Category Archives: Running

The Shirt Off My Back

Four bikes were outside when I arrived for our Saturday morning run.

“No one told me that they were riding this morning?” I thought as I walked inside.

I noted the four who wore cycling gear as they greeted me, though several others were dressed to run.

“Hey, no one told me about a ride this morning.” I said, a bit miffed at being left out of the loop.  As I said this, I felt this surge of anger bubble up inside me, not sure where it was coming from.  My voice and actions became more dramatic, nearly shouting, half in jest, half in anger, “Why didn’t you include me in the text message.  Don’t I count!”

The others laughed at my outburst (as I had wanted), but I also realized that I had overstated my case and began to apologize.  Tim, one of the cyclists, said, “You need to take some time to center yourself.”  He was right.

Preparing to race, Shannon is in pink vest

Preparing to race, Shannon is in pink vest

Shannon, also a cyclist, apologized that she had sent out the text invite and used an old thread that did not include me and several others.  I calmed down and said it was okay, especially since I knew Shannon would not do it intentionally.  Shannon is a gracious and generous child of God who gives of her time and energy to help others.  She is a physical therapist who opens her workplace early on Sunday mornings so that our group of runners can do strength training as way to avoid injuries. She regularly travels to Haiti on mission trips and feels comfortable praying for our group.  I consider her a friend.

l525182534As the runners and cyclist prepared to leave, Shannon approached me to see if I had a spare shirt.  It was cooler than expected outside and she needed another layer.  I looked in my running bag and pulled out the only long sleeve shirt I had: my finisher’s shirt from my last marathon.  I teased Shannon that she needed to return it freshly laundered.

After a short prayer, the group headed out the door, cyclists and runners.  I had a great run that morning and headed home prior to the cyclists’ return.  It had been a gorgeous Saturday morning and, after my initial outburst, I was grateful for having a great group of runners to challenge and encourage me.

Later that afternoon, Tim called me to tell me some bad news. During the ride, Shannon had taken a fall.  Fortunately she had a good bike helmet that had protected her head.  Still she had to go the ER where she discovered that she had broken her collarbone.

I texted Shannon that I would be praying for her quick and full recovery.  She texted back that she appreciated the prayers, she was doing all right but that she owed me a shirt, since they had to cut off her jersey and my shirt in the ER.

When I read the text, two thoughts in quick succession flashed into my mind.

The first thought was: “That was the finisher’s shirt from my last marathon.   That can’t be replaced!”

The second deeper thought was, “John, which is more important, a shirt or a friendship?”

Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.  Matthew 25:40

Running Away?

As 2015 nears the finish line, I am ever grateful for the blessings the year has held. My extended family gathered to celebrate the life of my mom and the many gifts she bestowed on us before her death.  I completed five wonderful, challenging years of pastoral ministry at Resurrection Lutheran Church.   My practice of mindfulness meditation and prayer deepened as I focused on Paul’s prayer in Ephesians, “as you are being rooted and grounded in love” (Eph 3:17)

A weekly blessing that I too often take for granted is a group of runners who, as the miles roll on, have become friends.  We gather most Saturday morning at St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church at 7:30, in summer and winter.  Some are always early, a couple are always late.   We greet one another, teasing whoever has new shoes or jacket.  Some stretch.  Others debate what to wear or what route to run.  Eventually we are out the door and the run begins.Jan 06 Group at GatewayWe always start the run together and kibitz about the past week. We joke that we are “running away from our problems.”   Occasionally there is big news to share, a daughter’s graduation or the loss of a job.  After a mile or two the group begins to break apart as the faster runners pull ahead.  Over the years our runs seem to be shorter.  The group started as a marathon training group, providing weekly long runs of 12+ miles.  Now we rarely run more than six to eight. Last Saturday it was five.

Participation has ebbed and flowed.  We have had more than a dozen runners show up, but more often it is four to eight.  In years past we had weekly e-mails, but now it seems to be texts and Facebook.

