Been Running Lately

I’ve been running lately.

In my deployed setting I have both time and opportunity for fitness. In fact, fitness is part of my responsibility as a Soldier. But I realized early during the deployment that these months overseas are the best chance I will have to get into the best running shape of my adult life.

And so I run. A lot.

Back history:

In 2010 I was inducted into the Haverford High School Sports Hall of Fame. It was a thrill to see my coaches Jay Williams and Mike Ahlum again.

I was really fast in high school, but certainly did not maximize my potential. I ran a 4:23.1 1600m as a sophomore … but never got under 4:25 after that. My head got in the way – teenage angst and all. My 400m and 800m times improved throughout my high school career, and as the lead-off leg for the 4×800 I helped my team win states in 1993 and get a school record. To this day that state championship is one of my most cherished accomplishments.

Regrettably, I didn’t run in college. I didn’t even run local 5Ks. I just stopped. Again, teenage decisions. Sigh.

But many years later I got back into running when a member of my church encouraged me to sign up for the 2010 Army Ten Miler. “Pastor, registration opens in two days, and it usually fills up within a day. I know you talk about how you used to run a lot. Maybe this is your chance to get back into it.” Without much time to hem and haw, and with her encouragement, I registered.

Jessicah and I began running on April 6, 2010. In fact, April 6 is on my Google Calendar as our “Running Anniversary.” We sometimes trained together, but usually we ran separately so that one of us could be home with the (then quite little) kids while the other ran. I would eventually get into long runs on Mondays with my dear friend Christine, a pastor who also took Mondays as her day off. Jessicah ran several mornings each week at 4:45am with a great group of women in our neighborhood.

Couch to 5K got me to a 28:00 5K effort (9:01 pace) in Chestertown, MD, on Memorial Day Weekend in 2010. I ran through the summer, endured a shin splint injury, but got to the starting line of the Army Ten Miler in October. What an inspiring race! So many people running for friends who were killed in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, with many injured veterans themselves running on prosthetics. This was my longest run up to that point, and I ran it in 1:41:03 (10:07 pace).

I ran the Richmond Half Marathon just a few weeks later (“what’s an additional 3.1 miles,” I thought?). Christine, again, was a great encouragement, and she ran it with me (well, she was way ahead of me, but she drove us down and was very supportive). I ran 2:04:52 (9:32 pace).

Two days later I was running on the W&OD Trail in Arlington, VA and another runner asked, “Whatcha training for?” I was wearing a shirt with the words “IN TRAINING” emblazoned on the back that I had picked up at a discount table at the Richmond Marathon race expo. “Oh nothing. Just doing a seven mile recovery run after Saturday’s half.” “Seven mile recovery run after your first half? You should run a full! We have a great full in March downtown – the National Marathon. You should run it.”

I don’t know if my seven mile recovery run was particularly impressive, but his flattery seemed to have worked. I signed up for the marathon, and trained using a free plan I found online. Weekly long runs with Christine, some speed work on the W&OD trail, and lots of miles got me to the starting line. Jessicah trained all this time, too, and ran her first half marathon on the day I ran my first full. The weather was perfect that day, and I ran 3:52:12 (a 8:52 pace).

I ended up going Couch to Marathon in just under a year. It was great.

We then moved to Minnesota, and two years later to Indiana. Training got interrupted. In Minnesota I ran few half marathons, but got injured and did not start a full for which I had registered. I ran the TC One Miler, a one mile road sprint in 6:03.9. It was so much fun! I topped out my half marathon time at the Med City Half Marathon in Rochester, MN (1:41:55, a 7:47 pace). That same weekend we announced to our kids that we were moving to Indiana.

In Indiana I hit the ground running, and improved my marathon time by 26 minutes at the 2014 Carmel Marathon (3:27:24, 7:55 pace). Shortly after that effort, however, I found myself with new work and new priorities, and running took a back seat. Chris (a buddy from church) and I have run together on and off for years, pushing and encouraging each other. More often than not, though, I found myself putting on too many miles too quickly, resulting in injury or illness.

