Tuesday, August 31, 2010

95 days to go and counting

I ran my furthest yet last Saturday for my long run.  I charted out the distance on mapmyrun.com.  I ate breakfast, stretched, and took off while it was still early and I was still too drowsy to think about what was ahead.  The first half went well.  And about when I reached the halfway point, my throat parched and my legs beginning to drag, my beloved husband showed up on his bicycle with water and Snickers.  Just in the nick of time.  And while the water and Snickers revived my body, his presence and encouragement fueled my heart.

On the same run, on the way back, I passed through a park, the trail was lined with stately trees, providing welcoming shade and making me feel like I was running through a painting by Monet.  The sky shouted blue, and the trees seemed to shout for joy.  As I passed through this segment, now for the second time, I realized that someone a very long time ago planted these trees in this park, leaving behind a legacy that he or she would never see.  I could enjoy this beauty because someone was intentional about what they would leave to the generations to come.

Some days when you run, you think.  Some days you just go the distance.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Day 26 Just 99 days left!

On my training schedule, today is listed as a “rest day.”

Actually, my “rest days” would be more appropriately called “catch up days,” because I end up packing in everything, an effort that I should call “no task left behind.”  By the end of a “rest day,” I am ready to go back to marathon training.  It is a lot easier.

Today I am “comforted” that there are ONLY 99 days of training left until the marathon.  It is kind of like the Christmas decorations that I began to see in the stores this August.  In some ways, it makes me think, “oh, you have plenty of time to train.”  And in another urgent way, “oh, I have a lot of miles yet to cover.”  The paths near our house right now are stampeded each weekend with runners training for the Chicago marathon, now just about 6 weeks away.  They are in the midst of their hardest part of training.  I saw TRUE LOVE spelled out in capital letters last weekend when I met on the path a man named Mario who was running SIXTEEN miles that day with his wife Paula who was training for Chicago, her very first marathon.  I am sure that there were a lot of things that Mario would rather be doing, but there he was at his wife’s side, running at a pace that was not his own, and sweating it out for his beloved.  It still makes me smile.

Doesn’t matter? Think Again

I received yesterday what I call “a whoppin’ from the LORD.”  I was about to send a friend an encouragement by email and let her know that I am praying for her.  And I hesitated.  One part of me said, “Send.”   But another part (where did it come from?) said, “Don’t be annoying.”  And I hesitated.  I really absolutely don’t want to be an annoyance in someone’s life.  And so I hesitated again.  But after a few minutes of tug-of-war, I sent the email anyway.

Later in the day, I received an email from that very friend.   She thanked me because as it turned out, she was right in the midst of a precarious and delicate situation.  No details, just pray, please.  And she had even forwarded my verse of encouragement to others who were involved.

I am so ashamed to have thought that it didn’t matter.  Think again.

When Bill’s grandmother passed away suddenly quite a few years ago, we helped Bill’s folks clear out her apartment.  In the process, I found a dresser drawer FULL of cards, some Hallmark greetings for literally decades of birthdays, Easter, Thanksgiving, and a hand-drawn Valentine that the month before she died our almost-two year old daughter had made for her.  As I cleared out the drawer, I was reminded how many times I didn’t think it mattered whether we sent a card or not.  But it did.  She had kept every one of them.

So if the Spirit prompts you…KNOW that it matters.  It matters a lot.

Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.  Proverbs 3.27

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Day 19 Breathless

I seek things of comfort and order

        no change to disrupt what I want,

and God reminds me,

                             Where is the story in that?

It is He who girds and guides.

I cannot be silent

   for the amazement He brings


things that make me hold my breath,

things I would never even think to do

              and yet live to tell about it.


On the running front, it is my midweek day of rest, time to enjoy the still waters and green pastures, and go hard after the weeds in the flowerbeds.

Day 18 She Went Fast

Today while getting in line at the library, I came in on a conversation already in progress between a gentleman and the librarian at the circulation desk.  “She went really fast,” the man said.

I’ve been reading about speedwork in the Marathon book, and so, my first thought was running.  And then he said, “I hope that I go that way too.”  Oops.

I need to get out more.

