Thursday, September 3, 2009

(Im)perfect vision

Our coaches are telling us to create a vision of race day. (Okay, I still smile when someone calls it 'race' day.") Their advice is to choose some goals, perhaps related to our time, attitude and final preparations.  They want us to mentally run the course, envisioning our perfect race.

When I think about the half-marathon, this is what I see. The weather will be perfect, one of those cool fall days.  Temperatures will be in the 60's. There will be a light refreshing breeze, low humidity and just a few clouds--so the sun will be warm, but not oppressively so. The day will be filled with laughter, anticipation and joy.

I'm trying to hang on to that vision. I've been reminded that last year this event took place during a rainstorm of biblical proportions, an after effect of a Gulf Coast hurricane. I'm also recalling my glimpse of this spring's St. Louis Marathon.  Again it was raining. And it was cold. At a stoplight I watched weary and in many cases clearly unhappy people pass by and wondered where they found the motivation to continue.  My race won't be like that, will it? Surely the sun will come out on September 13. Birds will be singing. Small animals will stop to cheer us on.  (Okay, my vision looks a lot like a Disney movie.)

Last Saturday my work at church meant that I didn't take part in the regular long group run. I was surprised and blessed when my pace coach offered to run with me in the afternoon, her second long run of the day. (She ran a total of 18 miles. Amazing!) The course was hilly and the sun much warmer than we expected. I struggled at the beginning of the run and we talked about the ways we can be affected by changes in schedules and when conditions aren't what we anticipate.

My morning had been spent talking about deep change within a congregation. The events of the entire day merged to remind me how difficult change can be. Our patterns, rituals, expectations and hopes can be upset by the slightest difference in our conditions. Even when we are the ones who set a change in motion, the result can be disconcerting.

My prayer for my congregation and for all of us is that we will be able to claim a vision of what the next leg of our "race" will look like. There will be times when conditions arise to make the task seem larger than at all possible. It is then that I pray we will remember our vision and stay on course.

The last half of my run Saturday was easier. At the end I was surprised to learn that my overall pace was faster than normal.  My coach was encouraging and the prospect of the half-marathon seemed less daunting when we were finished.  Change was hard, but the results were worthwhile.

I'm clinging to that vision of an idyllic autumn race day.  But if the storms come, I know the race can still be run. 

Friday, August 21, 2009

An Unwilling Spirit; August 18

In recent days I’ve wondered if I am really cut out for a half-marathon. I’ve given up on the idea of getting faster. I’ve given up on the idea of being able to run the entire distance, adopting a pattern of running five minutes and walking two. And lately, it seemed, I had given up on training.

Granted, backing off on a training program would be expected considering the need to make a few trips out West to visit my father while he was hospitalized and then to attend his memorial service. Giving in and being gentle with myself in the days between his death and the service was a wise choice and more than my training program was moved to the back burner.

I told myself I would pick up the routine with ferocity this week. Instead, I slept late on Monday and on Tuesday shared with someone that I still didn’t feel like training. Her response was grace-filled. “It’s okay. But instead of just staying put and feeling badly about it, why not just get outside?” Her advice was to take off the heart monitor, forget about the timers, the distance, the training schedule and just do whatever I felt like doing, except sitting on the sofa. She suggested I dress for running, just in case the running spirit should show itself. But my only goal would be to get outside and simply enjoy the fresh air and the sound of the late-summer cicadas, if only for ten minutes.

I went for a walk and tried a little running, but before very long, I was ready to quit. It wasn’t a matter of heart and lung capacity or that my legs were tired. I just didn’t feel like running. So I gave myself permission to run only when I felt like it and walk the rest of the way. Every now and then the running spirit would show up, but I managed to slap it down like a pesky mosquito.

About halfway through, I was slogging my way up a small hill and deciding when to quit when I noticed a young man running toward me. I was momentarily envious of his youth and his strength when I remembered that this was to be an outing without goals—without judgment. And about that moment he caught my eye, gave me a big grin, and a “thumbs up.” It was perfect. He too reminded me that this is supposed to be fun. I slowed to a walk until I reached home.

Today I headed out with a little more resolve. I was actually looking forward to my run, even though it was going to be my first long run in over a week. This time, the running spirit arrived full force. It was a good run. My time was better. My attitude was better. Now, instead of regretting past days of haphazard training, I’m looking forward to the next run. The running spirit has returned.

