Must love hills

There’s a hill on my neighborhood running route that mocks me. It’s a full quarter mile and starts at the end of my driveway. The bad thing is it goes downhill to start, so that means the very last quarter mile of every training run that I do in my neighborhood is straight uphill. I can maneuver my mileage so that I end up walking it at the end for a cool down, or I can bite the bullet and push hard for the last quarter mile up that blasted hill. When I do that, I could swear I hear it laughing at me. It’s wicked steep, and I’m pretty sure it knows that I hate it. The neighborhood route that I take is filled with hills, some easy, some hard; but the one at the end is killer. I. Hate. It.

The odd thing about it though, is that when I push hard at the end and make it up that infernal hill, I feel bullet proof. I feel that I can accomplish anything if I only set my mind to it. So, more often than not, I power through to the end, dreading it the entire run, but knowing that it will make me a better runner in the long term.  And, feeling like a real bada** because I made it to the top.

Life is like that. Filled with hills and valleys. Some easy to wade through, others feeling like you’re plowing through quick sand. I’ve been climbing some hills over the last few months, and I’m ready to get to the top of them. Apparently, though, there are still lessons to be learned on them, because I’m still climbing.

I’m thankful for all the hills I’ve climbed in my life, because getting over them taught me something. They taught me that there will always be another hill, another challenge, another life lesson. And, they taught me that not only will I get to the top, I can do it victoriously.   It’s my job to learn to dig deep and climb them with all the resources I can muster.  They have also taught me that my resources run deeper than the hills are high.

I’ve recently finished rereading the letters of Paul, and started the book of James this week. What a great little book, chock full of wisdom, tucked into the middle of my New Testament. It begins with a verse that is hard to understand, until you’ve been there.

2 Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. 3 For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. 4 So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.  James 1:2-4

I’ve read this verse many times, and shared it here more than once, but, man, does it resonate with my soul.  Just like the growth I achieve whenever my legs and lungs are tested against that horrendous hill; when my faith is tested, and troubles pile on for the ride, I know that I will grow and learn, becoming fully developed.  It’s hard to imagine that I’ll ever be perfect or complete this side of heaven, but I know that my faith has grown over the years through the very trials that tested it.  That gives me comfort and courage to face the next hills, because they are surely there, waiting just over the horizon.  

I’m pushing past my comfort zone in a lot of ways these days. Hills are just one part of the equation. I’m learning to embrace the hills of my life, as I know they will bring me strength, physically and spiritually. It’s not comfortable, it hurts in a lot of ways. But, very slowly, step by step, hill by hill, I’m making progress.

Press on.

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Facing fears and overcoming doubt

My dad is a wonderful storyteller.  He’s always told stories and jokes, sometimes to make a point, other times to make us laugh.  Usually, even the funny stories had a point to them, often very subtle ones that you didn’t stumble on until days later when the story crossed your mind again.  I’m not a particularly good storyteller, especially verbally.  I can’t seem to remember all the details of the story, and usually leave out something very important that makes the entire point.  I don’t really remember a lot of Dad’s tales, but many of the punch lines (or points) have stayed with me throughout my life.

One of those stories Dad told me so long ago that I can’t even remember when, had such a punchline.  I don’t remember the story. I know it was about my Grandma Bess (his mother), and involved a broom, a skillet, and a “booger” that turned out to be a cat or something, but other than that the details escape me.  What I do remember, and what has served me well throughout my life was the point the story made.  The point was, it’s important to always “face your boogers.”  In other words, in this life, we’re going to have things that happen that frighten us or make us doubt.  Those are the things we have to turn around and face, or they will overwhelm us and never allow us to move forward.  Very often, those “boogers” turn out to be scared little kittens that run away from you when you face them.  Other times, they are as bad as you feared, but facing them reminds you that you can overcome anything, if you have the proper foundation, and the appropriate faith.

This weekend I’ve faced a couple of my “boogers”.  Yesterday, I ran the first 5k race that I’ve run in a very long time.  I really don’t even remember the last one I ran.  This was a “booger” for me because I’m often filled with doubt about my abilities.  That covers a wide range of things, but particularly my ability to run, or race – especially short, fast races.  For the most part, I’m content to be a back of the packer.  Plodding along, enjoying the scenery, and stopping to take a picture or five along the way.  But, life throws things at you that you don’t expect sometimes, and I’ve come to the realization that if I’m going to do this, I want to be the best that I can be at it.  That doesn’t mean I’ll ever aspire to running greatness.  But, like a running friend said yesterday, I want to be faster when I grow up.  (He’s 57 & wicked fast already.)  That resonated with me.  I want to be faster.  I want to be able to enjoy my runs still, but the need for speed is creeping in.  So, I”m facing that fear, trying to overcome the doubt I have in my ability and moving forward.

