Thursday, March 31, 2011

Do what you love

The other day, I was reminded by the half marathon training group coach that the Boston Marathon was adjusting the qualifying times.  Instead of needing to run a 3:20:59 this fall in the Baltimore marathon (already quite a challenge on the hilly Baltimore course), I would need to run a 3:15:59.  Now, since I don't know exactly what my reasonable maximum is on the marathon (I've only run one and I was dealing with a slight injury), I may be able to ponder this, but the extra five minutes compared with what I had been planning for since October seems like a big deal.

After pondering if for a bit, I have realized that there is another life lessons/running lesson link.  When I was working toward my promotion to full professor, I received a lot of advice about how to shift what I was doing to accelerate and make more certain the promotion process.  While I respected all those who provided such advice, I eventually decided just to continue doing what I was doing.  I figured for all the stresses that my job creates, I might as well enjoy what I am doing.  If I was good at what I did and I did not get promoted, I would then look for another position doing what I enjoyed.  The key was to make sure I loved what I was doing and to hope that everything else would take care of itself.  I felt a lot less pressure, and it did take care of itself.

So how does this relate to running?  Well, with the thought that I don't have a good chance of qualifying for Boston this year, I am feeling less pressure.  Now, I can just focus on running because I love running and I love writing about it.  Maybe I will qualify.  If I do, I'll be quite happy.  It'll be another example of things taking care of themselves when I don't put the pressure on.  If I ever decide that I don't love the gifts of running and writing so much, I'll hang up the running shoes.

Until then, I'll just remind myself that I do it because I love it!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Joy of Running

Here is a quote from Eric Liddell, "God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure."  Now, God did not make me anywhere near as fast as he made Eric Liddell.  He did make me faster than a lot of other people (and slower than many as well) and He made me persistent. Eric Liddell was not a distance runner.  I would say that in my case, I feel God's pleasure in me when I am persistent, stick with what I was meant to do, and complete it.  Particularly in the presence of others.  

Does this apply to long distance running--I believe it does.  This applies to more than just running--as, I think, do most of the lessons I take from my running.  I believe that God is pleased when I persist at any task in life.  I believe that when I find the path that God has intended for me to follow and stick with it he is please.  I believe that God is pleased when I complete things. 

Why is it important in other people's presence?  I believe that God wants me to share.  What good are accomplishments if they are not shared?  What good is running alone?  Isn't it better to run with others--not necessarily alongside them, as I was ahead in the workout this evening--but with others.  I may represent something for others to aspire to.  (I may also represent something that others just think is crazy.)  And, when I am done and have caught my breath, I take a lesson from an old friend, turn around, and cheer on every other person in my group.  If I've lapped them, I cheer them on not just when they finish but every time they come around. And for my cheering and encouragement to be effective it has to be sincere.  

So, if I were to adapt Liddell's quote for long distance runners, I'd say "God made me somewhat fast and very persistent.  And when I start and complete a long hard run and sincerely share the joy of the experience with others in word or in deed, I feel His pleasure."

Monday, March 28, 2011


So, one of the three C's I wrote about the other day was completion.  I talked about the importance of completing things in the bigger life setting.  What I didn't really write much about was what this means in the context of a morning run for Back on My Feet.

I commented last week about "much celebration" as the runs are complete on any given day.  What does this mean?  Well, first, it means that unless a person is really pressed for time, everyone stays until the last person gets back from the run.  Of course, usually it is last group of people rather than last person as we are supposed to run in groups on the early morning streets of Baltimore.

For those who finish early, what are they supposed to do when others finish?  We clap as we see people coming in.  If you are in a further back group, you have more people clapping for you.  And when a person (of group of runners) comes in there are high fives all around.

This celebration of completion makes it clear how important, how special, how wonderful, how significant it is to bring something to a conclusion.

After everyone has been congratulated, we then all stretch as a group and hugs are shared as we part.  This provides a wonderful sense of togetherness (i.e. camaraderie) along with the sense of completion.

