Tag Archives: running

A Personal Spiritual Retreat

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I’m the sort of person who doesn’t mind going to a movie alone.  That’s weird I know, but then again so am I.  All of the voices inside my head get along pretty well most of the time so the occasional time alone is positive more often than not.

My new preaching gig graciously allows me to attend some sort of conference each year, but since nothing particularly appealing fit into my calendar and since I never really had a chance to reflect prior to jumping from one job into another, I opted for a personal spiritual retreat this year—retreating today and returning on Friday.  I suspect that I will talk to a person or two along the way at a restaurant or convenience store, but the plan is to spend time alone in silence.  Listening to the sound of stillness.  Meandering on a couple of scenic runs.  Praying and meditating.  Reflecting and planning. Dreaming.  Preparing my mind, heart, and soul for a new year (as our church family marks time) that is rapidly approaching.

Utah is my chosen destination, partly because I have never been, partly because it is far enough away and yet not so far either, and partly because of a landmark there that may or may not have something to tell me about the sermon series I intend to deliver in the fall.  We’ll find out soon enough.

We are all different.  For some, such a week ahead may sound like torture, but I am almost giddy with excitement.  Who knows what might emerge when I get away from routines and responsibilities, meetings and appointments, emails and notifications long enough and far enough to take a deep breath and truly listen?

#MyMile

19275276_10154444289351784_2410358217710841199_nStrava is the self-described “social network for athletes.” I accepted Brad’s invitation to join anyway. Strava challenged its users to go for a personal record (“PR” in runner lingo) in June in The Strava Mile. For some reason I accepted that invitation, too.

We jogged a warmup mile to the Pepperdine track last Thursday morning for this midlife crisis, er, I mean, historic event only to discover college basketball, soccer, and cross country athletes there in early morning workouts. They must have been entertained to see two middle-aged men take turns laboring at (our) top speed around the track to see how fast we could run a solitary mile. Will Ferrell and David Spade will play us in the movie.

I think we impressed ourselves if no one else. That was true for me since my regular exercise routine never includes speed work and because Michael Dukakis was running for president the last time I ran a competitive mile. It got me to wondering what an old man could really do if he was committed to a solid workout plan?

So I consulted my good friend, Google, and discovered John Trautmann. John was an elite college athlete and a 1992 Olympian who like most young adults gave up exercising, got a job that paid actual money, and started eating a lot of doughnuts. He added sixty-five pounds of Krispy Kreme by the age of forty and then decided that he preferred being in shape. So he went to work and at age forty-six (my age now) established the world record in the mile for the 45-49 age group by running an astonishing 4:12.33. 

Okay, that’s not going to happen for me. But it did happen, and that fact alone is crazy inspirational.

What needs changing in your life? And what are you waiting for?

Running in Circles

Heritage-High-School-Wake-Forest-Latex-Track-New-Construction-2A recent morning run triggered memories of high school track meets in the 1980s.  I ran the distance races for the mighty Falcons, and we barely had time to get off the bus in those days before the 3200 meters race began.  Nothing like racing eight laps around the track to get your afternoon going.

Our first meets of the season often took place in a tiny town called Corning, Arkansas, whose population sign answered, Yes, please.  (Just kidding, more like three thousand.)  Corning’s track sat in the middle of, well, nothing but empty space that provided no break from the strong March winds that seemed to be ever-present.

So it was always cold on those eight laps around the track.  Coach Watson insisted that we remove our sweats and wear only our track uniform when we raced despite the weather conditions.  Our uniform consisted of tiny maroon shorts that as best I recall were made out of cheap construction paper and a white mesh tank top with a maroon stripe.  We provided our own goosebumps.

I remember Corning in particular and those killer eight laps because a quarter of the time was spent running directly into that terrible wind.  Another quarter involved flying down the track with the wind at our back unable to breathe because all available oxygen had been snatched from our desperate gasps.  The corners in between were the best shot of relief, although there the wind tended to blow you into the lanes you had not intended to run in.

So it was a good memory.

Well, it was good in the sense that it occurred to me that those races are pretty indicative of life in general.  There are times when the wind is so at your back that you can hardly breathe.  There are others when the wind is so in your face that you can hardly move.  And there are still others when the wind blows you off course despite your best efforts.  Life leaves you longing for some gentle rhythm yet wondering if you are accomplishing anything beyond running in circles.

My best advice is to move to Southern California where the weather is far more hospitable for running.  But that doesn’t speak to the reality of life.  For that, all I have learned is that you can expect all of the above and more.  And that bracing for each shift in the winds is preferable to being surprised at each turn.

