Crescent City Classic: Lessons learned

Why is it that we learn lessons better the hard way?  I read, I listen to seasoned athletes, I solicit medical advice.  But, the lessons that stick with me are the ones that I learn from bad runs/races.  And, it seems I’ve had a lot of those lately.  Hmmm,  I guess God thinks I need some refining.

The race started well.  My favorite wingman was pacing me.  Gary and I and 22,000 of our closest friends packed into the narrow streets of Jackson Square and were heralded by The United States Marine Corp band, first with the national anthem, them an impromptu version of “The Saints Go Marching In.”  Very inspirational.  I always put God in charge of my Ipod by putting the music mix on shuffle, and He never fails to play just what I need when I need it.  True to form, right after the Marine Corps Band played, Cece Winans sang “Amazing Grace”,  then Jonah 33 belted out “This Is It” (a new favorite).  I was ready to roll.  Unfortunately, we were so far back in the crowd it took us over 12 minutes to get to the starting line after the starting cannon boomed.  No worries, the CCC is a chipped race now for everyone, so our time didn’t start until we stepped across the start line.

The first mile was a maze of trying to jog through walkers and find my pace.  My wingman blazed a trail, though, and the pace stayed steady.  Mile two was still pretty congested and the heat and humidity started to work on me.  By mile three, I had to walk some. I was dizzy and a little queasy and I do know the signs of heat exhaustion, so I slowed down and grabbed some water at the Mile 3 water table.  

If you’ve never run a road race in New Orleans, you really need to.  The crowd support is fun and frenzied.  There is usually a table with free beer somewhere along the route if you’re so inclined (I am not), and the Crescent City Classic is such a long established tradition that it brings out lots of crazy, kooky people and sights.  Mile 4 included a group of runners pulling a couple of coolers in wagons that contained frozen jello shots which they threw into the crowd of runners at various intervals.  Again, not really into alcohol on a run, but I did entertain the thought of snagging one to put in my clothes for the cooling value.  I was concerned they weren’t well put together, though, and I really didn’t want jello and booze dripping down my back.  So,  I forged ahead.  The jello shot runners were wearing shirts that said “It’s not like you’re going to win it, anyway.”  True that.

Miles 3 and 4 were mostly walking miles for me.  I knew by then I wasn’t going to set a PR, and the heat really was hurting me.  This was my first run of the season in heat/humidity this high.  So, I resigned myself to it and just tried to enjoy it after the initial disappointment flooded through.  I’m trying to take my own advice and realize that some days are diamonds and some days are stones.  This was a stone day, for the most part.  But, it had it’s moments.  On Mile 4, God shuffled my Ipod and Jeremy Camp sang “God, we need your power”.  This brought fresh wind to my sails & I ran with arm raised to the heavens as Cece brought me “On Calvary”.  And, no, a woman in pink shirt and running skirt with arms raised, singing (or huffing the words) is not strange enough in the CCC to even elicit a stare or comment.  It’s a weird race.  Tried to at least pick up the pace on mile 5 to the end and was somewhat successful, thanks to my wingman.  I finished, upright and breathing.  Some days, that’s enough.

Lessons learned?  One: It’s summertime in the south.  Get acclimated to the heat.  I’ll be adding some late day walks to my training to help with that process.  Two:  Not all hydration is created equal.  I’m a water drinker.  I’ve never been a fan of Gatorade type products.  Mostly because they taste awful.  But, on the bus ride back to the hotel, my legs started cramping viciously.  I poured water (and coffee) down while we showered and packed up, but they wouldn’t quit.  I constantly moved them on the ride home, until we stopped for gas.  Gary told me to get a Gatorade for him and that I needed one, too.  I begrudgingly drank one, and almost like magic, the cramps went away.  I really hate it when he’s right.  Doesn’t happen that often, though, so I’ll let him win this one.

All in all, not an awful day.  It wasn’t a great run, but at least I know why.  Sometimes, I have bad runs and can’t identify the cause. Those runs wig me out a little, because they chip away at my fragile confidence.  At least, when I can identify the cause, I can identify the solution.

And that brings me back to my original question.  Why do we have to learn everything the hard way?  All the best lessons of my life have been carried in on a tidal wave of angst.   I know that this is a product of living in a fallen world, so I’m making my peace with it.  I’ll be glad when that new Heaven and new Earth are here, but until then, I’ll just keep plodding along.

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Perspective

I was going to write about pacing today.  I had an awesome run yesterday, this was a short training week, so I used yesterday’s run to push myself hard.  It was epiphanic and I will share it with you, just at a later time.  I saw a movie today that brought perspective to the front and center of my thoughts and I’ve learned that I have to get those thoughts down or they’ll make my head explode.  Well, it seems like that, anyway.

I went to see the movie “Soul Surfer” today.  It’s based on the true story of a young woman named Bethany Hamilton who was an aspiring professional surfer.  I won’t go into all the details of the movie (I highly encourage you to see it yourself), but Bethany loses her arm in a shark attack and has to rethink her entire future. There were many things about this movie that make it an absolute must see, the most important of which is that it beautifully shares the story of Bethany’s faith in Jesus Christ and how that faith doesn’t just get her through the most devastating thing of her life, but turns it into an inspiration for the entire world to see. And, she gives God the credit.  Amazing.