Today I ran a slow warmup, then a fast spurt on a shaded trail, and followed it up with a slow cooldown on the way home.

I liked the last segment the best of all.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Day 17 The need for speed

There was never in my life the need for speed.  Because growing up, sports were not offered for young ladies.  The state of Illinois prohibited in those days any intramural sports for girls.  And if a girl wanted to participate in sports, well, there was water ballet.  The Dark Ages?  Just remember that the women’s Olympic marathon did not even exist until the summer our second daughter was born in 1984.

So to be a fast runner, well, there wasn’t any need.  And actually there wasn’t any ability either when it came down to it.  Speed was left out when it came to my DNA.  I can go forever, but there is no swoosh.  It just isn’t there.  As I made my way to the Wheaton College track today to run a few laps, I thought about the first time I ever ran a race.  Ever.  It was 1980.  A business colleague of Bill’s had invited us to run a 10k road race and have brunch afterwards with a few friends.  Sounds like fun, said my newly married husband.  I am not sure that I responded at all.  I was, quite frankly, terrified.  There were no 5k (3.1 mile) races back then.  So we are talking 6.2 miles.  I was afraid that I would be going so slow that before I could finish they would have put away the orange cones that mark the course and I would be totally lost and miss the celebratory brunch.  Needless to say, I thought I was doing ok for myself until I was passed by both a six year old boy and a man who appeared to be about 80. 

And I believe that as they passed, they swooshed.

At the track this morning, two girls were lounging on the in-field.  An older man was running up and down the bleachers.  A young man wearing a tennis t-shirt ran incredibly fast and didn’t even break a sweat.  And there was a youngish woman casually jogging along in front of me….whom I never caught up to.

And no one cared at all that I did not swoosh.  Just dancin’ to my own beat.  And that’s ok too.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Day 16 Just Because

Last night, cool breezes pushed back the heat and humidity, and we awoke to a beautiful blue day.  I took advantage of a trip again to Evanston and ran along the lake.  Last week, there was a day on that trail that the greyness of the sky and lake so blended together that there was no distinction between the two.   It appeared that a boat was cutting across the sky.  Today, the sky was the bluest of blues, and the lake was iced in silver.  “This is the day that the LORD has made.  Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  (Psalm 118.24)  It was THAT good.

Even if I wasn’t training, I would have run today.  Just because days like this should NEVER be wasted. 

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Day 15 Did you win?

I am currently reading a birthday present from Kate and Justin who sent me an autographed copy of Hal Higdon’s book Marathon.  After having run 111 marathons and training a countless number of people to cross the finish line, Higdon has some great advice and amusing anecdotes about running.  In one of his stories, he tells about a young dad so excited about finishing his first marathon.  The first thing his son wanted to know, “Well, Dad, did you win?”  The Dad said something about finishing the race, but his son kept asking if he won.  Eventually, the Dad nodded and said, “You know, son, I did.”

This morning, I read these verses:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize?  So run that you may obtain it.  Every athlete exercises self control in all things.  They do it to receive a perishable wreath, be we an imperishable.   1 Corinthians 9. 24-25

Run strong, my friends.

Day 14 A sweet gift

Today, the 14th day of training, was a long run.  But it was a fun one this week, because my daughter Laura  gave up her Saturday morning to sweat through the miles with me, battle the ambush of mosquitoes on the trail, and share a snickers.  It was a sweet gift.  And one very appreciated.  You know you rock those babies and tie little shoes and pray your way through the years.  And this morning was frosting on the cake, just spending time with an amazing daughter.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Day 13 The Soundtrack of Your Life

Today I ran with friends:  Michael, Ken, Chris, and Bebo among others. I hadn’t run with my ipod in a very long time, and it was a treat to bring the music along.   I like to shuffle the playlist, so I never know who is around the next corner.  Old “friends” or…well, skip that one. 

I grew up surrounded by music, thanks to my mother and grandmother.   I woke up in the mornings to the sound of my mom practicing or one of her violin students screeching out their exercises.  Mom had music playing constantly, mostly classical in the background, but particularly around Christmastime when our church performed Handel’s Messiah.  I can remember my baby brother when he was six or seven years old, sitting on the first row of the church balcony with the score of the Messiah in his lap and instructions not to move during the rehearsals. 

