"If you’ve raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in thickets by the Jordan?" (Jeremiah 12:5). Our journey is intended to be more than simply "stumbling" through the days while the world "wears us out.” We are made to experience the thrill of "running with horses” and to navigate life amongst the "thickets." The RWH blog focuses on both the spiritual race of which Jeremiah speaks, and the physical act of running that I absolutely love. In short, it's where "the miles meet the Message" to provide insight, perspective & encouragement that might enable you & I to successfully run either of the races set before us. May our course be purposeful and may we be passionate in our pursuit of the abundant life He desires for us.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Myanmar Miles

Typhoid vaccine - check. Malaria pills - check. Hep A & B - check & check. Running shoes - do you even have to ask! Though by far not the most important activity of my recent time in Yangon, Myanmar, running the streets (er ... paths) in the former capital city of Burma yielded yet another wonderful experience of running in a foreign land. A few thoughts and pics of this experience follow.

It’s probably no surprise that when we have the opportunity to run in a location outside of our own zip code, whether it be domestic or international, it is often memorable. A run filled with new sights, sounds, textures, weather, etc., etc., etc., usually always beats the same-ol-same-ol.  However, I have also found these runs can often turn into really great runs as well. The kind of run that you’ve been needing and would like to feel every time out. Myanmar was no exception.

From hotel, part of route along dusty roadside
Maybe it was the pleasant mornings, roughly 60 degrees at sunrise. Maybe it was the fact that dogs and cats and oxen are free to roam the streets (due to the Buddhist circle-of-life philosophy), creating a slightly increased urgency for the foreign visitor. Maybe it was the fresh, clean air ... hardly, more like the exhaust smoke, dust, and smog filled air. Still maybe I was just trying to suck in less of it and still get the miles in. Whatever it was, I had the privilege of completing three great runs (4.5, 5, and 9 miles) and two equally rewarding walks (2.5 and 3.5 miles with a fantastic walking companion, Mr. Bill Wright) over our time in Yangon.

Running in Yangon felt extremely secure and yet borderline risky at the same time. Most mornings I began before sunrise and started through a three quarter mile of neighborhood alleys, so it was fairly dark. But in the darkness were the sounds and smells of Myanmar waking. The religious chants across loud speakers, the roosters crowing, the sweeping of dirt floors, the starting of fires for cooking and tea, and the pitter-patter of four legged friends, who I really hoped were more in the mood to run alongside and not chase. After a few days, this scene (minus the chanting) became especially comforting and enjoyable.
Similar neighborhood path for start of run

Regarding the people along this route, I think it’s good to know the history.  Myanmar has been a country closed off to much of the world for many years. As a military government for decades, until this past fall when free elections brought new leadership, they have been very suspicious and hostile to foreign governments. You might recall a major natural disaster some ten years ago in which global relief had many issues with being allowed into the country to provide help. So, because of this history, to many residents of these neighborhoods, foreign visitors are definitely the exception and not the norm. I’m sure that visitors running through their streets in the early morning are even more the exception!

Final run was out road much like this; fewer dogs, more oxen
So yes, there were many stares. There was pointing and even a few photos. However, it’s true that the universal “smile, nod, and good morning” is almost always well received, and so it was in Yangon. In fact, my favorite encounter came when I passed an elderly man whom I had seen the morning before. As I approached him I nodded and smiled. He stopped and held out his hand. Of course I stopped for him and with left arm supporting right, I shook his hand and said “good morning.” He gave a big nod, wide grin and his very best attempt at good morning. We repeated this on the final day’s run.

Oh, and 60 degrees may have been pleasant for our team of three traveling from North Carolina, but for the locals it was frigid. So imagine me, shorts and t-shirt, running past hundreds of walkers and morning commuters who are all wearing toboggan hats, multiple jackets, gloves, and long pants.