Should we do this with all things in life?  Probably not.  Some contexts are not meant for high fives and hugs.  However, we should remember that even for things that are just expectations (of parenting, of home ownership, of being an adult, of school, of our jobs, etc.) finishing is still important.  I'm going to try to make sure that I find ways to acknowledge and celebrate finishing for me, my kids, my wife, and my students to help bring everyone to the next level of being able to get things done and improve our own and everyone's well-being.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Never Give Up on Trying

Yesterday, I received the book about Eric Liddell that I had ordered. I haven’t really started reading it yet, but I did page through some of the sections leading up and including his 1924 Olympic performance. I enjoyed that as it gave me a chance to think about some of the reasons I was fascinated by the movie, Chariots of Fire, when I was a kid.

Was it the music? Well the music is nice, and I did learn to play a simple version of the Chariots of Fire theme on the piano 30 years ago. However, I don’t think that was the main inspiration.

Was it the scene in which the runners tried to make it around the courtyard while the clock was striking 12? Interesting, but probably not.

Was it the Olympic performance? Well, the thing that always stuck out most in my mind about the Olympic performance was not so much how he did, but the fact that he stood up for his principles and would not compete on a Sunday. I know the commandment to keep the Lord’s Day holy and have always tried to live it although there are varying interpretations. Where I live, even the Catholic church sports leagues play on Sundays, so, clearly, members of my church would not be held to the same standards to which Liddell held himself.

What stands out in my mind most as a memory? It was the scene in which Liddell stumbled at the opening of a quarter mile race prior to the Olympics, dropped behind by 20 yards, but eventually won the race. Looking at the book and some other online sources, apparently there were some liberties taken with the facts of the situation in the movie, but the gist of the movie scene captured what happened in real life.

Why, of all things, is that what stands out in my mind? Because it best captures the attitude I try to espouse for myself and set as an example for my children. Life is about not giving up. I may not always win, but I try never to throw in the towel, unless I am at a point at which continuing would be genuinely destructive. Of course, not everyone will fall down, get back up, and win. And some people who never fall down, also never win. But the point for me is to keep giving my best effort no matter what. And, of all the scenes in the movie Chariots of Fire, the one in which Liddell was able to overcome a rough start to a race was the one that sticks out in my mind.

This applies to more than just my running. In my running, for any given workout, I may not be at the front. On any give race day, I will never be at the very front and there may be other runners with whom I am training at present or have trained in the past who run faster. Nevertheless, as long as I set goals for myself and simply try to do my best that is what matters to me. Same thing in professional life—not everything works but I keep on trying. Same thing in home life—not everything works with parenting or being a spouse, but I keep on trying. Same thing in spiritual life—not everything works but I keep struggling to understand.

One of the parts of Eric Liddell’s life that I would hope to continue to embody with my actions and words is the willingness to always push ahead despite any trials and tribulations I may encounter. I would imagine, that as I read the book, I will find other things that I will hope to emulate, and maybe, just maybe, live up to the comparison that a friend once made that I hardly thought I deserved.

Saturday, March 26, 2011


This morning, I ran a 5K with my son.  It was his best time in a while and I'm confident that by June he will get back to running the same time he ran last June.  He's excited and may even do one or two 5K races by himself this spring as I turn to running with my fellow half marathon trainees.  I do consider my commitment to my son's running interest to be a very important aspect of my parenting and my running.  I also consider my commitment to my fellow trainees important.  And, as mentioned earlier this week, I see commitment as an important part of what I am doing now with Back on My Feet.

I commented earlier this week on three aspects. I've come up with a new way of expressing what I consider to be three aspects of my sharing experience in Back on My Feet: camaraderie, commitment, and completion.  I tried using the word accomplishment earlier this week, but I like the alliteration of camaraderie, commitment, and completion.

Why do I continue to reflect on these?  First, I have commented on how, at the end of the day, the distinction between bridging and bonding capital is almost immaterial.  One reason is that even I have a lot to learn about completion.  I love to begin things.  I have a hard time finishing things.  I hope that one thing I'll get out of my continuing running experience is the inspiration to complete things other than just my running activities.  I have no trouble completing those.  I want to make sure I can complete other things.