One of the lessons her youth Bible Study leader presented to her (and the other youth of her fellowship) before the accident was on perspective.  She tried to make them see that when we are too close to something, sometimes we have to step back and see the big picture in order to understand how God intends to use that situation for His Glory.  Not an easy lesson for an adult class, much less a group of young people who can only see what is right in front of them.  After Bethany lost her arm, she struggled with understanding how that could be God’s will for her life.  Then she went to Thailand on a mission trip.   It had just been devastated by a tsunami and she met people whose entire families had been swept away before their eyes.  Children who had lost parents, mothers whose children were taken from their arms.  She got a new perspective and it gave her the determination she needed to get back on her surfboard and win.

In January of last year, I ran my first half marathon.  I was not an athlete growing up.  I was the bookworm,  the nerd.  Running came to my life as an adult, when God brought it to me to heal some deep wounds and teach me some important lessons.  So, a half marathon was a big deal to me.  I carefully selected one that I thought would offer the best conditions, be nearby, and give me the best race experience I could get.  I chose the Mississippi Blues Half marathon in Jackson.  Being a lifetime Mississippi native, I know that we have pretty moderate temperatures in January, usually low 40’s to upper 60’s.  The morning of the race dawned at 15 degrees.  The wind chill was 10 degrees.  I didn’t sleep much the night before, worrying about how/if I would be able to deal with not just the distance, but the intense cold.  When we got up, I looked at my husband and told him I didn’t think I could do it.  He encouraged me to get dressed and just go to the starting line, I had worked too hard to completely give up.  I begrudgingly dressed, whining loud and long the entire time.  All the way to the race, I moaned and groaned about the unfairness of my first race being ruined by the cold.  I was truly obnoxious, but my husband listened without a word.  We found a parking place and I flounced out of the car and walked to the back to get my things.  As I reached the rear of the car, a wheelchair athlete rolled past me, talking excitedly about the upcoming event to his partner.  Perspective.  I looked at Gary, who wisely remained silent, and said, “Okay, I’ll stop whining now.”  I took my place among the other equally cold, but very excited racers and ran that half marathon in the frigid cold.   It started snowing on mile 7.  The wheelchair athlete passed me on mile 9.  It wasn’t pretty, but I finished my first long distance race intact and grateful.

People say to me all the time, “I wish I could run.”  My response to them seldom varies.  If I can, they can.  I’m not a great athlete.  I’m not even a particularly good one.  I’m slow and grouchy in the mornings, but I know if I don’t run then, that it won’t get done.  It’s not discipline that makes me do it, it’s perspective.  I run because I can.  Because there are many who really can’t run who want to.  I always think of that wheelchair athlete in Jackson when I lose faith in the journey.   Now, when I run, I’ll think of Bethany Hamilton.  

 

Doubt and Divine Appointments

Doubt and Divine appointments
Sometimes, doubt settles in like fog on a muggy Mississippi morning.  It floats around my mind and settles on my heart.  This week has brought doubt, misgivings, even a little fear.  
Am I really up to this?  Something always hurts.  An ankle, a knee, a hip, even my elbow!  Not always the same joint, but there’s always a new ache, a new crackle, a new pain that demands attention and throws that mean little seed of doubt into my mind.  That whiny, needly voice that says “I’m not a runner.  I can’t run a marathon, what am I wasting my time for?”  Or, that voice that sounds oddly like my Mom’s that says “Why does that hurt?  Are you causing irreparable damage to something?  Shouldn’t you stop pounding away on your joints?  Don’t you need to see a doctor about that?”.  Then there’s that mean girl voice that reminds me I need to lose 25 pounds.  She very smugly whispers that my joints wouldn’t hurt so much if they didn’t have such a burden to bear.  Then, she tells me that it’s no use trying to lose weight at my age, I might as well eat whatever I want to.  I used to make fun of my grandmother for talking to herself, now I realize she was probably just telling her “voices” to shut up and let her get on with it.  Knowing my Mamaw, I’m sure they very meekly packed their things and went on their way, tails tucked between their legs.   Unfortunately, my sister, Melodie, inherited Mamaw’s spirit, I can’t seem to summon the right words at times to make them hush.  This has been one of those weeks.   
What does doubt have to do with divine appointments?  I deeply believe that God brings people into our lives for seasons to  help us accomplish the goals He has planned for us.  He may bring them to us in the form of a friend, but sometimes He uses people we are never likely to meet to help us on our way.  It may be an author He’s given divine insight to that helps us see our way.  Or, it may be a pastor, teacher, or even a random stranger who points out the flaw in our thinking, the misstep we are about to make.  Because, giving up would be a misstep on my part.  
This week He’s provided me with several doubt slayers.  One is in the form of an author, Kristen Armstrong.  I’m reading her book “Mile Markers”, and it is inspirational in a way I desperately needed right now.  She has grace, wisdom, and a knowledge of what running means to the soul.  Reading her book is really helping me conquer the  doubt monster that’s eating away at my confidence.  
One of the many, many gems I’ve taken away from this book is a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt.  “Do one thing every day that scares you.” It might be saying “no” to something that you would normally say “yes” to and then resent.  It might be giving a speech or standing up to a bully.  Or, it might be signing up for a race that seems like an insurmountable distance for you.  Yikes!  Ok, so the distance is a little scary.  More than a little, actually.  But, I know that when I feel like I can’t do it any more, God will pick it up and do it with me.  Because I firmly believe that this is a divine appointment for me.
 