How powerful is music?  All those notes and lyrics are written in indelible Magic Marker in your brain.  No joke.  I haven’t heard California Dreamin’ in probably 45 years, but I could probably sing every word if it came on the radio.  “Be careful little ears what you hear,” because it is there forever.  (Ever get a really stupid song stuck in your head?)

So, I listen to a lot of praise music when I run.  It focuses my mind on Whose day it is and Who is in charge and on Whose grace I depend.  And that in itself is a great soundtrack to start the day.  “Sing to Him a new song…” (Psalm 33.3)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Day 12 And on the Seventh Day

Last week, I was annoyed by the scheduled rest day.

This week, it couldn’t come fast enough.

Day 11 Terms of Endurance

A couple of days ago, I broke in a pair of new running shoes.   I am always surprised at the difference it makes.  And always shocked by how dead the old shoes now feel.

I learned the hard way about needing to replace running shoes.  A few years ago, I ran all winter and spring in a pair of already old shoes.  I didn’t feel the need to buy any new ones.  But quite suddenly, my heel began to hurt, tolerable at first, but then consistently, particularly when I got out of bed in the morning, and then more and more throughout the day as the weeks wore on.  My stubbornness pushed me into trouble again.  I ended up with Plantar Fasciitis – which sounds a bit like the bubonic plague – but is actually more like a bone spur.  It was the result of wearing old shoes which had the life pounded out of them.  I could not run at all that summer.  When it comes down to it, running shoes are only one of two necessary expenses you have in order to run.  And while the average American woman has about 25 pairs of shoes (no joke), when she starts running, she digs out a pair of athletic shoes she bought a hundred years ago when her first child was born and now uses for mowing the lawn.  So, if you are running at all, invest in a pair of good shoes.  It will keep you from becoming roadkill.  And it will cost you less than a trip to the doctor for an injury. 

The other necessary expense?  Well, Target had the little Snickers on sale this week :)

Needless to say, I am ready to run.

That summer I missed running, by the way, I exercised by riding my bike alongside Laura while she ran.  We had a nice shady path that we liked near the Chik Fil A restaurant, one of the places of worship in Memphis.  The trail ran alongside the Wolf River in a nature preserve.  Crossing over a small wooden bridge, we noticed day after day, turtles sunning themselves below on a log in a small pond.  One day I got a little bit ahead of Laura and rode my bike down to the edge of the pond to view the turtles from a closer perspective.  WHAT??? I shouted.  Laura came running.  “What’s the matter, Mom?”  Those turtles which we had admired ALL summer were fake.  And even the log was painted concrete.   We still laugh about it.  So much for wildlife in Memphis!  Laughter too is a term of endurance in long distance runnng.  Test after test has proven that laughter either shrinks the miles or makes it seem like you run faster.  Guaranteed.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Day 10 Oh, The People You’ll Meet

I love watching people when I run.  The other day at a trailside park, I saw two women, one white and one black, sitting at a little table for two, each with a bottle of Coca Cola and a bagel in front of them.  They gave the appearance of two old friends meeting casually for a meal.  Until I realized that they looked homeless.

This afternoon, I observed a young mom in a park, feeding her twin babies who were sitting in a double stroller.  She gave one child a spoonful of something from a jar, and then when she turned to give the other child a bite, her slobbering bear of a dog licked the face of the first twin.  The baby let out a childish shriek of delight, although I don’t think the mom was amused.

I ran today on a familiar stretch of roadway near where Bill and I lived when we were first married and our oldest daughter Beth was born.  When we first moved there, we noticed a man running on a regular basis, holding high in the air, a transistor radio with its little antenna sticking up.   We saw the man running in the heat, in the rain, in sub-zero temperatures.   We were amazed.  We were amused.  And we began looking for him when we drove down that road.  We named him “radio man.”  And yes, my children, that was before there was such a thing as an ipod or a cd player or even a cassette walkman.  That was twenty-eight years ago, and I wonder if he is still out there, protecting his turf.  We never “met” radio man, but we knew him well.