Speaking of spirits, my dad had a way of giving his head a slight shake whenever he heard something that surprised him. His eyes would sparkle and he wouldn’t say much, just, “Well. By golly.” Hearing that I was going to run a half-marathon surprised him and made him smile even if his only response was the standard, “Well. By golly.” I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to be different than my father. But among the things he gave me was a desire to try new things. I’m going to dedicate my run to him. Nothing dramatic—no schmaltzy speeches—no special t-shirt or anything. But when my spirit hits low spots along the route on run day, and I know it will, I’m going to do my best to remember the help I’ve had along the way. A smile, a “thumbs up,” a grin and a shake of the head. Well. By golly. I can do this.

Turtle Crossings; August 8

Why did the turtle cross the road? On our long group run this morning, a turtle about the size of the dinner plate crossed the path ahead of us. After the prerequisite jokes about whether we could outrace the turtle or not, the creature responded to the sound and fury of all those running shoes and tucked into its shell. Our family does “turtle rescues.” When we spot a turtle trying to cross a highway, if it’s safe to do so, we stop and carry it across. We started doing this shortly after adopting a pet turtle many years ago.

As we passed the turtle, I told the woman running alongside me about our pet turtle, who recently made the move to a turtle refuge—yes, a turtle refuge. And then amazingly I heard myself say it, “She was sweet.” Sweet? Our turtle, Speedy, was anything but sweet. From the first day we had her in our home we learned that Speedy was a turtle with attitude. Any time we tried to handle her, she would rear up and hiss at us with all her turtle might. Sweet? Hardly.

Maybe that’s the way forgiveness happens. It progresses slowly. Sometimes it needs help. Sometimes it chooses to tuck in and wait until it seems safe to try again. A few months without that smelly, grumpy turtle in our house and I can remember her as “sweet.” Time passes and events and words that once caused pain become less significant. I’m glad I joined this running journey. But my constant lament has been that I’m slow. I wish I ran more quickly. But maybe there’s an unclaimed power in a slow pace. Maybe more time on the trail is all I need.

No Bad Runners; July 18

When our daughter was young, we avoided the word “punishment” and talked instead about “consequences.” We tried to teach her that all our actions—the good and the not-so-good—carried consequences. We tried to reinforce that life is full of choices and that we each have to live with the consequences that arise from our actions. We often said that there was no such thing as a bad child—only a good child who made bad choices.

So this past week-end, I endured consequences. Funny, it felt more like punishment. I packed for our camping vacation/family reunion with every intention of keeping up my running schedule. And, I did pretty well on the first day. Despite waking up to a soaking wet tent—one of the consequences of pulling camping gear out of a 10-year storage—I put on my running shoes and got in the weekly long run. But after that, my dedication was gone. I won’t share the details, but let’s just say the path away from the running trail involved long, relaxing days with family and copious amounts of chips and potato salad. It was delightful and I went willingly.

But then came the consequences. After a week of nourishing myself at the family chip buffet and avoiding runs and cross-training, the schedule on Saturday called for a seven-mile run group run. I finished, but it was tough and for the rest of the day, I was in pain.

The challenge of course, is to figure out how to recover. It’s a good lesson for life. We make mistakes, we face the consequences, and then we choose how to get back on track. I celebrate a faith that has taught me that no matter how far off the trail I might wander, I am always invited to return and start again.

This week is a chance to start fresh. In whatever ways I have stumbled in my faith journey, I will start again. The consequences of my bad choices for preparing for a run are behind me. There are no bad runners, only good runners who make bad choices. This week, I start again.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Real Runners

I listened to real runners tell their stories this past Saturday morning. Nearly all of them said they were "late onset runners"--coming to the sport later in life. This was the first morning of the Fleet Feet Half-Marathon Training. I'm surprised how often I question the decision to do this event. I've been training since the end of May, and I've run the distance that was set for this morning's run many times. Still, pulling into the parking lot early Saturday morning, I found myself asking again, "What were you thinking?" And once more, when the training schedule was handed out, "Really, what are you thinking?"

One of the things I like about running is the other people who run. Generally speaking, runners are friendly--encouraging--struggling with their own challenges and not particularly worried about yours. The judging voice is my own. Too old--too fat--too slow. I'm the one saying those things. The people I meet on the road and trails have other things on their mind.

One of the songs I listen to while running includes the line, "One day I'll be perfect. I'll be so extraordinary. I will shine. I will radiate." It's a love song--but it reminds me of my faith--that God invites us to keep moving toward perfection. Of course, there's a difference between physical and spiritual perfection, but I hear the connection in the words: to keep trying; to stay strong when possible and recover when you must; to listen to the wisdom of others along the way; to encourage others along the way; to prepare for the challenges and to know that something wonderful awaits just a little further down the road.

There's a point in my runs when the judging voice is finally quiet and I can just run--I actually find a rhythm and the trail holds nothing but promise. It's a good place to be. I still struggle to think of myself as a "real runner." They're the people with the long legs and the fast times. But I'm getting there.