Mike Johnson 12

The blessings come in the friendships. Not only do we hold each other accountable for our physical exercise, but we genuinely care about each other. We celebrated when Mike Johnson completed twelve marathons in twelve months.  In mid-December we gather for our White Elephant Gift Exchange where our  zany personalities are in stiff competition to be creative.


McDonnell’s Medal Monument

Jim McDonnell always wins the prize.

Remembering Libby

Steve at Ragnar crop enhnancedThe camaraderie  came into clear focus this past year when one of our runners, Steve Libby, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in February and died in May.  During his illness, we visited him or huddled up to pray before our morning run.  We organized a prayer service for him and shared Libby stories.  We grieved at his memorial service and we continue to remember the way Libby touched our lives.

As we approach the start of 2016, I wonder what the year will hold.  I will be starting my first interim ministry at Trinity in Lindstrom. I am contemplating hikes on the Superior Hiking Trail and the PCT.  I hope to make a trip south to visit my daughter in Texas.   And most Saturday morning, I plan to lace up my running shoes and join friends for a run.  Upon reflection, I realize that we run not away from our problems, but towards love and peace.

Go in peace.

Blessed to Receive

A few weeks ago I posted about Michael Johnson’s experience at the Boston Marathon.   As he approached the finish line he encountered two runners helping a distress runner.  He and another runner decided to help as well and the four of them carried the distress runner for several hundred meters towards the finish.

Near the finish the four set him down so that he could finish the marathon on his own.

This encounter was captured on a Twitter account and it became national news.  Michael was interviewed by local media as were the other three assistants.    Their actions were hailed as a model of Boston Strong, people helping others in a time of need.   Michael’s story was worthy of attention.

Upon further reflection, I noticed that the distress runner chose to remain anonymous.  He did not want any media attention.  He preferred not to be remembered as a “runner who needed help.”  Such a choice makes sense, since runners are an independent breed that train and race on their own.  I am guessing he would have preferred completing the marathon on his own, without any assistance.

I thought of him when I ran a recent race.   I ran in the Cemstone Run For Others 10K about a month ago.    I started strong, but at the top of the first hill, I noticed that my heart rate had jumped 40 beats according to my heart rate monitor.  (I have a condition called tachycardia in which my heart rate will suddenly jump 30-50 beats during exercise.  I have consulted with my physician regarding this and continue to run under his supervision).

The start of the Run For Others 10K.

The start of the Run For Others 10K.

My normal practice in this situation is to stop, lie down on the side of the road and within 30 seconds my heart rate drops back to its normal running rhythm.

However this day it did not.  My heart rate refused to drop.   I tried to relax and will my heart to slow but it refused.   1 minute passed; 2 minutes passed. All the 10K runners had passed me and soon the 5K runners/walkers would be coming.  My frustration was all over my face.  I decided to push on and see if it would right itself.  I made it to a water stop, but my heart rate continued at an accelerated pace.   I again stopped and laid down on a green lawn.

As I laid there, one of the volunteers came over to see if I needed help (others had asked before, but I waved them off.)  She  told me was nurse and she listened to my hurried explanation.  She reminded me to take some deep breaths, to calm my mind and to be at rest.  Her calm voice settled me down and soon my heart rate dropped back to normal parameters and I finished the race.

That volunteer reminded me that I need to open to receiving care just as much as being open to giving care.  The story of the Good Samaritan is told to a Jewish questioner of Jesus.  In Jesus’ parable it is the Jewish traveler who is beaten and robbed and so must receive assistance from the “hated” Samaritan.   As a Christian I know that I need the mercy and grace of God.   I forget that God’s mercy and grace often comes through someone else.   Even a race volunteer.

When was a time you received grace and mercy through someone else?

Lord Jesus, give me the humility to receive from others when offered.


