I do not understand. If I am feeling this size of butterflies now, what will it be like as October 7th approaches? Tomorrow or the next day I can report on the Mora Half, but for now I need to find some Tums.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Raising the Set Point

Most things in life seem to have a "set point." A default level of something--activity, communication, closeness, workload. For example, as I understand weight, a person arrives at a certain set point for weight that is determined by a variety of factors--age, activity level, body type, diet. But the important aspect is that a person's weight will tend to settle at that set point unless the person makes affirmative efforts to change their set point. Diet changes or increased/decreased activity levels can change the set point for a person's weight.

Relationships also seem to have a set point of closeness and communication. To get closer or communicate more requires affirmative efforts over time in that direction. Set points do not change overnight or easily. Sometimes it may be worth the effort to change a set point and other times it may be OK to just leave the set point where it is. Running seems to have its own set point aspects.

Last night I ran 8.1 around a pretty lake in Maple Grove. That felt like a good distance (though it felt longer at the end of the day than at the beginning). This morning I put in another 5.2 and it almost felt too short. I can remember not so long ago when 3.1 felt just right and much more than that felt like a tremendous exertion. But my set point has changed. Distance and pace that felt just right a few months ago now seems too short and too slow. I am OK with the change, although it takes longer to get the same satisfaction level from a run. I wonder what will happen post-marathon? I sure don't want to lose the benefits that I have gained so far, but I also know that I cannot keep up this training pace. I'll know more in mid-October.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Up North Favorites

A wonderful weekend of favorites. Phil's cabin is one of my two favorite relaxing places. My in-law extended family are some of my very favorite people. Kelsey was along and her laugh is one of my very favorite sounds. Abby spent lots of time in the hammock and that is one of my favorite images of someone else relaxing. My mother-in-law brought her homemade doughnuts--and all-time favorite (sorry Krispy Kreme). And of course, one of my three favorite places to run.

After Friday's 16-miler, something between five and six sounded just about right for Sunday morning. The gravel road winds through the pine, birch, and poplar forest, up and down hills that are enough to notice, but not so much as to discourage. In the morning the sun dapples the road and the movement from shade to sun brings a marked temperature change. A slight breeze to keep the deer flies away. It is my idea of a nearly perfect run (10 degrees cooler would have made it perfect.) Running with Phil is also enjoyable. He is 60, but neither acts, nor lives that age. When running, either conversation or quiet comes easily and I feel that I can be myself. Thanks Phil!

I hope that running with my brother Dan will be like that. Effortless in the sense of not needing to force conversation or have the drone of labored breathing seem awkward. I think it will be great. My one hesitation is that it will be such a good experience that I will want to find more occasions that once a year to run together. Perhaps it is an unreal ideal, but how cool it would be to have my brother as a regular running/training partner.

All in all a wonderfully relaxing weekend. Nice for a change.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Muscle that is Pain

Sixteen miles this morning and a broad mix of emotions and experiences. The first hour--mostly before sunrise--went by so quickly that I could almost not believe that so much time had passed. Hour two was neutral with several large hills. The last half hour was downright unpleasant. Mentally the first hour was easy, as you might imagine. The second hour required attention. The last 30 minutes called for a constant mental litany, "I will not stop. I will not quit. It really is worth it." (One advantage of running a 16-mile loop is that there really is not an option of stopping. You still have to get the rest of the way home.) Whatever the experience, I now have run 16 miles at one shot. Could I have gone another 10 this morning? Probably not, but I don't need to until October 7th.

I recently read an article in Outside magazine about a pain researcher and what he has learned about pain tolerance. I read that pain tolerance is like a muscle--it can increase over time. The article used the example of Lance Armstrong, saying that he developed an extraordinary pain tolerance during his cancer treatments that probably allowed him to endure greater amounts of pain than other Tour de France riders. This may have partly accounted for Lance's dominance over the last years that he rode that race.

Next Saturday I am running the Mora Half Marathon. Other years I have looked up at the distance as a major accomplishment. This year the 13.1 miles of the race will be less than what I run the past two long runs. I am curious to find out how it will feel different. Rest assured, I am fully aware that 13 miles is still 13 miles and I do not expect a walk in the park. But I wonder if I will have a greater resilience later in the race because I know what it is to go that distance and still be able to walk.

I wonder what else in life I could do more, better, stronger if I were to put in the "training" to get to higher levels of accomplishment?