When it comes to commitment, I asked my main contact person if there was a minimum for the non-residential members of Back on My Feet.  She indicated "no" but I see at least one day a week as the ear minimum out of respect for the residential members who do have to make a minimum commitment I think I should.  So, I've decided to work on doing this one day a week.  This coming week will be on Monday rather than Wednesday.  I look forward to joining my fellow runners on what promises to be another cold early morning and learning about what everyone in the group has to offer to others.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Borrowing from my favorite local running store--"live. give. run."

There are two really cool running stores that I enjoy in the Baltimore area.  That is not to say that there are not others that I have not experienced.  Just that I have really liked two.  One is called Falls Road Running.  I bought my first pair of decent running shows at that store.  A colleague has been a long-time customer of theirs and knows the owner well.  And the store supports several Baltimore Marathon practice runs on the course (with water and gels) in preparation for the Baltimore Marathon in the fall.  Nice place.

The other store is Charm City Run.  If you click on their link you will see the words "live. give. run." right near the top of the stores home page.  The store has excellent training groups, does a lot of community work, and is the official organization for registering and timekeeping at many of the local 5K runs that my son and I have participated in locally.  I love the people an the organization.

So, why do I bring up either one?  Well, I've certainly extolled the virtues of the Charm City Run training groups and approach to selling shoes in prior blog entries.  But today, I am going to focus on their slogan "live. give. run."  It seems to fit quite nicely with other things I have been pondering this week.

Back on My Feet is, for me, the answer to how I can live out the simple philosophy espoused by Charm City Run.  Live, give, run.

Live--live life to the fullest; life for the moment; live in the now; accept what life gives us to live with; help other people to live to their full potential.

Give--give it all you got (break into Chuck Mangione); give till it hurts; give from the heart; don't just give from your excess (thank Jesus for that quote).

Run--don't run from things; run for fun; run for health; run to achieve a goal; run to socialize; run to show commitment.

What more could a person ask for?  I have seen the theme every time I go to the store's website.  I wonder why it took me so long to realize that living life that way could be a good thing.  I wonder why it took my so long to find an organization that helps me to realize this theme.

But I don't wonder too hard.  At this point, I just appreciate that I have it figured out and am leave it to God to lead me to the next step in the incredible spiritual development I've had the good fortune to enjoy.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

My version of no labels

There has been a theme to the Gospel readings from the Catholic daily masses this week.  I used Monday's in a blog entry earlier this week when talking about getting back what you give.  Tuesday's was about humbling oneself.  Wednesday's was more about serving rather than ruling; and today's was the story of Lazarus, the rich man, and the bosom of Abraham.  While the last one strikes me as a bit more tangential, it too reflects the fact that putting oneself ahead is not what is called for.

I like this theme.  It really reflects where I am in my life right now--giving, or at least trying to give, without glory for myself.  I like to talk about it not to brag, but to share.  To share the wonder of coming together with others to make the world a better place.  To share the joy of being there for someone else.  To share what I believe in my heart to be important.

The interesting thing about sharing in my current context (i.e. Back on My Feet) is that it is a manifestation of something I've been studying in my job for years.  There is a concept called social capital.  It has to do with people being able to rely on each other and having some expectation of doing things for each other.  Mostly as a social norm.

Theory says, when people try to build up social capital they can either build it up with similar people (which is called bonding social capital) or with people who are different (sometimes called bridging social capital).  My neighborhood activity and church Sunday school and worship band participation were bonding.  Back on My Feet is a combination of bonding (with other volunteer runners) and bridging (with the resident members).

And yet, if I step out of my academic world, while I think of it as bridging, I also recognize that at the end of the day the labels for different types of social capital and the labels of one group versus another are just that--labels.  And what did our parents teach us about labels when we were kids?  They mean nothing.  People are people.  And building up mutual respect, understanding, support, and empathy can be just as hard (or just as easy) with a group of people who are supposedly similar as with a group of people who are supposedly different.

When all is said and done life is about serving whomever we happen to have a chance to serve in whatever way as often as possible with no labels--just love.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

It felt so right...

This morning I ran in downtown Baltimore in the pre-dawn hours for the very first time.  It is somewhat ironic that on a recent business trip I had run in downtown Sydney, Australia in the pre-dawn hours and could claim to do that in a city I've only been in for a little over two weeks of my life but it took nearly 15 years to experience running in downtown Baltimore in the pre-dawn hours.