This morning brought a new “booger”.  And, this one is a completely new fear for me.  If you know me, you know that I’m relatively fearless.  I’ve never minded running alone (probably even when I should have), never been afraid to run in the dark, or on the road or a trail…if it was a new place to run, or even an old one that I particularly liked, I would head out to it, no fear or doubt, just anticipation.  Gary’s recent accident made me a little too aware of how vulnerable we all are.  I mean, really, we’re all just one stumble away from a broken bone.  And, running in the pre-dawn hours along a roadway with a fair amount of traffic like our road has, for some reason had me spooked.  I feel a lot less bullet proof than I used to.  I’ve run our neighborhood thousands of times, but the thought of stepping out there has recently set my heart pounding when I consider it.

So, I’ve headed over to our local Rails to Trails, the Longleaf Trace, for all my runs lately.  It’s a beautiful place to run, but it has a couple of drawbacks.  One is that it is super flat.  There are slight inclines, but no real hills.  As much as I hate hills, I know they make be a better runner, so I try to sprinkle in a few hill workouts weekly.  Another drawback is that it is about 20 minutes from my house.  Not a terrible drive, but certainly not as convenient as out my back door and down the street.  I typically do my long runs on the Trace when we’re in town, and do my shorter training runs here in the neighborhoods around my house during the week.  This morning was a shorter run, and as I prepared to go, Gary asked me where I was going.  I told him to the Trace & he gave me that confused dog look (you know, when they turn their heads sideways and wrinkle their noses).   “Why?”  I fumbled around a few seconds, looking for a good excuse, and really couldn’t come up with one.  So, I put on my big girl panties and headed out the back door.

Something really neat happens to me when I face my fears.  My senses open up and I see the world around me with fresh eyes.  My ability to see God’s hand weaving patterns throughout my life, in and around events, shaping, molding, refining me, is intensified.  This morning He gave me a true appreciation, not just for the gift of running, but for the beautiful vista He’s planted right outside my doorstep.  My first treasure:

Painted sky over my lake

The show didn’t stop there:

Sunrise in Sunrise, Mississippi

And, as I returned from a solid, fear free run, one last treasure:

The slough at sunrise

Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. Matthew 21:21

I’m trying, Lord.

Race for Grace

I’ll admit it.  I’m not much of a racer.    I think my lack of running talent is well documented.  Especially when it comes to a 5k.  They hurt.  A lot.  But, I’ve come to some conclusions over the course of this year as I’ve battled a couple of different issues in my life.  I need to run faster.  And, if you want to run faster, racing is a good motivator.  Why do I need to run faster?  Well, also well documented (in true TMI fashion) are my GI issues when I run.  I’ve been working on my weight loss this year, and I’ve also been trying to discover what causes me to have such miserable GI distress when I run.  I’ve come to the unfortunate realization that I’m just going to be one of those runners who struggle with it.  I’ve identified some trigger foods that make it worse, but even eliminating those from my diet completely hasn’t eradicated the problem, especially on longer runs.  So, if I’m ever going to be competitive at the half marathon distance, I’m going to have to run fast enough that a potty break won’t kill my time.

In working toward faster times, I decided I needed to add some shorter races to my calendar.  If you read my blog post last week, you saw that I’ve set some goals for myself for the upcoming year, one of which is to decrease my 5k time.  It’s been so long since I raced a 5k, that I really didn’t know what a good goal for that would be, so I decided I want to break 30 minutes by spring.  I needed a baseline race, and since it is October & racing season is in full swing, the perfect one presented itself this weekend.  The Race for Grace.  A particularly fitting race title, I thought. If there ever was a person who can attest to the need for grace, it’s me.  This annual race benefits Grace International World Outreach, a local international outreach ministry that I’ve dealt with in the past, so that, too, was particularly fitting for me.  Be sure to click the link and read all about them, they are a wonderful ministry with far reaching effects for the Kingdom.

Race for Grace

I touched base on Daily Mile with some other local runners earlier this week, and we planned to finally meet face to face. I was SO excited to meet Michelle & Esther. They are rocking their training plans and meeting other women who are as passionate about my sport as I am was fun and made the day special. Another Daily Miler, Gina Mooney, was one of the race directors, so I was able to meet her as well. Great race, Gina! Y’all did a wonderful job. If you aren’t on Daily Mile, it’s a fun, easy way to track your mileage, as well as meet other runners, near and far.  Got to meet some of Esther’s and Michelle’s families.  One of Esther’s daughters (Nikki, age 6?) ran her first 5k today & smoked it!  So exciting to see little ones and families enjoy a sport together!

