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Reversing Your Running Path

This morning, I knew it was time, but I didn’t want to.

I didn’t want to run the 3.5 mile course I run on Fridays in reverse. I didn’t want to because I knew it would disrupt and disorient me. Yes, I know all of the reasons as a runner why you should reverse your familiar paths. I know that if you don’t then your shoes wear down in very specific unhealthy ways. I know if you have a nagging recurring injury that reversing your running path can reverse the negative impact on that injury and reorient any compensating behaviors you’ve accidentally taken on. I know this, but I just didn’t want to.

I knew it would mean not seeing my familiar markers, knowing exactly how much further I had to go. I knew I’d encounter the shortcut option 2/3 into my run instead of 1/3 into my run. I knew that I wouldn’t know the exact number of blocks I had to run before the next turn because I wasn’t as familiar with the path from another angle. More than anything I knew that it would mean encountering a hill that rose incrementally and steadily rather than a steep short hill where I could clearly see the end in sight.

But I knew this was good for me and so I did it reluctantly.

As I ran from the safety of the sidewalk, I realized I couldn’t see clearly what was coming towards me, but rather that I heard what was coming first. As I ran I depended on my ears rather than my sight. I could feel my nagging right hamstring relax with relief as my left hamstring took on more. And I began to realize that reversing my running path was very similar to the discipline of renewing my mind as Paul reminds us in Romans 12:

12 I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual[b] worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

As someone who experienced spiritual abuse, it is so easy when I encounter something challenging to fall back into the familiar path of dogmatic, closed theology where everything has a reason and everything has an answer. It is much, much more difficult for me to reverse that pattern of thinking and lean into the disorientation of not having the familiar markers of known answers to the unexpectedness of life, but this doesn’t produce growth. This produces an unhealthy attachment to the theology that doesn’t fit and isn’t applicable at best and theology that hurts and maims at worst.

As I rounded the corner to the end of the run, I breathed a sigh of relief. I was finished. Done with reversing the path. Next week I could return to the familiar, known path. I looked down at my watch. I ran 25 seconds faster each mile than I had last week on the familiar, known path.

Maybe disruption and disorientation is what produces strength and growth as it wakes up our other senses and other muscles to something new.

New Shoes

I take my first awkward steps like a fresh born fawn fumbling and uncertain.  How can the cyclical pattern of running, which I had done for so many miles feel like translating a line of foreign prose? It’s the breathable mesh and supportive, synthetic upper materials that actually exists in these shoes unlike the others that were now road worn.

As I tried to find my footing, I couldn’t for the life of me remember how I ran. Was it heel, toe, heel toe, toe heel, toe heel, heel toe, toe heel? Every combination felt wrong. I know how to do this, I reminded myself. I’ve been running for years. I’ve broken in new shoes over and over again. It will fall into place, won’t it?

And as I let go of trying to overanalyze and identify the problem, I realized the pain in my right ankle, left knee, and right hamstring were absent. They had been present for every run for the last three weeks in growing intensity, but I didn’t feel any of them anymore. The Infinity Wave cushioning in the heel combined with the SmoothRide engineering was working to alleviate and realign my body.

I rounded the corner to home.

There it is…my stride.

My pace sped up.

I breathed a sigh of relief as I whizzed through the stop sign.

Old Paths, New Insights

Sun Through the Clouds

I found myself running the stop sign run at my parents’ house this weekend. It’s uphill to the end of their street where a stop sign sits at the crossroads to the main road. As I tried to convince my legs and lungs that I had done this run many, many times before, I remembered the summers I spent training for field hockey fighting the same grueling incline, but this was different because instead of worrying about increasing my speed or pace, I was just worried about making it to the stop sign and still being able to breath. As I was running my thoughts weren’t preoccupied with homework and papers, but was busy working on Sunday’s sermon and an ordination homily.

I was overwhelmed by the familiar sounds of crickets, of horse tails swishing, of the leaves rustling, sounds that are hard to find in my busy life. I watched one yellow leaf fall to the ground and heard the wind and watching Fall slowly creep in, one leaf at time. I neared the middle of the path where the woods hid houses, I remembered to watch my feet for critters crawling across the path to the other side of wooded sanctuary. I sidestepped as a millipede crawled by.

As my feet hit the ground, I knew that this is what life is: it’s the seconds and minutes that we often run through not noticing anything or anyone around us until we come to those stop signs. The ones that stop us in our tracks, make us gasp for breath because they remind us of how fleeting life is. Those are the moments that stop our busy minds and feet, but once we are stilled, we don’t know where we are. And in those moments of grief, of uncertainity, of wondering what life is all about, we often ask where is God?

God is with us and among us in the swishing of horse tails, in a single, yellow falling leaf, in a crawling millipede, if we but open our eyes to see.

The Stillness and the Silence

The streetlights had not yet gone off. There were murmurings from the houses that families were waking up to go to school, to go to work, to start the day. As Willie and Waylon and I ran by, the stillness and the silence of the day surrounded us.