Fast forward to early this year. My National Guard unit gets put on Active Duty Orders. After nearly two years of very low mileage, I laced up my shoes on my second day at the mobilization station and began running. I logged 39.7 miles in February; 65.5 in March; 102.4 in April; 117.3 in May; and I should log approximately 150 in June. And while I’ve had some aches and pains, they were mostly early in the training and back in the states. Since arriving overseas I have felt great, despite the heat.

And yes, it’s hot here in the desert. It is anywhere from 83 to 91 degrees every morning, with winds out of the west that range from kinda/sorta refreshing, to full blast hairdryer in your face life-suckingly hot. Dehydration, dry mouth, a blazing sun that rises before 5:00am, and running routes that are mostly packed sand or gravel are all factors to contend with.

I’ve run every day since May 10th, my first day after returning from Emergency Family Leave. On some days I’ve run as short as 2 miles; others as long as 8-10. During this time I realized that my initial goals of simply building a base and getting into decent shape were too modest. It became clear to me that I had the chance to get into the best running shape of my life here. Best running shape of my adult life? Ramping up the goal gave me a new kind of motivation, and helped me think in a new way about the possibilities.

That realization prompted me to sign up with Matt Ebersole at Personal Best Training in Carmel, IN, for coaching as a look to hit new running goals. I now receive weekly training plans from him and shoot emails back and forth, all in an effort to get me in my best shape for the 2020 Carmel Marathon and a possible Boston Qualifier in 2020 (either at Carmel or later in the year at the Monumental). The BQ time for my age is 3:20, though I’d like to run even faster than that. I’m sure I have the talent to reach this goal – now its time to do the hard work to earn my spot on the starting line at Hopkinton.

But the goal of running Boston aside, running on deployment has given me a big non-Army goal and activity to look forward to each day. And, as I continue to grieve my dad’s death in April, and handle the stress that comes with being a deployed Army chaplain, the daily runs are truly a life-giving ritual of prayer, reflection, discipline, and camaraderie (I run with a group several days/week, and am so grateful for Allison and Ken as running partners, but also as colleagues and friends). Running, more than pretty much anything else, will get me through – and help me thrive – on this deployment.

I’ll never quite know what kind of runner I could have been, but I’m grateful for the runner I’m becoming now. Still, I realize that my current running routine is only a few months old. I have miles and miles to go before running shifts from being a much-needed deployment therapy and fitness goal to being an essential lifestyle.

In fact, the true test will be when I get home – will I keep running even as I get back to family and church and home responsibilities? I sure hope so, because I imagine that I will need the life-giving ritual of running when I get home just as much as I need it now while deployed.

It’s ok to be weary

It's ok to be weary
tired
exhausted
spent
worn out
done
it doesn't feel ok, of course, to be weary.
I know it doesn't feel ok,
and so does your co-worker, neighbor, and friend.
Your boss knows too, but probably won't let on.
Work needs to get done, of course.
You see, we all know it, about weariness,
but we hide it behind our caffeinated smiles
and perky social media profiles
and conjured-up can-do attitudes.

But it is ok. You have permission.
To be weary
tired
exhausted
spent
worn out
done
Because life ... is hard
especially when you're going it all alone
or your kids are suffering and you just can't make it better
or you have to be in many places at once
or you work in unbearable conditions (but you need the paycheck)
and you can't, just can't, hold it all together
And that kind of hard makes you weary
and maybe a little grouchy
and withdrawn
and distracted
and not who you want to be

It's ok to be weary
to bear the side effects of living, of working, of loving, of giving,
of outpouring, of stretching, of trying really hard.

It's ok to be weary
you're carrying a lot. A whole lot.
Of course you're weary
and cry in the rest room
or have those moments where you won't allow yourself to cry
because if you start crying you're not sure how it'll end
Of course you're weary
You nearly lose your shit before pulling it all together
so that you can keep on keeping on, weary or not,
because it's all you can do.

Weary is your option,
because stopping, quitting, giving up, caring less
is not an option.
It's ok to be weary
tired
exhausted
spent
worn out
done
You're making it, you're a survivor, you're stronger than you think,
one weary step at a time.

