Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Wisdom of Kenny Rogers

Kenny Rogers once sang in The Gambler "You gotta know when to hold 'em/Know when to fold 'em". In light of everything I've been writing about wisdom and patience and running recently, I am now at a post-race stage where wisdom is JUST AS IMPORTANT. In the days since my most wonderful marathon, I have rested, run, and rested. Today is another day of rest. Tomorrow may also be.

My legs have still felt sore off and on through yesterday. And they are clearly not back to 100% quite yet today. Monday when I did go out for a three mile run with Back on My Feet, I felt a little tweak in my knee that I continued to feel throughout the day Monday and yesterday. This morning, so far, I'm not feeling it. That is a very hopeful sign.

However, I need to make sure not to rush back out to run 5 or 10 miles and not to rush back out onto the track. The wisdom and patience now is to get back to running at all. Sometimes running smart means knowing when NOT to run as knowing how to run wisely.

I really want to run. My body thrives on running. And I hope that this winter, I can also do other exercises that will be just as exciting and just as fulfilling. But the key is to understand the importance of balance. Just like a work-life balance. Just like a balance between my spiritual needs and other needs. Just like a balance between family-oriented and self-oriented non-work activities.

Balance in my running. Balance in my life. The balance promoted by Kenny Rogers's sung wisdom.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Seeking Different Parts of the Truth

As many readers of my blogs now know, I have taken to trying to link my bib numbers and race times to bible verses. I have sought to bring together my physical well being and goal setting with my spiritual well-being. It has been an interesting process.

I don't know that I have actually changed what I have been writing over the year and some since I first got the idea to link the number 1313 to a Bible verse, but I do know that the type of verses I have been looking for--to meditate over along with my runs to increase my complete well-being--have switched from verses more about the strength of God and how it is a blessing to us to verses about wisdom--the wisdom of God or the value of wisdom for people.

Why do I find this interesting? I find it interesting because a friend from high school once told me when I started preparing for my first marathon that each running experience like a marathon would lead to different lessons. And, interestingly enough, they have, so far.

This past weekend, when I wrote afterwards, I wrote about some elements of relying on God--I am and vine and you are the branches--and I also reflected on wisdom (alone and combined with speed in the scene of approaching Jesus's tomb).

As I look ahead and think about what I will meditate on over the many miles until my next marathon, I am thinking that both strength and wisdom will continue to be important. I am also thinking, in light of a book I expect to borrow from a previous coach, that I will focus on aspects of spiritual teaching that focus on making sure I have the "package deal". In running that would be the right combination of running workouts and cross training workouts along with the right amount of cut-back weeks and rest as I go along. In my spiritual life it would be things like a reminder that there are Ten Commandments and they are all important. Yes, Jesus gave a greatest one (the parallel to my running being that I have to run more than anything else) but he didn't say to forget about the rest. Jesus once answered to love God with all your heart and mind and soul (perhaps not in that order). That is a package deal. The Beatitudes--there wasn't just "Blessed are the poor in spirit", there were others as well. In addition, I have commented recently on the importance in music ministry of playing and singing--another package deal--for feeling like I put my whole self into the ministry in ways that were not apparent before.

As I move forward in my physical and spiritual development, I anticipate that issues of "the package deal" will be important in many ways. I look forward to the challenge!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

My Post-Race Story

As I consider my post-race story, it was a lot different than my pre-race story. The first couple of miles were run in the low 7:20's. Then a bunch in the 7:teens. A few in the upper 7:20's leading to the half way mark. 7:20 and below out to 20 miles (with even a few sub 7:10's). Those sub-7:10's were using the slight downhill for all it was worth and really trying to put myself in a position to finish with a sub-3:15. However, banking time never really works. Miles 21-24 were between 7:26 and 7:42. Then the last two miles at 8:24 and 8:48. I'm not quite sure that I ran that last 0.2 in, but it wasn't much prettier. In the end, I had improved my personal best by more than six minutes over a race just six weeks earlier. In the end, I had not qualified for Boston, but for that, there will be another day.

What lesson did I learn this time? I can wonder all day whether or not a slower time in a mile here and a mile there earlier in the race would have let me come through stronger at the end. However, I'm not beating myself up over it as I will absolutely never know. I can't experience the counterfactual. I can only imagine it.

However, I can relate it to a lesson in spiritual life. This time, it is not tied to a bib number or a race time. It is just about the experience.

When talking with a runner whom I greatly respect after the race, he said he would have to learn to be more patient. When he made that comment, I added "When you figure it out, you should share what you have learned with _______." I'll leave the other name out, but I was thinking of another runner or two. I was not thinking of myself when I made the statement.

