Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Winding Down

When I looked at the calendar and saw that today's run is scheduled for only 6 miles I realized that the training is winding down and all that will be left are the races. Once again, the effort and actions of several months or preparation will be reduced to a few hours on a Saturday and a Sunday. I wonder if it will feel anti-climactic at the end? Or will I just be thankful to be finished? Either way, 11 days from now it will all be done--39.3 miles in two days.

The year is winding down as well and it definitely feels anti-climactic. Whoop dee doo, 2009 is over and a new year is starting. Most people I talk with will be glad to see 2009 in the rearview mirror. For many people it has not been the greatest year of all time, but that is where there is real hope for 2010 to be better.

I have never been big on New Year's resolutions. After all, if something is important enough to be the subject of an initiative in the coming year, it should have been important enough to pursue all along. But, if thinking about life as a fresh start works for you, then have at it. The trouble with fresh starts is that when you drop the ball every time you start over, at some point you realize that maybe you just can't catch. At the same time, the benefit of a fresh start--a true fresh start--is that what I did yesterday doesn't have to be what I do/who I am/how I think today. And the most freeing thing about mercy is that the fresh start is real, and not merely a front.

What would you do if you could wipe your late clean (whatever that means for you)? Would you do it? If someone gave me the option to go back in time and have a do-over with parts of my life I wonder if I would? Yes, perhaps I could get some things right that I feel I have gotten wrong over the years. But what would I lose? My conclusion is that the best course of action is to look at today and say, "Here I am, warts and all. Now what will I do today that will make tomorrow closer to what I think I want it to be." This allows me not to wallow in regret, but still to be accountable for today's decisions that will make or unmake tomorrow's happiness. In the grand scheme of things, my actions, and to a lesser extent my thoughts, are all that I can control. So I will strive to control what I can and let go of trying to control or fix everything else. We'll see what happens ...

Pressing On!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Dust Settles

Whew! The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of activity, events, and people--a rather long list of things that were planned for by the end of 2009. Now, all of those events are finished and today was the first chance to take a deep breath and begin to reflect. This has been a very different Christmas season for a lot of people I know. For some the different nature of this year resulted from economic calamity or challenge; for others there are empty chairs around the table due to death, broken relationships, or moving away; some friends just sound like they are tired and worn out. This Christmas season is not what they hoped for or intended.

Sometimes I wish that I had a magical cure for broken hearts and lives; but, alas, I do not. It occurs to me that a person's character is revealed more in how they respond to challenges than in how they live in the easy, downhill times. It also seems that more often than not life's difficulties take us by surprise. Someone once said that the time to develop character is before the storm strikes, because when the storm strikes, it is too late to develop the character that is required to survive the storm.

I can see how the days after Christmas can be difficult for some people. The excitement is over and now we have the long, dark days of winter to look forward to. Not to be disrespectful, but this morning I found myself wondering what Jesus thought of being human when He woke up for His second day in an infant body. Did He wonder what He had gotten into? Yet, no matter how He felt on the second day--and the following weeks, months, and years--all of His earthly existence was focused on one goal--accomplishing redemption. And it was all worth it in the end.

Christmas then is not so much an end in itself as a beginning. I believe that Christmas can offer hope. Not necessarily hope that everything will be "fixed" right away. But hope that in the end, everything will be good. The road from today until all is good may be twisted and difficult, or it may seem too long, too hard, or impossible. But every year Christmas reminds me afresh that there will be an end ot the journey--and that in the end, all will be good.

Press On!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Anticipation and Waiting

Anticipation and waiting are not the same. They may look the same to an outside observer, but there is a fundamental internal difference between the two. Waiting is imposed, and anticipation wells up from within. I must wait for the plane to board at a busy Reagan National airport last Friday night. I anticipate a meeting with an old friend or dinner with the girls on Christmas Eve. Waiting = dread. Anticipation = excitement. Waiting simply endures the passage of time until the event. Anticipation calls for hopeful preparation before the event. I think that Advent was designed to be anticipation, but has too often become waiting.

Young and old alike often are waiting for Christmas to finally come--and often for different reasons. The young count the days until "Santa's" arrival. The older we get the more we sometimes cannot wait to get through Christmas so that life can return to normal. Although as we get older we also look forward to special times with friends and family. (BTW--props to the greatest small group on the planet for going Christmas caroling last Sunday night--you made my Christmas season for this year!)

But where is the preparation of anticipation? At the first Advent, the nation of Israel had been waiting for a Messiah--without a new direct word from God--for nearly 400 years. Perhaps they had lost the edge of preparing for the Messiah. After all, 400 years is a long time to wait for most anything. Had they given up hope? Had they lost confidence that this amazing event would ever occur? Or had they simply lost sight of the fact that when the Messiah came, He would bring about a sea change in everything that mattered? Whatever the reason, they were surprised. (Although I still wonder why the angels went to the shepherds out in the fields and not the town square to make their grand announcement.)

Have I lost my edge of preparation this Advent? Have I given up hope that the Messiah can ultimately make a real and tangible difference? Have I lost sight of the sea change in life that the Messiah offers? I hope not. Yes, this Advent season has been busier than any that I can recall. Yes, I have been on the road more times in the past month than I can remember. Yes, a lot of life feel like it is in flux. But I can still capture a bit of the preparation--even if it is just in these last few days. Will I? Will you?