In short, the street smells were strong, the traffic was highly unpredictable, and the animals were ever-present. But guess what? These were three of the best runs I have probably had in over six months. Thank you Yangon for the motivation and the hospitality. It was a wonderful week in every aspect. I found the people of Myanmar especially kind and friendly. And I found, once again, the reminder that God’s creation is equal parts East and West, and that his favor for all nations, languages, tribes, and tongues, is not biased. It’s a reminder in the spirit of the old saying, “Never judge a man till you walk run a mile in his streets!” or something like that.
Most important activity in Myanmar was working with these outstanding leaders
Nine mile route; straight, flat, but extremely varied segments

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Been Real, Been Fun, and Yes, It's Been Real Fun!

* with the appropriate New Year's week subtitle ... Looking Ahead By Looking Back

Exactly five years ago this week, Christy and I were on our way to Florida for what was to be my first, and only, marathon. That somewhat common, middle-aged bucket list line item had been put in motion just six months prior when it seemed like the sort of thing that would bring great challenge and fulfillment. I had no idea what I was getting into, nor did I fully understand how following the plan would result in completing 26.2 miles in relative comfort. Don't misunderstand, it was not easy, it was not without sacrifice, and it was not free of minor aches and major soreness (especially post-race), but I vividly recall running across the finish line at Disney World and thinking, "Did I just do that? Me? Wow, anyone really can do this! Maybe I'll run another one some day."

Well, the transition from "the one-and-only" to the craziness of pursuing fifty of them is well documented. And now, five years later, I sit here reflecting on just how much fun this pursuit has been. So much has changed over five years - from careers to our empty nest status around the house - but what hasn't changed is just how much of a happy place the marathon starting line has become to me, every single time. And when I think back, I realize something else about these happy places; the experience of sharing race day with family, friends, and so many incredibly kind and encouraging strangers, is something that makes it all worthwhile. Though training is often completed in long, quiet runs at odd hours, race weekend is about relationships and shared journeys.

So before I look ahead, I thought I would take just a brief moment to survey the first five years. Don't worry, this is not a recap of each race, those are found elsewhere. Rather, this is a list of questions I am often asked, with responses that are formed by the experience of going the distance sixteen times.

What are your favorite marathons? My top three include:

1) Savannah, GA (2013) My current PR on an absolutely beautiful morning with my wonderful wife providing chocolate kisses at mile 23!
2) Chicago (2012) Perhaps the greatest overall experience - It's Chicago! Thousands of people, sights, sounds, and history. The only one that I would consider running twice.
3) Disney World, FL (2011) Of course.  I highly recommend as first marathon for anyone.

What are your least favorite marathonsHonestly, I've enjoyed (relative term) all of them. But if I think about least favorite courses and experiences, my bottom three include:

14) Knoxville, TN (2013) Tough course--up the mountain, down the mountain, repeat--on hot day, but finish in Neyland Stadium is nice.
15) Baton Rouge, LA (2013) Double loop on frigid day. Course was not great with only interesting sights through LSU campus.
16) College Station, TX (2015) See previous post on why this one is last on the list. I'm sure over time the stroll through Aggieland might move up the list.

{Interestingly, it appears I have it out for our fellow SEC locations.}

What is your favorite medal / race swag? All of the medals are pictured at the bottom of the blog home page, and there are many interesting ones. I think my favorite is the Marine Corp Marathon medal. It symbolizes the race atmosphere and D.C. landmark memories for me. For swag, I have to give College Station props. They provided not one, but two tech shirts (long and short sleeve), a nice pair of ear buds, 1/2 gallon of chocolate milk, and pizza rolls.

Have you found a favorite playlist that works better than others? There have been numerous attempts at playlists, from random shuffles, to friend-created, to all-Bruce, to talk shows, to tempo driven selections. If I were to consider the playlist as having been integral to the performance than I would have to say that the praise & worship playlist in Savannah is perhaps the best. The intentional tempo selections were also part of the faster outings. On the other end of the spectrum, I will never listen to talk shows or run without any playlist (Pocono, PA) ever again. These were mental disasters.