I had some goals for this race.  My first thought was that I would be happy with a 33 minute race.  I knew I could do a 32 & change 3 miler in training, so I figured 33 minutes, no problem.  Then, I realized that wasn’t pushing myself enough.  So, I set my sights on 31 minutes.  Fast for me, but I felt like it was doable if I focused and pushed.  I was really nervous leading up to race time.  I ran a warm-up mile slowly and that helped some with the jitters.  I had to leave my man at home, so my usual race rock wasn’t there to keep me grounded.  He texted me with last minute instructions and that made me feel a little better, too.  We lined up at the start, had a few brief instructions, and were off.

The pace felt good from the start, not too fast, not too slow.  I could tell I was pushing it, so I pulled back just a little.  First mile was right on target, maybe a little fast, but not by much.  I ran another 100 yards or so, and I saw a truck on the side of the Trace, with race personnel in it.  Or, so I thought.  As I got  closer, I realized that guy in the back of the truck looked familiar and had a bandaged leg sticking out and crutches leaned against the tailgate.  That’s right, my man was there.  The shock of it made me slow down a little, but in true coaching fashion, he yelled, “Don’t slow down! Run!”  So, I did.

Got my water at the turn around point, didn’t slow down to drink it, but I rinsed and spit.  Yeah, I’m such a lady when I run.  Here’s a pic my man took on my way back by him.

Over halfway done and still on track

The last mile got there soon enough, and I was still on target to make my goal. I kept a really steady pace with slightly negative splits. Saw the finish up ahead and turned it on for the last little sprint. I figured if Geoffrey Mutai can run the last 5k of the Berlin marathon at a 4:50 pace, I could turn it up a little higher for my sad little run. Finished in 31:12 by my Garmin, I think my official time may have been slightly faster. I’ll take it. It was enough for a third place age group finish. I’m pretty sure there were only 3 in my age group, but who cares? I’ll beat those other old broads next time  ;).

At the finish line – hit my goal!!

I really think I left something out there on that last mile.  I had a little faster mile in me than I accomplished.  How about that?  Gary is going to make a racer out of me yet.  Who knew?

New friends with our medals (We all placed – they won their age groups! Yay, Michelle & Esther!)

However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.   Acts 20:24

Celebrating Life

I turned 51 today. Holy moly, that sounds old!! Funny thing though, it doesn’t feel old. I don’t mind being old, but I do mind feeling old. There are a lot of advantages to growing older, not the least of which is wisdom earned in the school of hard knocks. I’m proud of most of my knocks, and learned something from the ones I’m not so proud of.

Of course, many of you know that I spent my birthday at the hospital with my man, who is recovering from leg surgery. Before you feel sorry for me, though, let me tell you about my day. It started with a short, fast run that felt amazing in the cool morning air. AND, I got to use my new toy, a birthday gift from the old broken one. 😉 Check it out:

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He’s always been great about reading my mind and getting me exactly what I want for my birthday. Of course, the e-mail that I sent him on Monday with the link directly to this and my VIP password probably helped move things along. Loved running with it this morning. I have had an older Garmin for several years which I loved, but it is large and clunky. This one is small and light, and looks a lot more feminine. And, it’s pink! I think we’ll get along just fine.

After my run, I did a quick Starbucks detour on my way back to the hospital. I got my usual – a venti soy au lait, and I indulged in a rare treat, a pumpkin cream cheese muffin. I picked out treats for Gary and headed back to the room to share our morning coffee. The sweet, gooey, stickiness of my muffin was worth every single calorie. I allowed myself a couple of other eating treats throughout the day. Gary ordered the red velvet cake with his lunch because he knew it was my favorite, and it was pretty tasty for cafeteria food. And, I had a bag of real potato chips and a Coke Zero. I know, my treats sound pretty sad, but I rarely eat processed foods, and have completely eliminated sugar and all artificial sweeteners from my life, so those are rare indulgences for me. They were delightful. I spent the afternoon in a fairly comfortable recliner, bundled against the freezing temps in our room, sunlight streaming on my face, and in the company of the other man in my life, Detective Harry Bosch. If you’re a Michael Connely fan, you know just who I mean. I was able to look up periodically at the handsome face of my favorite man, who is getting along well today, and we had a visit from our daughter around lunch. The heebie jeebies set in from the enforced stillness about four, so I went for a nice, easy walk. Top that off with the many texts, Facebook messages, calls, e-mails, and even a visit from seldom seen family, and I think I’m extraordinarily blessed. Does life get any sweeter? I think not.