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Another Milestone

This morning's 15.6 from my house to Maple Lake was the longest distance that I have run since May of 2000 (and many extra pounds). It also marks 2007 as the year when I run the most miles in my adult life. Up to 428 so far, eclipsing every other year since 1982--and probably every year of my life period. I certainly did not imagine that my 47th year would be the year that I would run more than any other. Maybe 25 or 35, but never 47. I'm not sure what I thought 47 would be like, but it wasn't this.

We generally like surprises when they go that direction--a bank error in our favor, a trip that takes less time than we thought it would, a test score that is better than we expected. But when the surprises go the other direction, they are not generally welcome. Most pressing in my thoughts are the people who were just driving home from work on Wednesday evening to suddenly find themselves dropped into the Mississippi River or onto the river's banks by the I-35W bridge collapse. No storm, no announced danger, no warning, just sudden disaster. Out of the disaster have come many stories of heroism and self-sacrifice--but also many stories of grief. There is also a palpable sense of relief from those who, for whatever reason, just avoided the disaster. A good friend had crossed the bridge two hours before it went down. A former co-worker went across no more than ten minutes before the collapse. A current co-worker was delayed in the office and would ordinarily have been on the bridge at 6:05 p.m.

At some point we will hear the cry for answers. How do we make sense of this tragedy? No matter what the NTSB discovers in their post-incident investigation, the bigger "Why?" may simply never be answered this side of heaven. On the other side, I wonder if the question will be asked?

Friday, August 3, 2007

Joy in the Ordinary

This morning's run was ordinary. Not a new route. Not a faster time. Not a greater distance. Just ordinary. And it was delightful. For one who thrives on change and adventure and new horizons and conquering the next hill, appreciating the ordinary does not come naturally. Granted, if every day was the same, ordinary would get old in a hurry. But I can learn to take pleasure in the ordinary, as well as in the cutting edge. It is a definite growth area.

I wonder how many people have a hard time with the ordinary with God? Perhaps an early faith experience was dramatic and a person has experienced what has felt like tremendous growth and vitality. The Bible seems to have life-altering truths that leap off of the page. What do those people do in the ordinary seasons of life when God seems more like a good friend who lives in a distant city--still important and connected, but not a new shared adventure every day. Now some may say that our walk with God should not be ordinary--that it can be a new adventure every day. I say, good for you, but that has not been my experience. One of my greatest challenges in this area is maintaining the vitality of a relationship that often feels like that really good friend who lives on the other coast.

What makes it easier for me to embrace the ordinary run is that I know that a 15-miler is coming tomorrow. I wonder if there is a spiritual analog?

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

400 Miles

This morning's 6.2 put me over 400 miles for calendar year 2007. It seems like a lot to me--almost like running from my house to Chicago. Only in one other year have I run more--2005, when I ran 414 for the entire year (another milestone I should break through later this week). For my entire adult life I have logged my runs for every year where I ran more than a nominal amount. Some would call that obsessive, but not me.

I like metrics. I like to know how far, how much, and how fast. Not for comparison with anyone else, but just to know. Perhaps I want to do better than I did before--to go farther, to go faster, to do more. Perhaps I just like keeping score and in running there are not a lot of opportunities to keep score. I suppose that sometimes this quality can be a strength and sometimes it is a weakness.

But I don't always have to win anymore. Maybe I am growing up, but winning isn't everything. For example, when I run the half marathon with my brother, the joy will be in doing the run with him, not in some spectacular time or finishing ahead of him. To finish together is my goal and will be a wonderful celebration to me. (Of course, if he takes off at a sprint just before the finish, all bets are off. I am still me.)

Monday, July 30, 2007

Halfway -- Where Has the Time Gone?

This week launches the second half of my 18-week training program. Seems like the first half has gone so quickly. At some level it has--the distances were much shorter. Seven of the next eight weekends carry runs of 12 miles or greater--one up to 20 miles. The first "half" of the program was definitely shorter. I am pleased with the progress so far. I have never made it this far before without some kind of injury. (My worst injury to date was not even running related--a little road rash from a biking fall.) One of the challenging parts of the second half will be the time factor--it simply takes more time to run longer runs. But I knew that from the beginning.

During this morning's 5.7 I began thinking about what may come after the marathon is over (other than walking slowly for a day or so). Will I need another BIG goal to keep me motivated, or will the running itself be sufficient. I know I will be running a half marathon in December with my brother (who is making fantastic progress in his training!), but what after that? I would like to be motivated by the running experience itself rather than by some "next event."

