Tag Archives: running

(Wishing I Could) Run Like a Kenyan

Kenyan RunKenyans are clearly the best distance runners on the planet. And I am clearly not. But I do love running, and I do love Kenyans, and if flights cooperate as planned I will be in Nairobi trying to figure out a way to go for a run when this update posts on Monday.

When I first visited Kenya two years ago, my friends, Dusty and Cecily, got up early with me one morning to go for a run with Paul, a wonderful young man and ultra-talented runner (pictured above). He took it easy on me, which provided the unforgettable experience of matching a Kenyan runner stride for stride, but when we approached the home stretch on a short run in the tiny village of Kamulu he challenged me to turn up the speed. Unfortunately, my speed was already turned up, so I told him to go for it. He did and left me smiling in the dust.

My wife and I decided on that trip that we would return and targeted two summers down the road. We are fortunate that our plan came to fruition in a church-related trip with six other good friends. So the blog will be on hiatus for a couple of weeks as we spend time in Nairobi and on safari—and if God keeps smiling on me, as I go for another run in this special place.  Stay tuned.

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The True People

Nez Perce 1Lewiston (Idaho). Clarkston (Washington). Get it? Lewiston and Clarkston, two towns named for the legendary American explorers and located on opposite sides of the murky Snake River.

I rode in the backseat of the airplane/station wagon to Lewiston last week and landed in the tiniest airport ever. When you deplane and enter the terminal you can give high-fives to the folks going through security. You think I’m kidding. The rental car company picked me up at the airport’s front door and took me to the agency where I met Emily, a young, friendly, professional, and happy manager who told me what she had learned about the area in the five days since she arrived. My economy rental became a Suburban, and I wondered if this was actually Mayberry.

I drove the Suburban (the approximate size of the airplane) to my Airbnb rental where the warm welcome continued. Jack and Regina have a lovely home on the Clarkston side of the Snake with a sweeping view of the river valley and surrounding mountains. Regina left a scrumptious loaf of pumpkin bread in a room that was also stocked with fruit, yogurt, chocolate, and cheese along with juice, water, beer, and wine. On my last evening Jack invited me upstairs for a relaxing conversation on their spacious deck where I was welcomed as if I was family. I sent my wife a text to say that it was a good thing that I loved her so much because otherwise I might never come home.

Twice, I enjoyed a lazy run along the river. It is about a five-mile loop across two bridges and two state borders to run both the Clarkston river trail and the Lewiston levee. The dogwoods in full bloom. The pungent smell of the meandering river with driftwood hitching slow rides. The wildlife — squirrels, birds, ducks, and even a lone gopher. The troubled skies. An occasional walker and even more rare fellow jogger.

I dined in restaurants with names like Rooster’s, Jawbone Flats Cafe, Waffles ‘n More, and Tomato Brothers. But the history of the area — and what drew me there — was the sad story of the Nez Perce tribe.

The Nez Perce lived there first. They call themselves Nimipu — “the true people” — but French explorers saw a couple Nimipu with pierced noses and assigned that name — “the pierced noses” — to the entire people. The Americans signed a treaty of coexistence with them in 1855 but a later controversial treaty in 1863 reduced the tribal lands by 90% and led to a conflict resulting in the famed Flight of 1877, a military pursuit of the tribe including young and old that ended with Chief Joseph’s legendary statement, “I will fight no more forever.” Those who survived were exiled to faraway Kansas.

I drove out of town to the Nez Perce National Historic Park Visitor Center in sovereign lands to get a sense of the sad story. I walked the trail to the Spalding Presbyterian Church (pictured above) and contemplated the complicated relationship between natives of First Nations and Christian missionaries. And I learned that the Americans had long ago forced the Nimipu into boarding schools where the teachers attempted to erase their very language — an effort that nearly succeeded. Today, great efforts are underway to revive and recover the language before the few who still speak it pass away. It is all a sad story without a happy ending. As one Nimipu said in the visitor center film, “We still are in exile.”

