Friday, September 25, 2015

There's An App For That : My Half Marathon Adventure, Part 4

When I first started training for the Adirondack Half Marathon, I found an App that seemed to suit my ability and my schedule.  I downloaded it on to my phone and started running,  The initial training sessions were short runs 1.5 miles, 2 miles, 3  miles.  No big deal.  Although it was often hot and muggy during my runs, the distances didn't really warrant carrying water.  As long as I was hydrated throughout the day, I felt fine.  The only thing I carried was my phone and, if a dog was accompanying me, a leash and a "waste" bag.

There are devices made, such as arm bands, so I wouldn't have to hold the phone, but I have never been able to find one that fit my arm.  They were either too big or too tight.  I've never been able to find one that was "just right" (dispense with the Goldilocks jokes, please) so I carried my phone, holding it in place under a rubber band wrapped loosely around my palm. The phone stayed in place while my circulation still circulated.

Still, on longer runs my palms got sweaty and the phone became an uncomfortable nuisance.  Additionally, though I needed it to track my mileage, I often found myself checking the phone to see how far I'd come - or more honestly, checking to see how much further I had to go.  I was not content to wait for the little App Coach to let me know my pace, split times and distance.  I would impatiently check the screen, sometimes actually stopping running to read the stats because of the sun and sweat in my eyes.

As I mentioned in a previous post, on longer runs I found the need to carry food and water to sustain my energy. I have a water bottle that has a handle which wraps around my palm, but like the phone it made my hand sweaty so I started tucking the bottle in to the waistband of my shorts.  It stayed in place...most of the time. But carrying food became a problem.  My running shorts don't have pockets so I had to resort to a "fanny pack".

In the pockets of my fanny pack, which I wore turned towards my front not my fanny, I stowed my phone, food, Kleenex, and a plastic grocery bag (for the dog). I still had to keep my water bottle in the waistband of my shorts.  I was now able to run with my hands free, unless I had a dog with me and then I only had to hold my end of the leash.

An aside here.  Back in June I went camping with my friends Adiel and Mindy.  During our hikes Mindy used a fanny pack to carry her keys, camera, water bottle, etc.  Though Mindy's pack was of a sportier style than most, Adiel and I still made fun of her.  Mindy, please forgive me!)

Some interesting things happened once I reorganized my paraphernalia and ran with empty hands.  I got faster.  (Note:  I said faster not fast.  I'm still slow.)

With the phone in my pack, the little App voice is often muffled or drowned out completely by the sound of street traffic.   When I do hear the App Coach, I can't always discern what she is saying; I only hear a "still, small voice" indicating to me I've made some forward progress.  I just have no idea of how much progress or how much further I have to go. But I love hearing that voice!

Hebrews 12:1 (NASB) says "...let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us".  Other translations use the word "weight" instead of "encumbrance". During my training runs, I wasn't carrying less.  In fact, counting the Swedish Fish and Animal Crackers in my pack, I was carrying more now.  The only difference was my hands were free.  I was no longer distracted by what I was holding.  And I was no longer glancing at my phone, looking to check my stats.

I carry a lot of baggage in my daily life.  I'm weighed down by my long "To Do" list, my worries and concerns. I'm distracted by the voices that tell me I'm behind, not good enough,I'll never catch up, I need to try harder. These are the encumbrances I need to shed.  This is sin of disbelief and this is where grace enters the picture. Just like on my runs, I have to reorganize how I carry things.

Some things Jesus said:

"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Matt11:28)

"Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you." I Peter 5:6-7

"Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden light." (Matt 11:29-30)

Grace humbles me, not as an embarrassment or a crutch.  Truth be told (sin confessed) my own pride is the crutch on which I lean...and run poorly. Grace is the very legs on which I stand and run the race set before me. Jesus wants me to finish this race and thus He provided the legs, He is there with me every stride, carrying my food and water, feeding me along the way, and telling me to press on.


Monday, September 21, 2015

Eat, Drink and Be Wary: My Half Marathon Adventure, Part 3

So much of the training for my upcoming race happened on weeknights after work.  Because I'm a slow runner, some of those longer training sessions could take upwards of two hours to complete; longer, if I was accompanied by a dog.