I have had total strangers tell me the most intimate details of their marathon disasters and delights in the same way women I don’t even know tell me about the birthing of their children.  I have shouted out encouragements to others just as I have received the same.  

So tread carefully as you run with eyes open wide.  It is part of the training too, the people that God puts on your path every day.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Day 9 The Pirate’s Code

Both yesterday and today, I veered off the course of my training plan.  Both days called for three mile runs.  And both days, well, I couldn’t help myself.  Sunday afternoon was hot and muggy, and I felt more like a nap than a run.  But since it was a three-miler, I felt like that much I could do.  I just didn’t plan on getting caught on the wrong side of the tracks by a stalled freight train.  It was a long one, and it wasn’t going anywhere.  By the time I found a crossing where the train wasn’t and back home again, well, my run became more like four and a half miles. 

Today, I traveled to Evanston to pick up Hannah at her apartment and bring her back home for a family supper and three loads of her laundry.  One of my delights of the two-and-a-half hour round-trip is having the opportunity to run in Evanston along Lake Michigan.  As the weatherman always says, “it’s cooler by the lake,”  in more ways than one.  There is always a breeze along the lakeside path, and thereby the temperature is moderated, but it is, quite frankly, a much cooler place to run anyway you look at it.    It is a different world to me.  This afternoon, the early morning rain had cleared.  The sky was blue, boats sailed across the surface of the lake, and the waterfront park looked like a Seurat painting with people relaxing on benches and blankets and playing frisbee.  I ran through Northwestern’s campus, past old houses on Sheridan Road, and….well, time ran away with me.  Um, and as a result, I stretched my three mile run into five.  Oops.

Yes, I am following a Hal Higdon training plan, but as Captain Barbossa explained in Pirates of the Caribbean, the code is more what you'd call "guidelines" than actual rules.  

A pirate’s life for me!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Day 8 What is my gospel?

What do I talk about with people?  What am I passionate about?  What has changed my life?  Not running.

Running is not my gospel.  It is only a vehicle which God uses in my life.  A vehicle for His highest.  And may I never confuse the two.

A week ago on a long run, another runner came alongside.  I asked him a few questions like “how far are you going today?”  (13 miles) and “what are you training for?’ (the ‘Lakefront’ in October.  “Oh, is that a half-marathon?” I asked him.  “No, fifty miles.”  WHAT?!?!?!)   I asked him about the running group listed on his shirt.  He mentioned running with them last May in South Africa.  South Africa in the springtime?  “The Comrades?  You ran the Comrades marathon?”  The Comrades is a 56 mile race which goes uphill one year, and down the next.  Whoa.  He told me about his training for that one.  I mean, like how do you train hills where there are none?  When he said that he had been training 85 miles a week, I asked him if he worked.  Yes, he chuckled.  “Oh, what do you do?”  I asked him boldly.  He MUMBLED that he was a pastor.  “Oh, what church?”  He acted like he didn’t hear me.  I repeated it again.  Twice.  He finally told me.  I was literally pulling it out of him, asking him about his church.

It is easy to be critical.  I mean, he is a pastor, he should have been PREACHING the gospel to me.  And then, humble pie, God reminded me of how many times I have spoken so freely of running and not of Him.  These are divine encounters, strategically on the running paths of life.  Oh, “that my soul may praise You and not be silent.”(Psalm 30.12)

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Day 7 If yesterday was a piece of cake, today was burnt toast

For all of the energy that I possessed during my long run yesterday, I felt drained this morning.  I was literally running on empty this morning.  I didn’t run;  I slugged.  More than that, I felt like a slug.  I was moving along so slow, that when I passed a young mom and her three-year-old son sitting on their porch, he asked her, “what is she doing?”  I guess he couldn’t tell. 

But something reminded me today of what all the training was about.  For on the road next to me flowed the peloton, a group of cyclists racing, a blur of bright colors, a swoosh as they passed me at lightning speed.  And in that group was my husband Bill.  He was racing bikes for the first time in fifteen years.  And having a very nice time, thank you. 

