Tag Archives: endurance

Keep Climbing

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On a trail last Thursday morning in a neighboring canyon I found myself running alone. I had started with others but when I faced a steep, narrow trail straight up an imposing mountain, unplanned, there seemed to be no one in the whole world but me and the trail to the heavens.

I attacked the hill with every ounce of my strength, arms pumping, calves burning, lungs fighting, and heart firing to conquer the challenge in front of me. I was strong—for a while—and then it was too much. I had to walk, but I refused to give up entirely and kept climbing the mountain step by step. In a few moments it seemed that I could sort of breathe again, so I challenged my legs to run the rest of the way. I thought I could do it, and I did.

At the top, seemingly on cue, I looked out at the crazy view across the morning sky and just at that moment the sun exploded over the mountains and above the clouds that lay across the hills like a cotton blanket. It was spectacular. The picture above is okay but doesn’t do it justice.

I’m not sure I want to run that hill again, and in retrospect, not sure that I really wanted to run it in the first place. But there was a feeling in my soul when I made it to the top and the sun broke through that felt like it was a special gift just for me, just for running, just for not stopping and finishing the climb. Pardon me, but it felt like a holy moment, and I was thankful. I felt a deep gratitude standing there on top of that mountain. The warmth of the sun. The beauty from above. The fullness in my lungs. The unplanned smile on my face.

I have friends on steep mountains today. I will have others. And it will be me again, too. My hope is that we all keep climbing, keep trusting, and keep believing that at the top of the mountain we will discover a spectacular gift. And smile.

We travelers, walking to the sun, can’t see
Ahead, but looking back the very light
That blinded us shows us the way we came,
Along which blessings now appear, risen
As if from sightlessness to sight, and we,
By blessing brightly lit, keep going toward
That blessed light that yet to us is dark.
Wendell Berry

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Out There

barkley 1My body apparently dropped a note in the old Life Suggestion Box requesting that I explore alternative activities to running. The suggestion is under consideration given recurring and depressing minor injuries, but I haven’t thrown in the proverbial towel just yet. Distance runners are notoriously bad at giving something up. And I like to run.

I am still allowed to say that I am a runner.  Four half-marathons in the past several years with a PR of 1:37 plus a 10k in just over forty-two minutes and a 5k under twenty is competitive for someone my age.  But running is a humbling sport, and I am constantly in awe of the truly crazy runners whose performances defy imagination.  Like Kilian Jornet who once ran the Hardrock Hundred Mile Endurance Run with 33,000 feet of climb in under twenty-four hours.  Or Yiannis Kouros who once ran a thousand miles in just over ten days. Pure craziness.

But of all the daunting races on the planet, the Barkley Marathons is probably the toughest of them all. I first watched the wildly entertaining documentary about the Barkley several years ago, and if you have Netflix and ninety minutes, you might enjoy watching the insanity, too. Five consecutive marathons with over 50,000 feet of total climb and descent in a sixty-hour time limit in the unforgiving terrain of the Cumberland Mountains of Tennessee with less-than-ideal weather conditions under the oversight of a sadistic and taunting race director: That’s the basics of the Barkley. The race that eats its young.

It was once believed that nobody could complete the five loops of the Barkley, but fifteen human beings have now proven it is possible in the thirty-plus years of the race. But just fifteen. The race proudly stands at the limits of human endurance.

At Christmas, my wife gave me a book about the Barkley written by Frozen Ed Furtaw, one of its long-time competitors. Frozen Ed titled it, “Tales from Out There,” with “out there” serving as a consistent phrase to describe the nature of the race. The Barkley is “out there” as a race for sure, but more significantly the firsthand accounts claim that the real challenge of the Barkley is the actual experience of being “out there” all alone in a battle with your body, mind, soul, and spirit.

Sometimes in life being “out there” in the wild is forced upon us but more often than not we have ways to avoid such challenges. You won’t see me entering the Barkley, but I do hope you find me with the courage to sign up to go “out there” in other ways in this old life. You never know what will happen out there. But there is really only one way to find out.

Eyes on the Prize

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I love me a new year, but I like it better one week in.