Have you ever considered stopping the 50 States pursuitYes, between miles 22 - 26 in every single marathon! But ultimately the desire to run and find that next adventure wins out. So far, I am still in, but we'll take it one race at a time. As long as I find running enjoyable, I'll try and figure out how to make it happen.

How fast do you run a marathon? Hmmm, how best to answer this one ... it all depends. My fastest is 3:31 (Savannah) and my slowest is just over 6:00 (College Station). For the first couple of years I was keeping the average below 4 hours, but with the last four or five races, that has slipped. Age and lack of training, coupled with a few less than advantageous courses (in other words, hills and big boy runners don’t go together well), has moved the needle to an average of about 4:15. I think I still have some sub 3:45’s in me, but time will tell.

Finally, when will you complete your 50th MarathonOriginally the plan was to complete three per year for almost 17 years. I would have run #50 (in Hawaii obviously) near my 59th birthday. However, plans do change, and the reality of the first five years just doesn't seem to be the reality of the next five. The constraints of time, life stage, and finances -- not to mention that I've taken care of most all of the same-day drivable locations -- would seem to point to a completion age of something closer to 65, or even older. I have taken the position that the journey is much more fun than the arrival. If the Lord wills, then I'll someday be honored by the club for finishing them all. If not, then it will continue to be fun planning that next one whenever it might be.

So, 5 years, 16 marathons, 12 race day partners and encouragers (Paul, Ken, Rob, Brent, Kim, Todd, Katelyn, Christy, Lauren, Stadt, Eli, Karen), and 5,185 training miles - I guess that's not bad for a guy who really never cared much about running in his younger years (check that - who despised running in his younger years), and who really just wanted to get through Disney for the thrill of having done it once. I am hopeful that the love and purpose of our Creator has been shared in small ways at every stop, and that Running With Horses will continue to be the primary motivational force in the years to come. Ok, now how about that Flying Pig in Cincinnati and the Baltimore Crab Festival for 2016 ...

Hope to see you all out there at the happy place!

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Gig'em Aggies

Last month I completed a "memorable" run through Aggieland in College Station, Texas.  And since I know a few of you are wondering -- well, at least two of you, running buddy Paul and my father-in-law Jack -- you have not overlooked the race recap from this event, there simply hasn't been one. Not surprisingly, I have discovered that the length of time to publish my thoughts and observations after a race is directly correlated to race performance and post-race recovery, for both the body and the pride :) So, in the case of my Lone Star State experience, let's just say the race recap will be out, oh, let's see, sometime around 2018 ...

"My Car is HOW FAR from the finish?!"
Actually, I will let this picture be worth a thousand words for the Bryan - College Station Marathon. And in short, I will describe the race with words and phrases that will forever be associated with it in my mind: monsoon, flash flooding, respect the marathon, never shortcut the shoes, never taper for three months, chocolate milk (they gave out 1/2 gallons at the finish), cut-off time, and as there is a Springsteen song lyric that aptly describes every marathon experience, "it's gonna be a long walk home."

You've probably guessed that things didn't go that well. You guessed correctly. However, the view is always worth the climb when it comes to marathons, and the finish line is always a reminder of the enjoyable course conversations, the landmarks and sights, and the lessons learned. There were several of each of these.

The BSC was also a race of "firsts." It was the first race yet where I could have definitely used wiper blades off the edge of my cap. We've had rain races before, but these first few hours were HEAVY!  More serious though, the BCS was the first marathon that I have experienced pain  -- knee and feet -- and not simply fatigue. As a result of many poor decisions, the final nine miles required a bit more grit and perseverance than normal. There were moments that the acronym DNF flashed before my eyes (Did Not Finish), but in this 50 state pursuit, there's no room for the dreaded DNF - only the DF's. {Update: Good news - five mile run this morning and all parts back to normal}

For Aggies - This is a great shirt
Finally, I am in total agreement with Alberto Salazar (I'm pretty certain it was Salazar, if not Bill Rodgers), who humbly said that it was easier for elites to run a marathon fast and to finish in less time than those who need several additional hours to complete the race. He felt sorry for 'us' because that's where all the hard work and long hours on the course really beats you up. Amen. It's also where you are constantly asked, and with good intention, "Are you ok?" (see photo above). My standard reply became, "No, but yes, thank you."

