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 (www.halhigdon.com) 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.