Speaking of anticipation. Over the past month or so I have watched as a personal milestone has drawn closer and closer. Up until this past week, the most miles that I had run in any previous year had been 840 ( in 2007). Recently I broke the 840 barrier an am currently up to 873 for the year. Not the most earth-shattering news, but 27 years ago, after my second knee operation in three months, I would not have bet on ever getting to this point. And certainly not when I was almost 50. Next month is the big test--Goofy's Race-and-a Half Challenge--but more on that later. Until then ...

Pressing On!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Oops ... What Was That?

The gradual downhill is one of the most enjoyable running experiences. Not so steep that it is hard on the quads, but just downhill enough to feel like gliding effortlessly. The gradual downhill is a stretch of the trail to be savored like the last few pages of a favorite novel, or the last bite of mincemeat pie, or the last chord of a stirring hymn that reverberates throughout the auditorium. So what happened this morning? All of a sudden I found myself on the back side of the downhill and making the turn that leads back uphill. I got distracted and forgot to enjoy those few minutes of gentle downhill.

I'm sure that I was thinking about "important" things. After all, would I actually miss the downhill for anything that wasn't worth while? True confession--I missed the downhill for no good reason. I can barely remember what I was thinking about. And this particular downhill is one of my special favorites. I just got distracted. I was about 3.5 miles into my 6 for the morning. I had warmed up enough to no longer wonder whether I would turn into a human runner-sicle. I have run this particular route many times, so I didn't need to pay attention to where I was going. But I ended up distracted and missed the best part--with no rewind option.

This year Advent feels like it is flying past. And Advent is my favorite time of year. The waiting, the anticipation, the hope of good news, all of this plays into my love of Advent. But this year I feel like I am so distracted that I have already missed out on a good part of the season. There are things to do, people to see, places to go. And not to be irresponsible about my work or other tasks, but just to take time to look around and live in this season--that is what I need. Riding the train to work has helped a little with that. Two hours each day that I can read and think and observe, rather than drive.

One thing is for sure; I don't want to get to January and realize that I missed that gentle downhill that I so enjoy. So here's to stopping to stand and look while the snow is falling. Here's to going for a walk at that inconvenient time of night when all of the Christmas lights are displaying their twinkling splendor. Here's to going out again after work to see the high school basketball game (even when there is higher quality play on ESPN). Here's to listening to my co-workers talk about how much their little kids are looking forward to Santa. Here's to taking time to pray for those who are still waiting for the good news. Here's to enjoying the gentle downhill this Advent.

Press on!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Live More Boldly

Ortberg's final key to avoiding regret is to live more boldly. He recognizes a fine line between pursuing some great adventure and going over the waterfall in a barrel, but he acknowledges, and I believe rightly, that most people stay too far away from the falls for going over to ever be an issue. And in staying so far back from the edge, we miss something dynamic and life-giving. More often you hear of people wishing that they had taken more risks when they were younger than lamenting that they took so many risks. And those who are lamenting often took "over the waterfall" risks with their health or substances or relationships.

I am no advocate of being foolhardy (I bet you just heard my kids laugh out loud), but there is a lot of territory to explore between safe and foolish. But what keeps us from taking steps into adventure? Of seeking only to hang on to what seems secure? We don't want to lose what we have--even if we think that there may be something more/better. But what do we really have after all? Really just our souls and our relationships. We won't take any of our stuff with us--investments, property, cars, games, titles, even our reputations are left behind and quickly forgotten. What we can take with us is a life well-lived with people who matter. At my funeral, I would be disappointed if people talked about what I may have accomplished by then. Instead, I would rather have people reminisce about how their lives have been enhanced by us sharing life together.

But in the day to day, how can we live more boldly? Without being foolish? It can start with small steps. I would like to think that my choice to play rugby last spring was living boldly (or maybe that was closer to foolish). Why just watch when I can try to play? When I started thinking earlier this year about something else to do that might be bold I thought about running another marathon. That did not seem like such a good idea because the first one was not really very much fun after all. But I also though that I have done that before, what is something new? Then I came across the Goofy Race and Half. It is a half marathon on Saturday followed by a full marathon on Sunday. Now THAT sounds bold and manly. (At least it did a few months ago. Now that the race is less than five weeks away, I wonder what was I thinking?) So in about five weeks, in Orlando at Disney World, I will tackle the Donald Duck half marathon on Saturday and the Mickey Mouse marathon on Sunday. (Does the event sound less manly because it is at Disney? With Cinderella's castle in the background?) This is my current push to continue to live boldly and to not give in and seek comfort in the safe and secure and easy.

As I look back, I certainly regret some of the "bold" decisions that I have made. Knowing what I know now, there are some things that I would have decided differently. BUT, my greatest personal regrets to this point in life are those times where I chose the easy or safe or secure option--those are the ones that hurt, and in most cases the ones where there is no second chance to try again. I believe that it is possible to be both responsible and bold. But I am not sure that I can be both safe and bold. There is some truth in the cliches: Nothing ventured, nothing gained; and better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. A bold life will bring more pain, but the pain may just be the price of greater joy and excitement.

