Given (photo-a-day)

Ash Wednesday. This is my thumb after standing out in front of my church with ashes for most of the day. A few days before I happened upon a discussion in a FB clergy group that was focused upon how horrible it is to offer “ashes to go.” This discussion led me to think about my own “why” I was willing to stand out in front of the church offering ashes to friends, neighbors, and strangers. Was this an exercise that because of its quick nature was devoid of any spiritual benefit? Was I contributing to something unhelpful?

We did not have as many people stop by this year as in year’s past. This I mostly attribute to the rainy and cold weather…I was certainly cold out there! But there was also a benefit in that I was able to have some great conversations.

One gentleman saw be out there, stopped his car, crossed the street, and received ashes. He told me that he used to be active in a church hadn’t been back in 15 years. We chatted until someone else came for receive their ashes. About 45 minutes later he came back, bringing a photo to share with me. He went inside the church, “to see what it looks like.” We chatted some more, until a homeless man who I’d been worried about came by…

I am thankful that the affirmation that this was a good thing to do was “given” to me by these two men.

Tempted (photo a day)

Today’s word is “tempted.” There are so many temptations but how do you photograph the temptation to give up? Or to yell at someone? Or to fail to forgive? One temptation that is always present and captured on photos is food. Some things I just need to keep out of my house…or never start eating. What tempts you? #rethinkchurch

Hammer Half Marathon – Race Recap


The Hammer Half Marathon in Ventura CA is a small race that raises funds for Habitat for Humanity. I had Sunday morning free and was happy to be able to participate. The course is a familiar out and back (or up and down) on the Ventura River Bike Trail.

For us Californians, it was a chilly and wet morning for a race (and I think it kept some people away). I ran my warmup, did some drills and strides and, wearing layers, was nice and warm…so I took off my jacket and long sleeve shirt and ran in a racing tank and shorts. It was funny to observe the looks of all those around me…they seemed to think I was crazy. It was about 46° at the start of the race. While waiting to start it was chilly and my hands were cold for the first mile but after that I was fine. HaHa…I was remembering how cold I was in Boston last April and today’s weather was nothing compared to that.

The First Half of the Race is a gradual climb up. I’ve never been a very good uphill runner so I wasn’t sure how I’d do. I wanted to run a pace that would be on par with a Boston Qualifying pace. As usual, I started way too fast, but was able to settle down pretty quickly. I felt good all the way up…except for almost slipping on some mud! As a few people passed me, I was tempted to speed up, especially as I was feeling pretty good. But I stuck with my goal of trying to run strong and steady.

Happily, when I hit the halfway point I looked at my average pace and it was 9:16. That was great! I need a 9:20 pace to run a marathon in just under 4:05 (my qualifying time and PR). That 6.5 miles was my best uphill effort ever! The Final Surge data says I did 9:19 instead of the 9:16 that I saw while running, but either way I met my goal for the climb.

The Second Half Downhill was a test of fitness. Immediately upon turning I picked up the pace and ran with a much harder effort than I did in the first half. I was trying to catch those runners who’d passed me on the way up…unfortunately I closed the gap but didn’t catch them. I usually dislike this portion of the course, because while it is downhill, it is very gradual and on tired legs it can actually feel like I’m going uphill. Last October I crashed and burned in this segment of the Ventura Marathon. So part of my run today was to prove to myself that I can indeed run well on this part of the course. I am very happy with my effort.

We’re standing in the rain for this celebratory photo

Overall…I placed 3rd in my age group (50-59). I would have gotten second if I could have chased down one of those people I was trying to catch! This was my 3rd fastest half marathon, but the other two were either flat (with a gradual descent towards the ocean – and I basically had the same time as this race…just 6 seconds slower) and the other race had an elevation drop of 3,000+ ft (a Revel downhill race). This was a far harder race as half of it was uphill so I am very happy. My daughter and son also placed in their age groups making it a very nice family outing.

Next up will be the LA Marathon…six weeks from today.

Grace found in Small Steps

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An uphill journey might seem hard, but the view at the top is worth every step.

The other day I was listening to the Rich Roll Podcast and his interview of Zach Bush, MD. You can listen to it here: RichRoll Podcast – Zach Bush, MD

There was much to be alarmed about in this podcast, especially in the way our farming and use of pesticides is responsible for much illness and other problems. But the message from Zach was also one of hope and promise for the future.

The most impactful statement…the one that made me stop what I was doing, find some paper and pencil, and make a note was Zach’s scientific definition of grace.

Previously I’d never thought of a scientific definition of grace. Here is what he said:

Grace scientifically is that you heal faster than you injure.

I love this definition and can find so much truth in its simplicity…not just scientifically but in life. There is so much hope in these words.

You heal faster than you injure.

Simple decisions that lead to simple changes can lead to healing. This idea is not that making a small change will lead to overnight improvement. But rather our simple changes (which if truly simple are also small), lead over time to big transformation.

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Oatmeal and berries…much better than what I used to eat for breakfast.