As I told my friend Aimee last year at the marathon starting line in Memphis, “This is the fun part.  The hard part is over.”  The hard part is the training, the long lonely miles in rain and heat when you can’t find a water fountain and the Snickers in your pocket has melted into syrup.  The hard part is when your feet hurt and your legs ache and you still have twelve miles left in your workout…and another workout scheduled for tomorrow.  The hard part is getting out there when it is dark and cold and you rather be in bed asleep.  The Memphis Marathon has bands playing and crowds cheering and water and Gatorade every mile and even an occasional Elvis.  And little St. Jude’s patients in their wheelchairs shouting and hollering for you as you pass the Target House because you are doing something they wished they could do.

And that kept me going today.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Day 6 Run Forrest Run

This morning was glorious.  It was cool and sunny and very Friday.  I was just supposed to do a mid-length segment today in dread of tomorrow’s weekly LONG grueling run, when I usually contemplate “what was I thinking?”   But today was different.  I had fresh legs from my running sabbath yesterday, the light breeze made it feel like I was running in air conditioning, and it appeared that all of creation – flowers, trees and sky – were competing for beauty.   I ran past the retention pond,  past the high school, and past the commuters at the train station.  I ran.  And I enjoyed it.  When I reached the spot on the trail alongside the railroad tracks where I was supposed to turn around, I pulled a Forrest Gump and kept on running.  I ran past the College Avenue train station, past Wheaton College, through downtown Wheaton, past the Wheaton train station, the apartment buildings, parking garage, and THEN I turned around.

When I got home, I marked down my long run for today.  Sometimes you just gotta run.

Day 5 A day of rest

Today I felt a bit like my ten-month old grandbaby when she really really doesn’t want to take a nap.  Today, on my training program, I was scheduled for a day of rest.  I feel like I just started training.  How can I rest?  I didn’t FEEL like resting.  It was the first day this week that 1) wasn’t raining, 2) the humidity was actually lower than 87 percent, and 3)I actually wanted to run.  But being the compliant child, I rested.

Now I am not under any kind of contract with the free online Hal Higdon training program, and I know that in the course of a week, I can be flexible with the schedule, but today I did not run.  And instead I unpacked boxes in the furnace closet in the basement, got nostalgic about the girls growing up so fast, and then wished that I had run instead. 

Day 4 Things I learned about running from my Mom who never ran

First of all let it be known that my mom was a little appalled that I took up running late in life.  Actually, she was very appalled that I took up at all.   At first, she kind of ignored it, like maybe I would see her wisdom and come around.  She was always afraid that women who did things like ride bikes got big leg calves….and then how could you wear cute boots in the winter.   Then, when it looked like I was sticking with running, she sent me encouraging articles from the newspaper that told about athletes especially runners who dropped dead in the middle of a race or even in practice.

I ran my first marathon when I turned fifty.  I called her afterwards.  “Mom, I just ran a marathon.”  She responded with something like, “Thank Goodness, you are still alive.  I am so glad that you didn’t get hurt.” 

If she were to see me today, seven years later, she would shake her head, and then remind me to at least “wear a hat to save your face from the sun.”  And she would tell me that if I wanted to get better, every day counts.  Mom was a professional violinist, and even as an adult, she practiced every day.  Consistency is the key.

Today, day 4, I ran a bit on the Wheaton College track.  The only people there were two men, an older gentleman who kept up a pretty good pace, and a middle-aged man who looked like he was going to die any minute.  But we were there.  And glad that it wasn’t still raining.  And it made me think that even when it feels like I am only going in circles, God may be equipping me for something else entirely.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Day 3 Running between the Rain Drops

I woke this morning to a huge clap of thunder and pounding rain.    It was not what I planned for today.  But I shifted to “plan B,” put on my running clothes and surged ahead with chores inside.  Within the hour, the rain had subsided.  And out I went, down the wet sidewalks, and around Lake Ellyn which was, of course, flooded again, the trees and park benches standing in the overflowing water like stubborn children.  As in life, every day of training is not going to be sunny and bright.  When it is raining, there are several options:  1) claim it as a “rest day,” 2) find a friend with a treadmill, 3) run in the rain, or 4) get ready and wait it out.   Quite frankly, with the 97 percent humidity this morning, it might as well have been raining.  My clothes were soaked anyway.