The quiet was a stark reminder of how much noise I have in my life. The dishwasher running, baby toys singing, collars jingling. Noise that reminds us of life and of discovery, but also noise that distracts and dictates a busy life jumping from one activity to another. In the midst of these distractions, I find myself often running from the stillness and silence rather than running to the stillness and silence. I create more noise: fingers typing on a keyboard, hymns hummed while cooking, always moving about.

And after the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. After the fire came a gentle whisper.

In creating and craving noise, I wonder if maybe we are missing God.  When we quiet our minds, our bodies, our souls, we, like Elijah, we might be invited into the presence of the Lord. When we do, we might uncover that our calling to follow God is in the midst of the noise of God’s people tearing down altars, breaking covenants, and even in the midst of prophets being killed.

But it’s only in the stillness and silence that we uncover our tendency to run when God’s call asks us to risk our statuses and our privilege. It’s only in the stillness and silence that we discover whether we will follow after God only when convenient or comfortable or whether we will follow God not knowing where the path leads.

Where’s the Finish Line?

I’ve been told that I (or rather we, since Willie and Waylon are on this journey with me) are only a quarter of a mile from the end of the trail in Columbia that we’ve been running for over a year. Every time we run this particular trail, we don’t reach the end. Those who have told us how close we are to the end have reached the end and offered guidance based on comparisons of trail markers. We’re so close, which makes each run frustrating and alluring and challenging all at the same time.

Today as we turned around, yet again shy of the illusive end of the trail, it reminded me of conversations I had with classmates who are a year behind me at Gardner-Webb and how they are counting down until graduation. As I shared in their excitement and in their proximity to concluding the journey of seminary, I also warned them that once they graduated, there weren’t really any more finish lines.

Sure, as ministers we know there are times that are busier than others (Advent, Lent, and the summer), but these aren’t finish lines for in just a short time they will be around again. And that’s certainly not why we chose a life of ministry. We didn’t choose to be ministers, but instead were called. And part of being called is learning a different evaluation system than other professionals, right?

But how do we make the transition from having known squarely whether the work we were doing in the classroom was an A, B, or C to the knowing whether work we are doing in our congregations is making a difference or is in fact good?

There will always be weeks where I wish I could have done more or done differently because ministry isn’t a job, it’s a lifestyle. So, how do I, as a minister, know when I am at the trail end for the day or the week or the year? How do I know when I’ve reached the finish line and can really and truly rest for a bit?

I’ll be honest and admit, I don’t know the answer. What I do know is that my friends and colleagues who haven’t found the finish line and still keep pushing themselves further and further, aren’t in ministry anymore. They burned out trying to do more and more and more. I also know seasoned ministers who have been in the ministry for years who have reflected that they wish they hadn’t spent as much time striving for the finish line at work because they more they did, the more time they were on the trail and away from their family and friends.

I can’t help but think about this as the sun is shining and the evidence of Spring and new life is everywhere. Surely, this Lenten journey is over, right? Surely, we can put off the challenging messages of welcoming the little children to Jesus and not standing in their way and the challenge of selling all of our possessions and giving them to the poor to follow Jesus until next year. Let’s get to the finish line of Easter morning that’s filled with hope and new life and joy. But when we push on past all of the turns in the road and uncertainly of where the journey will end, we lose part of the struggle of the journey, and we lose part of the training of ourselves. Reaching Easter isn’t really the finish line: becoming more like Jesus is.

For me, I’m ok with being really close to finding the trail’s end without actually reaching it because once I do get there with my two running partners, I want to be able to enjoy it. I don’t want to be so exhausted that we can’t make it back relishing in each and every inch of the whole and complete trail.

It’s hard to explain to people, especially people who have been following Christ longer than I have been alive, but it is not time to rest and be assured that we will hear: “Well done, good and faithful servant,” because we haven’t reached the finish line. As long as we have breath, we have more work to do. As long as we continue to wake up each morning, there’s something else we could do to become more like Christ. We aren’t at the finish line yet, as individuals, as churches, or as ministers.

And so we press on.

Running Wonderings

As we start out,

I marvel at the neighborhood

waking up.

Cars starting.

Seat belts fastening.

Heels clicking.

I wonder what they are going to do.

They are going to work,

certainly

but what is work for each of them.

A place to wear heels,

bring coffee in tumblers,

bags full of work stuff.

Do they like their jobs?

Are they close to getting a vacation break?

Wondering stretches a two-mile plan into a four-mile reality. As body, mind, and soul align with each step, each thought, a prayer forms to notice more honeysuckle and cats treed by pups passing, and people whose lives I know nothing about.

National Running Day

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I thought I was going to miss out on National Running Day.

On Monday, I was taking the pups for a long run when Waylon decided that he was going to say hey to a security guard on the trail. He crossed in front of me (a big no no, for leash training) and I wiggle stepped on the side of the sidewalk and faceplanted. Yes, I mean all the way down, sprawled out on the trail. The security guard saw me and helped me up and we all hobbled back to the car. Waylon seemed unaffected by the whole incident. Willie was very concerned and confused by the whole experience.