I enjoyed my visit to the area named for Lewis and Clark very much and encountered nothing but lovely people and natural beauty. But like me, and like those early explorers, it sure was white. I can’t help but wonder what it might be like today if my American ancestors had let the Nimipu be. I’m sure the Nimipu wonder as well.

Beauty from Chaos

IMG_0422It was a crazy idea, but I am generally a fan of crazy ideas.

Avery is a retired art professor and an incredible artist, and I approached him just before Christmas with the vision of creating an original painting for Easter Sunday that was inspired by his thoughts of Mary Magdalene from John 20. I could not believe that he said yes. His paintings sell for thousands and thousands of dollars, and I asked him to produce an original work of art for free. And he said yes. How crazy is that!

So the approach to Easter was extra exciting this year. Periodically I would get an update from the artist himself, which only heightened my anticipation. Avery let me know that it was the running of Mary, Peter, and John that struck him in his meditations on the text, so that provided the direction of the painting. He showed me pictures of his work in stages—and as an abstract, contemporary artist also shared his concerns about painting people and working with a looming deadline!

But then it was finished.  Fleet Feet at the Dawn of Redemption.  Even the title of the painting is awesome.

I interviewed Avery at the beginning of yesterday’s sermon just prior to the unveiling and asked if there was a spiritual connection to his work. He quickly said yes and then described his process of creating chaos and then watching a phoenix rise from the ashes, of witnessing something beautiful emerge out of chaos. He then asked if I understood, and I answered that I so badly wish that I did.

But I guess that I sort of do. In a sense that describes life itself—the attempt to create something beautiful out of the chaos. In that sense we are all artists, using our gifts to create something out of the mess day after day after day.

The artwork that is my life is surely a work in progress and a little bit messy, but that is what Avery finds interesting about art in the first place. He once said, “That’s where the joy is and the struggle is and where the meaning comes.”

Excuse me while I get back to work. I have unfinished art that needs attention.

Running Cold

Running BreckenridgeOn an amazing trip to India a couple of years ago I experienced an unfortunate illness in the magical city of Shimla in the southwestern ranges of the Himalayas. It was awful. Altitude sickness was a potential culprit given the location, timing, and some of the symptoms, but that never was confirmed. Just to be safe I concluded that I should avoid higher elevations for the rest of my life. Such drastic solutions come to mind more often as one ages.

But then our staff planned a retreat to Breckenridge, Colorado. At ten thousand feet elevation. Awesome.

I could have said that the trip was a bad idea, which would have been a lie. I could have simply wimped out, which fits me. I could have created some excuse, but I ran out of time before coming up with a good one. So just over a week ago I found myself in Breckenridge, Colorado, in dazzling scenery and single-digit temperatures with a wind chill double-digits below zero.

Our fearless leader counseled that we start hydrating several days prior to the trip, and as anyone monitoring my trips to the bathroom would confirm, I complied. In addition, my doctor prescribed some meds, which I took as directed, so all in all I did my part and waited to see what happened.

I was great. Zero problems whatsoever. The view was breathtaking, but not even literally. I never felt light-headed or short of breath, nor did I experience any of the harsh and unspeakable things I did in that unfortunate hotel bathroom in India.

I took my running shoes to Colorado just in case. I am a runner that has grown less interested in races and far more attracted to fun runs in fascinating places. I have now been on crazy cool runs on five continents and in bunches of states and am always on the lookout for more, and I had never been in a place like that gorgeous cabin in Breckenridge. So on our last morning I woke up with the rising sun, layered up, stretched, and stepped out into the bitter cold.

My intention was to run a mile up the road from the cabin and then come back down for a second easy mile and declare victory, but it turns out that running uphill at elevation in ridiculously cold weather is not as easy as it sounds. So I labored to make it a half mile uphill without passing out before returning for some quarter mile repeats until I made it to two miles.