What keeps someone coming back to the Bible or to church day after day, week after week? Is it the rush of good feelings, or being around people who are excited about spiritual things? Or is it just being with God? Again, I wish that I were one of those people for whom it was always just to be with my God, but honestly it is as often about other people and their expectations as it is about God Himself. Not sure what the answer is, but I wonder if part of the answer may simply be in asking the question.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

That's More Like It

This morning's run was a joyous return to the land of "good" runs. I was a bit concerned after Sunday's debacle, but today I at least got out before the humidity was too oppressive. A familiar route that I like didn't hurt. Is there such a thing as a "bad" run? I rediscovered the other day that it can sometimes be unpleasant, but is that bad? For longer distances I am finding that unpleasant is a matter of degree. The more I run and the farther I run will be more taxing on my muscles, joints, and oxygen delivery systems. It will be tougher. But that can be good.

From what I read, really long distance running is as much a function of the mind as it is of the body. I think that is part of the benefit of longer training runs--simply getting used to constant motion over the course of a number of hours. If the issue is to avoid discomfort, then don't run. If the issue is to become more fit, stronger, and have a sharper mind, then endure a bit of temporary discomfort for the longer range benefits. And at that point the difficulty loses its sting.

I wonder how much effort people put into isolating themselves from any discomfort or pain? Not just the obvious culprits--drugs and alcohol--but what about withdrawing from relationships and not pursuing dreams? Sure it may expose a person to less heartache, pain, and discomfort, but at what price? For the greater benefit, I'll take the temporary pain any day.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Not Always Sugarplums and Rainbows

This past weekend was supposed to be a 13-mile long run. Other commitments on Saturday and Sunday morning pushed the run to Sunday afternoon--mid-90's and high humidity. It was downright unpleasant and I did not do all 13. From the first step it was a miserable experience. Not to complain--because that is not who I am, but instead, to recognize that even the good things are not always pleasant if you do them long enough.

No question. I love to run. But that doesn't mean that I love every day of running, or that if I hit a stretch of less-than-enjoyable runs, then I must not like running any more. Why should it be any other way for running? Other aspects of life are that way. Think about kids. If we only like our kids when they are well-behaved and cheerful and fun, then we would only like them for a brief time. If we gave up on them when they became unpleasant for a while, or a season, then we would not be fulfilling our responsibilities as parents and we would miss the wonderful times that follow the trying times.

The same may be true with following Christ. Sometimes it feels wonderfully fulfilling and restorative and affirming, but other times it seems like a chore. Only by persisting through the less pleasant times do you get back to the fulfilling and affirming place.

Today is a rest day and tomorrow I anticipate another pleasant run. And if tomorrow's run is not, then there is always the next day.

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Night Before

This morning's run felt sluggish and I did not wake up ready to jump out of bed and hit the road. That is different from most mornings where I have found myself eager to get started. I think that I figured out why. During the past few weeks of training I have been more attentive to maintaining good eating habits (as well as good running habits). But yesterday was an exception. I did not eat well--too much and the wrong foods. This morning I paid the price.

Someone once said that the key to a good experience at church on Sunday morning begins on Saturday night. A good night's rest, setting out clothes ahead of time, and making Sunday morning as stress free as possible. I wonder how many other things in life are like this--the success/value of the activity is determined, to a significant degree, by what happens the day before. So much of life is interrealted without us even realizing the dependencies. Today I will endeavor to be conscious of the reality that what I do today may influence tomorrow.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

The Price of a Beautiful Run

One of my all-time favorite runs is a 7.25 loop that takes me east from home into the countryside and up three substantial hills to a splendid overlook of Pelican Lake. The three hills are as substantial as anything that you will find in my part of Minnesota, but the view from the top is breath-taking (not to mention just having run up the hills to get there). From the top you can see for several miles and Pelican Lake spreads like an aquatic ameoba.

Last night H-- and a friend brought home the movie Elizabethtown. I did not expect to like it, but it was wonderful. A great story of finding what you truly want by keeping your eyes open to see what is around you. While I rarely recommend movies, I give this one high marks.

The Claire character lamented about feeling like a substitute person--one who is filling a role for someone else rather than being oneself. Claire never extolled selfishness, but instead sought to find herself and to help the Drew character to find his own voice and not be just another substitute. It has really got me thinking.