Pressing On!!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Give More Generously

This is the season that thoughts turn more naturally to giving. After all, Christmas is just around the corner and there are bells and red kettles everywhere to present us with ample opportunities to give. Don't get me wrong, I am all in favor of philanthropy in many forms, I am just opposed to merely seasonal giving.

A lawyer colleague of mine once asked how my church paid for its operations. Apparently at his synagogue, the members would be invoiced for their portion of the operating expenses and everyone (or most I would assume) would simply pay the invoice. At the time, I though that sounded like an interesting approach, but not so much any more. For giving to have a benefit for the giver, I believe that it must be purely voluntary. The times that I have given--whether a little or a lot--that I have felt compelled by some outside human force have left me feeling sullied by the experience. But when I have given out of inward desire to bless someone else, that has been freeing and deeply satisfying.

Certainly giving involves financial resources, but I also believe that just limiting consideration of giving to money shortchanges the concept. Giving should involve time, attention, and energy
as well as money. And perhaps those most in need of my giving in these other areas live right in my own house. Sometimes I wonder whether my family sees how much time and energy I give outside the house and questions where I place more value. I hope not, but better to ask the question and find out that everything is fine, than to not ask the question and only find out later that there was a gap in perception.

Attention is the main area where I need to strengthen my giving. There are so many things going on that I want to multi-task all of the time. Yet, I know that I hate the feeling when someone else is multi-tasking around me. It happens with God all of the time. I start praying or reading, then something else comes to mind and I break off "just for a minute" to take care of the more pressing matter. Meanwhile I can just imagine God waiting patiently on the other line for my return. If I do not like the feeling of being treated that way, why should I think that it is OK for me to act that way toward anyone else? That is just ridiculous!

So today I will try to be fully there in whatever conversation I am part of--fully engaged in every encounter. And I wonder how it will feel to give more generously?

Pressing On!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Laugh More Often

Sometimes life just seems so serious. Bills to pay; classes to succeed in; people depending on you to get things done or take care of them; planning for college; planning for weddings; planning for the rest of life. But must these things define our attitude? I am not saying that there are parts of life that are not serious--very serious. But must all of life be dour and humorless in order to be "grown up"? As Ortberg suggests, when has anyone ever said at the end of life, "I wish that I had laughed less."

I would agree that there is value in laughter--even beyond just the good feelings. The ability to laugh at myself helps to remind me that I do not carry the weight of the world on my shoulders--ultimately I am not responsible for everyone and everything. The ability to laugh at circumstances and with others reminds me that we are all goofy at times. I suppose that the key is to take seriously that which is serious and not that which is not. The trick is to know the difference.

I certainly think that Jesus got it right (pretty safe thing to say). Sometimes we read the gospels as if Jesus was that sour-faced, cheerless elementary school teacher whom we discovered probably didn't like kids too much. For many years I read the gospels that way. After all, saving the world is pretty serious business. But take another look.

Can't you just see Jesus struggling to hold back a smile when His disciples tell Him that there is no food and He knows that He is about to turn some little kid's sack lunch into a feast for the masses? Can't you see Him snickering at Peter's reluctance to get out of the boat when Jesus knows that Peter is about to experience the greatest outdoor adventure ever? Or how about an outright belly laugh when Jesus tells the fishermen to put out their nets after a long nights' unproductive fishing and they bring in a record catch?

Certainly there were times of great seriousness. Casting out demons; healing the sick and raising the dead; hanging on the cross and bearing the sin of all mankind. Yet, if the God of the universe could laugh and enjoy His friends--if He saw that as valuable--who am I to devalue that experience?

At the same time, laughing more often is unlike loving more. It is not just a choice. (In fact, if I just bust out laughing for no reason people will wonder whether the wheels have come off of the cart.) BUT, I can look out for things that are humorous. Today I will try being serious when I need to, but also be looking for the fun and the funny. This may not be my nature, so I am curious to see what happens.

Pressing On!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Love More

John Ortberg suggests that one of four ways to avoid regrets in life is to love more. (When the Game is Over it All Goes Back in the Box, ch. 9) But how can you "love more"? Can you tell a person how to think more? Or feel more? I understand how you could eat more, read more, or do more, but how do you increase an emotion? Unless part of the key is that love is only partly an emotion.

What if fundamentally love is something more than a feeling? (Bonus points if you just started humming the song.) Sure there is a feeling dimension to love, but at the core, what if love is an action. Something we do as much as something we feel. Then we can actually do something about loving more. But what is more? Is it more intensely? More often? More meaningfully? Simply put, YES!

It may be like a year of running. Yesterday I went over 800 miles for 2009--my second highest annual total in my 49 years of living. (2007 = 840) Looking back at the log, the way I got to 800 is a lot of 4s, 5s, and 6s, and relatively few 13s, 16s, and 25s. In the same way, loving more is a lot of smaller acts of love punctuated by a few more extensive acts of love. If every run was a short one, it would be difficult to get to a record-breaking annual distance. But if I only did the long runs, my body would not likely survive the experience. But the blend of the long and the short; the special and the ordinary; the less demanding and the more taxing; that is what has gotten me to 800 for the year (and probably a new annual distance record in the next week or so).

