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?”

New Book Blog – Rediscovering the Lost Body-Connection within Christian Spirituality

I don’t have a history of being happy with my body. I started running to lose weight. I soon learned that running alone wouldn’t do it. I had to change my eating as well. Over the years I did lose weight. While its not always been easy, this is the first time in my life I didn’t gain it all back. At the beginning I didn’t expect the spiritual change that occurred.

Today I run as a spiritual practice. I work through problems. I pray. I even write sermons. I’ve also felt the deep call to help others to (re)discover their own bodies as pathways to experiencing God’s grace. I’ve struggled with language. So I’m thrilled to have discovered the book, “Rediscovering the Lost Body-Connection within Christian Spirituality,” by Edwin M. McMahon and Peter A. Campbell.

As I read, I will share thoughts and hopefully start some discussion. Today’s thought comes from page 1 of the preface:

During more than 45 years of our team research, we have discovered that the way in which people treat their own bodies and feelings becomes a reliable predictor of how they will then treat and interact with those around them.

I’ve been saying that if we can treat ourselves better, we will be able to treat others better. How might our world be in a better place if we cared for ourselves? Would we then be better able to care for others? I think so. I look forward to more discoveries in this book.

Meanwhile, what are your thoughts?

 

Day by Day – Marathon Recovery

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Marathon number 10. I missed my goal by A LOT! But I also surprisingly placed 3rd (of 20) in my age group, thus earning this beautiful plaque 

I am continually impressed by the way our bodies are capable of healing themselves. We overwork them to the point of pain, such as in running a marathon. Immediately after  the race the pain starts…or weakness as your legs feel more like jello than anything else.

The negative effects will go away. When you make recovery a priority, they go away faster allowing you to begin working towards that next goal.

 

Last week was my recovery week for the Ventura Marathon. It was also a week to attend a conference. Because I was out of my normal routine I was able to be more intentional and I had a fun way to gauge recovery…the stairs. Here is recovery by day.

Day 1 (Sunday – Race Day)
Immediately after the race. Eat well. Rest. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you didn’t meet your goals. I had to remind myself o this because I didn’t do as well as I’d planned. Immediately after the race a friend gave me a quick massage. I recommend this for everyone! After lunch activities included a shower, compression tights, and a nap.

56195934482__EDB5E544-B761-4575-A054-75A4A104E7B9Day 2 (Monday)
Eat well and rest! This a the day to travel to my conference, meaning a 3-1/2 hour drive out to the desert. Sitting that long was not fun! Thankfully we always have the option to stop the car and walk. Before the long drive, I decided to visit my chiropractor for some active release and adjustments. I also borrowed a set of Elevated Legs from my coach. Both good decisions.

When I arrived at the hotel I learned that my room was on the third floor. Carrying all my luggage, of course I took the elevator. Once at my room I noticed a set of stairs almost directly in front of my room. It would be very hard not to use them. This was an outside stairwell at a resort. Thankfully they weren’t too wide because my first time down the stairs I had to hold the rails. Rather than walking I was using my arms to support those oh so sore quads with each step. Walking back up was painful but doable. I ended the day with 30 minutes of Elevate Legs.

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Not the easiest to navigate post-marathon but it’s very hard to justify an elevator when you’re only on the third floor.

Day 3 (Tuesday)
The most painful post-race day! Up and down the stairs…ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch. I can say I got in some good upper body work as my arms bore most of my weight. Elevated Legs first thing in the morning and right before bed – this time with the little ice packs (thankfully my room had a small refrigerator/freezer).

Day 4 (Wednesday)
Started the day with a slow and easy 1 mile run. I walked down the stairs with noticeably less pain and thought that I could maybe go a bit farther than the assigned 1 mile. Once I started running I immediately thought, “no, I’ll stick to a mile.” Elevated Legs post run. With some free time in the afternoon, I visited the pool. It felt nice to walk around in the water. I had planned to swim some laps but left my goggles at home and didn’t want to buy another pair. I finished the day with Elevated Legs and a glass of wine.

Day 5 (Thursday)
No pain on the stairs! Our bodies are so amazing in their ability to heal.