Hopefully this is not too much of a stretch, but running takes me to a place of self-determination. No one is telling me how far to run or how fast. Yes, I have a training plan, but Mr. Higdon ( has not once called to check up on me. If I want to go fast one day I can. If I want to go slow, no one is there to compel me to do otherwise. If I want to go longer or shorter. I get to choose my route. In running at least, I am not a substitute person. And I really like that feeling. (And the endorphins probably don't hurt either.)

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Freedom for What?

Independence Day. The celebration of America's birth as a free and independent nation. But is that what happened on July 4, 1776? Not exactly. The first Independence Day was a declaration of intent and desire that took years and thousands of lives to obtain. As has been said so many times before, freedom comes at a price. The greater freedom, the higher price.

What does this have to do with training for a marathon? Perhaps not much. Perhaps today's blog is a stretch. But at some level freedom is the ability to do something that one could not otherwise do. Whether that is political self-determination, time or money margins that allow options, or a day with nothing on the schedule--these are all freedoms at different levels.

Every day of training for the TCM gives me a certain freedom to do something that I otherwise could not. If I do not train, I cannot finish the race. If I do train, I can not only finish the race in October, but feel better about myself and my accomplishments between now and then. I will realize physical and emotional benefits that I would otherwise miss. I will develop a camaraderie with other runners that transcends other friendships. I will be able to look back and know that with sufficient effort, I can do what I set my mind to.

My brother may be experiencing some of this. In a moment of lunacy or weakness (on his part) he agreed to run a half marathon with me next December. He has not been much of a runner--generous--and has just started his training program. The other day he went 1.5 miles without walking. PROPS TO DAN!! He would have to tell you if it feels good, but now he has something more to build on. He can be increasingly confident that the next time he can go as for or farther. He too can know the joy of the freedom that running can bring.

Certainly the freedom that comes from running is minimal compared to national self-determination. And the price is dramatically less as well. But for those of us who are not seeking national independence, it is still a freedom we can enjoy if we are willing to pay the price.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Following the Plan

This morning's run did not feel like training for a marathon. It seemed too short. The plan said to run 3.0 today, but I wanted to run more. 3.o did not feel like it is going to advance my efforts to get to 26.2. After all, I have been doing more than 3 miles a day for quite some time now. It is barely a challenge.

Do I really think that I know more than Hal Higdon who has helped 1000's of people successfully complete their first marathon? If I don't know more than him, perhaps I should just set aside my ideas of what constitutes proper training and follow his plan.

This may be why it is a good idea to have a spiritual director/mentor--someone who knows what they are doing and may know what we need more than we do ourselves. Just as Hal Higdon established a plan that has as its long term goal getting runners across the finish line of the marathon, so a spiritual director establishes a plan to move a person into closer conformity to the thoughts, intentions, and actions of Jesus. Not every step along the way may seem like a huge leap of progress, but the spiritual director keeps the end goal in mind.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Intermediate Milestones

My first double-digit run (10.2) since last winter's Winter Carnival Half Marathon was an accomplishment for me. It felt long, but also felt like I am making progress. Because I know how long the marathon is, I could take comfort that the run was about 40% of an entire marathon. I think that I know why the training program does not have me ever running more than 20 miles. If so, some of the thrill of completing the full marathon distance would be diminished.

It was also good to be back at church today. I am part of a great church that is trying to remain missional while it also gets established. I've been gone for about six weeks with various travels, so it was good to be back.

Looking ahead, the long runs start to turn into some real distance (12, 15, 18) pretty quickly and I will get a much better feel for how it will be to run for four hours. While there is a significant physical component to the entire endeavor, I think that there must be a substantial mental component as well. I guess we'll see.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Back At It

Two weeks of vacation with extended family created lots of good memories and plenty of different running opportunities--along the Virginia Beach boardwalk, through Greenbelt National Park in D.C., some neighborhoods around Williamsburg, VA. But it is good to be home and back to familiar places. I was a bit surprised how excited the kids were to get home last night--almost giddy.

For some reason, during this morning's 5.2 I found myself thinking of glimpses of the future. One of my kids likes to read the end of a mystery novel first in order to find out who will still be alive at the end of the story. She says she can enjoy the rest of the book better if she knows the ending. I don't get it--why ruin the tension and mystery? But what about real life. If you could get a 30 minute glimpse of your life five years from now or fifteen, would you want to see? How might it change the way that you live today? In a morbid moment, I wondered what if I look five years into the future and find that I'm dead? Would that change anything that I am doing now? If so, shouldn't I go ahead and make those changes? Why wait?