In fact, loving more may be about the daily, ordinary acts of love more than it is about the rooty-poot nights out, or the trips to exotic destinations, or the jewelry that should be kept in a safe. There may be a place for such things, but they cannot be the foundation upon which a more and better love is built. "More love" is built on washing the dishes or folding the laundry or watching the football game (whichever suits your particular circumstances) far more than on the amount of money spent on a lavish gift.

The best part is that it is never too late to love more. Whether your annual mileage total today looks like 650 or 65 or 6.5, you can add more miles today. Whether 2009 has been a good year of loving more or whether your love has not been much to write home about--today you can love more. So today, find someone close by (family or friend) and do some action of love--something that honors them above you. Something that communicates "I care".

Press On!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Supplement for Today

The new job is great! Interesting people who are also pretty driven to make the business succeed. Enough capital and firepower in the larger company to back up those ambitions. Some really good early successes that are driving new business our way. The freedom for me to develop a new and emerging consulting arm of our business unit. A fair amount of travel (love those SkyMiles). The first time working for a "big" company (1500 employees in 15 offices in eight countries).

I am becoming a huge fan and you can check us out at

No "Do-overs"

In case you hadn't noticed, life has no rewind button; nor are time machines real. Once you take your finger off of the chess piece, that turn us over and, once you are older than two or three, you can't change your mind and make a different move--there are no do-overs. Someone once said, "You are free to make whatever choices you may want, but you are not free from the consequences of your choices." As in chess, so in life.

Regret is a hard thought/emotion for many people to deal with--myself among them. Even though I know that there is no time machine that can allow me to go back and undo mistakes, bad decisions, and outright wrong choices, I still wish that there were. Of course, why do I think that I would get it right the second time? (Perhaps because I cling to the hope that we actually can learn from our mistakes.) You cannot go back and un-eat yesterday's second serving of turkey and dressing, or that fifth piece of pie; but there is no reason that you have to do the same thing today (even if you are celebrating a second Thanksgiving with your
other family).

Ortberg writes that people's regrets generally fall into four categories: I would have loved more deeply; I would have laughed more often; I would have given more generously; and I would have lived more boldly.

There will be other posts to unpack each of these, but just a few initial thoughts. Each of these qualities of living is possible no matter how young or old a person may be. Each of these qualities of living is also possible no matter what choices you may have made in the past. Each day is a new day and in addition to God's mercies being new every morning, so are my life quality options. Maybe only in small ways, but new all the same.

Today I can choose attitudes and actions that will express love more deeply; that will laugh often; that will be giving of time, energy, and other resources; and that will not be timid. If I had Bill Gates-type money I would still have the same core choices--the manifestation of those choices might look different, but they are still the same choices. If I were in prison for the next 20 years I would still have the same choices. The context of the choices or their boundaries might look different, but the core choices would remain the same.

BUT the kicker is that I must choose--or something will be chosen for me, and I will still need to live with the consequences. Today it is my turn (game analogy) and I cannot skip my turn or come back to it later. Today I must make today's choices, so why not choose today to love, laugh, give, and live boldly? I think that this quality of living may also carry fewer regrets into tomorrow.

Pressing On!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Back in the Box

For as long as I can remember, I have been aware that there is an eternal aspect to everyday life. That even in the midst of the day-to-day, there is some dimension of those activities that can last forever. Not that I have always chosen wisely, but at least I have been aware of the issue. John Ortberg's new book, When the Game is Over it all Goes Back in the Box, has been a practical, new look at this issue that has resonated with the way I think.

Ortberg uses the rubric of game-playing to help me focus on that which is most important and to keep everything else in proper perspective. He starts with Monopoly and recalls playing with his Grandmother--an avid player. You know the feeling, you get some good properties, some houses and hotels, then other players start landing on your places and paying you exorbitant rent until you wipe them out. Yet, no matter how much you have accumulated during the game, when you are finished playing, it all goes back in the box--all the houses and hotels, all the money, all of the talking smack to other players, even the game pieces themselves--and it no longer matters what happened around the Monopoly table.

One message that has come clear through the book is that I can enjoy playing the game and even enjoy winning from time to time, but it is far more important to enjoy the other players, than to alienate others for the sake of winning the game.

I can see a bit of this in my new job. I am thoroughly enjoying the first month and I think that it has been a great move. The people I work with are driven to make the business succeed, but also seem to have a pretty good handle on the importance of the team and of each person's contribution to the team. There are high expectations for performance, but there is also an atmosphere of being willing to take time to get to know each other on more than a "what can you do for the company" level. I feel fortunate to have had several meaningful conversations with my colleagues that have gone far beyond what we are doing to grow the business. We are in this game to win, but there is a healthy sense that we are in this game together.

For some reason, right now the "together" part of work, church, and family seems more important to me than it ever has before--perhaps because of the recent reminders that together can be a fleeting state of being. If so, the best approach may be to focus intently on playing today's game today, with whomever is around the table, and let tomorrow's game wait for tomorrow.

