Tag Archives: marathon

Super Slow Mo Moments

I often want to rush through things, get to the good stuff.  But such rushing often causes unnecessary pain.   I have discovered that slowing down helps.  Even in training to run a race.

iStock_000016821441SmallA marathon takes a lot of time.   Not only the weeks and months of training, but the actual event takes anywhere from 3-6 hours to run.   Most runners would like to go faster, finish quicker.

But what if we just slowed down.  At least for a moment.

My running friend, Bob Timmons, connected to me a beautiful video from last month’s Twin Cities Marathon that does just that.   A friend of Bob, Ben Gavin, who works for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, shot a series of super slow motion clips that he titled Extraordinary Human Beings in Slow Motion at the Twin Cities Marathon Finish Line

What struck me in the video is that it expresses a central truth not only about the marathon, but also about life.   Life, like a marathon, is not one thing, but an incredible series of moments that are strung together.  The trick is to stay in the moment, in the now, and not worrying about the future or obsessing about the past.  Each moment is a moment of beauty.  Some days we need to slow down to see it.

As the Psalmist wrote, “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:24

Lord Jesus, teach me to walk with you, moment by moment.

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.


Running After Boston

Boston CupYesterday’s bombing at the Boston Marathon had repercussions throughout America, especially within running communities. The Boston Marathon is the most prestigious marathon in our country. Many marathon runners yearn to run it; I have had it as a running goal for more than a decade.  My office coffee cup is a gift from a running buddy who ran Boston eleven years ago.  Last fall at Twin Cities Marathon, I was finally able to qualify for Boston in 2014.

Yesterday I was tracking on-line my friends Mike Johnson and Dan Foster as they ran the marathon. (Runners carry a timing chip which charts their progress as they cross timing mats along the course.) Mike and Dan were moving along the course nicely. It was cool spring day, a good day for running. Dan finished the race in 3:28:57, a great time on a challenging course. Mike was further back; his training for the marathon had suffered from a variety of issues. I noted that he had complete 40K in 4:25:47 and was less than 2 miles from the finish. This was at 2:46 pm.

When the bombs went off, Mike was only a half mile from the finish. Here is what he wrote on his Facebook page

I was about a half mile from the finish when everyone ahead of me was stopped. The spectators around us said they heard two explosions near the finish line area. I asked the spectator that first told us about the explosion if I could use his phone and I was able to connect with Zanny (his wife) right away. I am so glad I was able to do that so she wouldn’t worry.

Later Mike was able to reconnect with Dan and both are now recovering: physically, emotionally and spiritually. Like so many in the world, Mike and Dan are praying for those victims who were injured or killed in this terrible event. Events like this show us the depth of human sin and wickedness and push us to reflect on life’s meaning.

I remember writing to my running friends the day after the 9/11 attacks that I planned to run that day. On the day of the attacks I was too upset to run, but I decided that I could not let the terrorists “win a disruptive victory” and deny me the routine of solace and prayer. I ran that day praying for those who had died, praying for the responders and leaders, praying for our nation, and even praying for the terrorists who cause such evil. After all Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).

I plan a similar run today (though it will be more a walk due to my sprained ankle). I will reflect on ways that I can be God’s agent of peace, hope and love for the world. The tragedy of Boston places a media spotlight on the evil that human beings can cause (as well as the tremendous response of dedicated care from first responders). Yet this tragedy will not turn me away from the ultimate source of hope and renewal: Jesus Christ. His cross and resurrection is the paradigm through which I see all such tragedy. Even when humanity killed God’s Son, God brought new life: the resurrection.

In the fall I plan to register for Boston, train and run it next April. I am confident that officials will find ways to improve security, though no one can make it absolutely safe. At the start the marathon will have a moment of silence to remember those killed and injured. Then the race will start and runners will do what they do: run. I plan to be one of them.

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.

National Running Day

Today is National Running Day.

Running is one of my passions.  I was introduced to marathon running in 1998 and have finished ten since then. I continue to find the training and mental preparation for a marathon stimulating. Though all marathons are a challenge, some are more than others.

Six years ago I ran Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, MN. It was not a “pretty” marathon for me. Not only did the high humidity and warm temperatures zap the strength of most runners, it also shrouded scenic Lake Superior in fog. The clouds kept it bearable for the first hour, but then the sun broke out and turned the race into a steam bath. I finished in 3:47 but I was not a pretty picture coming across the finish line.

