Category Archives: Physical Exercise

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.

Doing Something New

One of my favorite quotes is from Ken Blanchard, a business consultant. “Unless you feel awkward doing something new, you are NOT doing something new.”

Awkward Second Change

I remembered it as I joined six friends in August on a long bike ride near La Crosse WI and learned that I was one of the least experienced cyclists in the group. In the first seven miles I had a flat and I felt awkward as I tried to change the tire as quickly as possible.  In my haste I only pinched or damaged two new tubes and so felt a triple embarrassment as I changed each new flat.  I seriously thought about dropping out and riding/walking back to the motel.

Yet the marvelous thing about my cycling buddies is that they graciously responded to my awkwardness with understanding and care. No one abandoned me. No one spurned me. The helped me in part because they each had been in the same awkward position on other rides. They had experienced flat tires and awkward changes.

This fall I want to encourage you to try something new. It might be a new volunteer opportunity or new social group.  It might be a small group Bible Study or worship experience.  You may feel a bit awkward starting out, but unless you try something new you will never fully appreciate the wonder of discovery.

At the same time, if you are in an established group and someone new arrives, practice  hospitality and be attentive to their needs.   Jesus taught this simple rule, “In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you” (Matt. 7:12). This is our encouragement to see the newcomer as someone to welcome and to guide as we remember our own first arrival in the group.  The newcomer may feel awkward the first time they run with a group or open a Bible or serve on a task force or change a flat.   Yet we can help them move out of the awkward, beginning stage.

I am so glad I was able to swallow my pride and continued the ride.  We saw some spectacular scenery and shared some major climbs.   As we finished our sixty-plus miles, we all marveled at what a wonderful day it was.  And no one mentioned flat tires.

Lord Jesus, challenge me again to discover something new in life.

Marathon Dreams and Christian Hope

This summer I am training for the Twin Cities Marathon. After taking a couple of years off from such focused training due to injuries and my new call to Resurrection Lutheran Church, I will attempt to complete my eleventh marathon on October 7. Finishing is not some vague wish that I am hoping to accomplish. It is an honest assessment of my fitness, training and experience.

Like almost any physical endeavor, patient, persistent training leads to success. From past experience I know that if I am able to run consistently 35-45 miles per week, complete several long runs of 16+ miles and stay injury free, I have a better than 90% chance of finishing the 26.2 mile course. Factors that may contribute to not finishing are an unforeseen injury or illness. I have had some poor race performances (Des Moines Marathon in 2009 and Grandmas in 2007) but even in my poor races I finished.

In recent years my marathon goal has been more ambitious than simply finishing the race. I  aspire to qualify and run the historic Boston Marathon. To qualify for Boston, a runner needs to run a marathon under a certain time based on their age and gender. I qualified once in 2005, but a running injury kept me from running Boston in 2006 and the qualifying time is only valid for about eighteen months. This fall I am hoping to run under 3:55 so that I can qualify for the 2014 Boston.

Now that hope is not outrageous, but it will be a true test of my abilities. It will require proper training and rest. (Overtraining can be as detrimental in marathon preparation as under-training.) It will require focused nutrition and stress management. It will also require some good luck on factors I cannot control (like race day weather).

Still I have the hope and dream of qualifying.

What distinguishes this aspiration from my Christian hope is that my marathon dreams primarily rests in myself and my abilities. My Christian hope rests totally in Jesus Christ and what he has accomplished through his death and resurrection. To quote a famous hymn, my hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I am a fallible human being who may twist an ankle tomorrow, ending my marathon dreams. But my hope in Jesus remains steadfast because of the promise of God’s Word.

We have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. I Timothy 4:10.

Lord Jesus, thank you for being my rock and my hope.

Beat the Heat

Like much of the country, Minnesota is going through an extended heat wave. Our temperature is regularly topping out at over 95 degrees with plenty of humidity. It would be easy to complain, but complaining about the weather rarely helps. Rather I recommend some other coping strategies.