So that I wasn't running in the dark of night, most of the times when I got home from work I'd race through the door, let the dogs out, fill their food dishes, change my clothes, and head out the door for a run. About 10 to 15 minutes in to my runs I'd realize that the last time I'd eaten had been lunch six hours prior.   On  a  3-mile run that's uncomfortable but manageable.  On longer runs, that can be disastrous. During these sessions I'd become nauseous, shaky, and noodle-legged, barely making it home.  After a few times of "bonking" I learned my lesson and started grabbing a quick snack (usually a banana) before my run. For long sessions, I'd try to eat something more substantial - peanut butter toast and the always reliable banana. I also started carrying food (animal crackers and Swedish Fish) and water with me. These practices made a noticeable difference on my endurance.

Staying hydrated is also important for runners.  Dehydration not only affects a runner's performance but can be deadly, as well. Lack of water makes your blood thicker and sludge-like and makes your heart work harder.

I drink a lot throughout the day, but my preferred beverage is diet soda or iced tea, not water. Since the bulk of my training was during the high heat of July and August, I knew hydration was of particular importance so I made it a point to substitute water for diet soda as my pre-run drink, though a majority of my drinking during the day still consisted of the not-so-healthy beverages.  I did not become dehydrated during these runs, as my sweat-soaked clothes indicated but I found my endurance suffered.  It was not until I started regularly drinking water throughout my days that I found my strength lasted throughout my sessions. It seems that unlike food, where a quick bite to eat will give me a jolt of energy, hydration needs to be built up and sustained over time.

There are some definite spiritual parallels here. Jesus is called the Bread of Life (John 6:35) He offered the woman at the well living water (John 4:10-11).  Our souls need to eat and drink.  David prayed to God in Psalm 63

 “my soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.”

If living the life of a disciple is a race, we “runners” must take in nourishment. We must feed on the Word of God. We must drink of Jesus, the Living Water.

“Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart…” Jeremiah 15:16

“Man shall not live on bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Matt 4:4

“Jesus stood up and cried out, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.” John 7:37

“With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” Isaiah 12:3

For believers in Christ to finish the race set before us, we need to practice good spiritual nutrition, taking in the food and drink God has set before us.  We do this through prayer drinking in His Spirit, absorbing His very presence in to our own souls. We eat of His Word, the Bible by reading, meditating on and hearing the Word preached.

          “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of
Christ.” Romans 10:17

I learned the hard way through dizzy spells and painful leg cramps that I need to eat and drink properly to run well if I intend on finishing this half marathon. I’ve learned the hard way that I cannot ignore my need for Jesus if I intend to finish the race He set before me. That race is lifelong and requires more than an occasional healthy snack, but regular, intentional healthy practices in order to cross that finish line. A DNF in that race is deadly.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

So Why Am I Doing a Half Marathon Anyway?: My Half Marathon Adventure, Part 2

Anyone who knows me knows I'm not a natural athlete.  As I mentioned before, my running is more like a lumbering plod. I'm more endomorph than ectomorph; soft and curvy, not hard-bodied or lithesome.  So why run a distance race?

I confess, it's the swag.  Bigger races of longer distances give out better loot.

Certainly, I have other motivations.  I enjoy the challenge. I want to be fit and healthy. I desire to maintain an active lifestyle and better quality of life. But when you get right down to it, I like getting prizes.

Many, many years ago I volunteered to work at a local 5K race for which I was given a long sleeve
t-shirt with an impressive race logo and the word "STAFF" down one sleeve.  I felt official. When I wore that shirt I walked taller, a proud participant in an athletic event. I was hooked.

Since then, I've volunteered and walked in numerous charity events for t-shirts. And for really special events, hooded sweatshirts! Once I started racing, I rated the race based primarily on the quality of the t-shirt. I've raced in rain, sleet, sweltering heat and even in the dark wearing a tutu, all for the swag. 

My race times will never qualify me for any prizes, but for the distance races - marathons and half-marathons - they give all the finishers a medal! I want that prize! I want to feel the weight of it hanging from my neck. 