Day 6 (Friday)
Another 1 mile easy run that felt much better than Wednesday. One last use of the Elevated Legs post-run. Not only were the stairs not painful I was able to move rapidly up and down! I ended the day with the long drive home.

Day 7 (Saturday)
My husband and I did an easy 5 mile trail run. I was amazed at how fresh my legs felt. Then when I was done, my legs told me they were still a bit tire. At this point it’s easy to think that recovery is done. It’s not! Recovery efforts will continue into the next week as I continue with a reverse taper (increasing mileage and strength training).

Thankfully this has all gone well because I have less than 5 weeks before my second 50k. This trail race will be an “easy” effort.

 

Running Our Public Lands

img_4998.jpgLast night I listened to a friend, Vic Thasiah, make a call for the running community to be more actively engaged in conservation efforts for our public lands. His presentation took place at Topa Topa Brewing Company, and since I was holding a beer while listening, I missed taking notes! I wish I had because his talk was inspiring.

img_4776He shared that, from a national perspective, runners, as a group, are not as involved in preservation efforts as are hikers, kayakers, mountain bikers, and skiers. We as runners, are not organized around this important issue as are other groups. As I listened to the presentation, I wondered how many of us runners consciously appreciate the beautiful places we can go. Or do many of us think of running as “exercise” and something to “get done” while also experiencing the added benefit of a beautiful view?

As a pastor, I pray my gratitude for this beautifully created world in our weekly worship, while also praying that we would be good stewards of all that surrounds us. I find myself envisioning some of the places I’ve run as I pray. I’ve also tried to encourage our getting outside for worship with a monthly Hike Church. This has been met with limited success… but maybe that’s because I’m not doing a good enough job of inviting people.

img_4207-2.jpgThe other day, while running on one of our paved, but in need of much work, bike trails, I wondered about the feasibility of runners and cyclists fundraising to fix the trails. That’s a good endeavor and I’d support it. But now, I’m also thinking that we, wherever we are, should involve ourselves in to caring for, and helping to preserve, and conserve our public lands.

In my area, that care can be exercised through The Ventura Land Trust. I might even use my upcoming Thanksgiving to Christmas Mile a Day Challenge as a fundraiser for this worthy organization. Meanwhile, how do you see the running community participating in care for our public open spaces?

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Coaching

oMZMn5W+SF2PYQGyKaDjZQIf you haven’t read this important article by Erin Strout, Why We Need More Female Coaches, I recommend you take a few moments to check it out. Before reading it, I hadn’t been aware that we had such a dearth of female running coaches. My ignorance, was solely due to my relative newness to the sport.

Well, I don’t think I’ll make it to the elite level and I know I won’t be at any college, but I’m excited to announce that, officially, I am a certified running coach.

Currently, I’m helping to coach a group to the Ventura Marathon. I’m doing a little bit of personal coaching for friends and family…and am setting my sites on more. Pastor Coach…

When You Face Your Fear & Crash

I have this dream of someday completing an IronMan. For more reasons than the needed endurance, it won’t be easy. I am confident in two of the sports, swimming (not fast but comfortable) and running (not bad for my age). The bike ride will be my challenge.

 

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From Ojai, down 10 miles and back up again. The down and up should match…a Garmin issue

Two reasons. First, I have a phobia of riding my bike down hills. Second, I am not very experienced on a road bike and thus not altogether comfortable when I attain any speed. And, although I say I want to ride consistently, I don’t. So that, until Thursday of last week I hadn’t ridden at all in 2018. Like those who find excuses to not exercise, I am good at finding things to do in lieu of getting on the bike.

A couple weeks ago a friend organized a “Wheels and Wine” ride. It started in Ojai (up the hill from where I live) with an out and back…or in this case down and up. I went even though I was nervous. I told one of my friends that I have a phobia of riding down hills, so I was a bit scared.

The hill though is not steep, making it a good place to practice. To face my fear. To get comfortable.

35617970_2102340650088727_262091926742761472_n.jpgWe parked at Topa Mountain Winery, let them know we’d be back for wine after our ride and took off. I told them not to worry if they dropped me, as I would probably be slower. HaHa…most of the group dropped me in the first mile.