Bottom line is that Texas most importantly provided an opportunity for me to go home. My birth state, and much of my raising. Where my wife and I were married and where my parents reside. Where the baseball field at A&M is named Blue Bell Park, and where Whataburger is still the best post-race recovery meal. It would have obviously been more pleasant to have had a good weather day and to have prepared better for this one. But that wasn't meant to be and it proved once again that every single marathon provides such unforgettable and unique memories. (That said, it would be  especially nice to enjoy some dry memories in the next one; which as of late, would be very unique indeed!)
Nothing says re-fueling like a WB with Jalepenos!

Monday, November 2, 2015

The ROCC Running Club

Since the inception of ROCC Run for God in 2012, several of our graduates and RFG faithful have been asking for a 10K program. And despite the fact that the RFG courses and materials are available for a 10K group, I have tended to answer these requests by reminding them that "RFG is primarily a beginners-focused program and we really want to give all of our energy to those 5k first-timers. However, I do really like the idea, so let's get back in touch in the fall and see what we come up with." Then life would happen and the fall would come and go.

But as R4G concluded this past spring, we committed to make contact in August to gauge interest for a fall 10K. Not the full blown RFG study, but an 8 week running club (thank you once again, Hal Higdon, for the very best of training plans). If we could get a core group committed to meeting on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and most Saturdays in September and October, we would train for and run the Ardmore RAH 10K in Winston-Salem.

Well, we did (get the commitments), we did (do the training), and we did (run the RAH)!

For 8 weeks, this core group of usually between 12 - 15, pushed hard to run distances and paces that were new personnel bests. Going off the beaten track with new routes, new hills, and new training methods, each and every member of "the club" did so well. In fact, I was truly amazed (and not in a way that might imply I had low expectations), but in that we avoided any nagging injuries, we increased mileage without issue, and our race day saw practically every goal met or exceeded. This group worked hard and ran hard. I am very proud to run alongside them.

Finally, speaking of "running alongside." One of the better benefits of holding a less formal club for this increased distance was that I actually could run the race with our runners. It's been a long time since I have had the joy of running a local race. The 10K really is a great distance and I enjoyed every step. Pacing is such a critical element for me, I had the privilege of pacing a small group that was looking for a sub-1:00. No pressure or anything, but I’m relieved to report that they all came in at 59:34 or better, depending on how much gas they had in the tank for that final .2 (remember, it’s the .2 that gets you every time :)

Thanks again to our runners for your perseverance and continued prodding to go a little further. I really enjoyed these past 8 weeks and I look forward your help and participation in February as we kickoff RFG 5k in Season 5, and who knows, maybe a half-marathon next fall .... tbd.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Standing Alongside - GP/OW Unit 1

God's Power in Our Weakness: A nine week sermon series and small group study which kicked off at River Oaks on September 20. And for the next few months we will look closely at the Apostle Paul's 2nd letter (at least what we refer to as the 2nd letter) to the Church at Corinth. Considered to be the most personal of his epistles, 2 Corinthians reveals a transparent Paul opening up his heart and defending his convictions to a church body that he dearly loved. There is much application and many points of reflection for us to discover in this great letter. We would love to have you join us.

As with past studies, I thought I would post an introduction week commentary to get you started. The entire guide is provided via a link below, and I encourage everyone to read through this great letter.