Notice the tutu on the left?

This sounds shallow and selfish, but really, I've got biblical precedent to back me up! The apostle, Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:24 "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it." He knew, people like to win things. 

In the next verse he then says "Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable." T-shirts are definitely perishable items.  That "STAFF" t-shirt I prized sits in a landfill somewhere. The picture above is only a sampling of the
t-shirts I've collected through the years. Most have been relegated to the rag bag. Evan a medal won't last forever. A disposable item subject to rust and tarnish it will eventually wind up in the trash, I'm sure.

There are better things to work for, "...I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14)" being one of them. Still, to have and to hold a piece of metal is tangible evidence for me of "the prize of the upward call of God". That prize connects my physical senses with spiritual sense and gives some validation to the hours I've spent training - bodily training and training in godliness (I Timothy 4:7-8) God does give rewards, some which one can actually see and touch, hear, taste and smell. They should not be discounted.

So, on September 27, Lord willing, I will be testing my mettle in order to receive a metal medal. I will also be thankful for the strengthening of my spirit that has occurred during this training, a strength that does not diminish with time, as does bodily strength.

Monday, September 14, 2015

I'm Only Half Crazy:My Half Marathon Adventure Part 1

Last year at about this time I traveled to the Adirondacks to watch my friend Anna run her first marathon, the Adirondack Marathon Distance Festival .  The marathon and the half marathon are run on the same course and as I watched runners racing towards the finish, I saw a number of half marathoners.  I was struck by how many of them had my build and ran at about my speed. Watching them, I thought "I could do that" and so an idea was planted.

I'm not a speedy runner. In fact my run is more of a plod…sprinkled with bouts of walking in between. I don't necessarily enjoy running as much as I enjoy the sense of accomplishment I feel after I've run. And to keep me motivated to run, I try to have a race scheduled for which I have to train.  When I returned from the Adirondacks I was training for the annual Turkey Trot 5K held on each Thanksgiving Day.  After that, winter came and I put my running shoes away for the season. With sub-zero wind chills and ice covered streets, no sense of accomplishment is worth frostbite or a broken hip.  I spent much of my winter sitting under a blanket in my chair close to the heating vent.

Still, under the warmth of heavy blankets, watered by numerous cups of hot tea, that seed of an idea of a half-marathon began germinating. I started looking in to different races, the Pittsburgh Half Marathon being one of them. As a Pittsburgh native, this race appealed to me for many reasons.  The race route snakes its way across many of the city’s bridges, offering a once in a lifetime opportunity to travel across them without dodging traffic!

But the Pittsburgh race is in early May requiring winter training – not practical for me. Many other races I looked at didn’t fit my schedule, either.  Spring races require winter training.  Summer races mean I’d be training and racing in the hottest weather.  Winter races are held in warmer climes requiring larger travel expenses and extra vacation days.  A fall race, though requiring training in the hot summer, seemed the best fit. And what better place to spend a fall weekend than in the Adirondacks?

So on Sunday, September 27,  I will be running 13.1 miles around Schroon Lake, in my first ever half-marathon.  I started serious training around July 4th during which time, God has taught me much. In instances in the Bible, the life of a Christian is compared to running a race. I can now relate more intimately to these examples. Over the next fourteen days I plan to post some of what the Spirit has shown me. 

Until now, I haven’t told many people about my race. Saying “Oh, did I tell you I’m running the Adirondack Half Marathon?” did not sound natural coming from my mouth.  I’m more likely to discuss the Marathon candy bar than a road race, and I’m more knowledgeable about the candy bar, as well!

