Category Archives: Physical Exercise

Mountain Light and Dark

Sunday is Transfiguration Sunday, the conclusion to the church season of Epiphany. (I wrote about the light of Epiphany here). The story of Jesus’ transfiguration fascinates me on several levels. Partly it is the description of Jesus (“the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white” Luke 9:29). Partly it is the sudden arrival of Moses and Elijah, long-dead prophets whose ministries foreshadowed Jesus’ own mission. Partly it is God’s command, “Listen!”  A big part is the location, a mountain.

The Wonder of God's Creation

Mountains have always been spiritual place. Humans have climbed peaks to seek the heaven throughout our history. Moses climbed Mt. Sinai to receive the ten commandments directly from God (Exodus 20). Elijah ran away to Mount Horeb, the mount of God, where he encountered God in the sound of sheer silence (I Kings 19:11-13). Solomon’s temple was built on Mount Zion and the psalmist sang about its beauty,

His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation, is the joy of all the earth, Mount Zion (Psalm 48:1-2).

So when Jesus took his closest disciples, Peter, James and John, up the mountain to pray, they should not have been surprised that God met them there in a special way.

I enjoy climbing mountains (I wrote about one here).  On occasion I have used an ice axe and rope, but mostly I climb mountains that anyone in decent physical shape can scramble up.  A climb becomes both a physical and spiritual challenge.  I gain a sense of perspective sitting on top of a peak: how very large the world is and how very small I am. As I gaze across the surrounding peaks, I realize that God is in charge. The glory of his creation surrounds me and uplifts me.

But mountains have a darker side as well. The first significant mountain story in the Bible is when God ordered Abraham to take his son Isaac up on a mountain in order to sacrifice him (Genesis 22). The Israelite often created shrines to the Canaanite fertility gods on the mountain tops.

O mortal, set your face toward the mountains of Israel, and prophesy against them, and say, You mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord God! . . . , I myself will bring a sword upon you, and I will destroy your high places. Your altars shall become desolate, and your incense stands shall be broken; and I will throw down your slain in front of your idols (Ezekiel 6:2-4).

The darkest mountain of all is Mount Calvary or Golgotha where Jesus was crucified. Not much more than a hilltop outside of Jerusalem, yet the darkness of human sin caused the sky to turn black as Jesus cried, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Mountains can be places of terrifying death as well as peaks of glorious enlightenment.

My boyhood home had a view of Mt. Rainier

My boyhood home had a view of Mt. Rainier

Yet whether hidden in darkness or bathed in sunlight, God’s glorious love is the bedrock of each peak. Mountains call us to trust in God in all circumstances.  Jesus came to bring all creation back into full spectrum of God’s love, including you and me.

Shine, Jesus, shine in me today.

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Streaks

This past Thanksgiving I started my first running streak. It came from a challenge at Runner’s World. The goal of the streak was to run at least a mile every day between Thanksgiving and New Years. I normally run 3-5 days a week, giving my body plenty of time to rest and recover from any muscle damage during runs. Since my marathon in October, my running has been rather sporadic, lacking a goal or passion. So I decided to embrace a new challenge.

The key for me was to keep my normal rest days easy, just a slow-pace mile or two. I wear a heart rate monitor so it was easy to check my pulse and see if I was pushing too hard. I have discovered that doing an easy mile was both relaxing and a great way to start the day.

Yaktrax RunnersI added to the challenge by making every run an outdoor run. Treadmills and indoor tracks have their place, but I wanted fresh air. This became more challenging when our first Minnesota snow fell in mid-December. Fortunately I had a pair of Yaktrax that gave me good footing. Still, for an outdoor run I often took twenty minutes to dress for a ten minute jog.

I did get a short break when I traveled to Austin, Texas, for a memorial service after Christmas. A ten-mile run in warm sunshine and shorts lifted my spirit and confidence.