 

Backyard Treasure Hunting

Zuma CanyonI want to see everything there is to see.  All of these United States.  All the regions of the world.  (Well, except Antarctica.  If I want to see frozen beauty I will go to the ice cream section of the grocery store.)  I can hear all the wonders of the world calling my name.  The world is vast and wild and beautiful and alluring, but it turns out there’s an argument to be made for just staying home.

Ronnie and I chased our friend, Brad, for 5.6 miles through Zuma Canyon Trail in the May Gray of Malibu last Saturday morning — and it was good.  Good friends.  Good run.  Good conversation.  Good stories and laughter.  Beautiful scenery.  Gentle trails.  Birds and flowers.  Pleasant temperatures.  A light mist.    

And yet I wondered how a runner like me who has lived in Malibu for nine years had never heard of Zuma Canyon Trail until Brad suggested we check it out.  What else have I failed to see in my own backyard?

I know that I could never take in all the wonders of this magical planet.  Believe me, I did the math.  And I know that I could never drink from all the intoxicating wonders of California, or even Los Angeles.  But now I am wondering if I could ever exhaust the beautiful secrets of this one little town!

There is value in travel and adventure, but a frantic effort to see and do everything is a fool’s mission.  Foolish because it is doomed to failure, but also foolish because you just may miss out on the cleverly disguised magic in your everyday world.

Enjoy the occasional globetrotting adventure if you get the opportunity, but you don’t have to leave home to discover amazing hidden treasures.  Take a look around and see for yourself. 

Head Out Anyway

Blog Run PicI crawled out of bed at half past five on Tuesday morning and stumbled downstairs to snag my running shoes.  That’s when I heard the light rain.  Fifty percent chance of rain, they said, and it appeared that the morning glass would be half empty.

And it was really dark.  Daylight Savings Time makes for great evenings, but for now it guarantees that my morning run occurs in the dark from start to finish with no hint of the glorious Malibu sunrise.  No sympathy from most of the world, but I felt sorry for myself anyway.

And I didn’t sleep very well the night before, as if I needed more reason to consider whether running was a good idea.  And I forgot to charge my phone, which I took as a bad sign, too.

But I laced up, drove to my typical parking spot, and took off on foot down the Pacific Coast Highway in the morning darkness.

There is no glorious ending to this story, nor should you expect a tale of woe.  Instead, I noticed more than usual the heavy traffic at six in the morning and suspected that few of the travelers were overly excited by their morning commute.  I ran by a homeless individual sleeping on a bus stop bench, covered with a tarp and two strategically-placed umbrellas for protection from the morning rain.  Construction crews were starting their days.  I heard the ocean waves but could only see darkness.

It was just another day as I ran along, listening to my breathing pattern, feeling my heart beat, watching my steps, and participating in the world.  It was a good run, but nothing special.

I took a random picture of the dark trees in the parking lot and shared it on social media along with the stats of my run and added the commentary: “50% chance of rain.  100% chance of running.”  Which wasn’t even true.  But it is my aspiration, and on that particular day, it was my reality.

Some days do not arrive with great promise.  Some days actually campaign to keep you down.  Get up, and hit the ground running on those days in particular.

Avoiding a Repeat of History

charleston-picI set my alarm for 5:30am most every morning, but when I did so on Tuesday in Charleston, South Carolina, it was actually 2:30am for the old California-tuned biological clock.  But I got up anyway and met a new friend in the hotel lobby for an early morning run.  We ran four miles through that beautiful city with its gas lamps, stately mansions, cobblestone streets, peaceful waterfront, and general gorgeous-ness before the sun really even thought about making an appearance.  It was great—the run, the conversation, the city, the sights, and the weather.

When we first located the ocean on our run (fyi, those oceans aren’t always as easy to find as you might think), my new friend pointed toward a gleaming set of lights in the distance and said casually, “Oh, there’s Fort Sumter.”

I nearly had to stop running.  Fort Sumter.  Where the American Civil War began, a fact I taught an unknown number of teenaged history students a few decades and careers ago.  I knew Fort Sumter was in Charleston but hadn’t thought about it in the days leading up to this hastily-planned business trip and surely didn’t expect to see it pointed out in casual conversation.

That location, sitting silent in the darkness, is where the citizens of my country chose up sides and literally started killing each other.