What was the big occasion?  Following through with my first run with Back on My Feet Baltimore--in particular being introduced to members of the Christopher's Place team.

I'll probably be blogging about multiple aspects of this over the next few weeks, months, or perhaps even years.  Today's run--it just felt so right.

  • It began with meeting people and everyone just being totally accepting of a new person in their midst.
  • It continued with the Serenity Prayer before we ran.  While I will be a volunteer runner rather than a target of the organization's interventions, I can often use the Serenity Prayer myself in my personal and professional lives as I try to do what is right, change what I can, and realize where I just have to accept what is there.
  • I then joined a group of four for a four mile run over the quiet streets of downtown Baltimore where I got to have good conversations with two of my fellow runners
  • When everyone had returned there was much celebration, a shared sense of accomplishment, and stretching together.

I repeat, if felt so right.

I have been running more off than on since 2007.  (After a muli-year hiatus from running.)  I know how powerful it can be.  In Back on My Feet, I may have found an organization for which I can dedicate some of my own giving (through United Way in the future), an organization for which I can volunteer by doing what I love to do anyway and get back at least as much as I give, an organization for which I could see myself participating in events for fundraising in the future, and an organization that could lead to growing friendships.

Looking back over my resolutions, for 2011 (and 2010) this seems like a continuation of the answer to my 2010 resolution to figure out what God really wants me to do--perhaps it was there all along--take my running and make everything that I can out of it--for myself, my family, and the world around me.  Of this year's resolutions, it reflects on my desire to have a well-being plan rather than just a plan to be healthy, it could help in my quest to improve my race times, while this won't be raising money for cancer (a goal for 2011) it may provide a new focus for 2012, as I continue to blog about my experiences it will help with my goal of continuing and extending my writing projects, and finally if I develop friendships this is all about spending time with people in person.

Finding something that seems like such a clear continuing answer to a 2010 resolution and at least a partial answer to five of my top ten 2011 resolutions is just incredible.

Need I say it again?  It felt so right.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

New Ways to Give Through Running

Let's begin with the track workout this evening.  Tonight the group from Charm City Run with which I train had a wonderful track workout.  It was six 800's.  I ran stride for stride with a fellow runner for whom I have the ultimate respect (he's a multiple Boston marathon runner and some of the marathon training group was at the track with us this week) and all my 800's were run at a 6:30 mile pace or better.  The wonderful sense of camaraderie that comes from being among friends with whom you can comfortably run hard and have a group with whom to complete each half mile is wonderful.  The accomplishment of doing what is essentially my first 6 Yasso 800 workout is also quite nice from a personal perspective.

 Now, let's turn to yesterday's Catholic mass Gospel readings.  No, I haven't been making it to daily mass during Lent.  But I am trying to read the readings during Lent.  Yesterday's Gospel was Luke 6:36-38.  I've pasted it below just for reference.  It won't take long to read:

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
“Stop judging and you will not be judged.
Stop condemning and you will not be condemned.
Forgive and you will be forgiven.
Give and gifts will be given to you;
a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing,
will be poured into your lap.
For the measure with which you measure
will in return be measured out to you.”

Now, let me pull the themes together as I have in my own mind.  Some of the language here is reminiscent of the Lord's Prayer.  The part about not judging, not condemning, and forgiving.  This is very similar to the "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us".  Our priest reminds us almost every week what it means to take this passage or the Lord's Prayer seriously.

As we read on, however, it goes beyond forgiveness.  It says "Give and gifts will be given to you...For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you."  This seems like an early version of "you get out of life what you put into it".  

I have put quite a bit into running over the past year and expect to continue to.  I have been thinking of trying to find ways to share the camaraderie and accomplishment not just with my fellow runners but as a guiding principle in my life.  This Christian principle of giving now guides me to run for the first time tomorrow morning with Back on My Feet Baltimore.  This is running with people who need camaraderie and a sense of accomplishment.  If I can manage to share with them and bring those in need to that end, I am happy to do so.  The power of running to lift spirits is amazing.