SA runners 122212 small

Some of my running buddies on Saturday morning.

I am not sure how long the streak will continue into the New Year. My legs are feeling strong and injury free. I have developed a habit that I enjoy and that promotes health. I suspect sometime in the next month a cold or tight schedule will end the streak. I don’t plan to be obsessive about it. I am confident that my running friends will be both encouragers as well as wise advisors.

It has got me wondering about my own spiritual practices. I pray daily, but my devotions have become sporadic and unfocused. The memorial service I attended was at an Episcopal church and it had more liturgy than I normally used. I found the prayers helpful and healing. So I have decided to use a written liturgy to guide my prayers during the month of January. You can see a copy of it here.

Thus, I am committing myself to new streak, a prayer streak.  My first goal is to use the daily liturgical prayer format each morning for the month of January.   Care to join me?

Lord Jesus, thank you for your tender mercies in 2012. Guide me deeper into your love in 2013

Running Lessons

One key aspect of running is its simplicity. All I need are a pair of running shoes and workout clothes to go for a run. I don’t need any other equipment, gym or teammates to have a quality run. I simply need to get myself dressed and out the door.

Of course that simplicity can turn running into a stale routine, even a rut. I can run the same route at the same pace at the same time everyday. (One reason I avoid treadmills is that I find them to be so boring.)

To break up the routine, I enjoy running with a group on Saturday morning. For years the St. Andrew’s Running Club has blessed me with great running companions. Most of the runners are not members of the congregation and even though I have moved on to a new and wonderful congregation at Resurrection Lutheran, the Running Club welcomes me back on occasion to run with them. What I appreciate during these run are the lessons I frequently learn. This morning’s run was especially rich.

Lesson #1 dress properly: The weather has turned colder in Minnesota this week and overall I had the proper gloves, hat and running tights for the chilly morning. However as we started out, I noticed that my neck and chin were almost numb. I also notice nearly everyone else wearing either a turtleneck or neck gaiter to stay warm. Over the years my running mates have taught me several lessons about shoes, socks, tights, shorts, shirts, jackets and hats.

Lesson #2 change of pace: One of the reasons I like to run with others is that it is a change of pace. Sometimes slower, but often faster as it was this morning. Our six-mile run challenged my aerobic system, even as we chatted about films, marathons, books, children and life.

Lesson #3 companions: In recent months I have discovered that I have occasional episodes of tachycardia where my heart rate suddenly jumps 40+ beats during exercise.  I have discussed it with my doctor and together we developed a plan so I could continue running. Today I had two episodes; I immediately did my standard treatment of lying down and the heart rate dropped to normal exercise parameters in less than a minute. Each time my friends stopped to see if I was all right and even when I told them to go on (they know about my tachycardia), someone waited. I was never left alone.

Lesson #4 expert advice: This morning Shannon Maixner joined the group. She is the physical therapist who greatly aided my injury recovery over a year ago. After the run, I was showing her some of the exercises I continue to do to stabilize my hip and she graciously shared with me some expert advise on how to do the exercises more effective. Her encouragement and wisdom was one of the highlights of the morning.

Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding (Proverbs 3:13).

Lord Jesus, teach me your ways.

Strong Peace

A favorite scripture verse of mine is Philippians 4:7 “The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Like many in this crazy, stressed-out, constantly-running-to-catch-up world, I long for peace. Peace that will last not just for a moment, but for days, months, years. Peace that will calm my stormy seas.

Paul describes God’s peace in some unique ways. First, he states that God’s peace will surpass human knowledge or understanding. This means that God’s peaces comes even when I have not figured everything out or have everything under my control. The future may seem very fuzzy and relationships may be very rocky, still God’s peace can rule. After all it is God’s peace, not mine.

