16 December 2009

It's Official

I'm officially registered for the Half Marathon in Fargo on May 22, 2010!  Here's the proof:

Now all I have to do is figure out how I'm going to run 13.1 miles in basically what amount to rubber foot gloves...ah, details!  I've been starting to gradually strengthen my feet by going barefoot in the house whenever I can and doing some simple stretching exercises.  It's amazing how I used to take my feet for granted, but hopefully I can turn around years of neglect and get them back into shape.  Strong feet make for a strong runner.  Actually, come to think of it, Isaiah knew that a good pair of feet can do some pretty amazing things, too.  Maybe I should get a shirt printed for race day that says, "Blessed are the feet of those who bring good news!" - Isaiah 52:7  Maybe prayerfully getting my feet in shape can be another way to think about preparing myself for the daily tasks of ministry.  I wonder where my feet will take me to share the good news today?

11 December 2009

Winter is here

The first real snow of the season blew in earlier this week, and although we didn't get as much as they did to the south, we still have a few inches on the ground.  The real trouble is the wind is fierce and the temperature has plummeted.  It looks like winter may be here to stay for a while, so that means it's time for me to ponder what to do about my running.  I could run indoors over at the school, but that means getting up extra early so I can be out of the building by 7:30.  We'll see if I can make a commitment to doing that.  Also, running inside or on a treadmill seems kind of like a prison sentence to me.  I really don't like it.  I have enough cold weather running gear that I could probably make a go of it outside as long as the windchill is around double digits above.  It might get there this afternoon, so I'm waiting to see if I can run in another hour or so.  Some work needs to be done in the house first!

I also have been blessed to be joined on this journey of discipline and self-improvement by one of my best friends who's also a pastor.  Together, I know that we can both achieve our goals.  It's also a blessing to know that this process is going to keep me more closely connected to someone I miss and care about.

08 December 2009

Why I love rural ministry

I love being a pastor, mostly because I feel called to do this work, but also because I love people.  I especially love small town and rural people.  While they tend to be reserved at times (understatement of the week), I have not been disappointed in finding reasons to smile every day while serving with the people here.

One of my most recent examples of the little joys that keep me smiling is a conversation I had with a farmer the other day.  Our family had briefly stopped at his house to drop something off, and of course had to chat for a few minutes.  Somehow the conversation turned to his cattle (they had just bought some new calves) and he ended up telling me a story of one time that some of his cows got out.  He got a call from someone who said they thought some of his cows were running down the highway into town, 5 miles away!  He said, "No, those can't be mine."  The person asked if he had any cows with white faces and orange ear tags and he sheepishly said, "Yeah."  Sure enough, some of his cows had gone for a run down the highway (right on the centerline, no less) all the way to town, where they were spotted by the elementary school.  He went into town, gathered them up, turned them around, and away they went, running all the way back home, right on the centerline again!  Hearing him tell this story was entertaining enough, but the clincher was when he concluded the story in typical Norwegian farmer deadpan, "Well, at least they didn't go into the school.  That would have been embarassing!"  I just about died laughing.  I love these people!

02 December 2009

Pacing and choices

After running 8 miles on Monday, I haven't been able to get out and run again and it's frustrating, it's actually worrying me.  It's not that I haven't felt good enough to run or wanted to run, it's that I simply haven't had the time to, that's not true either.  I haven't chosen to run, and that's what has me worried.  It's reminding me that I need to learn to pace myself better, both in my running and in my life.  I can't start out at such a torrid pace that I burn out or give up before I've even really begun.  This is the pattern of my life that I desperately, that I need to change.   

My wife and I were talking about it the other morning when we found the kitchen a mess again, and we wondered why it was that we both have a tendency to take our dirty dishes to the sink and leave them there without taking the extra step to put them in the dishwasher 3 feet away?  Why am I willing to just settle for doing things halfway?  Then I look around my life and wonder why it seems so chaotic!  I don't want running to be the same way.  I don't want to do this halfway.  I don't want to run occasionally, I feel called to be a runner.  

My struggle with all of this is that, like a lot of people, my track record shows that I'm good at making a resolution to change and do things differently, but then after a little while the old habits take over and I'm back to the same old routine.  The lazy, procrastinating me has won out and the new, better me waits until I get frustrated enough to make another resolution to change.  This up and down roller coaster of commitments and relapses just has to stop.  It has to be different this time.  If I don't do it now, I don't know when it will happen.  I can't expect there to be a better time in the future to make these changes.  There will always be a whole host of excuses to make.  As Rage Against the Machine (yes, there are pastors who like them) says, "What better place than here?  What better time than now?"