What gave me strength was the community around me. I started off with my friends Steve Libby, Gary Van Cleve, and Bill Treiber near the 3:30 pace group. Steve and I stayed together with the pace group through mile 13; Steve was running strong and hoping to BQ (Boston Marathon Qualifier). I had to drop back at that point due to a four minute port-a- potty break. (I said it wasn’t a “pretty” marathon!) I struggled alone from mile 13 to 22. Then on Lemon Drop Hill, my son Jonathan showed up and ran with me to the finish. His words of encouragement kept my feet moving forward.

In Hebrews 12, the people of God are reminded that we are surrounded by a cloud of invisible witnesses, those faithful people of God who have died and rest with God. They are cheering for us in our life marathon as we race, walk, struggle, waddle, crawl towards Jesus Christ, the race director and pace setter. But I don’t think “cloud of witnesses” is restricted to the dead. Some of those who witness to me are my fellow runners who continue to give words of encouragement and inspiration as I struggle to run life’s course. Many have given me courage and strength. Thank you.

Hebrews 12:1-2
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

Thank you Jesus for the ability to encourage others.

Buying the Bib

This afternoon I registered for the Twin Cities Marathon on October 7. I did it after completing a cold 5 miles run and noticed an immediate lift in my mood. I was excited to get started in the training. I realize the psychological lift comes partially from setting goals and working towards them. I have completed ten marathons since 1999, but skipped 2011 for a variety of reasons. Now that I have “bought the bib,” I need to back it up with proper training.

Running last Wednesday with friends Tim and Dave, we talked about proper training. Proper training means not being a slave to a training program and learning to listen carefully to our bodies. It means the gradual increase of weekly mileage and seeking the balance between rest and hard training. Above all it means perseverance towards the goal. I know that my initial enthusiasm will wane in the coming weeks as the training intensifies.

What has helped me a great deal in my past training has been a good group with which to do the weekly long run. As those weekly runs gradually climb to over fifteen miles or more than two hours, I appreciate having company to encourage or distract me. When I might have quit and turned back early, the group seemed to pull me along. Running is often a solitary sport, but a good running group can be a true blessing. Being now at Resurrection Lutheran, I look forward to find some new running friends.

The Apostle Paul used the image of a foot race in his writings. The Hellenistic world where he preached continued to celebrate the Olympic Games. The Games included several foot races, from 200 meters to 5 kilometers. (The marathon race is a modern development with ancient roots.) Paul had a much more serious “marathon,” establishing new missionary outposts in the cities and towns of Asia Minor and Greece. He persevered through tremendous opposition to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. He preached in a world where people were often more interested in who won the last Olympic wreath than in who could bring them eternal vibrant life. Sounds a bit like today. Near the end of his life Paul wrote, “”I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).

Lord Jesus, train me to fight your good fight and to finish the race you have set before me.

Bicycling Together

At times I look as stiff as this sculpture

This week it seems as if someone has hit a button and Minnesota has shifted from winter to summer.  Thunderstorms, hail and tornado warnings have replace snow and windchill as topics of conversation.   With this shift in weather, I have been able to use my new bicycle, but I still need to check the radar before changing to bike shorts.

Bicycling is a new sport for me.  I still do not know all the nuts and bolts of my bike.  Someone recently asked what shoes and clipless pedals I had.  I had no idea.  I still awkward each time I start out for a ride.  I am thankful for my friend, Tim Torgerson,  who mentors me in the fine art of a group ride.

It reminds me when I first started serious running twelve years ago, training for my first marathon.  Being a newbie is awkward.   I remember the first time I went on a ten-mile run with the group in the spring.  I wore a cotton t-shirt and paid the price when the sweat-soaked shirt chaffed my skin.   By the end of that run I had blood streaks on the shirt from chaffed nipples.  Not a pretty sight.

Yet even after that embarrassment, I came back to run with the group, because they gave me so many rewarding training runs.  I remember especially some of the long training runs around White Bear Lake or out through Stillwater and back along the Gateway Trail.   The camaraderie of a good training group gave me confidence to set high goals and to work hard to achieve them. 

The spiritual life of a Christian can have similar moments of awkward beginnings.  We may not know where to find a book in the Bible or how to pray out loud with others.  We’re not sure what words are correct or how to express our feelings.  Yet to maximize the vibrant life with Christ, we need to be in fellowship/training with other Christians.  We need other followers of Christ to help us grow in the study of God’s Word, in the art of caring for one another, and in the discipline of prayer.   Hopefully we will remember our own awkward beginnings and with patience mentor each other to grow more Christ-like.

Who has been a mentor to you in your Christian life? How have you mentored others?

Lord Jesus, show me the path to true Christian community.