However, to look at a non-Biblical cross-over before getting to the spiritual, we can think about something that Michael Jackson sang and that is a common theme in literature and songs. Michael sang, "If you want to make the world a better place, just look at yourself and make a change." For runners, we could adapt that to, "If you want to run a better race, just look at yourself and make a change." In other words, I could apply my statement to myself as well as to any other runner whom I might name.

That leads me to my spiritual lesson. This, I take from John 20:3-8. The entire story of the resurrection takes a bit more than that in John and different accounts are found in each of the other Gospels. John's Gospel is the only one in which both Peter and "the one Jesus loved" (whomever this may have been) both ran to Jesus's tomb.

Yesterday, my approach was more like Peter's.

In the end, I would hope that my approach to marathon running becomes more like "the Beloved Disciple's".

Meaning what?

Well, in the story, the one Jesus loved got to the tomb first, but then paused before going in, and ultimately was described as combing to believe first.

Peter on the other hand, ran ahead once he got to the entrance and just went in and saw everything without every being described as comprehending it. And, in the gospel of Luke, he was described as amazed rather than believing.

Finishing the marathon should be measured and approached after a full assessment like the one Jesus loved. Finishing is not jut barreling in at all costs.

I feel like what I achieved up to mile 20 was more like Peter. He raced to the tomb but was unsure what to make of it or what to do once he arrived. That's like me up to mile 20--arriving but then not sure of what to do once I got there.

The one Jesus loved, on the other hand, gathered in his strength and determination, proceeded with care, and comprehended. Exactly what I needed at mile 20.

For Peter and the other disciple in John's gospel, there was only one chance. For me, there will be more than one marathon. At some point, I hope that my marathon running will evolve to include the wisdom to comprehend and believe exactly what to do once I reach mile 20 and the patience to reach it with the strength needed to implement what wisdom tells me. And, if I stick with it, I'll also have the speed that the disciple other than Peter had to reach the tomb first. That combination, speed, patience, and wisdom will take me to my ultimate running goal.

I've got a while before I put that combination to the test again for a race that long, but John 20:3-8 will be at the top of my reading and meditating list before that. And, in a twist of fate, if I want to tie it to the race time from my most recent 5K, we could extend the reading to John 20:2-9 and take in another sentence about running as well as a concluding sentence about the disciples still not understanding scripture about Jesus needing to rise from the dead. That extra sentence about running is just cute in the current context. The sentence about disciples not understanding scripture could be like my still not fully comprehending what is likely to happen to the body in a marathon. I have lots of "book knowledge" about what I should be doing to keep things by the book. But I still don't fully understand exactly what I should be anticipating every step along the way. That may never come. But, if anything, it is still a few races away.

And, whether I ever learn the lessons for racing or not, I hope that my spiritual evolution will proceed in the same direction--quick to reach a conclusion that is founded on faith and wisdom and that shows a deep understanding rather than just being first to reach some type of finish line. A deep understanding will serve me at least as well spiritually as in my physical, racing life.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

My Pre-Race Story

Just a couple weeks ago, I gave a short address to a crowd that included alumni, current students, and current and past staff from my high school. I talked about story telling and mentioned that I have a story each time before a race.

Today is my second marathon of 2011--and likely my last one until next fall. The story would not have started with waking up to find my 6 year old's eye swollen before he had to leave on his first pre-dawn trip for an ice hockey tournament. The story may have included getting up at 3:45 to check on the six year old and then getting a nap until 4:30. Then I made bagels for Daniel and Sherry to take in their lunches with cream cheese, salmon, apples, and Pirate Booty.

Now, they are on their way and all I left to do is prepare myself. Garmin--check. Gu Chomps--check. Race bib & chip--check.

Soon I'll be out the door and on my way. I have so many people sharing so much positive energy about this with me. It's great.

Ideal race-7:25-7:30 each of the first 13.1 miles. Then at least as fast on the way back. Aiming for 3:15 which will require an average 7:25. I should be able to speed up a little for most of the way back as it is downhill.

We'll see if the post-race story is anything like the pre-race story. Onward!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Cross-blog post

Readers of this blog might find my other site interesting. It is an entry about a race and the feeling of focus that the run has helped me to seek.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Upper Darby High School Wall of Fame Comments

I want to begin with a huge thank you for this incredible honor just 24 years after I left these walls and halls as a student--and there are some new walls and halls now. I want to thank Upper Darby not only for the honor now, but also for laying the foundation for the accomplishments that led to this honor. There was a book published while I was studying at Penn State called All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten. I’m not quite sure I’d attribute everything I needed to know to kindergarten in the old Highland Park Elementary School building. However, my thirteen years in the Upper Darby School District contributed to what I know, to how I learn, and to the content of my character in ways that have been critical to my professional, personal, and community activities in the time since. I was lucky enough to interact with incredible teachers, coaches and other education professionals who cared and gave of their time and effort. My classmates and family also made an incredible difference in many teachable moments along the way.