Times are a little crazy right now, and I don’t wish to sound overly dramatic, but a professor friend of mine who is an expert on Lincoln has pointed out more than once recently that our current political climate reminds him of the decade leading up to the American Civil War.  Surely such a thing couldn’t happen again?  Could it?

Not if I have anything to do about it.  And I do.  We all do.

While Fort Sumter sat silently in the distance, I considered the contrasting metaphor of our morning run where two American brothers ran side by side in the same direction sharing deep thoughts and good stories.  That was nice.  We did, however, meet people traveling different directions than us, and as we tend to do in the South (and as this Southern boy does wherever I happen to be), we said hello in warm greetings to those traveling in the exact opposite direction.  That was nice, too.

Now don’t get me wrong: There is a time and a place to stand in opposition to others.  And we should.  But there is also a way to treat your brothers and your sisters when you stand in opposition, and when the collective decision concludes that the best way to do so is to pick up weapons and start shooting each other, then something went horribly wrong a long time ago.

Something may have already gone wrong in this country of ours a long time ago.  If so, I suggest that we find a way to reverse course before some random runner a couple of centuries from now is jarred by the sight of the place where we once again chose a violent answer.

Running the Golden Gate Bridge

running-the-golden-gate-bridgeGoing out for late night drinks on a business trip never sounded appealing but even I questioned my understanding of fun when the alarm broke the dark silence of the hotel room last Friday morning.  Not without healthy debate, I crawled out of bed anyway.

That it was thirtysomething degrees outside did not help.  Someone’s coldest winter may have been a summer in San Francisco, but I wonder if they tried it in January.  That was my brilliant plan.  I dressed in layers but had brilliantly chosen not to bring the running clothes designed for cold weather.  My capacity for wise choices continued to be an open question.

The first sign of good fortune arrived with a prompt Uber driver in a Nissan Altima whose name I could not pronounce who took a lesser-traveled route to deliver me to the Welcome Center on the southern end of the Golden Gate Bridge at daybreak.  Things were definitely starting to look up.

The Golden Gate Bridge opened in 1937 and is considered one of the Wonders of the Modern World.  Not that anyone asked, but I wholeheartedly agree.  It is breathtakingly beautiful in design, and its distinctive international orange was particularly striking as the sun burst over the San Francisco skyline to my right.  This was going to be cool.

It is just under two miles across the bridge, and on this cold, early morning, I was the only jogger.  A few zillion cyclists whizzed by, and there were three walkers (well, standers with cameras), but like a dream I had this legendary run all to myself.  The morning sun and the chilly Bay wind continually slapped the right side of my face as if to say, “Hey, dummy, look at how awesome this is!”  I did.  Look from time to time, that is, amazed at my great privilege.

At one point it occurred to me that killer earthquakes happen in San Francisco from time to time.  And that I couldn’t swim.  This did wonders for my pace.  And just about then the signs for emergency phones and crisis counseling showed up to remind me that this is the second most popular suicide bridge in the world.  I decided to pick up the pace just a bit more.

Eventually, I emerged on the Marin County side of the bridge and looked back on the amazing sight.  It really is spectacular.  My dad left rural Missouri in 1942 to join the Navy in World War 2 and was sent to San Francisco on his way to the Pacific Theater.  He mentioned how much he loved San Francisco, and I paused to imagine what he must have thought about this wondrous structure that opened just five years earlier.  He must have felt what I was feeling, and that thought was worth the getting out of bed all by itself.

I then ran back, glorious experience times two, but at the Welcome Center I just kept running, angling for a long, flat run along Crissy Field and clicking off more miles until arriving at Marina Drive.  I would have stopped there but the sudden appearance of scores of joggers inspired me to keep going.  These were my people, and we ran together along the waterfront and past Fort Mason.  Just past seven miles the classic Ghirardelli sign appeared, and I called it quits.  Good enough.  Who am I kidding, GREAT enough.

An Uber escorted me back to Hilton Union Square where I showered, put on a business suit, and learned more important things about legal education.

But I ran the Golden Gate Bridge.  Unforgettable.

Resolute (Or, 17 for ’17)

happy-new-year-resolutions-quotes

I resolve to do the right thing even if it appears illogical.

I resolve to laugh more often and at inappropriate times.

I resolve to spend more time with people and less with screens and devices.

I resolve to see otherwise invisible people.

I resolve to spend more time with my eyes closed listening to good music.

I resolve not to listen to music when I’m driving.

I resolve to go for long runs in new places.

I resolve to spend more time outdoors in familiar places.

