Monday, December 26, 2011

Next Up: 2012!

I've tried a few times to write about next year. It just doesn't seem to be working. I have a lot of great things planned with some wonderful people, but blogging about it feels more like typing an agenda than sharing my life so I think I have been going about it all wrong.

There are many mornings when I jump into the car and head off to work, and I love being alive. Recently the journey has been a dark canvas painted with multicolored Christmas lights. Some days it is a beautiful sunrise with a colorful sky and white, fluffy clouds.  Yet other days, it has been pouring rain. The other morning I was driving in what I like to call a nice Irish rain (steady, soft, without lightning), I couldn't help but think it was a very nice rain for a run. I'm usually listening to K-Love, and if you were to look over as you pass, you would most likely see me singing. I really enjoy my drive into work. Of course, I still have a few of those days where I don't feel too great or people are driving like wild banshees.  I consider those days to be homework days, and I work on trying to be more thankful. 

The truth is that whether or not the upcoming year looks promising or difficult, this moment is what counts. If I am able to continually find joy in this moment, my year will be great. It really doesn't matter where I go or what I accomplish. I'm still a big fan of setting goals. I feel that if I pick a positive direction, at least I will be heading in that direction whether or not I decide to change course or life changes that course for me. It sure beats flopping around directionless. 

In the past week, I've begun training for a March 50K. I'm still a little worried about my foot, but it seems to be getting better. Last weekend was a 10 mile day followed by a 13 mile day, and my foot is feeling good. My legs, on the other hand, are crying a little, but muscle soreness beats a swollen foot any day of the week.  It's also been 3 months since I put down the sugar "crutch" so I think I'll keep skipping it. I've found that I enjoy other foods with good flavor a lot more these days. It seems like a diet high in sugar dulls the brain to taste and puts the focus on the sugar high obtained. Saying no to sugar still feels pretty empowering, and I no longer feel that something has to be sugary to be a treat.  My biggest and most important goal this year has to be accomplished moment to moment, requires focus, and offers things I cannot really put into words.

Philippians 3: 12-14
I'm not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don't get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I've got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I'm off and running, and I'm not turning back.

Whatever your goals, resolutions or plans are for 2012, I hope you have a great moment, day, and year!

Charlie says Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 22, 2011


5 years ago, I never would have written a blog about Jesus. It wasn't that I didn't believe. It was more that I was completely into standing on my own. In a country that celebrates Christmas, it often feels that we are not supposed to say the name Jesus. Odd.  I spent well over 30 years not talking about him very often and thinking that I was strong enough to do just fine supporting myself. After all, we are told that pure might and will power are enough to make everything possible. Work hard and things will go your way!

Supporting my own world felt lonely. I thought relationships were supposed to fix that. I found that they did not. I thought that if I behaved a certain way and followed certain rules, I was a good person.  Sure, I read that when it comes to Jesus, it isn't works but faith that gets you there. How in the world can I be given something great if  I don't earn it? That just made no sense to me so I basically just ignored it. I worked hard, and a lot of things did go my way. That must mean that I am doing things right! Right?

Then I came across those people who spoke about Jesus and weren't very nice. Just turn on the television, and you will see plenty of people who speak the words being thrown in jail for stealing or worse. How fair is that? These people believe in Jesus, do terrible things, and yet they are still supposed to get the good stuff after they cross the finish? No way.

Follow the rules, or go to hell! Obey! Jesus is Love. God is good. How is any of this supposed to make any sense?! It didn't. I continued on doing the best I could at being a good person and looking to myself to get the job done.  Of course, I made mistakes along the way, and then I would once again pick myself back up and continue on.

Then it happened. You hear people talk about "it", but really you don't get it unless it has happened to you. You just assume they were having a rough time and figured a way out of it ... on their own. For me it wasn't an exact moment in time. It was more like putting the clues together and finally waking up. Sure, there was an event that felt pretty terrible that sparked introspection, but this time I realized that there had been something feeding me information the entire time. I had just been choosing to ignore it. Instead of trying to control life (mostly because it wasn't working), I reached out and asked God for help.  It wasn't in words so much. I just finally gave up the illusion that I could control what happened in all circumstances with my actions.