Fitness for Ministry

Today I begin resume a new journey, a journey of fitness for ministry. You see, I’m not fit for ministry.

For the ministry of National Guard Chaplaincy, that is.

On and off for the past several years I’ve been discerning service in the National Guard as a chaplain. [In a future post I’ll write more about my discernment on this issue, which goes back to high school and to conversations with my grandfather, who was a Marine in the pre-WWII era]. National Guard Chaplaincy is a part-time ministry – the proverbial “one weekend a month, two weeks in the summer” – with a population of part-time soldiers that is mostly young, culturally diverse, and service oriented. It is a population that needs the comforting Good News and presence of our God. It is a population that is largely absent from our pews.

When I lived in Minnesota I had several conversations with the chief of chaplains for the Minnesota National Guard, and I was about to start the process of formally interviewing with Guard leaders and discerning this call within my congregation. But then an unexpected opportunity led us to Indiana, and that process was put on hold. While I have yet to reach out to the Guard leadership here in Indiana, there is one thing I need to do before I give this much more consideration.

I need to get in shape. I need to get fit for this ministry. There are fitness standards for members of the National Guard, including chaplains. And while I can pass the running requirements fairly easily, I cannot yet pass the sit up and push up tests, and I am not at the target weight. I have some work to do.

So today I will meet with a trainer at my city’s fitness center. I will begin a training program designed to get me into good enough shape so that, if I ultimately do decide to enter the Guard, my physical fitness will not be a barrier. I am told that my trainer is a veteran, and/or has done fitness training with soldiers. Either way, I’m in for a workout.

My hope is that this time of focusing on my fitness will be a time of discernment of my call to this ministry, a time of personal and spiritual growth, and a time of improved physical well-being. Keep me in your prayers, please.

The Provision of Health Insurance by Religious Employers

I'm a big advocate of the separation of church and state. Knowing this, the other day someone asked me how I felt about the controvery surrounding health care, contraception, and religious employers. Here's my line of thought:

  1. The government has an interest in guaranteeing non-discriminatory access to health care coverage.
  2. Medical contraception is part of health care, not only for legitimate pregnancy prevention purposes, but also for a range of medical reasons related to the regulation of hormones. "The pill" is not used only for contraceptive purposes, but for other legitimate medical reasons, as well.
  3. Medical contraception is used only for women. Denying such coverage affects only women. Thus, denying access to medical contraception violates the government's interests in ensuring non-discriminatory access to health care.
  4. In this country we have an odd, informal but long-held, "grand bargain" between employers and the government that employers provide health insurance to their employees. It is a benefit that employers offer, but is not required by law. 
  5. Employers could opt not to offer health insurance, especially if they find regulations too burdensome (morally, financially, etc.), and instead offer other benefits – such as increased salary – to attract employees. Such employees could then purchase health insurance on the open market.
  6. The Hosanna-Tabor case recently decided by the Supreme Court distinguishes between the staff of religious institutions hired for "ministerial" roles and those hired for non-ministerial roles. In that case, it was ruled that the government could not protect an employee hired for a "ministerial" role who accused her employer of unlawful termination. The government, simply put, does not interfere with how religious organizations employ or terminate employment of people serving in ministerial roles. However, the government continues to have an interest and role in protecting the rights of employees of religious institutions who serve in non-ministerial roles.
  7. If the government has an interest in ensuring equal, non-discriminatory access to health insurance (#1, above) and has a role in protecting the rights of staff serving in non-ministerial roles of religious institutions, it has a role and duty to ensure that such staff receive equal, non-discriminatory access to health insurance.
  8. The government has granted that organizations whose primary purpose is the propogation of the faith, and whose staff overwhelmingly comes from the faith, and whose organizations primarily serve people of that faith (ie, houses of worship) may offer health insurance to their employees that does not cover medical contraception, so as to adhere to religious teaching.
  9. Other church-sponsored organizations, whose employees and whose clientele do not necessarily come from the faith (social service organizations, colleges, etc.) and whose mission has a broad social reach, are treated just like other employers when it comes to the provision of health insurance. 

this post is about running … and life

I ran a marathon back in March, and I felt pretty darn good about it. But since then the running has fallen off a cliff. In two months since the marathon I've run less than 100 miles … in the last month I've run less than 10 miles. Pathetic.