I'm sure that this is my biggest obstacle to this whole process.  I'm good at making really big commitments, but not at following through with all the little choices along the way.  Like marriage, it's not just one big commitment that you make, it's a daily, moment by moment choice.  I've made the commitment to being a runner, now the challenge is to keep making the daily choices that go along with that, otherwise the commitment means nothing.  I'm also making the commitment to change a lot of other things in my life, and I need to keep making the little choices that go along with those things, too.  

The first step is to recognize that I actually do have a choice.  I can choose to put my dirty dishes in the dishwasher.  I can choose to spend 10 minutes picking up the house before I sit down at the computer or in front of the TV or with a book.  I can choose to go to bed and wake up 30 minutes earlier to run.  I can make those choices.  The question each day and each moment is whether I will make them or not.  To quote another favorite band of mine, Alter Bridge, "I look inside of myself.  Will I find some kind of conviction?  Will I bid the hero farewell?  Will I be defined by things that could have been?  I guess time will only tell."

In the end, I know that there will be times when I fail, but I trust that by God's grace I'm forgiven and freed to continue to try.  My choices will not completely define me in the end.  My identity as a child of God is secure, and thanks to the daily gift of repentance and forgiveness, every day is a new chance to make a different choice.  The question is, what will I choose?  Each day I have to tell myself, "I choose to run."

01 December 2009

Becoming a runner

A big part of what has inspired me to run more and train for this half marathon is the idea that running taps into something very natural and basic about who we are as human beings.  Part of exploring that aspect of running for me has meant moving toward less supportive footwear, but before I go any further on the subject of running shoes, let me say this: I know ditching your padded and ultra-supportive shoes may not be for you, and that's fine.  You have to decide what's best for you.  I hope that no matter what, exploring a little bit about our human history of running will at least inspire you to get out and give running a try again.  Trust me, you used to love to do it.  All you have to do is watch my 2 year old tear around the house to realize that at one time everyone who could run as a child loved nothing more than to run and run and run.  You still have that child in you, and running can still be fun!

Anyway, back to shoes.  Most of the articles I've read about the growing trend of running in minimal footwear (or even barefoot) focus on the debate it's causing with the athletic shoe industry, and that makes sense because that's where the money is.  That's not really what I'm most interested in, though.  I'm not here to snub my nose at the multi-billion dollar shoe industry (they'll do just fine without me I'm sure).  I'm not doing it to feel superior to anyone else.  I'm not doing it to simply follow a trend. 

The simple fact is, I decided to start running in more minimal footwear because I was curious to see if it would really make a difference in my tolerance for running longer distances.  I started under the assumption that I would try it for a while, and if it didn't work, I would go back to running in my normal shoes (hopefully without seriously hurting myself before then).  Since I've found that I can run more confidently, for longer distances, and with less pain in less supportive shoes, there has been no turning back for me.  So I've ditched my standard running shoes simply because I run better without them.  I don't think I will ever want to run completely barefoot, but I'm hoping to find something even more minimal than my Converse low tops (see postscript).

As I've done that, however, I'm discovering another reason why I think I'm drawn to the "less is more" approach to running shoes.  This reason is a bit more abstract, but I feel like running this way is connecting me with a very ancient human identity that's in each of us.  This is really the part of all of this that excites and inspires me the most, and it's the part that I find the most spiritual (for lack of a better word).  This idea that running is a shared human behavior that stretches back millions of years has simply captured my imagination.  We may not live in caves anymore.  We may not hunt with spears (or at all).  We may have advanced technologically to the point that most of our lives would be unrecognizable to our earliest human ancestors, but we still have the same physical characteristics that make homo sapiens the distance running champion of all organisms on this planet.  Somehow, it was only when I stripped down my shoes and started to really feel the ground under my feet that I really connected with this.  It makes me feel that, instead of saying, "I like to run every once in a while," I want to honestly say, "I am a runner," because running is becoming more than just a pasttime or exercise routine for me.  It's becoming a much deeper part of my identity.  When I'm running now, I feel like I'm honestly doing something that God created me to do at a fundamental level.  It's a way of experiencing those rare moments where I feel connected to something much larger than myself.  It's a way for me to celebrate the miracle of our human bodies.  It's a way for me to remember that I have been created for a purpose.  I hope that as I continue to explore this aspect of my running, it will become a way for me to carry that focus and purpose into the rest of my life.

As a postscript (can blogs have postscripts?), if you're interested in learning more about some of the evolutionary science that's going on around distance running, check out this article from the New York Times website back in October.  There's also a video on that page that includes an interview with Christopher MacDougall and shows him and the Times' columnist running through Central Park barefoot.  And here is a link to what I want for Christmas, so I can run in even less footwear: Vibram Five Fingers