  1. 1.  Remember last winter when it was sub-zero and the cold seemed relentless. This heat is refreshing as I look back.
  2. 2. Read “cold” books. I remember listening to Jon Krakauer’s book, Into Thin Air, which describes the 1996 group climbing disaster on Mount Everest. Krakauer’s descriptions of the cold and ice were extremely realistic. Our family was traveling through Kentucky in the heat of summer, but as we listened to the book we had to take breaks at rest stops so that we could warm-up from the “cold.” Other possible “cold” books are Roland Huntford’s The Last Place on Earth and Caroline Alexander’s The Endurance: Shackleton’s legendary Antarctic expedition.

    Mo Farah Enjoying an Ice Bath
    Photo Credit: Simon Freeman

  3. Exercise in the cool of the morning. Most of my runs now start before 6:30 am.  And after my weekly long run, an ice bath for my legs feels oh so good.
  4. At the Spirituality and Practice website I found inspiration on their posts: Spiritual Practices for Hot Weather. One story in particular struck me.

The Catholic priest Anthony De Mello tells a story that sums up the best way to live with scorchers:

“Traveler: ‘What kind of weather are we going to have today?’

Shepherd: ‘The kind of weather I like.’

“Traveler: ‘How do you know it will be the kind of weather you like?’

“Shepherd: ‘Having found out, sir, I cannot always get what I like, I have learned always to like what I get. So I am quite sure we will have the kind of weather I like.’ “

5.    Pray for those who are truly struggling with the heat: the poor and powerless, those
whose work requires them to be outdoors, and those who have breathing difficulties.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (I Thess. 5:16-18).

Lord Jesus, comfort and aid those who are struggling with the heat.

Crossing Boundary Waters

I am looking forward to a canoe trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) of northern Minnesota this July with men from Resurrection Lutheran Church. Part of our preparation is to read Andrew Rogness’ Crossing Boundary Waters: A Spiritual Journey in Canoe Country. Andrew was a Lutheran pastor who wrote about his four-day solo canoe trip in the BWCA and his personal discoveries.

Early in his trip he encountered a small narrow opening to a lake that had a swift current to it.

Enough water moves through it to form a clear “V” shape with swirling eddies and small whirlpools. If I try to paddle through it, I will be going against the current. This can be hard enough for two paddlers, but manageable. I have never tried it alone. Now with a “nothing ventured, nothing gained” attitude, I decide to try. (p. 26).

Over the next several paragraphs, Andrew described his three attempts to conquer this small rapids at the entrance to the lake. It becomes almost comical in his description of different positions and approaches. After his final approach, he paddled to the smoothly rounded granite bed on the east side of the narrows. As he sat on the rock, his feet dangling in the water, he reflected on his attempt to conquer this small section of the river.

I realize that I had entered the water to manipulate, dominate, and objectify it as though it were there so serve me. This image explodes into a maze of thoughts and insight, leaving my body on the edge of the rapids. . . . What I thought were the reasons for my coming here, I now see as symptoms of a deeper issue. I had intended to search for myself, unsure if my problems were with me or with others and my relationships with them. Maybe the problem is how I relate to myself. I hear words reverberating in some forgotten sanctuary, “Whoever would find their life will lose it. And whoever would lose their life will find it.” Words that were an utter mystery to me. Why do I remember them? Why do they make perfect sense now? (p. 28-29)

Canoe trips, summer hikes, or long car drives can be time for self-reflection and renewal. Leaving the familiar routines of daily life can sometime open cracks that allow the Holy Spirit to break into our lives in a fresh and powerful way. Times of reflections can help us understand our spiritual emotions and cultivate a healthier perspective on them.

I look forward to such encounters and contemplations during my travels. May God give you time for such spiritual reflection.

Lord Jesus, grant me your perspective of my life.

Myths About Emotions Part Two

There is a  myth that emotions are irrational and uncontrollable. Certainly emotions are powerful and can be corrosive, but they are not uncontrollable. Grief, anger,  fear, love,  or gratitude can be cultivated and directed in a variety of ways and for distinct purposes. Today I will explore the myth that emotions are good or bad, positive or negative.