I'll know after tomorrow morning whether making a commitment to running with this group right now is for me or not.  I'm thinking it is.  This is another example of things that just came together and must have come together for a reason.  After experiencing a lack of new connections for some time, last week I made a new connection that when I mentioned to an old connection led me to be directly introduced to a person in the leadership of the local Back on My Feet group.  After several emails to talk about what type of economic evaluation I might apply to their organization's work, I am also going to see about getting involved.  

My work on this earth has a long way to go.  I am called upon to give.  I don't necessarily expect to receive, but sometimes just receiving a clear sign of others' appreciation is all that is really needed.

It is also somewhat fitting that I am writing this particular entry on a day on which I used an Amazon gift card that came as a gift for my involvement in my church's Sunday school program this year to purchase a book about Eric Liddell--whose running was featured in Chariots of Fire and who led a life as a Christian missionary in China afterwards.  

I am finding my own way of being called by God to combine my talents for the good of many besides myself.    

Monday, March 21, 2011


This morning was my first strength training workout at the Y in several weeks.  I hope to get back to doing these more or less regularly now that I am totally in the swing of training again.  The workout went well.  I was happy to do leg presses, leg extends, hip adduction and abduction (to hopefully avoid IT band issues this year), and a variety of upper body work.  It was just seven exercises and then some extra stretching.  That felt good and my muscles that were still a little tight from Saturday's end of workout kick felt better.  So, the strengthening workout has been helpful for my physical strength.

While I am quite happy about my physical strength these days (except for the remaining tenderness of my left ankle), my spiritual strength was tested yesterday at church.  I already commented yesterday on Facebook that an arrangement of Amazing Grace being sung during the administration of the Eucharist after several mentions of the passing of a friend on the day my parents had visited brought back to me a vivid memory of the day we celebrated my grandmother's passing.  That was over 14 years ago.  But the memory was so strong that I had to pause, hold on to the pew, and gather myself together to make it through the rest of mass.

The image was incredible.  I felt completely emotionally vulnerable.  I would say I didn't feel strong.

The memories I have of my grandmother are of a woman who was warm and welcoming of anyone who would walk through the door.  I don't recall her ever having anything bad to say about anyone.  And she did it all out of love--as far as I could tell just hoping that others would show the same love, respect, and willingness to be welcoming that she showed to everyone ese.  That is a very special kind of strength  thatI hope I can give as an example to my kids and others so that some day I will be remembered for my spiritual and personality strength at least as much as (if not more than) for any run I have ever done.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Transfiguration and Transformation

Today’s Gospel reading at Catholic churches around the world is about the Transfiguration. Jesus is on a mountain with Peter, James, and John; Jesus suddenly appears dressed in white and with his face shining like the sun; Moses and Elijah appeared and conversed with Jesus; God told the mortal men to listen to Jesus.

This incredible event is not referred to as radical in the Gospels. However, if we take radical to be similar in meangin to “big” when it is used alongside “change” or “event,” it was a radical change in Jesus’s appearance and it was a radical event in the minds of those who saw it occur. It changed how they thought about Jesus.

In my own writing, I have called my work The Radical Transformation of Runner 1313. The transformation the main character in my writing underwent and the transformation that I underwent during the writing and prior to creating the final version of the story last year certainly was nothing close to what Jesus experienced. I would never even of comparing my mortal experience with Jesus’s.

What I can compare is the idea of transformation and transfiguration. Both include the root “trans”. It we think about something being transcontinental or trans-Atlantic we are reminded that the root has to do with moving across. The root is about change. Change of figure and change of form can mean very similar things. The key to both terms is that the person to whom the term transfiguration or transformation is applied is undergoing change. This is often perceived to imply substantive change. It may be a change in appearance. It may be a change in personality. But the change is substantial.

Reflecting on the importance of change in my spiritual life, the priest who says the mass that I attend regularly brings up the term radical transformation regularly at mass. He usually is referring to substantial changes in people’s views of the world, trust in God, and behaviors toward others. Certainly a faith that follows the values set forth in the Gospel would be a radical transformation away from what our society’s values are at present.