One of the reasons that I love running is that it gives me time to ponder questions like this that I otherwise would not have the freedom to consider.

P.S. My brother is going to run a half marathon with me in December (in Florida). I am excited about sharing the journey with him, as well as the event. Who knows, he may even grow to like running and then I will have more than a brother--a comrade for the roads. Cool thought.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Slower to Go Faster

By about mile three of this morning's run I began wondering why everything felt so good. It felt as if I had just started out. Then I realized that yesterday was an official rest day. That one day of rest transformed today's run into a quicker and smoother experience. In the midst of focusing on training and putting in the miles, it is easy to lose touch with the incremental physical toll that such this training regimen is taking. A rest day is not only good for my body, but also for my mind. And planned rest is the best. If I miss a day because of weather or schedule, then I feel bad and tend to get down on myself. If rest is written in on the schedule, then I am free to be OK with not running that day.

I wonder how many people are functioning in daily life with little or no rest. Not so much a vacation, but rest in the midst of regular life. That is something that I need to get proficient with--how to get sufficient rest in the midst of work and family obligations to stay at the top of my game (such as that is). "Daily rest" must fit within the structures of the rest of life or it will get squeezed out by other responsibilities.

Jim Anderson from the NCD-EFCA ran a sabbath retreat that I attended where he tried to convince us of the value of regular sabbath time. Sometimes I think that I should have paid more attention.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Free Thought Zone

Some people look at runners and think that our experience is a mind-numbing repetition--left, right, left, right ... It is true that running does not necessarily require a lot of attention, but I usually find it to be mind-freeing. Last Friday I got to go flying in a Cessna 172--an early Fathers Day gift (props to all!). It was thrilling to fly the plane for much of the flight, including the landing, but it was attention intensive. No time for daydreaming. Between watching for other aircraft, watching the instruments, watching where I was going, and trying to give my Dad a smooth ride, it required all of the attention that I could give. This morning's run was different.

I could think about the work day to come, our upcoming vacation, what to see in Washington, D.C., how to find someone to embroider the 50th anniversary shirts, what needs to get fixed on my truck, whether any of my kids will go to DePauw (my alma mater), you get the idea. In the course of 5.2 miles, I can think a lot of thoughts. The running route was familiar, so I didn't even need to think about where I was going. The freedom is wonderful--and right outside my front door. I also enjoy the freedom to think while there is nothing else that I should be doing. There will be time later in the day for work, family, and other responsibilities. While I run I can let my thoughts go wherever they want to go--and enjoy the journey.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Regular is OK

I want my blog to be pithy and insightful. The kind of blog that someone might stumble upon and be struck by the witty commentary on life and thought. But such is not to be. I am not terribly pithy or witty--at least not in ways that come across well in print. Yet I am becoming more satisfied with the reality that I am a pretty regular guy whose most outstanding accomplishment is providing a platform for the exploits of my kids. I can be OK with being regular, instead of some well-known world changer. I don't need headlines or notoriety, just a sense that I am doing some good in the spheres of influence in which I find myself.

Training is similar in that not every training run is spectacular or noteworthy. For example, this morning's 3.5 was over a familiar and often-run course, at a pace that I am settling into (just under 9:00/mile), and with a view of an ordinary summer sunrise. No particularly insightful thoughts or revelations. No extraordinary animal sightings. Nothing particularly notable. Yet regular is OK. It is part of the training process and will have an ultimately good result.

As a kid I remember being told that I could be anything I wanted. And for many years that is what I told my own kids. But I have come to realize that the statement, though well-meaning, is simply not true. I have now shifted my focus to helping my kids/myself find out what I can be really good at and enjoy, and following that path. Rather than trying to be something or someone that I was not created to be, why not simply do all that I can to be the best me?

This is not a mater of selfishness, but of efficiency. A pliers is not selfish if it chooses to pursue being used to tighten and loosen nuts, rather than to be used as a hammer. It is simply being itself. There are hammers for hammering and pliers for plier-ing. The pliers doesn't have to do all of the tool jobs. No one person has to do everything--in a home, an office, a church, a team. As each one does their own part well, the collective will be better off.

What do you enjoy doing that you do well? How can you align your work, service, home to do more of that?