Just over a year ago I got back into running for the first time in 17 years. Getting back into running was a great experience, and signing up to run the Army Ten Miler, then the Richmond Half Marathon, and then the National Marathon was great motivation to keep training. By the end of it all, I went from "Couch to Marathon" in one year. It felt great. I felt great.

Yet in this whole process running never quite became an essential part of my life. Sure, it was something I did five days/week, and to an extent I became obsessed with running during this stretch. But once I achieved the goal of completing a marathon the motivation died down.

A lot.

The desire to wake up at 5am and run 14 miles diminished. Unlike other runners, my days didn't feel incomplete if I didn't go for a run. As much as I enjoyed the experience of a good run, I also enjoy many other things. Such as sleep. And time with my family. And a bedroom that didn't smell like a locker room.

But it wasn't just these various comforts that led me astray from the straight and narrow running path. Running – particularly marathon training – is an emotionally and physically draining experience. I learned in this process that I have room in my life for one additional, intense activity beyond my family and my work.

For a time that one intense activity was my marathon training. Since the marathon, however, my emotional energy has been focused on our family's move from Arlington, VA to St Paul, MN later this summer, and my transition from my current church to my new congregation. Though I am terribly excited about what lies ahead, I am also sad to say goodbye to many good people and places here in Arlington and on the East Coast. The transition is emotionally exhausting.

Nonetheless, I need to run. For my health (I've regained weight since my marathon), for my sanity (the time alone in my thoughts and non-thoughts is great therapy), for the challenge (I did enjoy watching my progress from week to week, race to race), running was and still can be such a powerful and meaningful part of my life … and an activity that keeps me grounded during a hectic time of transition (thanks, Christine, for helping me realize my need for some grounding). Perhaps not as intensely as I did in my marathon training, but I need to get back out there and make running an important part of my life again.

So the challenge for me is this: to turn running from an activity that is purely goal-oriented (run my first ever marathon) into a life-giving activity that becomes part of my day-to-day routine.

—–
More of my posts on running, including some that describe my "Couch to Marathon" journey, available here.

Faith, Flesh, and Blood

I've been feeling quite carnal recently.

Don't worry. This blogpost is not rated NC-17.

For nearly eleven months now I've been running, and I've found that engaging in something deeply physical – that pursuing an activity that tests my flesh as well as my will – is profoundly transforming. Indeed, exercising the body has fed me emotionally and spiritually. It has nourished my whole being.

Of course, we are whole beings. Our emotions are connected with our bodies, our bodies with our souls, our souls with our minds, our minds with our passions, our passions with our bodies. We are whole beings, not a sum of distinct parts assembled like a LEGO creation or a Mr. Potatohead toy. This is why these words from C.S. Lewis are so rediculous:

You don't have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body. (source unknown)

If we rearrange the syntax a little bit, this quote sounds like something that Yoda would say:

Have a soul you do not. Soul you are. Body you have.

And while Yoda might be a great Jedi Knight (but not a great warrior, for we all know that "wars make not one great"), I'm not taking my cues on theological anthropology from a muppet.

For Christians, the ultimate reality of God comes to us in Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh, God incarnate who comes to us as a real human being. The early Christians rejected docetism, the heresy that taught that Jesus only seemed to be human, but in reality he was not human at all, but only divine. But in fact, the church teaches that Jesus came as one of us to save all of us, taking on our nature to redeem it.

Moreover, if the pinnacle of our existence is supposedly spiritual – trumping the flesh and blood for things cerebral and ethereal – then what are we to do with all those references to carnality in the Bible? What about that rich feast of fatty foods and wine that is promised in the time to come? What about the sensual celebration of love we find in Song of Songs? The prodigal son comes home and is welcomed with a grand feast. Jesus is raised from the dead and eats fish. Paul writes of the promise of the flesh and blood resurrection for all. We eat real bread and drink real wine, not to have a spiritual communion, but a true communion with Christ and with all who share in this sacred meal.