Second he testifies that God’s peace is strong, because it guards us. Paul recognizes that there will be many struggles and conflicts in our daily life. The evil one will harass us. Yet God’s peace is a rock or fortress that guards our hearts and minds from the assaults

Third, God’s peace guards both our hearts and our minds. The heart is the seat of our emotions and the mind is the home of our thoughts. God’s peace is to rule in our emotional and intellectual lives, our feelings and our thoughts.

Finally God’s peace directs us to Jesus Christ. Jesus was a model of peace to his disciples, sleeping in the boat when the stormy sea threatened (Mark 4:35-41). God’s peace is not found in the absence of problems, but with the presence of Jesus.

Right now, as you read this, take a moment to close your eyes and visualize God’s loving, peaceful arms surrounding you. Perhaps you can visualize yourself floating in the peaceful river above. Take a deep breath and say, “God’s Peace surrounds me.” Take another deep breath and say it again, “God’s peace surrounds me.” Practice that breath prayer and discover God’s abiding peace is always near.

Lord Jesus, breathe into me your peace.

Marathon Challenge Completed (for now)

Sunday I finished my eleventh marathon, my first in over two years. As forecasted, the weather was cold at the start. Many runners were shivering in the starting chutes. Fortunately for me my son Jonathan came to support me and took my warm-ups a few minutes prior to the start. I even took one shirt back after tossing it to him. Cold muscles do not function well. Later at mile five I handed him my gloves, ear band and warm-up shirt, finally warm enough to run comfortably in shorts and t-shirt.

The marathon has sometimes been described as a twenty-mile warm-up and a six-mile race. By mile twenty the leg muscles are often depleted of glycogen and overall fatigue sets in. The description is especially appropriate for the Twin Cities Marathon, since after mile twenty the race course climbs out of the Mississippi River Valley towards the hills by Macalester College and St. Paul Cathedral.

Through mile twenty my race had gone well with no big surprises. I did discover that I did not need to drink as much Powerade as I had during hot summer runs. Fortunately there were plenty of porta-potties along the way. I also discovered that I had not practiced enough specific pace workouts, in which I practice running the specific pace I planned for the marathon. I wanted to run 8:46 mile pace, but as I checked my watch at each mile I learned that I did some miles in 8:20 and some at 9:15 (stops at porta-potties did not help). As I have written before, each marathon has something new to teach me.

At mile twenty, the real challenge began. My legs, especially my hamstrings and quadriceps became heavy and sore. My run became more like a fast shuffle.  As I approached the hill at Summit Avenue my pace slowed. My lofty goal of 3:50 had already slipped away and my secondary goal of 3:55 (my Boston Qualifier) was in doubt.

Jonathan supported me in 2003 TCM

But that is when helped arrived. My son Jonathan met me at mile 21 to run the last 5.2 miles with me. He has done this in my past two marathons when I had really struggled at the end and had to walk a lot. This time his strong words of encouragement and support kept me moving forward at a 9:20 pace. He reminded me that “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:25) and “The joy of the Lord is our strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). Though I felt this overwhelming urge to walk I knew that my goal of 3:55 was in doubt and any walking breaks would kill it. We powered on.

At mile 22 I heard above the many cheering spectators the loud strong voice of Tim Torgerson as he bicycled the course, shouting encouragement to me and others. “Relax your jaw, keep your arms pumping, stay strong.” He would not let me stop, but pushed me to do my best.

I am reminded of Hebrews 12:1-2 where the writer reminds us of “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” In the preceding chapter the writers highlighted the heroes of faith in the Old Testament that now cheer for us in our race to Jesus. I felt like Jonathan and Tim were my own unique witnesses who gave me the specific words I needed to accomplish my task.

As I pushed the final mile to the finish line, I knew it would be close to 3:55. As I stopped my watch, it read 3:53:53. I had finished with 1:07 to spare.* I had my BQ!  A decade-old dream of running the oldest, perhaps most prestigious marathon is now possible.

My next challenge will be to prepare well and to stay injury free for the Boston Marathon in April, 2014. I just hope I have a similar cloud of witnesses that day.