We live in a real world and even the best made schedule is not always going to work out.  Know your options for when you have sick kids, or it is outrageous weather, or you are called out of town on business.   Have your running clothes set out and ready, even in your car, if necessary.  (I had a friend who used to run around the field while her kids had soccer practice).  Make it work for you.  From now on, “flexibility” is your middle name.  Be ready to run when the opportunity presents itself.

And sometimes, you just run in the rain.  You are not the Wicked Witch of the West from the Wizard of Oz.  You will not melt.  Running in the rain just makes the good days even better.  And sometimes it is even fun. 

One year, the weekend before the marathon, I was scheduled for eight miles.  It was literally 36 degrees and pouring down rain, my worst fear for marathon day.  I was ready to pass on that one, but Bill encouraged me to get out there, “If you can run in this, you won’t be afraid of anything the marathon throws at you.”  I went.  It wasn’t my favorite run of all time, but he was right.  I was no longer afraid that it would rain on marathon day.  I knew now I could run anyway. 

Monday, August 2, 2010

Day 2 Second Day of School

The first day of training is like the first day  of school-- exciting as if the sky is blue and banners are waving in the breeze.

The second day is like getting hit by your first pop quiz in math class.  I woke up to the dawn today and realized that this morning was a hill workout.  Did I really already sign up for this race?  Or can I still get out of it?  Too late.  Take out your number 2 pencil.

I  scooted out the back door and down the driveway.  Within the first 1/4 block, the back of my right knee felt stiff.  “Oh, well, I guess I shouldn’t run today” was my first thought.  I stopped and stretched, ran slowly down the block, and the tightness was gone.  Bummer.  My excuse evaporated into the muggy air. 

There is a good hill down near Lake Ellyn, a glorified retention pond in town which floods every time it rains.  I ran up and down the hill three times, imagining the homeowners laughing behind the windows in their air-conditioned houses.   But I did it.  Humiliation is not a viable excuse.

I read about a runner once who said that when she first started running, she was so embarrassed for anyone to see her that when cars drove by, she would stop and pretend that she was looking at the flowers at the side of the road.  That woman was, by the way, Joan Benoit Samuelson, who eventually won the gold medal at the first women’s Olympic marathon in 1984 in Los Angeles.

“…let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us…”  Hebrews 12.1

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Day 1, just 125 to go

This morning in the early morning fog and humidity, the adventure began.

This morning I began 125 days of training for the St. Jude’s Marathon in Memphis on Saturday, December 4.  Eighteen weeks of hard pavement, sweat, blisters, and :) snickers.

A couple of years ago while training for my third marathon, in the throes of WHAT WAS I THINKING????, I told my friend Becky, “Don’t ever let me do this again.”  I finished that race, and well, sorry, Becky, pray for me ‘cause I signed up again.  Needless to say, this will be my fifth. 

I am old enough that I don’t run for the glory or bragging rights or medals.  I run because of health, pure and simple.  Running a marathon pushes my envelope physically and spiritually.  I love what I learn spiritually from running a marathon.  I love it physically because, well, it makes an ordinary day a piece of cake.  Running is not who I am.  Running is just something I do.

So join me as I chronicle my training, the things that I am learning, what I’m struggling with,  and when I fall (which I always do).  If you have no idea what is involved in training for a marathon, please feel free to read my real-life-stinky-shoe non-airbrushed account of what it is like.  Or feel free to join me running and share what YOU are learning too.  My friends Beth, Aimee  and Anna are training in Memphis.  My daughter Kat who is a medical resident at Vanderbilt University hospital also is training with a group of other Vanderbilt doctors in Nashville.  I will be running in Chicago with… my ipod.

“I could never do that,” I have heard A LOT of people say.  Well, it doesn’t start with 26.2 miles.  It starts with stepping out the front door, running a few blocks, adding a few more, and building up one mile at a time.

It started at 7.30 this morning.

Stay tuned.