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Keeping the End in Mind

This afternoon's run was tough. Very hot by 4:00 when I finally got out on the road. A very good reason to run first thing in the morning. I appreciated every bit of shade and the splash of cold water from someone's sprinkler. If I did not have a greater goal that I am working toward, it would have been easy to cut off the run for a shorter route. But as the miles added up, I kept thinking that this run will set my mind so that the left turn up Summit Avenue will not seem overly daunting. I will be able to approach the toughest part of the TCM course with confidence that I will make it through to the finish line.

It is by keeping the greater goal in mind that we overcome immediate adversity. Whether that it is a tough, hot afternoon run, or studying hard when your friends are going out in order to get the grade that will support your application to a top college. Keeping the end in mind bridges the gap between the need for present discipline and the hope for future attainment.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Not all roses, but well worth the effort

I would hate for anyone to get the wrong impression. As much as I love running and my training for the TCM, it is not easy or "no big deal." 5:00 a.m. is still early and my body is still 47 years old. It is not easy, but it is good--good for me in the long run and good in the midst.

Our contemporary culture is quite taken with easy and painless and happy and carefree. The preferred course of action is usually the one that is easiest. But what about character-building difficulties, what about "no pain, no gain?" If all that you do is take the easy route, what will you do when there is no easy way? But if you have experience with overcoming difficulty, then you can meet it head on the next time with confidence rather than abject terror.

I suppose that training for a long run reflects this reality. I run a little bit more each week--with a little bit longer "long run" each weekend--so that I will be prepared and confident about running 26.2 miles on October 7th. If I just showed up at the start line on October 7th, I do not think that my chances of finishing would be very high. The training over the next few months will carry me to the finish. The training is not glamorous, nor is it easy, but it is worth the effort--for the attainment of the ultimate goal.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

The Big Mo-mentum

It hasn't taken long for the momentum effects of training to kick in. I am finding it easier to get out of bed at 5:01 a.m. than to stay under the covers and it feels like I am missing something on the days that I do not run. Plus, this is the perfect time of year for running in Minnesota. For example, this morning it was light by the time I left the house at about 5:15 and it was about 48 degrees with no wind. I got to watch the sun break over the horizon and was part of seeing my little town stir from the night's slumber.

I think that I often underestimate the effect of momentum in other aspects of life. When things are going well relationally with my kids, it is easier to keep them moving in that direction. When they are not, it takes extra effort to get things headed in the right direction. I find the same to be true in my journey with God. When I am spending time praying and reading my Bible, it is easier to do those necessary disciplines the next day. When I miss a few days, it seems harder to get back into a healthy pattern.

I like the momentum effect when it comes to running. It makes me feel more like a real unner and less like someone who is trying too hard to cling to some imaginary glory from his younger days. I like the feeling of getting out on the streets while most of the town is still asleep and feeling that this is "how it should be." I really like the time to think long thoughts. To begin to mull over something today and know that I have a few more days this week to give it all of the time and attention that the thought deserves. Hurrah for momentum!

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Good rain / Bad rain

One of my favorite local running routes goes out of town to the east along the Mississippi. Today's run was about 6.4 and about 3.6 in the rain started--gentle, but steady. It felt wonderful to me and I enjoyed the cooling, refreshing sensation. But not such a good rain for the motorcyclists and graduation party-ers. It all depends on your perspective.

If perspective is so important, can we choose our perspective? If so, then why not choose to view events from a perspective that ends up leading to a positive view? I am always amazed when I hear of people who face extreme hardship and difficulty with a positive view. At the same time I wonder what causes those people to make that choice and why others are devastated.

Friday, June 1, 2007

The Runner's Rest

The training program says that I should rest today. But I feel fine. Apparently the body performs better in the long run if there are periods in which to rest and recover. Based on what I read, the muscle fibers heal more fully with a rest day and end up being stronger. OK. If Mr. Higdon says to rest, I'll try.

This will give the opportunity for a non-running reflection. Since January we have had the greatest foreign exchange student experience possible. Nana is from Denmark, is 16, and has been a joy to have be part of our family since mid-January. I'm sad that she is going home in a couple of weeks. Thrown into a new cultural experience, with a family that she did not know, into a new school, new foods, new ... (you get the idea). I have not heard her complain one single time (other than joining in with one stray comment about the cold in mid-February). She has tried new foods--including sweet potatoes; new experiences--including kayaking, a 10k run (see picture at right), and being on the track team; and has found new successes--her quilt that she made for school is stunning. Props to her parents for raising such a delightful young lady. Now we get to plan a trip to Denmark for a visit and to meet the rest of her family.