The starting gun fires, the race commences, and some yahoos foolishly sprint to the lead for a brief moment until reality reminds them that they are in over their heads and they fade into oblivion. That is when the race really begins. Once the crowd thins and the race gets real, the true competitors search for their pace and ask themselves important questions about their hearts, minds, souls, and strength. That is what happens about one week into a brand new year, and I want to be a true competitor in this race called life.

So here we go.

I want to look deep into my soul this year. Will I avoid the unsettling quiet required to explore the frightening corners of my own heart?

I want to spend myself on others this year. Will I allow fear, pride, and privilege to keep me away from confronting the injustice in my own community?

I want to remember important stories from the past this year. Will I let the sirens pull me mindlessly forward and forget the treasures found in old experiences?

I want to push my boundaries this year so that I grow. Will I permit the deception of comfort and routine lull me into complacency, or will I have the courage required to test uncharted waters?

I know the right answers to all of these questions, but the breathless pace and the long road ahead demand that I maintain focus, avoid distraction, and keep my eyes on the prize.

It is time to settle in and do the work.

Spinning Strong

Jody Spin InstructorMy wife is now a certified indoor cycling instructor and I am on notice that I will soon attend one of her first classes. She is amazing, and I am slightly terrified.

I remember the first “spin” class she ever attended quite well. We were new to California and she was new to working out, but she had a celebrity crush on Bob Harper from The Biggest Loser television show and could not pass up the opportunity to attend one of his classes. On arrival, she soon determined that she was in over her head since it was a ninety-minute class for experienced spinners, which is not the bunny slope approach to this particular workout. However, shortly after the class started and she concluded that this wasn’t for her, she tried to get off the bike only to discover that her legs did not work. So, out of options, she decided to just keep spinning and finished the class.

Bob left as the class wrapped up that fateful day for a speaking engagement at another L.A. gym, and Jody and her friend, Jeneen, planned to attend that as well so that Jody could get her picture made with him. They thought that the gym was two blocks away and decided to walk, but it turned out that their math was a little off and the gym was actually twenty blocks away. This important fact came to light a little late in the walk over. At one point, Jody actually collapsed in a crosswalk when her jelly legs gave way. But again, out of available options, she kept walking and got that picture.

At the time we lived on the third floor of a college dormitory—a college dormitory that had no elevator—and when she made it home I showed no mercy since the self-inflicted pain came as a result of pursuing a celebrity crush! The pain was such that she had to pull herself up and down the stairs each day. And after relaxing on the couch, she had to roll off the couch simply to pull herself back into a standing position. It was funny (for me) for quite some time until she really started to wonder if there was some sort of permanent damage. But she recovered and lived to work out another day.

In fact, she has worked out a lot of other days since that memorable introduction to spinning and the results are stunning. Did I mention that she is now certified to teach these sorts of classes?

My wife is the strongest person I know, and I am the luckiest. She will be an amazing teacher and inspiration to others as an indoor cycling instructor. But she has me pretty scared.

Spinning Plates

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“Have patience.  All things are difficult before they become easy.” – Saadi

Some days when life is particularly challenging I search Monster.com for openings with the circus, but since scooping elephant poop is less attractive than pretty much anything, I rarely finish the cover letter.  There is one circus art directly in my wheelhouse—plate spinning.  However, it is the constant challenge of keeping plates spinning that makes me consider the circus in the first place.

Life has been particularly full recently, which is one way to describe a plate count.  This isn’t the first time, nor do I anticipate it being (or even want it to be) the last, but it does feel different, and that difference eventually came clear: Not only are there many plates spinning, but various life developments have created plate spinning performances in multiple rooms for multiple audiences.  It isn’t the plate spinning act that is challenging: It is the running back and forth between acts that is difficult.

You may not believe me when I say that this is neither complaint nor cry for help.  But this is neither a complaint nor a cry for help.  It really is okay, more than okay, and I find the challenge exhilarating despite some periodic exhaustion.  I’m just adjusting to a new understanding that I am a plate spinning artist who is working on a new act and that people will pay good money for a ticket and some cotton candy to enjoy the show.  I’m just honored to be on stage.