Slow and steady I went. Down. Down. Down. Not too fast. With each mile I was a little bit more comfortable. I began to wonder if I should turn around, so as not to be too far behind everyone on the way back up. As I contemplated this, I came upon the group. They had decided that 10 miles down was good and they were waiting for stragglers.

After a drink of water and a Cliff Shot Block, I started back up. I also received a lesson in how to work through the gears while riding up a hill…try to a steady cadence. Ok.

I was immediately behind everyone, with a growing gap…just like coming down. But as I rode I thought, “well, I’m not afraid to ride uphill, so maybe I should try to keep up.” With this thought in mind, I sped up to catch up. Here’s what happened.

I caught up so well that I closed the gap faster than anticipated.
I tried to slow down, but…. 
Suddenly the back tire of my friend Michelle’s bike was right in front of me.
I swerved left to avoid her…
But swerved too hard…
Into the gravel that is alongside the paved path. 
As the bike went out of control…
I yelled “Shit!”
And crashed into the split rail fence that aligns the trail.

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I run this trail and this shot is my favorite part. It is not where I crashed – no gravel – but the same fence that I hit.

A split rail fence. I hit the top rail hard with my left shoulder. I hit the bottom rail hard with my left knee. My right knee hit something that bruised it. My right hamstring somehow got a bit tweaked too.

 

See? This is why I don’t ride fast bikes! I find it quite ironic that I crashed while going up.

Jen and Michelle stopped. Helped me up. Straightened my handle bars and suggested we stop at a restroom up ahead to wash the dirt and blood off my arm. It hurt, so I wasn’t too keen on hitting it with water!

We started moving and that was when I noticed my knee. It hurt. But not so badly that I couldn’t pedal. At the park restroom I went and washed my arm. Thankfully I could walk just fine. But my arm… OUCH! While waiting for me, Jen and Michelle straightened my handlebars a bit more.

Then we were off for the nine+ mile climb back up the hill. Slow and steady I went. I almost kept a steady cadence even, albeit a very slow one! My knee hurt more and more with each mile. I worried about the possibility of a run interrupting injury. I was going to be so-so-so upset if I’d derailed my running.

I eventually made it to the winery. Someone gave me a cleansing wipe to clean my arm some more. Nothing else was coming off. I commented on this and a friend said something like, “That’s not coming off! That’s your injury!”

I went into the winery to buy a glass of wine. They very kindly gave me two bags of ice…one for my shoulder and one for my knee.

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Ouch!

Thursday night was painful. My whole body hurt. I had to cancel a trail run for the next morning. This was a major bummer.

The big bruise showed up on Friday.

By Monday I was ready to try an easy 3-5 mile run. Within a half mile, I felt my left knee, my left shoulder, and my right hamstring. None of them hurt enough to alter my stride. I made it 4 miles. Tuesday, a normal run day, became a rest day.

Wednesday is track day. I went with the plan to warm up and if it hurt to not do the workout. It didn’t hurt! Well, not right away. The workout was hard because my hamstrings were tight and my body was tired.My knee began to hurt when I did my cool down mile. Total mileage for the night was just under 5 miles.

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Halfway point of Thursday’s “Get Back On” ride. If you look close enough you’ll see that I didn’t have my helmet latched correctly 😬

Thursday. One week from my crash. I decided that I should get back on the bike. With a bit of nervousness I drove to Ventura, got on my bike, and started riding. I immediately thought the the wind sure felt nice in my hair…WHAT? Wind in my hair? Dang! I forgot to put on my helmet. Thankfully I was only a block from my car. I rode almost 16 miles…with no crashes. A good day.

 

The best part about Thursday’s ride was in getting back on the bike. It would have been very easy to put it off. I don’t ride too often anyway. But facing that post crash anxiety and riding anyway and not crashing again helped me to remember that it’s important to, “Get Back On” and to face those fears that can hold us back.

I have a goal to become comfortable on the bike. To ride well. To ride without fear. I’ll keep trying because I really do want to do an IronMan someday.

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At the halfway point of Thursday’s “Get Back On” ride. A nice reward view for getting out there.