I resolve to try something new.

I resolve to treasure something old.

I resolve to feed my mind, body, and spirit healthy things.

I resolve not to give anyone or anything the power to choose my attitude.

I resolve to replace a noisy, busy life with a simple, smooth rhythm.

I resolve to read books and learn stuff.

I resolve to use my talents to make the world a better place.

I resolve to love my wife and daughters more than ever.

I resolve to live resolutely.

Nameless Friends

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For the past six years, “The Strand” has been my Saturday morning running home. It is a gorgeous location, beginning at Will Rogers State Beach on the corner of Pacific Coast Highway and Temescal Canyon and extending through Santa Monica, Venice, and Marina del Rey, and if you are crazy enough, continues on through Manhattan Beach and Redondo Beach to its terminus in Torrance—a grand total of twenty miles. It is a spectacular route with its beautiful sunrises, open sand, crashing ocean waves, occasional dolphin sightings, and eclectic collection of locals and tourists out walking, jogging, cycling, and roller blading all day every day. I love it.

But the best thing about it to me is the crew that assembles there. After running solo for a year or two, my friend, Jeff, joined in once he relocated from Alabama to California. That made a good thing even better. With time, we enlarged our little running group to include friends, colleagues, and students, and I lost track of who all has joined in on our early morning adventures.

There are others, too—friends without names—that I know next to nothing about but immediately recognize and greet there on Saturday mornings. These nameless friends reflect the beautiful diversity of Southern California, and I feel a strange connection with each and every one despite such limited interaction. My favorite is a gentleman who rides his bike wearing earbuds and wraparound shades and after months of my unnoticed waving one day looked up and became one of my best buddies. He playfully criticizes me when I have been absent and notices when our little running group has grown or disappeared and points these things out in the two seconds we share in passing. Two seconds on intermittent Saturdays, and I doubt I will never know his name or his story, but he is my friend.

I’m really not sure why this seems special to me, but it does. It may be some deep desire to live in harmony with all of humanity for no other reason than we happen to share this planet. A desire to be connected to everyone in this world, named or not.

Whatever. I’ll be back at The Strand to see all of my friends soon and will be happy to see them.

For Leaders and Followers

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“I really knew I wanted to be Adam, because Adam was the first man. Ant I chose because, if there’s a nuclear explosion, the ants will survive.” – Adam Ant

It is my great honor to hang out with Pepperdine’s men’s and women’s cross country teams once a week and share a short spiritual message at one of their early morning practices.  Go Waves!  The team boasts impressive athletes, students, and people, and as college students listening to me at half past six in the a.m., they are also generous in not telling me to take a hike.

This year I am generally sharing some message from the Book of Proverbs, which is straight out cheating since I am teaching Proverbs to a class of graduate students in our condo each Sunday morning.  I think even Proverbs would applaud my resourcefulness.  Proverbs often uses observations from the natural world to encourage wisdom, and this week I used its lessons learned from watching ants.  Not the DreamWorks movie.  Actual ants.

Brief interlude for an ant joke: What do you call an ant from overseas?  (Pause for effect…)

Important.

Ha!  That’s okay, college students don’t think I am funny either.

So Proverbs chapter six uses the ant to teach initiative, i.e., it looks like no one is telling an ant to get to work, but it gets to work anyway.  (Translation to athletes: Do what is right without waiting for your coach to tell you what to do.)  And Proverbs chapter six uses the ant to teach against procrastination, i.e., an ant collects food in the summer so that it has something to eat in the winter.  (Translation to athletes: Don’t wait until race day to train!)

But in the spirit of Proverbs, I kept observing the ant to see what other lessons might be hiding there.  Well, actually I googled “lessons from ants” and let someone else do the heavy lifting for me.  Again, resourcefulness!

Researchers at the University of Bristol observed that when an ant discovered a new food source it went back to the colony to show everyone the way.  As it led the others back, there was a predictable gap between leader and follower, but when the leader was too far in front of the pack, the leader ant would slow down to make sure the follower stayed engaged.  And when the gap closed completely, the follower ant would metaphorically give the leader a kick in the butt to widen the gap again.

I think this is important for everyone.  For those times in your life when you are the leader, don’t get so far in front that you lose touch with those coming along behind.  Your job is to bring others along with you, not set a land speed record.  And for those times in your life when you are the follower, encourage your leader to stay out in front.  Your job is not just to follow—your responsibility also includes spurring the leader on toward the destination.

Either way, leading or following, you have good work to do.