Sometimes tackling a scary adventure can provide the opportunity to experience so much more than we ever would have had we not gotten past our fears. Is it worth it? Nana would say it is.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Counting the Cost

At the outset of any venture it is wise to "count the cost." That way we do not get ourselves into the position of backing out because we didn't think something through enough. We can also decide if the activity/pursuit is really worth the cost. Over the course of this marathon training program I will cover about 450 miles. Even at a 9:30 pace, that will require 4275 minutes of running (not counting the minutes to stop sweating after running). Over the next 18 weeks, I will be investing just over 71 hours in the marathon training adventure--about 1.5 work weeks, or just under three full days. I have counted the cost and I believe that for me and at this time the investment is justified.

But the reality is that not everyone would agree with me. I have already encountered folks who give me the "Are you sure you're OK?" look. But whether anyone else agrees with me, I am OK with the investment of time and energy. [It certainly helps me that my usual running time--early mornings--does not cost my family anything. They are either still sleeping or getting ready for work/school and not looking for meaningful conversation.] Bottom line for me is that I do not care whether anyone else applauds my efforts or even notices. This is not about anyone else and their preferences. This is about me doing something that is mentally and physically healthy for me and something that I have wanted to do for many years.

In some ways this is also true about striving to follow Christ. Each person must choose to follow or not and that decision cannot be based on what others think. Either being a Christ-follower is worth your investment or it is not. Millions, and perhaps billions, down through history have concluded that it is worth the investment, but you decide for yourself--then act.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Goals -- friend or foe?

I realize that some people like goals and others find goals repulsive--I like them. Goals are motivating and give me a means to measure progress and accomplishment. I am not an obsessive goal-setter, but they offer me a sense of encouragement. Goals for the marathon? Finish in four hours or less and weigh no more than 175 on race day.

The risk inherent in setting goals is that I may not reach them. If I finish the marathon in 4:08 or weigh 178 at the start will it be a failure? Not at all! The best goals are guideposts, not minimum acceptable standards. At the same time, good goals are also measurable along the way. I can track my race pace progress by extrapolating my training pace and I can watch my weight shift throughout the training. That way I can get positive feedback along the way, not just in October.

Most Christ-followers I know have never given any thought to specific goals related to their Christ-following. They have general thoughts like, "I want to be a better person," or "I want to be more loving." But how do you measure that? Some have said that spiritual goal-setting presumes on God by declaring what I will and will not do. (Words of non-goal-setters.)

I have found that I accomplish more when I set goals than when I do not--even if I do not reach the goal. If I have a goal to read the Bible through in a year using a scheduled program (see for a sample) then I find that I will read more than if I have no plan at all. If it works for Bible reading, how about other aspects of spiritual growth? Prayer, fasting, Scripture memory, spiritual virtues, ...

Why not try setting a spiritual development goal in just one area--try Bible reading first--and see where you are a month from now? Persist in the Journey!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Plan = Success?

Today began my "official" training for the Twin Cities Marathon. I am using a training plan from Hal Higdon ( as a guide. Why a program? Because I trust someone who has done this before more than I trust me--someone who hasn't. Why Higdon's program? Because I have heard of him and he seems to know what he is talking about. There are lots of training programs out there, and I am sure that most of them could do their part to get me to the finish line, but I chose this program. Better to choose one and follow it than to waffle between programs and get behind.

While the program will help, it will not get me to the finish line. The program is detailed--workout distances for each of the next 18 weeks (around 450 miles total). The program has been used by others. The program seems to be do-able. But I still need to put in the miles. Simply having the program and having the run distances entered on my calendar will accomplish nothing in and of itself.

People have asked, what program should I follow to become a disciple of Christ? I think that most of the time they want to know how to get to someplace they have never been. Most of the time people have been disappointed when I tell them that there is no single plan, but that a good strategy is to pick one of the many that are out there and follow the plan. Becoming a disciple is much more of a journey than a destination, and there is no guaranteed plan for a lifelong journey that charts each step from now until the day you die. Better to head in a direction--toward Christlikeness--and see where the journey takes you.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Does technology make us better?

Phil's cabin (four hours north of home) is one of my favorite places to run. Winding dirt road through immense stands of pine trees. Around by the lake and always on the lookout for deer. I saw one car and two people on a 55 minute run. And so quiet that all you can hear is the birds and the wind in the treetops.