My physical and spiritual well-being come together when I think about what my running has done for me in terms of transformations—and some radical ones at that. I have had the opportunity to reflect in ways that I do not have when I am not taking time to myself. I have had the opportunity to develop a more mature sense of my beliefs and spirituality. I have had the opportunity to raise awareness and bring resources to bear to help others with a disease I care greatly about. I have had the opportunity to develop athletically in ways I had not experienced in the two decades prior. I take comfort in knowing that change was experienced by Jesus and by his followers and that the change I experience (while just a shadow of what went on among those in the early church) can be molded (hopefully) to follow in the positive, meaningful, and powerful outcomes that were experienced two millennia ago.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Putting in the miles

I am now moving to a point in the preparation for the half marathon in May (and the full in September) at which I can really start to look ahead and think about potentially making my goal.  This is a wonderful thing.  It reminds me of what I did at work for many years--looking ahead to an ultimate goal.  And as long as work continues to be acceptable (or hopefully better than just acceptable) performance, I'll be able to focus on other things in life too and use those as "big motivators" for a while.

  • It is a luxury (both in terms of the time I can dedicate to my physical well-being and in terms of how I can explore how all these things influence my psychological and spiritual well-being) to have a job that is secure.  For that I count myself blessed.
  • It is a luxury to be in as good shape as I am.  
  • It is a luxury to be able to dream about qualifying for Boston while helping others by running for charity
  • It is a luxury to have wonderful coaches (Marie last summer and hopefully this coming summer and John at present)

For all these luxuries I count myself blessed.  Today, I ran the first 4.5 miles ranging from about 8:30 for the half from 4-4.5 up to a very easy 9:30 for the first mile.  I turned around and came back with a 7:15, 7:07, 7:07, 7:14 for a half mile, and a solid 6:55 finish.  I had gotten going too quickly and then just decided to keep it up and kick it in for the final mile to meet the goal that John always give of doing the last mile the stronger.

I hope to continue to find ways to feel good, to cherish the feeling I have, and to share it with others.  Again, taking John's advice, I ran the first three with someone from my track group on Tuesday, ran the next 1.5 alone, and then came back smiling and greeting just about everyone.  Hopefully my friendly greeting showed the blessings I felt and added to someone else's blessings of the day as well.

Trying to Avoid Running in Place

This entry has an interesting title in light of the fact that I have no problem with running on a treadmill, which is exactly what the title cautions against, i.e., running in place.

So, why did I write this title?

Just the other day, I had a long conversation with a colleague about taking control of life and taking control of career.  We have both reached the highest level of our careers in terms of the promotions we will ever get  Neither one of us necessarily has high level administration within academia high on our list of future priorities.  So, the question is, if we want to change what we are doing rather than just "keeping on keeping on" (i.e., running in place) what do we need to do?

Well, I think part of it is making a commitment to take control.  If we think we will never gain control, we won't.  That statement about thinking we can't do something and not being able to do it goes for just about anything in life.  We just need to figure our what we need to do to take control?

Could it mean re-prioritizing?  Almost certainly.

Could it mean a job change?  Possibly. Sometimes people feel that is the only way to re-prioritize.

Could it mean just seeking and seizing new opportunities while finding a way to unload some unwanted responsibilities?  If a person can do this, certainly.  The key is whether, when, and how those new opportunities present themselves and how easy or difficult it is to unload old priorities.

My goal is to do the first and last of these as the first is pretty much required and the last allows maintaining some stability in life.  I just hope to see it through.

As my body has forced me to get some extra sleep this week (it listened to my half marathon coach when he said this was a hard week more than my brain did), I have felt a bit better and begun to get some perspective on all this.

The possibilities when I am are endless.  The key to my physical and spiritual well being moving ahead is to make good, well thought out choices rather than just jumping at anything that comes my way.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Riding on a (runner's) high

This morning I ran the fastest four miles in years.  On the physical side, last year was about getting through a marathon and searching for meaning.  I'm still searching for meaning, but I'm also now searching for a particular level of physical performance.  So, running my fastest four miles in four years is a big deal.  I ran it in under 28:00 (in other words in an average of less than 7 minutes per mile).  I was no where near pushing myself to this level last year.  Now that I am there, I'm feeling really good and do not think I am at risk of overuse injury as long as I take Fridays off after intense tempo workouts on Thursdays.