INTRODUCTION & Chapter 1 of 2 Corinthians
Running Theme: I've thought about this passage of coming alongside through suffering, as that moment that you connect with someone around mile 20 and make that often non-verbal, but yet very real, pact to stay together and help each other to the finish!

Read Chapter 1 Here / Find Sermon Guide Here

In Acts 9:15, the Lord pronounces Paul to be “a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before the Gentiles.” And that is exactly what Paul became. In fact, check out Acts 13:42-48 for an example of the early work of Paul among the Gentiles, and consider what a great privilege it was to hear God’s Word preached (can you imagine if we were as excited about being exposed to God’s Word as these early Gentiles?

Fast-forward to the writing of 2 Corinthians in what is believed to be circa AD 56. A lot has occurred between the Corinthian Church and Paul since these early conversions some four years prior—much of it not very good at all. There are accusations and slander against Paul, there were outsiders misrepresenting the ‘Good News’, there was disunity in the church, and there were ungodly cultural influences everywhere the Corinthians looked. Paul had addressed much of this in 1 Corinthians, but now he was preparing to visit Corinth himself and decided to spill out his heart in letter form before he arrived on the scene.

Speaking of visits and letters; one additional point of historical context is something that many of us are not that familiar with, but it gives us insight into Paul’s concern for the Corinthians and his determination to disciple these young Christians. That is, the letter we refer to 2 Corinthians is most likely Paul’s fourth letter to the Corinthian Church, not his second. Why do most biblical scholars come to this conclusion, and how do they know that? Good questions. So, when in doubt, go to Scripture (actually, when not in doubt, go to Scripture!)

The following is a taken from Burges’ book The New Testament in Antiquity. It highlights Paul's trips and letters to Corinth, according to Scriptural references.
  • 1st Visit: AD 50 – 52 (as discussed above) / Acts 18:18
  • 1st Letter: ca. AD 52 (lost to history) / 1 Cor. 5:9; also 1 Cor. 7:1, the Corinthians write back
  • 2nd Letter: AD 54 (known as 1st Corinthians) written from Ephesus / 1 Cor. 16:8
  • 2nd Visit: AD 54 / “a painful visit” 2 Cor. 2:1
  • 3rd Letter: AD 55 (lost to history) / “a letter of tears” 2 Cor. 2:3-4
  • 4th Letter: AD 56 (known as 2nd Corinthians) written from Macedonia / 2 Cor. 7:5-7
  • 3rd Visit: AD 56 or 57/ 2 Cor. 13 (Note: Paul warns them that although he is weak, he is coming in God’s power; uh-oh!)
In chapter one, a key theme is that of suffering and comfort; notice how many times Paul refers to his comfort AND suffering in Christ. Paul sees both of these as going hand-in-hand. This will actually be a major theme of the entire letter. One important note is to realize the type of “comfort” that Paul speaks of when describing his comfort from trials and tribulations. It’s not simply a passing relief or the sympathy of others. Rather, Paul uses the word (paraklesis) to give his readers the understanding that comfort is about “one who stands beside us in the midst of struggle to encourage and support.” It’s the same root as used of the Holy Spirit (Paraclete). In other words, Paul views the comfort of God as being present and alongside. He also views the comfort of genuine believers as those who stand alongside one another.

Question: When we give comfort to someone, is it a passing relief, a sympathetic word, or is it the standing alongside to weather the storm as one?

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Trample the Weak, Hurdle the Dead

One look at the Tupelo Marathon race shirt and you sort of figure out that this was no ordinary event.  And after shuffling to the finish line, all I could think about was how accurately the race motto for this quirky Mississippi 26.2 had described my run. Without a doubt I had been trampled (felt like many times) and hurdled (at least once)!

Background: In late spring, a fellow church member and RFG alumnus, who we will call 'The Lewisville Flash,' decided that a Labor Day weekend run in the Magnolia State would be the thing to do. So we registered, trained, and headed out for Mississippi.