Lord Jesus, thank you for being with me in the challenges of life.

*My official chip-time was 3:53:54.  I must have been a little fast with my watch.

The Marathon Challenge

My first marathon was Twin Cities in 1999. Like this year, the forecast was for a cold start, around 35-40 degrees. Having run mostly in warm weather, I panicked and rushed out to buy my first pair of running tights a couple of days before the race. I used them and never felt very comfortable the whole race. I also made other rookie mistakes, like surging ahead at mile 15 when I was feeling great, only to hit the wall at mile 22. I finished in just over four hours, thinking “that was TOUGH.”

 
What if the Marathon was in January?

Many runners finish their first marathon and think, “Okay, I’ve done that. Don’t need to go through the pain, struggle and adversity again. Once is enough.” For me, the race had the opposite effect. I saw it as a great puzzle or challenge that I still have not figured out. Not that I think I will ever “solve” the marathon puzzle, but the combination of physical, mental and spiritual challenges continues to intrigue me. The challenge pushed me to run year round, even in Minnesota winters.  Plus I still have that elusive goal of qualifying to run the Boston Marathon.

This Sunday, I may be a bit cold when I approach the start line in Minneapolis, wearing shorts and t-shirt, hat and gloves. I will also have an old long-sleeve t-shirt that I will toss aside after warming up during the first couple of miles. After finishing ten marathons, I will know not to surge at mile 15, but wait for the real challenge at mile 21 and beyond. My marathon mantra, “The joy of the Lord is my strength” (Neh. 8:10) will be on my lips and the encouraging words of my friends and family will be in my ears. The chill of marathon morning will quickly pass as my body, mind and spirit rise to the challenge.  The finish is only 26.2 miles away.

Lord Jesus, let me meet the challenges of this day with your strength and joy.

Middle Laps

Jim Ryun Running at Kansas

Jim Ryun Running at Kansas

In college, I ran track. I was not very fast, but I grew up watching Jim Ryun run a sub-4 minute mile while in high school. I dreamed of being such a miler, clicking off each of the four laps on the track in 60 seconds. In reality, I rarely could run one lap under 70 seconds, let alone four in a row. Still I competed each year, yearning to improve.

One thing track taught me was the value of persistence, especially in the middle laps. The first and last laps of a mile race have their own magic which can pull the runner along. The first lap has the quick start and the pack jockeying for position. The gun lap has the pull of the finish line and the knowledge that the race will soon be completed.

It is the second and especially the third lap that always challenged me mentally and physically. The pain of running at race pace had become reality, but the finish seemed too far away to contemplate. If I focused on the pain, I rarely did well. If I focused on staying calm, relaxed, and fluid, I could maintain my semi-fast pace. By my senior year I knew the challenge I faced each time I approached the start line.

I think of this as I prepare to run Twin Cities Marathon on October 7. My training is now in the middle laps; my last long run of 16 miles is still ten days away and I have a few more track sessions to complete. Nearly every day I am up early to run so as to beat the late summer heat. My mind and spirit has begun to tire from the long training cycle and many miles. Still I have been here before and I recognize that I must be patient and persevere. After my last long training run, I will begin a three-week taper of reduced miles so that my body can adequately rest and recover for the race.

The Christian life also requires persistence and perseverance. The joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10), yet not every day will be happy. Life can be difficult and challenging; it can feel like we are in the middle laps of a very long race. Our prayers may seem to circle around our heads, never reaching God’s heavenly ear. Saint Paul reminds us that we are to keep on praying, keep on believing and trusting, even when the days seem long.

Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer (Romans 12:12)

My fall marathon will soon come and then be over. Yet our life in Christ will carry on for many more laps. Christ is not simply at the start or the finish, but running beside us each lap of the race, helping us to stay patient and calm. Thanks be to God.

Lord Jesus, open the eyes of my heart to see you each day.