What does running 4 sub 7's get me in addition to a nice time to report?  Definitely a runner's high.  Since I tend to run it pretty constant (or with a little up incline every now and then or with a little kick up here and there to make sure that my four mile average is, indeed, below 7 minutes per mile), I am beginning to feel like a "well tuned machine".  That is a great thing to have.

When I reach that point and can just do the running, I also begin to tap into the spiritual side.  I begin to feel a sense of serenity and ease of running.  I begin to feel that life and running are a gift from God.  And I begin to explore what it all means.  There truly is someplace other than the normal reality that I go when I am hitting these miles one after another in ways that I know are right.  I use it as a time to ponder and a time to pray.  I hope to be able to continue to experience this for quite some time.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Running with a smile

Tonight was an awesome workout on the track.  And I took my coach's advice.  I ran with a smile.  We ran six distances (400 meters/800/1200/1600/800/400).  If you count full laps rather than the exact metric distances, I ran 1:36/3:34/4:55/6:36/3:02/1:18.  I was blessed tonight.

I ran with the fast group and for three of the runs, I was out ahead.  I made sure to learn several other runners' names tonight, commented on how hard many of my fellow runners worked, and just took the workout for what it was.  Something that my body was made to do.  It felt good.  The pace (while faster than what I had planned on paper) felt right.  I tried to be consistent on the longer runs.

So, I achieved physical well-being with laps that felt just right and I achieved a spiritual and social well-being of running with a group, encouraging others, getting positive feedback, and having a good time.  I didn't need to "overthink" it (to quote my coach).  I just needed to do what felt right and go with it.  That is the way that my gifts are supposed to be used.  It does not have to be overly complicated.  It can be simple.

Most lessons in life and most things that God wants us to do are, in all reality, pretty simple.  Now, I just have to take that lesson ahead with me.  Be humble.  Count my blessings.  Continue to encourage and share with others.  And thank God every day that I am able to run.

Monday, March 14, 2011

My coach and my purpose

Well, I heard from my half marathon group coach today.  He told me to enjoy what I am doing.  To set an example by running with a smile on my face.  And to not be afraid to slow it down a little in the early miles of a long run (particularly to avoid overexertion and overuse injuries) and speed it up a bit at the end.  That was a great affirmation of being able to share a gift in a number of ways.

While I loved my high school coach, the answer that one would likely have gotten 25 years ago--probably to concentrate on my own goals--is so different from the answer one gets when being coached in a group of adults.  I don't hold it against my old coach.  And he did encourage us to watch out for one another.  But goals change and advice changes.  So, too, do the ways we are called upon to use our gifts in life.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Another morning with my son

So this morning's run was one in which I was trying to teach my 11 year old about consistency.  We started a bit slower than we did for last week's run but the three miles were within 7 seconds of each other for pace and he brought down the time we ran last week by over a minute.  He still isn't back to where he was after 3-4 months training last June, but we'll get him there.  He even was able to chat while running, which both my marathon coach from last year and half marathon coach from this year have said is a sign of running at an appropriate and easy pace.  This morning he was explaining the finer points of gardening in a small space with a mixture of compost and two other types of soil.  That is one thing he really enjoys outside of spending time with me running.

So, does this mean I am paying it forward, i.e., with "it" being all the help I ever got from anyone?  In little bits and pieces, sure.  Sometime paying it forward is about working with peers.  Sometimes it is about passing along wisdom gained to one's children.  This is obviously the latter.  If, by completing at least a 5K run each weekend, he can feel more confident of himself and more confident in his ability to accomplish things, then that is a great thing to achieve.  If he can improve over the time he ran last year and see what sticking with something can do for him--all the better.   And, if all it takes is what I'd be spending my Sunday mornings doing anyway (i.e., unwinding after a long Saturday run with a fast last mile), then that works really well.

Does that mean that is all there is in the process of "paying it forward"?  Probably not.  I still want to figure out whether I need to be there for my fellow half marathon or marathon training group members, and, if so, what is the right way to help.  The story of the talents from the Gospel (Matthew 25:14-30), comes to me as I ponder this, although it is not the time of year in the Catholic church (in fact we wont' hear it in a Sunday reading until November 13).  The key is--I have been given something and am called upon to figure out how to make the best use of it.  That is the call.  How will I answer?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

What is My Purpose in Running Now?