Pressing On!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Measured Against Whom?

Last week an editorial in the New York Times bemoaned the fact that there are too many slow people "running" marathons these days. The writer was lamenting the new reality that marathons are not just for elite runners anymore. Even more or less regular people participate these days. Part of the author's contention was that if people are not going to run fast for 26.2 miles, then they should not be in the race at all.

What does my "slow" running take away from the speedy front-of-the-pack crowd? Does the fact that I finished my one marathon in just under 5 hours diminish the accomplishment of the winner who finished his 26.2 in less than half that amount of time? Is the editorialist offended that I get the same finisher's medal and shirt that the fast runners get?

This whole issue gave me plenty to think about on this morning's misty, cold (but not snowy :-)) 6.3. When I run, who am I running for, or against? For the most part, I am not running against anyone, because I am in no danger of seeing the top of the winner's podium. I am running with lots of people--some of whom I know and most I do not. Mostly, I suppose that I am running for me. I like running. I enjoy the challenge of trying to get a better time than the last race. I like the thought that at almost 50 and after three knee operations, I can still run a long way. Not fast, but with no less effort than the fast people (I think, never having been a remotely fast person since college). So for the fast New York Times editorialist, stay on the race course plugging away for five hours then come an tell me that my effort is insignificant because I am slow. And by the way, I am not running against you :-)

Comparison can be a motivator, but more often pushes us to do or try something that is not us. If I try to keep up with the fast runners, I will fail because that is not who I am. If I focus on running my pace and finishing my race, then I am successful.

I think that the same is true in our faith. If I am constantly comparing myself to others and what they can do, then I will end up frustrated. But if I focus on the best and highest utilization of the gifts that I have been entrusted with, then I will have success. There is a reason that Paul the apostle told Christ-followers to "fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith," rather than telling us to be a better church person than the guy next door. In essence what Paul is saying is keep your eyes on the finish line and you will run well.

Pressing on,

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Embrace the 'Flakes

It is getting to be that time of year again here in Minnesota--and much earlier than I remember from past years. Yesterday's 4.5 miles were blanketed with a steady snowfall. Not just flurries, but the big flakes that get stuck on your eyelashes (thanks Julie Andrews) and melt down your face, making you look like you have been crying over a very hard run. But it was not a hard run. In fact, since the roads were warm enough not to be icy by the time I was out, I had a steady running surface and the cool splats were refreshing.

There are two types of people who live in Minnesota, those who will sit inside until April or May and lament that they live in the nation's icebox; and those who find some way to get out and enjoy the wintry aspects of nature. We have had years that felt like the former, but the latter is the way to go. It is amazing what it does for your attitude to get out regularly, breathe some fresh clear air, and do something.

My friend Jeff knew an older woman who used to make it a point to be thankful for the things that she could not change. So on a mid-October day when it snows a couple of inches, I imagine that she would say, "Today, I thank God for the weather."

Not to sound trite, but I wonder how my approach to life would be different if I did what I could to change what I can, and was thankful for all that I cannot change? Perhaps I should give it a shot.

Pressing on,

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Best Small Group in the World

No offense intended to anyone who has ever been in a small group with me before, but our current small group is the best. We have moved to a point of experiencing more "true community" than any other group I can remember. We are six (maybe soon to be seven) couples who have some things in common, but most things not. We are part of the same church, but have very different levels of involvement. We all have kids of similar ages--but three different school systems. Most of us have been married a similar amount of time (three of the couples celebrated 25th anniversaries this summer), but have had different experiences of being married. Some are talkers and others are more quiet. Some say the first thing that comes to mind and others are more measured in what they say. But the most important commonality is that we care for each other and want to grow closer to God together.

Increasingly I am coming to believe that people need each other. Two weekends ago I ran the TC 10-miler and throughout the race came across groups of people who were running together. Although we all covered the same distance, it felt as though maybe their ten miles were shorter than mine. On a more serious side, my cousin is in the final stages of his battle with a brain tumor and it appears that his family has benefited from the support of a large group of friends who have been nearby. Proximity matters! The other night I had dinner with an old friend and it felt very good to reconnect with a guy with whom I go back decades.

We really do need each other! Press on.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A Little Help from My Friends

Last week I managed to get in three runs at one of my favorite running locations--Phil's cabin. Up in the woods of northern Minnesota, curving dirt roads through the pines and aspens of the George Washington National Forest, never knowing what wildlife may appear around the next corner. The temps were cool (good), not too windy (good), with the occasional rain shower (all good). But even as much as I like running up at Phil's cabin, it was good to get home to my familiar roads and routes.

Yesterday I had a good early morning run (5.2) and felt set for the day. But just about Noon I felt the urge to go out again, so over my lunch hour I put in another 4.4. And this time I took music.

Usually I run without music. I like to hear what is going on around me--nature, traffic--but I do believe that it is possible to run with headphones and still stay safe. So yesterday at Noon I thought that for my second run of the day, I would take music. My running playlist on my iPod has driving rhythms, mostly 80's and 90's rock, and songs that I know and can sing along with (even if it is in my head). Sometimes music doesn't work too well for me; like when a slower and quieter song starts just as I am starting a long hill. But yesterday it worked great. Whether it was the distraction or the beat or the words (think "We are the Champions") it carried me along to a quickest-ever time for this particular route. I do not think that I could have achieved the same result on the run without the music.