New circumstances often come with a bonus gift of questioning whether it is worth the effort.  As a general rule, it is at least worth the effort to practice patience to see where the new circumstances lead.

I am certain there is no need to join the circus.  My life is already a bizarre, traveling show!

Bar Eve. Or, Don’t Shrink from a Challenge.

[Note: This is a repeat from last year, but purposely so.]

We always opened presents on Christmas Eve. I like Christmas Eve. New Year’s Eve ends with confetti-drenched smooching, and who can argue with that? But Bar Eve—the night before the bar exam—is more of a pain in the hind quarters.

I was abnormally slow to matriculate to law school so the bar exam remains a somewhat fresh wound. I sat for the California version, statistically the hardest in the country, an eighteen-hour torture device spread out over three days that begins tomorrow for many of my good friends.

Truth be told, the exam is the easy part. It is the anticipation, the fear-filled, guilt-infested, never-ending dread that drives a person to inquire about openings with the circus. So Bar Eve is significant, the pinnacle of the real challenge. When the exam begins tomorrow morning, life will actually begin to improve. And when the exam ends on Thursday afternoon, delirious excitement abounds, although the emphasis is on delirious.

To riff the old Tony Campolo sermon, it’s Bar Eve, but Thursday’s a-comin’.

Accounting for the delirium, I prize two important memories from that Thursday afternoon when I emerged from the Pasadena Convention Center (sidebar: we pronounce it PASS-adena for the good vibes; thankfully, we didn’t sit for the exam in FAIL-adelphia).

Memory #1: I sincerely thought there should have been a parade for us. I mean it. It was a strong feeling that, regardless of how we did on the exam, the simple fact that we endured that hell of a summer and survived the three-day exam called for a parade. We were heroes.

Memory #2: Driving home, stuck in traffic on the 101 and not caring about traffic for the first time ever, I knew what I wanted to say when I arrived home. My youngest daughter was in eighth grade at the time and had declared to my hearty approval while observing the bar summer that she would never go to law school. But on the drive home, I knew what I had to tell her. When I made it, after the hugs and kisses, I mustered all the seriousness in me to communicate what I hoped she would receive as one of those few life lessons that you just cannot miss: Never run away from a challenge simply because it looks daunting.

I could not say such a thing until that Thursday afternoon, but I never felt any life lesson more strongly than I did at that moment. On this Bar Eve, I hope my hero friends will finish strong and experience that same sense of accomplishment.

Your Time Will Come

A friend introduced me to the music of Johnny Clegg several years ago, and I am eternally grateful.  Clegg’s official website describes him as a “dancer, anthropologist, singer, songwriter, academic, activist and French knight” and that he “campaigned against the injustice of apartheid South Africa and been instrumental in putting the new South Africa on the map as a cultural ambassador.”  Pretty cool, right?

Clegg performed at Pepperdine last weekend, and one of my favorite moments in the concert came when Clegg referred to Nelson Mandela’s world-changing endurance to introduce the song “Your Time Will Come.”  Clegg said Mandela taught us that to live with such patience you must believe that everything will be alright in the end, and if it isn’t, then it isn’t the end.

The lyrics to “Your Time Will Come” are mostly in Zulu with an English ending.  Since my Zulu is a little rusty, here are the lyrics fully translated into English:

You were lying, do not tell lies.
You told lies, trying to mislead me,
so that I would give up my faith and hope.
That is what you said — you said that our future is hopeless,
our tomorrow is bleak, you were lying,
trying to mislead us.
No can do! We will never relinquish our faith.

Chorus:
Everything will be all right —
It’s just when this will be, we cannot know.
Everything will come right, I tell you friend.
Do not throw away your hope.
Me holding on one side, you holding on the other side
together we will pull through,
you and me, you and me.

My spirits are down,
I say to you child of my aunt, you have caused me great fear.
You told lies, trying to mislead me,
so that I would give up my faith and hope.
That is what you said — you said that our future is hopeless,
our tomorrow is bleak, you were lying,
trying to mislead us.
No can do! We will never relinquish our faith.

Chorus:

Everything will be all right —
It’s just when this will be, we cannot know.
Everything will come right, I tell you friend.