To some degree, the answer to the question I pose above is patently obvious--to run a half marathon and a marathon for charity this year with the goal of raising at least $2500 for the two charities combined.  To try to run a Boston Qualifying marathon time.  To probably run three 5K's with my son and maybe run one other race for which I register this year.  That, at least, was my agenda at the beginning of the year.  Not a bad agenda.  But is that all there is?

Some would ask, what more do you need?  Or "why do you need anything more?"  I think there is a need for something more.  Here's why.

Today, I came to what I think is an important crossroad in my group training for the half marathon.  When I was out running (alone but surrounded by members of the group) I pondered the question--if I ever had to pay to be in the group (rather than getting in through being part of charity fundraising) would I actually pay to join?

How did this come about?  Well, just last night I was emailing on Facebook with an old friend from an opposing school who ran high school cross country and track.  Steve was always better than me but was a totally nice guy about how good he was.  He always congratulated other runners who came through and offered encouragement.  That bond--as he put it the commitment and sacrifice that we shared--is something that provides a basis for staying in touch these days.  Last fall in the marathon training group I felt the shared sacrifice.  I'm not sure if I am feeling it yet.  I'm not blaming my fellow runners.  I just trying to figure out what I am and am not inspired by at the moment.

Last year when I first trained in a group for the Baltimore Marathon, I ran with people who knew way more than I did.  I listened.  I mimicked.  I learned.  I made sure to understand the key take away messages from our time in training together.  And I tried to thank every one of them whose presence made a difference for me when I finished the marathon in a respectable time.

This morning, at our group half marathon training, I left a bit after a group of two with whom I've run before, caught them, passed them, then ran a bit further than them, so that I got back to our starting point after them.  The whole time, I ran alone, although I did encourage other runners as I ran back past them going the opposite direction or passed them on the way back.  My 6 miles were in splits of 8:53/8:44/8:21/8:27 (it was mostly uphill)/7:50/6:53.  I took the last mile a bit faster than I should have.  I enjoyed just going at my own pace.  I enjoyed the serenity of the cool late winter morning by the reservoir in near silence.  The wind was noticeable but not gusting at 40 MPH like the last time I was at the reservoir with the group.  And, most of all, with the huge rain we had a couple days ago, the water rushing over the dam was incredible to watch and wonderful to hear.  But while I met with the group and chatted with people (including some I met for the first time) before and after the workout, I ran alone.

Why is that important?  Does it mean I could train for this type of event on my own if I needed to?  Does it mean I should just train alone on my own schedule and getting done what I need to when I need to?

I think I could train on my own.  I don't think it means I should train on my own.  Presumably as we approach the summer marathon training season, I'll once again encounter runners who are clearly better than I am and to whom I will continue to look for guidance.  For the time being, what I am sensing is that my role has changed.  For the current group, I am sure that since not everyone shows up every time, and that on some days there will still be runners in the group who are faster and stronger than I am.  But on the days when I find myself at or near the front of the pack, maybe my role should be to slow down a bit and encourage someone directly as I run with them.  Maybe my role is to be the person who takes it upon himself to encourage others rather than just showing what I can do on my own.  Physically, it is wonderful to do whatever I'm capable of and to push myself (although being careful not to do it too hard like that 6:53 in the last mile).  Spiritually, maybe I really need to rethink just pushing by myself.  It doesn't seem satisfying.  I know that when there are people who are clearly better than me but whom I aspire to run like, I want them to stop and offer their thoughts to me.  Maybe running decent times at 41 and bearing the scars of three different injuries over the past year, it is my time to pay it forward in running just as I like to do in mentoring at work.  Of course, I don't want to force that on anyone but maybe I do need to extend a hand and make clear I'm in this for the camaraderie and not just for my own personal satisfaction to make people feel like they are welcome to run with me, seek encouragement from me (I'm happy to give it), and perhaps to ask for any advice I may be in position to pass along.

My running spiritual role has not involved writing so much this year as it did last year, but perhaps even that will change over time.  More importantly, my interpersonal spiritual aspects of running may take on a totally new set of dimensions as I move forward this year.  We shall see.