Still, one of the things God has been teaching me is that I need to enlist more prayer support for certain things.  To that end, I am asking that you all would pray for me for my race.  I have some specific requests here:
  1.   Pray that I finish!  If I ran the first mile in under 4 minutes but didn’t finish the race, it would all be for nothing.
  2. (OK, this request is pure pride, I confess) They close the road to vehicles until 2:30 pm (or 4-1/2 hours after the half marathon begins), at which time they reopen the road.  Pray that I finish the race before they reopen the roads. Though I think I’ll be finished by then, I’m not sure.  I’m a slow runner and this is a hilly course.  It’s hard enough on the ego to finish at the back of the pack, if not last; but to be running while cars are driving by, seeing people check their watches and mouth the words “is someone still out there??”…  It’s embarrassing. 
  3. (This one’s a stretch goal) If all goes well, if conditions are right – good weather, I eat right, I dress right, I feel right, I run the course right - I guess what I’m saying here is if conditions are perfect) I could finish in under 3-1/2 hours. Still slow, but acceptable for my dignity. Pray that I finish well.
  4. Finally, pray that I not be so concerned with results, keep my pride in check and just enjoy the experience.
“…and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith…” Hebrews 12:1d

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Book Review-Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God by Timothy Keller

This is a book review I shared with my church family at Faith Reformed PCA, Erie PA.  I thought some of my blog followers might also be interested. 

Dear Faith Family,

A few years ago, when we read Paul Miller’s A Praying Life my prayer life changed for the better.  Miller’s down-to-earth approach helped me untie the knots of angst I felt in prayer and just approach God conversationally, not feeling (too) guilty about life and dog interruptions during our talks. I saw God answer many of my prayers and in ways I wouldn’t have imagined.

Still, I was sensing that I was doing most of the talking.  I wanted to listen more but didn’t know how without my mind wandering. With that goal in mind, I picked up Timothy Keller’s book, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God.  It was the word “intimacy” that grabbed my attention because that is what I wanted to develop in listening, a more intimate relationship with my God.

Chapters 1-3 were essentially introductory, setting up Keller’s foundation that “we must know the awe of praising his glory, the intimacy of finding his grace, and the struggle of asking his help, all of which can lead us to know the spiritual reality of his presence” (emphasis mine).

It was Chapter 4, “Conversing with God” that grabbed me and confirmed my sense God wanted me to listen more.  Keller starts by reminding us that prayer is our reply to God, who first spoke  to us, not the other way around. In addition, consider what God has done just by speaking.  In Genesis we see God spoke creation in to existence. Psalm 29 says “the voice of the Lord breaks the cedars…the voice of the Lord shakes the desert…” When God speaks, things happen.

Keller’s instructions on how to pray use a more meditative and contemplative style; not the A-C-T-S acronym on which I was originally instructed as a young Christian and continued to use as an older one.  Using practices of Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Augustine as examples, he takes readers through prayer, using scripture meditation to form our requests – even practical ones like financial problems and finding lost keys.

The book is scripturally based without turning in to an eye-glazing theology lesson.  Keller’s writing style is stimulating and challenging without sending me to a dictionary every other paragraph. I’ve read many essays by Tim Keller, but this is the first of his books I’ve ever read so I don’t know if this is typical.

I’ve only recently begun observing some of these practices so I have no earth shattering results to share.  I can say that in recent months God has shared with me some wonderful and dare I say intimate observations from His Word, which I attribute to Keller’s insight.


Friday, September 11, 2015

A Fractured Fairytale

My heart leapt up when I beheld the rainbow in the sky, the sign of the promise. But I jumped into an empty swimming pool. Now I await for my King, Himself to do what all his horses and men were unable, to put me back together.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

A Seed's Prayer

Many seeds were sown,
Grew in to beautiful plants and bushes and flowers,
          dropped new seeds.
New plants and bushes and flowers sprang forth,
          reaching to the sun.
I'm still in the ground,
Waiting to germinate,
     to grow,
          to be picked,
Every year
     more dirt thrown on top of me;
          deeper in to the ground I sink.
     Not noticed?
It's cold and dark.
     Am I slow to germinate,
          or am I dead?
Just be over with it already,
     and bury me
          six feet under.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

The Circle of (a Lonely) Life

If midnight is the Witching Hour,
3:00 AM is the Lonely Hour.
I'm wakened by echoes
Bouncing off the cavernous walls
Of my empty heart
Because of the empty place next to me.

No sheep appear
For me to count.
Even they have the good sense
To be sleeping at this hour,
Huddled together.

I only have the minutes to count
Until dawn breaks
When loneliness is replaced
By busyness
Until the next sunset
When the cycle begins again.