It will be all right my friend, I’m telling you.
Come true courage, for it is you who gives
life and takes it away,
me on this side, you on the other,
we will hold it together.
Don’t listen to the lies of my compatriot.
We will be victorious in the end, just you and me,
just you and me.

I saw the Berlin Wall fall
I saw Mandela walk free
I saw a dream whose time has come
Change my history — so keep on dreaming.

Dream on dreamer, dreamer.

In the best of times and in the worst of times
gotta keep looking at the skyline
not at a hole in the road
Your time will come, sister, your time will come
nobody’s gonna rush history, we have to ease it along
— just ease it along.

Internal Drive

“And even when we’re doing the thing we love, there can be frustrations, disappointments, and times when it simply doesn’t work or come together. But when it does . . .” – Ken Robinson, “The Element”

I will run the Surf City Half Marathon in Huntington Beach on Sunday morning alongside seventeen thousand other nutjobs. I will try to sleep Saturday night but fail. Known fact. Still, I will rise early, drive forever in the darkness to run far too long far too fast and hurt far too long afterward. I paid money to do this, and I am so excited I can hardly stand it. Logic is obviously not driving this bus.

StrengthsFinder 2.0 revealed my top three strengths as: Discipline; Strategic; Achiever. Maybe my fidgety excitement for an endurance race is not so illogical after all. I love setting a goal, making a plan, relentlessly sticking to it, and going for it all out. That is “me” at my strongest.

The description of Achiever in StrengthsFinder 2.0 says, “Your relentless need for achievement might not be logical.” (You think?) “It brings you the energy you need to work long hours without burning out.” (And/or, run many miles?) “It is the theme that keeps you moving.” (Well, let’s hope so on Sunday morning.)

The race may be a disaster, but it may not, and it is the latter that has me doing such a crazy thing. Deep down, it doesn’t really matter how it goes. What matters to me is the “going” (for it).

What do you love? What is your element? What are your particular strengths? The answers are worth discovering, for they will lead you to places that maybe only you find special. But you’ll know the special.

A Framework for Meaning

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I have a new side gig as team chaplain for the Pepperdine Cross Country team. Go Waves! My friend, “Coach Rad,” graciously offered the opportunity to join the team at an early morning practice each week to share a five-minute devotional message. I like both running and talking, so I feel confident that my messages will live up to the compensation package (as a volunteer).

This week, I shared my suspicion that the team was an ordinary cross-section of humanity so that some of the athletes appreciated a devotional message at dawn while others were ambivalent but would kindly listen and still others wished that I would go to the wrong practice location.

Regardless, faith, religion, etc. is an historic attempt to develop a framework for meaning in life. From births to deaths and all the in-between major moments in our lives, we have an inherent need to make some sense of it all, so even if my morning devotionals fall flat as a running track, deep consideration of meaning in life is worth the trouble.

I then shared the foundational-yet-downright-disturbing Bible story of Cain and Abel. Geographers cite the domestication of plants and animals as the launch of civilization, and Cain and Abel represent this great beginning. In the story, one of the brothers (Abel) pleased God while the other brother (Cain) did not, so guess which one bled out in a field at the hands of his brother? Yeah, I guessed wrong the first time, too. The Bible’s editorial department could have used some marketing experts at least in the first few pages.

But here we are, trying to make sense of it all, realizing from an early age that sometimes the bad actors win while the good folks get the shaft. Welcome to life as we know it. Instead of filing a formal complaint with the Fairness in Life Committee that never seems to respond in a timely manner, the necessary question shifts from How do I always win? (which I voted for but apparently is not on the menu) to What is worth living for? (which is on the menu). Or, maybe better stated in the negative: What is worth dying for?

I have my answers.

You may remember from middle school the wonderful book by Lois Lowry, The Giver, a compelling science-fictiony story that challenges our assumption that a pain-free world is best after all. Nobody without a masochistic personality disorder prefers pain, but a well-formed framework for meaning in life allows one to endure it when it comes—and those meaning-full things are even worth the pain.

These cross country runners have a pretty good handle on enduring pain for a greater goal, so I think they have a pretty good shot at getting a handle on this old life, too.