Running can be a fully unfettered experience. Given the right conditions one could run naked (not this one, but "one" could) and get the same physical benefits and emotional lift. At the same time, strap on your GPS-enabled heart rate monitor, your moisture-wicking shirt and shorts, lace up your $140 shoes, start up your ipod Nano, and you have a vastly different experience than the birthday suit runner. But is it a better experience? Does the technology help you listen better to the sounds of the nature through which you run? Help you better feel the rhythmns of your body? Clarify the window into your thoughts that running throws open wide?

I am not a running Luddite, because knowing how far and how fast is a strong motivator. But I do not want to miss the sound of the wind in the Aspens becasue I am listening to a song I can hear any time. That may be part of why I love to run. It makes me slow down enough to really listen and see. It gives me time to imagine ...

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Rattlesnakes are in the Area

The sign got my attention right away. Running this morning (5.5) and evening (4.45) in Folsom (outside Sacramento) along the shores of Lake Natoma I did not expect to see rattlers. It is beautiful here--different trees and flowers in bloom all over. There is a paved path along the lake and also an off road path. I enjoy Runners World magazine (, but have never seen running environments like they show in the magazine--until today. The off road paths were hilly and wound through the trees by the lake.

I was a bit spooked by the rattlesnake warning. But, without the warning sign, I would not have been aware that rattlesnakes could be an issue. I think that God's word is like that sometimes. Apart from His warning, I would not be aware that there may be a threat. And because there are warnings, I pay closer attention. I would have ignored the rattlesnake warning at my peril. So too with what God has to say.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Chicago Serendipity

Every now and then a change of environment can be refreshing--a new book, new food, new socks, a new running route. I'm in Chicago for a day for a conference and I wanted to run this evening after the last conference session. The doorman at the hotel pointed me to the way to get to the lakefront trail and away I went. Chicago is such a vibrant and beautiful city. So many people were out enjoying the late spring evening--biking, roller blading, walking, running.

It was one of those rare runs where I did not want it to end. I ended up going 6.5 miles, but I was disappointed when I got back to my starting place. It was good to stop so I won't be miserable tommorow, but it was hard to stop. Most of the time I am ready to be done by the end of my planned run, but not tonight. Even something that is hard work can be enjoyable.

Tomorrow I go to California for a couple of days of meetings and I am looking forward to encountering another serendipitous experience.

P.S. Saw my friend Frank (and Aileen) on this trip and I am reminded how good it is to have an old friend who is also a good friend--and cool to boot. I appreciate that we could talk about much more than news, weather and sports. Props to Frank!

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Not alone is OK

Despite what the rest of my family thinks (they are Florida residents), Minnesota in the late spring and early summer can be incredible. Today is sunny and 85, with a slight NW breeze. A perfect day for an EDI (easy does it) run. Usually I prefer to run alone--my own pace, my route, in my own little thought bubble. But today, my daughter H came along--for the first part. It was great. We could talk and encourage each other to keep a steady pace. Wouldn't want to do it this way every day, but today was nice. It was even a little sad when we went by the house after 2.25 miles and dropped her off.

Sometimes it is better not to go it alone. Even the most self-sufficient of us needs a little encouragement or help along the way. It is OK to offer, and OK to accept.

My TCM registration has been confirmed and October 7th is the target. Every run between now and then points to, and will contribute to, that day. Nothing like a big 26.2 mile target! I feel encouraged (perhaps the residual endorphin effect) that this time will be different and that I will see both the start and finish lines.

Friday, May 18, 2007

At the start ... again

I am 47. I am a husband and father. I am a runner. I am a Christ-follower. And all of those things come together somehow. This blog is to chronicle my thoughts and observations while training for the 2007 Twin Cities Marathon. I know that if I do not write, I will miss most of the ephemeral thoughts that flit through my endorphin-driven mind. So it is as much for me as for anyone.

I have been here before--several times. I have been a runner off and on since high school. I have been a Christ-follower, sometimes better than others, since high school. After reading Jim Fixx's book, I wanted to run a marathon. A number of times I have trained, even paid my money, but have never even made it to the start line. Sometimes injury and sometimes lost interest, but I want this time to be different.

Since I started following Christ I have wanted to do it well--to be a good follower. A number of times I have tried, with varying degrees of success, but never quite seemed to get there. But I want this time to be different.

I am hopeful.