I wonder how often we all could do better in difficult times if we had some "music" to help carry us along. Music in the form of an affirming conversation with a good friend; or a note of encouragement from someone whom we trust. The music didn't run the miles for me, but it helped me do what I needed to do. Encouragement from friends will not necessarily shorten the duration or intensity of our difficulties, but it may help us get through them with our heads held a bit higher and a little more spring in our step. Embrace whatever today brings--to be music to someone or to hear music from someone.

Pressing on,

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Training Equation

Our bodies are pretty good at doing what we train them to do. A friend of mine needed to work the night shift for several months a while back and his body clock adjusted to his new "day". When he went back to days, his clock shifted back. Generally, I find that even without an alarm clock I wake up within five minutes of the same time every morning. If I need to make that time much earlier, then I need to set an alarm, but otherwise--just like clockwork. I am finding that if I go out for a run and do not watch my pace, I will run about 9:15 miles--no matter the distance. It is what I have trained my body to do.

Last Saturday I ran the Riverfest 5k here in town and finished with a personal best time that equated to an 8:24 per mile pace. In an absolute sense that is not very fast, but it is almost one minute per mile faster than what I am accustomed to. I have a strong interest in running faster than 9:15 miles on a regular basis, so I am adjusting my training.

Following the theory that my body will do what I train it to do, I am adding speed workouts to the mix, and last night was the first. Last night was 800m warmup, then four sets of 800m at an 8:00 per mile pace with a 400m recovery , followed by an 800m cool down. This is faster than I have run in decades for any kind of distance and this morning my body let me know that I had been asking it to do something unfamiliar. The plan is to do one of these speed workouts every week and then to see what that does for my "regular" pace. If the theory holds true in practice, then my intentional speed workouts should make my ordinary, unintentional pace a bit quicker.

For some reason, I think that the whole notion that we do what we train to do is not limited to physical activities. If I train my self to be patient in the face of friends who are always late for things, then I will become more naturally patient. If I train myself to be generous with my financial resources, then it will be easier to give generously when business turns around and there is some financial margin again. If I train myself to pray whenever I see an ambulance, that action will become a part of who I am. If I train myself to take time to read and meditate on the Bible, then it will feel awkward not to do so.

Yet training is not a one time event--and there is the sticking point. Training is concerted effort over time, exerted on a particular task, toward a desired outcome. Training is saying yes to one thing that may feel unnatural or unpleasant in the moment, in order to get a result in the future that is beneficial. Training will generally not be easy, but I believe that it is worth the effort.

Pressing on!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Expectations Matter

Much is being said (and felt) about these current uncertain times. I certainly feel it along with the rest of you. I am finding that in conversations I am often hearing about jobs being lost, hours being cut, pay being reduced; but rarely am I hearing about someone landing that plum new job--or any new job for that matter. On the downside, the news can seem rather grim. On the other hand, I have been hearing a lot of comparisons to the job market in 1982.

Maybe I wasn't paying attention, but I do not recall the job market being a huge, depressing issue back in 1982. (Those of you who were in the marketplace then may recall things differently. But I was just graduating from college and do not remember a widespread angst among my peers.) How much of what we are feeling as a country is being driven by what we have come to expect? Does the current economic situation feel so crisis-like because we started to expect that the trend line would always be up and to the right? Might we feel somewhat different if we expected that life will be difficult?

I think that it would make a difference. It might not change the underlying realities of job losses, declining compensation, and reduction in home and portfolio values, but it may change the way we think about these things. I find that if I expect something to be difficult--and it turns out that it is--I am not devastated by that reality. It is simply what I expected. It is when I expect something to be easy and it turns out to be difficult that causes the turmoil.

Some people have asked at various times whether I think that I will try another marathon. They learn that I ran one and are perhaps curious how that experience will influence my decision to try another. It really cuts both ways. Having completed one, I am confident that I could complete another. Knowing the reality of what it took to complete the one makes the decision to complete another more costly. Actually the cost will be the same--I just know what the cost is.

I believe that part of what is so daunting about our current economic situation is that we do not yet know how deep the hole/how high the mountain (insert your favorite metaphor) will be. If we simply knew what to expect, then that would make it easier to persevere through the tough times. But of course, if we knew what was coming next, would that leave room for faith?

Pressing On!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Whew !!!

Finally home after finishing my third half marathon in four weeks. Fargo was cold and windy, but an hour in the sauna tonight should take care of the cold part and perhaps will loosen some sore and tight muscles. The fans lining the racecourse were the best of may race I have been in but Twin Cities. Old and young alike giving encouragement to total strangers. And it didn't matter to me that they were total strangers--the encouraging words helped to propel me on toward the finish inside the FargoDome.