This isn’t the first time that my love of running and playing sports has lead to this kind of mishap (when my mom watched me play basketball, she used to say that I didn’t need to mop the floor, they would do that after the game because I spent some much time sprawled on the court), and I am sure it won’t be the last. When you love something enough, you’re bound to incur some scars and bruises from that love. For me, it only makes me want to try to get back to a nice run more. It made running seem a little less available. I had to pay attention to taking care of my leg and foot in order to get them back into good shape.

This morning, braced and bandaid-ed I hit the trail again. Although I debated not bringing the dogs, I knew what our running time meant to them, too (although I did watch Waylon much more carefully). So, I did get to go running on National Running Day, and I got to take my running partners with me.

Even when you fall or fail, getting back up and being able to run again is the only option when it’s really something you love.

Realignment

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There’s always this point when you are breaking in new shoes that you start running and you know that the realignment process is complete. If you haven’t run a lot, you might be fooled into thinking that if you have bad shoes and replace those shoes, then you are not going to experience pain anymore.

But what happens most of the time is that if you have been running in bad shoes, your legs, feet, and body have slowly adapted to the pain you experience and compensated for that pain. You can see this in people who are running on the street. They may hold their body so tightly on one side that you can literally see that they are running with one shoulder and one side higher than the other.

For me, it happens in my feet. When I run in shoes in which the support is slowly dying, then I tend to start turning my right foot out as well as running on my toes. I’ve done this process enough to know that when I put on my new shoes, the first 2-3 runs are going to not only be painful, but slow. I have to fully concentrate on my stride and my posture. Literally, that means tuning into each step.

When you run a lot, you know that running becomes a semi-automatic process. When you can shift the focus from each step, then you can free your mind to think and to reflect. It’s why runners like running so much. But as annoying and frustrating as the process of realignment is, I’ve learned to appreciate it. Not only does it slow me down and make me think about the process of running, but it also makes me tune back into my body. By centering on the process, I know I am working towards those mind-freeing runs next week.

The numbness and soreness that permeated through my right side last week has subsided after two runs in the new shoes and I am close to getting my stride autocorrected. For some reason, this makes me want to run more because I know what I am working towards. I am working towards being able to run long distances again and to explore again. The realignment process is something worth enduring for the centering and balance it brings.

Now, I’m wondering how I can implement this realignment process in other aspects of my life. I’ll work that out on my mind-freeing runs that are just around the corner!

Running through the Cool Down

Last week during my weeklong intensive, I wasn’t able to run as per usual. I found myself getting more and more antsy as the days wore on and I found myself much more restless when it came time to go to sleep.

It’s funny how you don’t realize the activities that keep you grounded and balanced until they are changed for some reason. Taking those balancing agents away for even a short period of time can throw you off balance and make you wonder why you don’t feel like yourself, but I’ve also found that taking those activities away from a time can help identify and reveal the power of simple activities in inspiring and sustaining yourself.

Why is this important?

Because inevitably, life throws curve balls, unexpected twists and turns and when that happens putting on your running shoes and your split leash harness for your four-legged running buddies can bring you back home; can help you remember why you can breathe into whatever the next step of life is.

That was today’s run for me.

As we approached the house, I picked a sign and told my mind and body to run through that sign and then I could cool down, but what happened was that when the sign came and went I found my legs kept running and didn’t stop. I ran through my cool down. This doesn’t happen often, but when it does,  I feel certain my body is telling my spirit and mind to realign and to reassure the uncertain me that we can keep going. We can keep on keeping on.

Watching Waylon

As Waylon nears his first birthday, I am feeling a little nostalgic.

Having two dogs has certainly been a great decision for our family especially since Waylon and Willie have such different temperaments. Willie is an over-eager pleaser and Waylon is well, most often known as grumpy dog. He goes at his own pace and hardly ever can be coaxed into anything he hasn’t already decided he is interested in…except walks.

When Willie and I first started taking him on our walking/running adventures, we had to revise our plan because after about half a mile, Waylon would get tired and literally sit in the middle of the path and not move. It cramped our style!

Waylon has come to love our runs and walks as much as Willie does, but he makes the experience interesting. He wants to be in charge and he really isn’t bothered if he has to drag his human and brother behind him. He is particularly hard to handle when he approaches the  fence of another dog.

I am not sure how it happens, but he simultaneously runs towards the fence and away from the fence whining and whimpering the whole time. There is no way to tell if he was let off the leash if he would try to attack the other dog, lick the other dog, play with the other dog or simply run away. It’s as if he paralyzed in the indecision of which is the best option dragging his human and brother along on his path of indecision.

It made me think of this today as we walked because I saw all the signs…he ducked his head…raised his tail and began a slow creep. I racked my brain trying to figure out if there was a dog in one of the houses that we were passing, but there wasn’t. I followed Waylon’s eyes only to burst out laughing,

He was slowly tracking and beginning to growl at the wind chimes hanging from the tree we were passing. It’s easy to forget that the world I have experienced in my 28 years is full of just these moments of confronting something new and having to try to process how to approach this new thing.

For Waylon, the sound of the wind chimes sounded like maybe another dog’s collar or a dog’s leash or something else threatening. He decided to be cautious and watchful just in case.

I wonder if I do the same when I approach something new.