10 So do not fear, for I am with you;
   do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
   I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.  Isaiah 41:10
I’m counting on it.  

The relativity of time

A great run flies by.  Last week’s long run was one of those, mind cleansing, the miles over before I knew it.  Today’s was the exact opposite.  My legs screamed the entire 8 miles.  So loudly at times that I thought other people were looking at me strangely.  But, it’s done, and today’s entry isn’t really about bad runs versus good runs.  It’s a reflection on time.

Spending time with a good friend, sharing a meal, catching up on each other’s lives, enjoying a cup of coffee together,  the time melts away.  Taking an ice bath after a bad run makes ten minutes seem like two hours.  Good times speed through our lives at the speed of light.  Hard times seem to drag on forever.

My ice bath today was actually the cause of this reflection.  I carefully noted the time I started as I’m trying to work up to the recommended twenty minutes.  After what seemed like at least ten minutes had passed, I looked at the clock.  Four minutes.  Really?  I’m proud to say I set a new record and lasted twelve minutes. During that time, I started reflecting on time and it’s inconsistent properties.

It brought me to a deeper level of thought than the length of an ice bath.  I learned this week that some friends who have been battling the serious illness of both husband and wife received some discouraging news.  This is the latest in a long stream of families that I know or have connections to who have gotten that news that drives you to your knees.

Time.  Theirs is running out.  But, isn’t all our time running out?

God divinely planned the day and hour of my birth.  He also knows when He’ll be welcoming me home.  We all have a limited amount of time in which to live our lives, leave our legacy.  Is mine what it should be?  Is yours?  If I received the news that I had a certain amount of time left to live, would it change what I’m doing now?  Would I live my life differently?  I hope not.  I pray that the life I’m living is the life I’m supposed to live.  Because the truth is, I do only have a certain amount of time left to live.  I don’t know what that is, but I do know God gave me a purpose, a plan. Something in my life is meant to further His kingdom.  Am I doing that?  Am I actively seeking my place, looking for and using my gifts, using my time here to fulfill my destiny?  Last week, our pastor used the owner of the donkey in Luke 19:29-40 to illustrate the point that we all have a place in the story.  The owner of the donkey freely gave his animal to the Lord to use because that was what he had to give.  What is my “donkey”?  What do I have to give to the kingdom?  Am I using my time, my brief journey to further the kingdom?   If not, why not?  Are you?

Yeah, I know, pretty deep for an ice bath.  But, hey, I had to make the time pass somehow.

 32 Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?”
 34 They replied, “The Lord needs it.  Luke 19:32-34
What do you have that the Lord needs?  

Perseverance

If you read last week’s post, you know that I have had a discouraging couple of weeks in my training.  Oh, what a difference a week makes.

I’ve been a “runner” for a long time.  I put quotes around “runner” because, as I’ve said before, what I do makes real runners laugh.  Years ago, my husband and I came up with a term for what I do: “woggling”,  a cross between a jog and a waddle.  Very graceful.  What I’ve learned with time, though, is that what any running program demands is perseverance.  The ability to keep picking them up and putting them down, even when you don’t want to, there’s little desire or motivation, and you have two bad training weeks in a row.

So, this week’s runs were about keeping the faith.  Remembering my long term goal (health and well-being) and my short term goal (the NYC marathon in November).  Running to remind myself that I can.

Monday’s run was a short one.  Three short miles, pushing a body that wanted to sleep in and not be humbled again, but I did it.  Didn’t feel wonderful, but it was in the bag.  I had a wildly busy week, so it was Thursday before I was able to run again (I run 3x a week, cross train 2x).  Thursday’s run was also a short one, four miles that went by painlessly and fairly quickly.

Saturday’s long run came early.  I’d been mentally prepping myself all week, I wanted to do the seven from last week’s failed attempt, and push myself at 10k pace.  The weather was perfect, so I hit the local rails to trails.  It was a glorious run.  Soul soothing and mind cleansing.  I was able to keep a fairly fast pace (for me) and finished with energy to spare.  A much needed reminder of why it is I run.

I share this because I think it’s really important to remember that discipline is about doing it when you really don’t want to.  Shaking off the bad days and pushing through them to find the good ones.  Kind of like life.  I’m certainly not the first to compare training for and running a marathon to life, but the analogy is a good one.  I have more good runs than bad ones, but somehow the bad ones are the ones I learn the most from.  The lesson I took away from the last few weeks is that perseverance is an absolute necessity in my training, just as it is in life.  Don’t give up or give in when setbacks occur.  Figure out what the problem is, then work through it for a solution.  Don’t become discouraged and quit, success is often right around the corner.

3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope.  Romans 5:3-4