I wonder whether there is something to that whole encouragement thing?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Usually I think of Christmas when I hear/read that phrase, but here in Minnesota, this truly is the most wonderful time of the year. It has been mostly sunny for several days; the temps are consistently in the high 60's; it has rained a little; and all of the trees are leafing out. It is the time of year that makes us forget about the long winter just passed, the bitter cold, and wearing 17 layers of clothing. Thoughts now turn to fishing, boating, camping, cookouts, bonfires, and vegetable gardens. I am often amazed at how quickly a change in perspective creates a fresh, new, vibrant attitude.

At church last Sunday our pastor offered some helpful perspective. We are in the midst of a series looking at Biblical principles to help us thrive in our current national crisis--as well as other crises that we will encounter. The most memorable thing he said was that for most of us the current crisis is not one of life and death, but is instead a balancing of wants and needs. My family's own experience of job-related "crisis" is exactly that--not a struggle for survival, but a re-ordering of priorities so that we can live within substantially more limited means.

I have a better sense (although not nearly as much as others I know) of what it is like to be forced to choose what bills can be paid now and which will need to wait for a few days. Looking for ways to save a few dollars because a "few dollars" means something more than it did a few weeks ago. Of having to say "No" to good things for the kids that I would have said "Yes" to not so long ago. Yet with all of this, I am reminded that what is at stake in my "crisis" is so much less than what is at stake for other people in my state, and town, and even neighborhood. So I remain thankful and can truly say that this is the most wonderful time of the year.

Press On!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Moving the Set Point

In the world of body metabolism (as I understand it), the set point is a weight where your body tends to stabilize in the absence of external modifying factors such as increased activity or increased/decreased caloric intake. In layman's terms, it is the weight that feels normal. I think that there is also a set point in running (and perhaps other activities as well). For a while, 3-4 miles seems like just the right distance. But I found that if I go 6-8 for just a few days, then 3-4 no longer feels normal. It feels too short. After just a few days of 6+, then 5-7 seems more like normal--the new 3-5.

Although I had to tap out of the Fargo Marathon, it has not been the end of running for the season. I have three half marathons in the next four weeks (including the 1/2 at Fargo) that I was already registered for. Since I had an almost 10 mile run last Saturday, I feel pretty good about the upcoming races. A half marathon training set point is starting to feel pretty normal.

While running the other day, I began to wonder whether there are set points in other life experiences--like praying. At first, to sit and pray for 5 minutes feels like forever. But is there a breakthrough point, moving that 5 minutes to 10 , then 10 to 20, that makes 5 seem too short? And if so, how can we best encourage each other to re-set our spiritual set points? What will it take to convince us that it is worth the extra effort? Maybe we need a bigger goal than what we were pursuing when 5 minutes was enough?

If you are only running a 5k, then there is not really a training need to run 6-8 miles. But when the goal changes to a half marathon, then the training that needs to happen to support the new goal must increase. What is a spiritual goal that is worthy of pursuing that will drive attaining a new set point?

Press on!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Tap Out

In the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship), the contestants have a method of saying, "Enough is enough." The "Tap Out" signals the end of the match. Perhaps one contestant loses heart to continue the battle, or he realizes that he has been hurt and that the right answer is to stop for now and to live to fight another day.

I am tapping out of the Fargo Marathon. The combination of trying to train in the winter and some lingering injuries has made it clear that I will not be ready to run 26.2 miles on May 9th. I will attempt to complete the Fargo Half Marathon, but I would not complete the full marathon. (As I look out of my window it is once again snowing as hard as I've seen it all winter.)

In my training runs for years I have adopted the approach that I want to run each training run in such a way that I can run tomorrow. In other words, the training run is not the race, and I have tried to train under control, rather than set a new PR one day and then have to sit out for a few days to recover from the too-hard training run.

This Tap Out is a bit disappointing. In part because I do not know how much more pounding my body will be able to take. At some point I still hope to complete one more marathon, but I have come to accept that Fargo 2009 will not be the one.

Pressing On!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Comfort of the Familiar

Even for those of us who like adventure, there can be something comforting about the familiar--especially when what is going on around us is somewhat unfamiliar. We have had a nice warm spell over the past few days, but when snow and warm meet, it creates wet. And when wet freezes, you get the picture. So this morning's run, outside in the dark, was a mosaic of dry patches of path and slick patches of glare ice. Needless to say, it makes for a slower run.

But in the midst of surface conditions that called for constant vigilance, it was good to run a familiar route that held no surprises other than those related to the coefficient of friction on any particular surface. In general I like a new route or a new challenge, but this morning it was so nice to just dial in a comfortable pace, watch my step, and put 5.2 in the rear view mirror. Did these miles count less because they were on an old, familiar route? Was there less training benefit because I have been over this same ground many times? Not at all. The training effect comes from completing the task, not from the where.

Sometimes I find myself devaluing devotional time that I spend reading a familiar Bible passage. Sometimes I act as if it only counts if it is something new or different or parts of the Bible where the pages are still stuck together. Almost as if God is more pleased with me when I read an obscure passage than a well-known one. How ridiculous. I suppose that if the end goal was to read every page, then it may make sense to plow through the unfamiliar. But if the goal is the relationship, then where is the harm in taking the time to read and reflect on the "good" parts. Sort of like looking through a scrapbook and remembering the trip or the people.

Pressing On!