This is the time of year I always set new goals. I’m not a big January 1 goal setter, because my new year begins on October 6 every year. So, I’ve spent the day thinking of my goals for the upcoming year, and I’ll share some of them here with you.

1. Increase the time I spend in the Word. I read a lot, many things that are spiritually uplifting and instructional, but nothing beats time spent alone with God reading His gift to me.

2. Put 1000 miles on my feet by my next birthday. I’m trying to bump my weekly mileage back up, and want it to stay around 20-30 miles per week. Running and walking miles will count toward this goal, as staying injury free is also one of my goals.

3. Get my 5k time below 30 minutes by late spring of 2013, and my half marathon time below 2:30 by fall of 2013.

4. Write something everyday. I usually blog once a week, and journal on a fairly regular basis, but writing is a craft that I want to hone. If you want to be a runner, you have to run, and if you want to be a writer, you have to write.

5. Read something inspirational everyday.

6. Be kinder, more patient, and more loving with those around me, remembering that this life is not about me. Becoming selfless is a life long quest.

7. And, last, but not least, begin thinking about training for a full marathon in the spring of 2014. I’ve been waiting for that desire to return, and feared it never would. But, this month’s Runner’s World magazine had a large spread about last year’s NYC marathon (which I finished, if you recall) which brought back those exciting memories and with them a flood of desire to try it again. That finish was wonderful and fulfilled a bucket list item for me, but I didn’t come anywhere near my time goal due to a pesky injury that made me limp/walk almost half the distance. I want to train smarter and longer and search for a flat, fast course where it’s warm (but not hot) in the early spring of 2014. Then, my man has said he would run NYC with me when I run it again – hopefully in November of 2014. Granted, he was on painkillers when he promised, but I’m putting it in writing so he can’t back out.

I’ll leave you with this quote:

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Running in the rain

It rained here this weekend, so I decided to postpone my run until today. It wasn’t torrential rain, but hard and steady, and my mood reflected it all weekend.   I haven’t run long in a few weeks, but I decided today’s run would be short, then, hopefully, I’ll run tomorrow and Thursday, and be ready for a long run on Saturday, if Gary’s surgery goes well on Friday.

I got up this morning looking forward to the run, something that hasn’t happened in a few weeks.  I gulped a cup of coffee, got Gary all set, then I headed out to the Trace to pound a little pavement.  It was cool and overcast, with a light misting of rain, and I relished the ability to get out and go for a run.  The run was excellent, just the right amount of hard and easy; rain misting, then sun peeking out.  And, as usual, that made me reflect on how much running mirrors life.

I know you’ve heard it often, that life is a marathon, not a sprint.  And, it is.  We’re in this for the long haul, so we better pay attention to our training, eat well, rest well, live, laugh, and love.  But, sometimes the storms of life make that difficult.    Life is full of storms, some particularly devastating.    A cancer diagnosis, a sudden job loss, a car accident, the unexpected death of a loved one.  No one expects us to run through those;  and, thankfully those storms are pretty rare.  They produce adrenaline that pushes us through to the other side, relatively unscathed.  No running required.  Just the ability to hang in until we can function again.

Today’s run reminded me of the other real “storms” of life.  The sneaky ones.  The little things that eat away at our joy, erode our happiness, steal our faith, if we let them. You know the ones I’m talking about.  Months after the car accident, the pain that still lingers.  Or, having to take a job that you hate in order to provide for your family.  You think, I can walk or I can pay my bills, so I should be thankful.  Yet, still the mist keeps falling.  You have to keep wiping it out of your eyes to be able to see, and the view ahead seems bleak and unchanging. The trick is to just keep running.  Stay faithful to the course and keep your eyes on Him.

At the end of my run today, two beautiful, graceful deer crossed ahead of me, directly in the path of a sunbeam.  They stood majestically and looked at me, paused long enough to make me think I could get a picture, then flounced quickly into the woods and melted from view.  They made me smile and give thanks for rainy day runs.  There’s always a reward for staying the course.  The sun will shine again. Depend on it. And, sometimes, it will even bring a glimpse of majesty with it.

“Anyone who says sunshine brings happiness has never gone running in the rain.”**  The rain makes us remember and appreciate the beauty of the sunny days.  But, it also has a music all its own.  One that is necessary to soothe our troubled souls.

27 He draws up the water vapor and then distills it into rain. 28 The rain pours down from the clouds, and everyone benefits.29 Who can understand the spreading of the clouds and the thunder that rolls forth from heaven?  Job 36:27-29

**(Yes, I did play fast and loose with that quote-it actually is about dancing in the rain, but since I don’t dance, and dancing in the rain seems a little more problematic to me than running, I changed it to suit my needs. 😉  )