I had unnecessarily worried about my footing; my major worry (beyond passing out) turned out to be that I could not feel my hands. Thankfully I was running instead of juggling. But any worries had to take a break because the experience was just so awesome that it defies description. Crunching snow in running shoes on a rave run high in the Rockies is one of the coolest experiences ever. No pun intended, but duly noted.

It is funny how we avoid our deepest fears. Sometimes, at least, facing those fears leads to a place so beautiful that you could not have imagined it even if you tried.

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.

Off & Running

Running Forest FallsIt is a big day. My office sits in the heart of Pepperdine University’s main campus in Malibu, and today is the first day of classes for undergraduate students. Next door to my office is Pepperdine’s high-tech, newly-renovated Payson Library complete with a full-functioning Starbucks, and you can feel the highly-caffeinated energy in the air.

My youngest daughter attends a different university that runs on a different calendar, but because she is studying abroad in Spain this semester and her plane is scheduled to touch down right about now it feels like the first day for her, too. It simply feels like a big day at every turn in my world.

Last week had a different feel. I was honored to be invited to attend a retreat high in the San Bernardino Mountains with fifty or sixty rising Pepperdine sophomores as they prepared for a brand new year. It was such a tranquil setting. The view by day featured a beautiful lake and stunning views of the surrounding mountains, and the night featured actual bear sightings and a sky so full of stars that I had to remind myself that it was real.

But I decided to go for a run one afternoon because that is the sort of thing I do, and though stunning, I wouldn’t snag the word “tranquil” to describe it. For one, we were a mile above sea level, and let’s just say that my lungs noticed. For two, although the temperature was nowhere near extreme, maybe it seemed so hot because we were that much closer to the sun. And for three, there was nothing flat in sight. It surely wasn’t my easiest rave run.

We went on this retreat to get away and find focus for the year to come. Peace and tranquility are good for such things, but on reflection I think that difficult run was pretty good preparation, too. In fact, my major take-away on the retreat was that I need to remember how to choose to do without. And that run surely reminded me what it felt like to do without, oh, let’s say, air.

So here we go. The year ahead looks full and awesome and slightly terrifying, but good. I’m ready for it. Let’s run this race.

Hurry Up & Wait

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We knew prior to departure from LAX that we had a near impossible connection to make at DFW that was only made less likely when our flight left twenty minutes late. I was sure we would not and could not make it, and as we prepared for our final descent into Dallas I asked a flight attendant if he had any advice. He was kind and checked on our connecting flight and learned that it was (unfortunately, for once) on time, but he gave us the gate number and instructions on how best to race across the terminals.

I am a runner.  Let me loose.

The voice on the crackly airplane speaker asked everyone to show kindness and let those with tight connecting flights deplane first, and apparently 98% of the passengers on that particular flight had tight connecting flights. So we weren’t super quick getting off the plane.

I decided not to push the two elderly ladies waiting for wheelchairs out of the way, but when they created an opening, I was off. And we made it. Just in time. To what turned out to be the wrong gate.

Last-minute gate change? You have got to be kidding me.

So I was off to the races again. The voice on the loudspeaker declared that the doors to our (actual) gate would be closing momentarily and that every passenger should be on the aircraft. I ran even faster. Chariots of Fire music wafted through the airport. And we made it. For real this time. Barely. The last two to board.

We collapsed in our seats, breathing hard, and sweating, but happy to have made it in the nick of time. And then the captain announced over the intercom that there was a tiny lightbulb that needed changing and that maintenance was on its way, which took a good twenty minutes.

My sweet wife declared, “Hurry up and wait.”  Exactly.

That seems to be an accurate life mantra: Hurry up and wait. I long for some actual rhythm, but our mad dash through the airport only to wait on a maintenance crew is a pretty good descriptor of my days, weeks, months, and years. Hurry up and wait.

Distance runners do such a thing on purpose and call it interval training. It supposedly makes you better on those long runs. If that’s the case, I’m really going to be good at life someday.

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?