All summer we had expected hot, humid, muggy conditions in Tupelo, and so it was good news (tongue-in-cheek), that our expectations were met. Actually they were exceeded. We gathered in the dark streets outside the convention center for a 5 am start. Already in the mid-70's with 95% humidity, it would only climb higher after sunrise. But enough about the weather, it was no surprise, besides I've always believed that the strongest steel is formed in the hottest fires anyway. What really made Tupelo was the overall vibe, which was especially evident at the starting line.

Just before it was time for the gun to sound, a voice calls out from the middle of 600 runners:

"Hey, everybody quiet down and come closer ... tighten it up so you can hear me. Now, we are running the same course as last year. How many of you ran that course (about 20%), good, if you didn't run it last year just follow one of these people. You start when I say 'go!' Now, let's pray ... alright, everyone take off your hats and let's pray....Amen. This guy who prayed will be running out there with you. Go!"

Of course, this is even more classic when coupled with this email that we received last week:

This was great. It was nice for a marathon to take itself seriously, and yet, not take itself seriously. And I mean that in a highly complimentary way. In fact, all informalities aside, the areas that really mattered were fantastic; like aid station support, runner camaraderie, and the post-race atmosphere--especially comfortable as you finished inside the air conditioned coliseum and were met by plenty of seating, refreshments, BBQ, and really nice blues music.

Ultimately, the course--not the hardest, but not the easiest--the heat, and the stage of training that I found myself in for Tupelo, all led to a brutal run. Fun, memorable, enjoyable (yes, it can be miserable and enjoyable at the same time), but very brutal. It was a PR alright, just on the wrong end of the spectrum.

Oh well, the experience is always infinitely more important than the finish time (unless of course I grab a PR on the right end of the spectrum), and after 1,400 miles behind the steering wheel, and 26.2 miles on our feet, the experience was more about seeing the Flash run a sub-4:00 PR, receiving a lesson in Notre Dame football, listening to super interesting life stories, and learning how various rubber products are manufactured. Bottom line; Tupelo was an awesome experience.
(Fill in your own caption on this one!)

Pre and Post Race: Never Easy / Always Worth It!

You run the 1/2, you get a 1/2! Funny :)

The Updated Map - Member of the Southeastern State Club if 50 doesn't work out!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

ROCC Running Club - Inaugural Training

For each of the past several years, there is one question certain to be asked on the final night of our Run For God 5k program: "Have you ever thought of doing a 10K training?" And each year I reply with, "Well, there is a RFG 10k book and plan, but it's difficult to hold both of them together - maybe someday." However, with our group this past May the number of those raising this question increased to such a point that the request could no longer be ignored.

So .....

Beginning tonight, Tuesday - September 1st - @ 6:30 pm, we will kickoff the ROCC (River Oaks Community Church) Running Club. Our primary purpose is to honor God in our running (words, attitudes, actions, encouragement, gratitude, and perspective) as we train for the Ardmore RAH 10k to be held on October 24th.

The training is 8 weeks and will be based on Hal Higdon's Novice / Intermediate plans. The Ardmore event is a Run Against Hunger race and is also one of Fleet Feet's We Run Winston premier races (similar to the ROCC 5k). You can certainly chose to walk / run your race as our goal is for you to complete your first or your fastest 10k.

We begin tonight with a 2.5 mile training run. That might sound too difficult, and yes, it should be somewhat difficult (no pain, no gain, right!), but if you could go out and complete a 5k today in some manner of completion, you will be perfectly fine with our training. The key is slowing the pace and to just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

There are no costs associated with this training, other than your race entry fee, and this is not a Run For God program. We will meet and run. While doing so, we will fellowship through our runs, provide some devotional conversation during our warm-ups, and talk through some distance running tips and observations during our cool-down.

Finally, I'll try to use the RWH site and the Triad Run For God Facebook page to update everyone on group run locations, but many will be from the church, especially on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Share with a friend or neighbor as all are welcome, and hope to see you at RRC tonight!