Running Boston in Boston

Yesterday I wrote about my running buddies Mike Johnson and Dan Foster running in the Boston Marathon.  Both finished, but Mike’s finish had something extraordinary.  One runner had collapse at the 26 mile marker, less than a quarter mile from the finish.  Four other runners helped him across the finish line; one of whom was Mike Johnson.   Mike is the runner in the neon yellow shirt in the tweet below.


Reminded me of the old Hollies hit, “He ain’t heavy he’s my brother.”  Way to go, Mike!

You can see the series of pictures of this finish at this link.



Running Boston in St. Paul

Today is the Boston Marathon, the premier marathon in the United States.  After last year’s horrific bombing, the marathon has become even more significant. Over 30,000 runners have registered for this year’s race. Two of my running buddies, Mike Johnson and Dan Foster, will be running the 26.2 miles and I am excited for them. A mutual friend Tim Torgerson wrote a great reflection on supporting Mike, Dan and the other runners who will be running today.

Dan and Mike stand behind fellow runners Bob and Gary.  All four have run Boston in recent years.

Dan and Mike stand behind fellow runners Bob and Gary. All four have run Boston in recent years.

Mike J and I were talking on the phone and as we signed off I said, “Good luck at Boston, have fun. I wish I was going to be there with you.” Mike’s response was, “You will be there with me.”

For some reason that stuck with me.

I thought about for the next two days. In reality, because of last year’s tragic events and because it is the way running with friend bond, we really are there.

In some way, we are all connected. That is certainly why this Boston is going to be celebrated like none other. It’s the connection that all marathoners have as we strive to do what a majority of people think is impossible or just plain crazy. In addition to being physically challenging , marathoning is a deeply emotional experience. It’s probably for that reason that most runners can’t just do one!

The most important thing I want to say is Good Luck, Have Fun, Dan and Mike. Enjoy what will probably be the most memorable marathon in your career. You are running for all of us.


Tim Torgerson running TCM a few years ago

Tim Torgerson running TCM a few years ago

I am reminded of St. Paul’s instructions, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Roman 12:15). Today I am rejoicing with Dan, Mike and the other 35,000 runners at Boston.

Lord Jesus, grant strength and hope to all runners this day.

Chasing After Baptism

Grace Amelia's Baptism  140330 croppedLast evening my second grandchild, Grace Amelia Keller, was baptized. It was a big celebration with aunts, uncles, grandparents and friends rejoicing in a new child of God. When my first grandchild, Jack, was baptized I reflected on the significance of baptism here.  Last night I was struck with a whole new perspective.

Grace Amelia's Baptism  140330  John Crosby croppedBefore the baptism, Pastor John Crosby gave some instruction to the gathered congregation regarding baptism. He emphasized the role each of them has in modeling and teaching the faith to Grace. At one point he said, “And if Grace is running down the halls of the church, you should be chasing after her.” I am not sure exactly what he meant by that image of running and chasing, but I immediately flashed back to my own son, Jonathan, father of Grace, running up and down the halls of the church when he was a toddler.

Children do a lot of running and exploring. Last night after the baptism, Jack and his friend Lily were both running/toddling/crawling about the church, exploring every nook and cranny. They wanted to see all the musical instruments, the doorways and pews. In an earlier age, I might have discouraged such behavior in “God’s House,” since it seemed disrespectful. Today I encourage it as children seek through exploration to understand their environment. They have not become jaded or apathetic about church space.

Our congregation’s Easter postcard (inviting new residents to Easter worship) is simple this year. It is a young child running with joy in a park. In John 20:4 Peter and John race to the empty tomb after hearing Mary’s report of it being empty. They ran with joy and excitement.Easter 2014

Maybe that is why we need to chase Grace and other children down the halls of the church. Not so much to stop them or to keep them safe and quiet. Rather that we might capture their childlike enthusiasm of exploring the sacred. To find Jesus. After all we are all children of God. Together lets run to see him.

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” (Luke 18:16-17)

In what ways do you think we should receive the kingdom like a little child?