In addition to the blessed carnal reality of human existence, a prioritization of the spiritual over the tangible places nature beneath the spiritual whims of human beings and denies creation's inherent goodness. All of nature gives praise to God, yet an overemphasis on the spiritual journey of humans denies the God-blessed nature of nature. In fact, some Christians who adhere to an overly spiritualized understanding of the Chrisitan life (and afterlife) have little concern for care of nature, since the ultimate reality is spiritual and the ultimate goal is heaven, anyway, and not earth.

(I recently updated an old a post concerning the return of Christ and the resurrection of the dead, something that directly relates to the flesh-and-blood nature of our faith.)

Back to running.

Or playing guitar and singing. I was talking with a friend who was very thankful for the spiritual rejuvenation that has taken place as he has picked up his guitar and begun to write music for the first time in many years. For him, strumming the guitar strings, feeling the frets under his fingers, and singing – a deeply physical, sensual experience – has heightened his faith and drawn him closer to God. It was not through ignoring the physical, but rather through embracing it as a means of spirituality, that my friend has grown in faith.

Enough said. The pinnacle of human nature is not found in celebrating the fleshly nature, but neither is it in denying it for some supposedly disembodied spiritual realm. The physical and the spiritual are utterly connected and cannot be divorced. Thanks be to God.

Having Serious Doubts About 26.2

"Just go home," I told myself , about one mile into yesterday afternoon's sixteen mile run.  "Turn around.  You can get your long run in later in the week."  I was weary after a lock-in with nine youth from church on the night before, and a morning service project with those same youth pulling invasive English Ivy out from a hillside at a local nature center.

And so as I struggled up and down over the rolling hills of the first four miles of my workout yesterday I tried to talk myself out of the run, until finally my legs and breathing fell into a steady rhythm as the route plateued and then headed downhill toward the Potomac River, where a wonderfully flat three mile stretch of a canal tow-path awaited me.

In the final few miles my doubts returned.  "Stop here, call Jessicah, get a ride home," I told myself as I ran past a grocery store.  And again, at a split in the path where I could have made a quicker route home – but would have falled short of the sixteen mile goal – I once again tried to psych myself out.  "Go right, head home, be done."  My knee began to ache.  Finding the strength to stride over curbs and onto sidewalks became a serious challenge.

Nonetheless, I stuck to the plan and finished the run strong, despite the wicked hills that I faced after about mile ten.  In fact, this was my best long run to date – I hit every mile under 9:00, and my half marathon split was much faster than my time at the Richmond Half Marathon two months ago.

Yet when I got home I was worthless.  My body was extremely achey, and despite stretching, my muscles siezed up, making it very hard for me to move.  I couldn't eat much, I was thirsty for hours, and I was exhausted.  I fell asleep about 90 minutes after my run, woke up a few hours later, and then went to sleep for the evening.

Ever since running the Richmond Half Marathon in November, I have been eager to run a marathon.  I chose the National Marathon on March 26, because it would give the motivation to train during the winter. Furthermore, I loved the idea that I could go Couch-to-26.2 in one year.

(I began running last April, after 17 years of inactivity.  At the start, I couldn't run for two minutes without getting winded, but thanks to the Couch-to-5K program I got to the point where I could run a full 3 miles.  I wrote about my return to running in a blogpost last June, Getting Reacquainted with Running).

But I'll admit that I'm having doubts.  I got my butt kicked on – and especially after – yesterday's run, even as I put in one of my best workouts to date.  About 20 hours after my run, I still feel like garbage.  Do I really want to keep doing this to myself?  Perhaps I should dial it back and run the half marathon instead?  Or, should I be preparing for and recovering from my long runs differently, so that I'm not in such horrible shape a day later?

I'd greatly appreciate any advice that my running friends can share.  I'm not sure if I'm simply being plagued by fickle doubts – as I was on yesterday's run – or if I indeed need to dial it down and get more mileage and fitness before I try to conquer the 26.2. 

I know I can run a marathon, but simultaneously, I'm not sure if I can … right now, anyway.