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?