Lord Jesus, create in me a child’s desire to run after you.

Hope Springs Eternal

For many people in the Upper Midwest, it has been a long, cold and difficult winter. Polar Vortex sub-zero cold snaps. Snow drifts higher than our cars. Streets that seem to be perpetually rutted with snow, ice and potholes. And all the outside conditions play havoc on our interior outlook. With few exceptions, we – are – all – sick – of – winter.

So no wonder as the temperature rises, we want out. This week is spring break for many of the local schools and several families in the congregation have “escaped” to points south. But some of us who remain behind will not give way to winter.

Early Spring Ride

Early Spring Ride

Take my friend, Tim Torgerson for example. Yesterday when the temperature climbed towards 40 degrees, he pulled down his bicycle from the garage rack and went for a 23 mile ride. Most of the county roads that he rides have wide shoulders and these are cleared of snow (but not sand and gravel). He even stopped to take a picture of the snow banks along the way.

This morning he and I went for a run together, outside. Yes, there is still plenty of ice and snow on the running trails. Yes, with daylight saving times it was still dark at 6:45 am when we started out. But we were determined to avoid the dreaded treadmill and so we pulled on our spiked shoes, reflective vests and hit the road. Neither of us slipped or fell and we did enjoy a spectacular sunrise.

Life Wins!

Life Wins!

Spring is coming to Minnesota, slow, but relentless. We take great hope in the promise of green grass, budding trees and fragrant flowers. Heck, I would relish some good old-fashion mud right now.

The hope of spring reminds of a deeper, stronger hope. The promise of Christ’s resurrection. No matter how dark our lives may seem at times, Christ promises us new life. “I am the resurrection and the life.” John 11:25.

What do you yearn for?

Lord Jesus, my hope rests in you.

New Year’s Run and Devotional

My running group had a New Year’s Day run, even though the temperature was -5 degrees at the start.

Bundled Warm for a 4 mile run

Bundled Warm for a 4 mile run

Here is the devotional we shared together prior to our run.

Mark 1:1  The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Today is the beginning of a new year.   Recently I was reading in Mark’s gospel and I was struck by this opening sentence.  It is the Beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ.  Now that may not be so profound, because it is the start of the gospel.  But on the other hand, there is no final statement in the book that says, the End of the gospel.   Only the beginning is mentioned.  This reflects our relationship as a reader of the Gospel and as a disciple of Jesus Christ.  We have a beginning in our relationship with Jesus, but we don’t have a finish line.  We are continually growing, running, moving, becoming the person Jesus created us to be.  God is not finished with me yet.  And that is truly Good News.  

Prayer:   Lord Jesus, in our relationship with you, we are closer to the starting line than the finish line.  Throughout 2014 increase our trust in you, so that we can run, and leap and rejoice in your love for us.  May our spirits hunger for you each day and may we find ways to serve you as we serve one another.  Guide us as we run today, in Jesus name. AMEN

Afterwards, we enjoyed some pancakes and conversation. 

Enjoying the warmth inside Resurrection Lutheran Church

Enjoying the warmth inside Resurrection Lutheran Church

How are you starting your New Year?

Four Lessons for Joyful Habits

Today I reached 100.

100 days of consecutive running.

Grandma's 06 smile

During this streak I learned four lessons about healthy habits.

Turn disappointment towards joy

I used as motivation the disappointment I felt last September when I was unable to register for the Boston Marathon. (Read more here. )

My disappointment was the initial start to my running streak, but I knew that such motivation could only take me so far. I knew that I had to have an interior attitude of joy and thanksgiving towards running and NOT simply a “I should do this” attitude. Almost anyone can start a healthy habit or discipline; it is staying the course when the mind/body/spirit begins to resist the habit for a variety of reasons: “I am too busy with work” or “I don’t feel like running today” or “The weather outside is too cold.”