Some examples that come to mind:

  • Choosing healthy food will lead to a healthier body over time. The effects of past poor choices don’t disappear immediately but they do over time. My own experience of this is that by (mostly) eliminating processed food from my diet and replacing it with real, wholesome food, I’ve lost 80 pounds. It took a few years.
  • Choosing to move a bit every day can lead to better fitness. If it’s hard, then start with walking and move from there (or even stay there if that works for you). When I decided to be more active and start running, I could only run 30 seconds before needing to walk. Over time, my body grew stronger and in 2018 I completed my 10th marathon…and marathon number 8 was Boston.
  • Choosing to limit online media can lead to a healthier attitude. I confess that this one is a struggle for me. But I do notice that my decision to refrain from pointless online arguments and to no longer follow certain people has made me a much happier person. I need to take daily steps to further limit the time I spend here (especially on Twitter 🤔)
  • Choosing to mediate or pray regularly helps to clear the mind of distractions. Haha…this one is a work in progress too.

All of these transformations – or potential transformations have been gradual. They are perfect examples of healing (or better health) coming about through small changes. Of course we must acknowledge that better health can also be relative. The starting point often dictates how far we can go, but that doesn’t mean we cannot make some improvement.

Sometimes we fail to take those initial, small steps because the change we seek seems to be so far out of reach that we give up before we start. Or it is painful to start moving. But the experience of grace is that when we take one small step after another we are eventually able to look back and see that we’ve travelled so incredibly far on the road to better health.

How have you been able to experience this grace in your life?

Running with a Cold? A Cautionary Tale

Do you know the conventional wisdom about running with a cold? It’s pretty simple.

If you have a fever, body aches, or symptoms below your neck then DON’T RUN.
Or
If  you only have symptoms above the neck, like a stuffy nose you’re good to go.

This is what you will discover with a simple google search. Here is my screen grab from just such a search from this morning:

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What is not emphasized in much of the online advice is that running when you have a cold takes precious recovery resources away from your body and diverts them to run recovery. When you do this, you are not able to adequately recover from your cold. This should be common sense, but I failed to follow it. I will chalk it up to a lesson that will make me a better coach. Here’s my story.

Lot’s of people are suffering from head colds this time of year. It’s common…almost inevitable. I started to feel the symptoms the Friday before Christmas with a bit of a scratchy throat. My reaction was, “oh no! I don’t have time for this!” For the coming days I had a long run, family event, church, and church again for Christmas Eve. I didn’t have time to be sick and so I effectively willed it away for a few days.

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Race pace portion of my long run on December 22.

The long run on the 22nd was 15 miles with 8 at goal marathon race pace (9:08) for me. I went 4 easy, 8 at goal and 3 easy. It was a wonderful run and I hit my goal pace while feeling good.

 

After the run, I still felt good and our family Christmas party was fun. I felt fine and made it through worship on Christmas Eve thus ending a very busy time in my role as pastor. At 2am on Christmas Day I woke with post-nasal drip hurting my throat. Dang! I only was able to hold it off until I mentally relaxed.

I did take it a bit easy the next couple of days. Instead of joining my run club for a Christmas morning run, I went out with them and walked. I took a couple days off and ran again on Friday. The bad news, I still had chest congestion. The good news, running helped to open up my sinuses…but it was ugly. This run was only 6 miles and felt fine.

I usually run long on Saturday, but had a funeral, so I moved it to Sunday. This meant that my week would have 2 long runs – Sunday and the following Saturday. It also included a New Year’s Day trail run which was (except for blowing my nose so much) one of my best trail runs ever.

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I put in some race pace effort towards the end of the run, mostly because I was desperate to get to a restroom.

Interestingly every run this still felt ok. I had to blow my nose over and over again while I ran, but strangely this was ok, because I was “clearing out my sinuses.” My cold stubbornly persisted throughout the week. The run at the end of the week was 16 miles easy. My son ran with me on a cold (for SoCal) day. I was a bit worried about how I’d feel because I hadn’t shaken the cold, but it ended up being a very pleasurable run. I even felt as if I could keep going when we finished. I successfully ran 49.6 miles that week.

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My son and I before our cold Saturday morning run

 

In retrospect, what this week of running while trying to shake a cold did was prolong the cold, while tiring my body. Enough so that Monday’s run was not bad, but not good either. Then Tuesday’s run made me so tired that I skipped strength training. For Wednesday track I was tired, so I skipped it. I ran on Thursday, which I don’t usually do, and felt ok for the first half, but then cratered for the 2nd half and had to skip strength training again.

Here’s the lesson for me: if anyone that I coach had asked me about running their regular schedule while sick, I would have advised against it. But I did it myself because “those runs felt ok…and all the symptoms were above my neck.” Yesterday, I contacted my own coach (who hasn’t been doing my schedule though) and told him that while I want to coach others I still need a coach! He told me to take three days rest.

And here we are…resting. Hopefully I haven’t set myself back too far. And I have learned a valuable coaching lesson…

Here is some better advice from Coach Jay Johnson: “Should you run with a cold?”