Now, let me tell you a story—a story about storytelling. Storytelling is not just for when you sit around campfires or want to exaggerate about the size of the fish you caught. Storytelling has been an important part of my personal and professional life and even an important part of my fitness. In fact, if someone asked me to come up with just one word—one word that would summarize the common theme throughout all the success (and even some of the failures) I’ve had since graduating from UDHS—one word that would summarize the key ingredient to the rest of what I hope to accomplish—that word would be storytelling. For someone with my bio it may not be obvious why that is the case. So, let me tell the rest of my story today and pay tribute to the one teacher who I think was the best storyteller of them all—Richard Maxwell.

I was lucky enough to have Mr. Maxwell as my 10th grade honors physics teacher. He had a story for everything. His stories helped us understand why we should care about physics. His stories helped make clear to us why we should care about the world in which we lived. While he was charged with teaching us physics, he did more—he taught us about a basic inquisitive philosophy of life. That was magical. Today, whenever I speak with a potential student or potential faculty member about why they should come to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, I tell them that one reason is that everyone on the campus is genuinely intellectually curious. Many people contributed to the development of my curiosity—Mr. Maxwell was among the best. So, how do curiosity and storytelling enter what I do?

When I conduct research—it begins with curiosity; then to attract resources for the project I need to tell a story about why it should be of interest; and when I’m done I share my results and complete the task with storytelling.

When I participate in committees, particularly in leadership positions, I am driven by a curiosity about how committee members can work for change and improvement and use stories to share my vision with fellow committee members.

When I evaluate others’ work—their storytelling—I am willing because of curiosity about their work and my task is critiquing their ability to communicate their ideas through stories.

When I teach—I tell stories to transfer the joy and excitement of my curiosity about a subject to my students.

When I participate in music ministry at my church—I am driven by my curiosity about my faith and about music in general and use the music to make the stories easier to remember.

When I run, I am always curious about how far I can go, how fast I can go, whether I can maintain a particular pace, or what’s new on a familiar trail. Much like in my research, I have a story to guide what I expect the run to be like and I come away with a story of how the run actually went. I use these stories to share ideas with others in a blog after I run.

Storytelling and my passion for it have made incredible opportunities available for me. Some I dreamt of when I graduated in 1987 and quoted from a dark Emily Dicksinson poem (someone else’s story) in my graduation speech. Others, I would have never anticipated. When I graduated, Mr. Maxwell signed my yearbook and wished me “rewarding and purposeful” years ahead. As you move forward, may your stories and storytelling bring you as much of what Mr. Maxwell wished me as I’ve been blessed to experience.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Unchangeable, unshakeable, unstoppable

Last night at church, for the first time in a while, I was given a microphone to sing in addition to having my bass to play. Afterwards, I commented that I suppose I should practice singing most of the songs we practice because I never know when I might be called on to sing. It was, just like the last time I was asked to do both, a good feeling.

One of the songs we sang described God as "unchangeable, unshakeable, unstoppable". Those are three characteristics I would love to be able to claim to have.

Unchangeable--in other words, others always know what they are getting. Is this true of me? Not perfectly. Thought, I think for the most part it is. Someone who is pretty intense. Someone who will give my all. Someone who often gets caught with one or two too many commitments so has trouble completing them all. Someone who wants the most out of life. Someone who may be talented in one thing but likes to try to show that there is something else in life as well. And the last of those (with my career as the main focus and running and cooking as things I try to show I am good at--and perhaps even music should be added to that list) is nothing new. Both what I am good at (things academic) and what I try to prove myself at (at least in terms of running and music) has not changed in years. Where do I fall short--in changing opinions in ways that are not anticipated and that sometimes make little sense and in changing my focus without warning sometimes. Perhaps that just shows adaptability. I am sure it drives some of my friends, family, and colleagues a bit nuts.

Unshakeable--in other words, no matter how hard anyone tries God remain unchangeable. My vulnerability to being shaken showed with a running race earlier this year. When I mistakenly hit the stop button rather than the lap button during a half marathon, I ran distracted the rest of the way. There are many potential distractions in life. Sometimes I am pretty good at shaking them off, but not always. One goal for myself to live more in the image of God as God made me is to find a way to identify what is most important and remain unshakeable in my pursuit of that--always.

Unstoppable--in other words, nothing can overcome God. There are plenty of temptations, distractions, and things that are not 100% following the rules and the path set down by God that lead me from following what is best at all times. While having to stop and reset is just plain human, it is still something to aspire to something better.

My running has helped me to achieve all of these three things--being someone with a clear focus where you know what you are getting from me, and I won't be distracted, and I will reach my goal. What a difference a couple years of running and the thought process that comes along with it makes.