Our culture tends to see emotions in black and white terms. We think of joy, love, hope, peace as good or positive emotions while we categorize anger, guilt, resentment, envy, jealousy, grief and fear as negative or bad emotions. We think that to be angry is wrong and to be in love is right. But such strict categories does not reflect the reality of emotions as expressed in scripture.

In my last post I wrote about anger and an experience I had in a parking lot. I now see my angry reaction in that circumstance as a misuse of my passionate energy. However I don’t see all anger as wrong.

Years earlier I had a different kind of experience of anger in a parking lot. My wife and I had stopped at an A&W drive-in where root beer floats were served in large frosty glass mugs. The delicious drinks were brought to cars by the hard-working wait staff and then the mugs were picked up afterwards. As my wife and I enjoyed our floats, I noticed that a neighboring car was preparing to leave. As they finished their root beer, they placed the mugs on the floor of their car and the driver then quickly set the empty tray on the ground beside the car.

I felt a surge of anger swell within me. I thought, “They are trying to steal the glass mugs!” I yelled for a wait staff person, “Hey, that car is trying to steal your mugs.” I was upset that my neighbor was stealing and I wanted to prevent it. The waitress quickly returned and retrieved the mugs and I received some very dirty looks from the exiting driver.

Now in this situation I believe my anger was justified and my actions purposeful. I could have simply ignored the situation, “not my business,” but my sense of justice motivated me to act. The anger served as an energizing motivator to seek justice in this small situation. I think peaceful passivity would have been wrong in this situation while properly directed anger was more helpful.

There is a time and place for what I call “righteous anger,” when some injustice or unfair system needs to be confronted. Confrontation does not require violence, but rather the purpose of making things right. Dr. Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement in our nation was an expression of such righteous anger towards the injustice of racism.

Jesus demonstrated such anger when he confronted the merchants in the temple (Mark 11:15-17). The temple’s purpose had been subverted by this interchange and Jesus worked to make things right. The temple was to be a house of prayer for all nations, not a marketplace of exchanged good.

Emotions are God-given gifts that need to be cultivated and directed towards God’s purposes.

Lord Jesus, harness the energy of my anger for your purposes.

The Fun in Run For Others

Last Saturday, I joined other runners from Resurrection LC to run in the Cemstone Run for Others 5K/10K race. We had a blast benefiting Habitat for Humanity. Though I ran most of the 10K race by myself, the challenge and the course volunteers kept me motivated. I even got a prize for taking second in my age group!

Running is often thought of as a solitary sport. You don’t need any teammates to have a good run. Like many other runners, I enjoy the solitude of a run as a time of reflection and prayer.

Yet the camaraderie of a race is special. In a race setting, one feels the urge to do one’s best. I think the competition pushes me to test my limits, to learn how to persevere in a difficult task. I don’t have to win or even set a personal best to benefit from being part of a race.  Running in a race gives me the affirmation, “I am a runner.”

The joy and excitement of Saturday was contagious. I stand next to my friend and pastoral colleague, Mike Carlson, who was running his first race in several years. We are flanked by two great race directors, Scott Folgelson and Tim Torgerson. It was a wonderful morning for run and fun fellowship.

Also, I am so thankful for all the volunteers who gave of their time and energy to make the day special and safe. They worked hard so that the runners could focus on the race. I have volunteered at road races and the tasks can be tedious or boring. Yet without the volunteers, the race could not happen. Tim Torgerson has directed the Cemstone Run For Others race for over a decade and his efforts are to lifted up.

St. Paul writes that the church is one body, but made up of many members (I Cor. 12). Each person and part is needed for the Body of Christ to function well. We all have a part to play in our church, community and world. God has gifted each of us to participate. So whether you race, volunteer or cheer, get involved and have some fun.

Lord Jesus, continue to call me into active service in your name.