Focus on joy of the habit

527355_10150757438158830_723953829_9331133_942278610_nFor me, running has been a source of joy, especially when I am dealing with stress or disappointment. I enjoy the movement through space (especially if it is outdoors along a scenic trail) or the camaraderie I experience running with friends. I know that not all runs will be filled with joy or endorphins, but many will be.  I need to lace up my shoes and start running to discover if it will happen.

Keep the habit simple and flexible

My running streak did not require me to run huge miles every day. I needed to do at least a mile, but once I got started I usually did more. I averaged 4.1 miles per day.

I also kept it flexible. I originally thought I would do all my running outdoors, but in early December we had some nasty ice and cold so I joined a local gym and did my running on a treadmill. It was not my first choice, but I prefer to be safe and steady.  I still go outdoors when the weather permits.

The joy flows into other areas.

Learning to Pray Anew

Rolling into Prayer

I have discovered that my best time to run is early in the morning. Then afterwards, I allow the joy to flow into my time of prayer and meditation. I have created a small holy space in my home where I have my Bible and devotional reading so that I can easily shift gears and focus my mind on my life of faith in Christ. I am learning to be silent and still, listening for God’s still quiet voice (I Kings 19:12).

I recognize that someday this running streak will end, but for now it has been a healthy habit that bring joy to my body/mind/spirit.

What habit brings you joy?

Lord Jesus, guide me into habits that honor you.

Dealing with Disappointment

2014_boston_registration_newsWednesday was not a good day for me.  I received the following email from Boston Athletic Association.

Thank you for submitting your application for entry into the 2014 Boston Marathon. Regrettably, we are unable to accept your application due to field size limitations and the large number of applications we received from Qualified runners.

Name of Applicant


Age on 4-21-2014

Submitted Qualifying Time

John Keller




Entries from applicants in your age group were accepted through and including the time 3:53:22.

So I missed the cutoff by 32 seconds. (This new cut-off was due to the large number of registrations for next year’s marathon after the bombing in 2013.  In a normal year, I probably could have registered without any problem, since the standard Boston Qualifying time for my age group is 3:55:00. I wrote about this dream in a previous post: Marathon Dreams

Needless to say I was disappointed.  Ever since I completed my first marathon in 1999, I have had a goal of running Boston.   It is the oldest and most prestigious marathon in the country. The very act of qualifying is a challenge.  A runners needs to run a marathon under the qualifying time within 18 months of Boston.  I did qualify in 2005 but a running injury kept me from running in 2006.  I was able to re-qualify in 2012, but as it turns out, not quite fast enough.

I felt  sad and dejected on Wednesday as Boston slipped again beyond my reach.  I felt anger at the circumstances that prevented me from accomplishing my goal.  I wondered if I had the mental, physical and spiritual reserves to go through the rigorous training necessary for me to run another qualifying marathon, in hopes of running Boston in 2015.

But I also took time to reflect about my “attachment” to Boston.  Perhaps I have over invested emotional and spiritual value into a simple race.  I have been reading, Anthony De Mello’s Awareness. He states that we are programmed by social conventions to think that our happiness is dependent on outward circumstances.

When we were young, we were programmed to unhappiness. They taught us in order to be happy you need money, success, a beautiful or handsome partner in life, a good job, friendship, spirituality, God — you name it.  Unless you get these things, you’re not going to be happy, we were told. Now, that is what I call an attachment. An attachment is a belief that without something you are not going to be happy.  Once you get convinced of that — and it gets into your subconscious it gets stamped into the roots of our being — you are finished. (P 134)

I am coming to realize that my fixation on Boston may not be healthy for my overall spiritual health.  It can become an idol that distracts me from my true calling to seek after Jesus.

let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith,  Hebrews 12: 1-2.

 I may or may not train for another marathon. If I do, it will be because I enjoy the challenge and rigor of training in the moment.  The goal is to be alive today, not obsessed about some future achievement.

How have you dealt with disappointment in your life?

Lord Jesus, you have been, are and forever shall be the real prize.