Monday, January 26, 2009

A Nice Break

I was in Kansas City on business at the end of last week and it was nice to get a break in the temperatures. It was around 38 when I ran in the mornings and it felt good to run in just shorts and a long-sleeved shirt. I also like the fact that the area where I run in KC is rather hilly--something I do not have too much of here in Monticello. It was also fun to revisit some familiar running routes that I only do once a month or so.

Part of the challenge of the training for this race is keeping it fresh. Feeling fresh will encourage me to get out and run on days when it might be just as easy to stay in. Feeling stale will have the opposite effect--make it easier to give in to negative inertia. So part of the battle is to be able to assess when staleness is coming on and to take steps to freshen up the routine. Usually I can do that by running a new route or by choosing a different time of day (amazing how different things look at 5:30 p.m. instead of 5:30 a.m.). The hardest part for me is identifying the onset of staleness before it settles in.

That has also been the case in my faith journey. I will find myself in a funk and only then realize that I am feeling like things have gotten a bit stale and predictable. A solution that is working is to change up the routine. If I have been reading early in the morning, take some time and read my Bible before supper or in the early evening. If I have been reading in the New Testament, then switch over to the Old. If I have been stuck in a praying rut, try a different location, different position, or different focus.

Not that routine is bad. Routine is what allows us to plan and allocate time and energy resources to the greatest advantage. But just a quick break with the routine can inject badly needed vitality and allow for continued progress.

Pressing On!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Each One Unique

For a town of just about 10,000 people, Monticello has a pretty nice Community Center. Pool, walking/running track, basketball courts, weight equipment, climbing wall, treadmills, bikes, ellipticals, meeting rooms. Whether it is because of the nice facilities, or because it is -15 outside, there are quite a few people using the Community Center these days. People walk and run at different paces and choose their own intensity in the pool and on the weight machines. There is no minimum or maximum speed and no one officially judging the quality of the workout. Each proceeds at their own pace. And every pace is OK. If someone is going faster than me, it doesn't make them better and me worse. If someone is lifting more energetically than me it doesn't make them Superman and me Underdog. No one is counting to see how many laps I run, or how much time I spend on the treadmill. Because the goal is better fitness and people come at this whole adventure from different starting points.

Certainly there are right and wrong ways to use the machines--and the wrong uses can damage the machine or hurt the user. But ultimately, if each one walks out of the Community Center just a little bit more fit, the time there has been a success.

I think that one of the strengths of Quarry Community Church is that the church seems to understand this concept--that people come from a lot of different starting points. Some churches make you feel like you have to get your life cleaned up a certain amount, or in some kind of order, before you can attend. But not the Quarry. Come as you are would not be just a tag line. Yet come as you are doesn't mean stay as you are. The Quarry also is developing a roadmap of how to experience spiritual growth (how about whole life growth?) that will encompass starting where a person is, and moving forward on a journey of becoming more and more like Jesus in priorities, words, thoughts, and deeds. I'm excited about being part of a church community that is looking at life this way.

I don't need to measure myself against anyone else. I just have to ask the question, "Am I closer to the goal today than I was yesterday?"

Pressing On!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Here We Go !!!

Today began my "official" training for this May's Fargo marathon. At the end of the 18th week from now I expect to cross the finish line in Fargo and I expect to feel pretty satisfied with the experience. From my last bout of marathon training I know that the intervening 18 weeks will neither be easy, nor pleasant. Certainly there will be a few runs that will be memorable for their beauty or for their difficulty, but most of the runs will be mile after mile of left-right-left-right.

Please don't get me wrong. I am looking forward to conquering the goals of the next 18 weeks. I am looking forward to the experience of being disciplined enough to get out when it is cold and windy to put in the miles needed for success in May. I look forward to feeling the exhilaration of being the first one out some mornings making tracks in the snow. I look forward to that first morning in the spring when it will be warm enough to run in shorts and no jacket. I look forward to sleeping better and generally feeling better as I shed the inevitable pounds over the next few months.

But even with all that I am looking forward to, I do not expect it to be easy. It may have been my Dad who said, "Nothing worth having comes easy." (And even if it wasn't him, it is the kind of pithy, sage advice he offers.) If I wanted easy I could just sit on the couch and watch TV all the time. I could eat whatever and however much I want. I could go outside or exert myself only when it was convenient.

But I believe that easy is way overrated. Why choose easy if you can choose meaningful? Why choose easy if you can choose important? Why choose easy if you can choose challenging? Why choose to merely float downstream (with the dead fish) when adventure is usually upstream? Not for me. I choose to reject easy.

Nevertheless, sometimes I find myself wishing that God was a giant "Easy" button. Just push the button--say a prayer, read some verses--and all will be well. Reality is that God is not an easy button, and has never said that He would be. In fact, He promised the opposite. We are in a war that has its basis in the spiritual realm, but that overflows into our temporal existence. We are in the midst of a war between immensely powerful forces (our God the more powerful no doubt!) and I am thrilled to be aligned with the kingdom of the God of heaven--King of kings and Lord of lords. Even so, I do not expect easy.

Just as May 10th will be a day of rest and celebration, so there will be an epoch of rest and celebration in the contest that really matters. Just not today.

Pressing On!