As I started looking back on my life, I realized that I had spent a lot of time ignoring a very important link that had been providing me information for as a long as I could remember. I didn't have a name for it. It was exciting! It felt as if a new portion of my mind was now accessible to me, and at the same time (please forgive the geeky computer reference) it seemed as though I went from being a dumb terminal to a computer with an internet connection.  I started discussing it with my mom, and I started looking for answers in the Bible. I had heard of the Holy Spirit, but I always thought it was just a figure of speech or something. Then I realized that is exactly what I had been ignoring all of my life.

John 14 says "And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you."

Wow, that was a surprise! Never in a million years did I think the Holy Spirit was real.

With this new connection, I stopped feeling alone. The more I paid attention, the better I became at paying attention!  Had this been the only change, I still might have been skeptical.  I also began feeling more joy than any other point in my life. Sure, I was running in 90 degree heat, without enough water stops, and feeling physically miserable and tired, but I still had a center of joy beneath all the difficulty. I was still thankful.

The entire concept of God's grace also began making a lot more sense to me. Nope, I don't have to earn it.  There's another side to that, though. When I began asking Jesus for guidance and actually listening, I realized that I stopped making choices out of fear or "wanting to be a good person" and instead based them wanting to do great things for him.  I don't have to earn his love, but because I love him, I naturally want to do the best I can and follow his guidance. I follow out of joy rather than fear, and let me tell you, there is a HUGE difference in the way it feels. Since I'm anything but perfect, there are still going to be mistakes in my future.  Instead of relying on myself to try and fix it all, I can ask Jesus for help. Instead of feeling shame and guilt, I can focus on the joy that Jesus shares with me and be thankful that he can bring joy and good from all things.

Sure, I could have probably made it through my entire life just trying to rely on myself.  But knowing what I know now, there is no way in the world I would ever want to try that again. I missed out on way too much.

Merry Christmas! Every day is a good day to celebrate Jesus and know his joy.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Wet Monkey: Flying Monkey Marathon

As RD Monkey Trent says, "I ran it the year it rained." This was my first time running the Harpeth Hills Flying Monkey Marathon. I had heard great things about it. I had heard terrible things about it. Bad news first: 7200 feet of total elevation change. 3600 feet up. 3600 feet down. The good news was everything else about the race.

Me, Kristen, Troy
As I drove into Nashville, one of the first things I noticed other than the "Bat" building was that it was hot.  It had been 50 degrees all week in Ohio, and Nashville was closer to 70. Ouch. Shortly after walking into packet pickup, I bumped into Kristen and Mike. I had met these super speedy and super nice folks before the Pittsburgh Marathon at an awesome pasta dinner they hosted. What a great start to the weekend! After chatting for a bit, I picked up my bib, said howdy to Trent and John, and met Elly (the monkey shooter). One thing about this race that I was really looking forward to was seeing a bunch of familiar faces.

The pasta dinner was more awesomeness. I saw Troy as soon as I walked in. The last time I had seen Troy was when we had run Mountain Mist in January 2010. Troy and I had worked together for a couple of years when I lived in Tennessee, and I was happy to hear he had signed up for the Monkey as well. I had dinner with Troy, Mike, and Kristen. I chatted with Robert whom I had met at the Brew to Brew 44 miler earlier in the year. He had run the Dizzy 50s that day and was a looking a little tired. This would later be dubbed as The Dizzy Monkey. I also met lots of other folks including Jill, Anne, Drew, Russ, Candice, and Ben and chatted with John (one of the best ultrarunners I know).

The forcast for the next day included rain. A lot of rain. Honestly, I was happy. I wasn't looking forward to running a muggy 70 degree marathon. I had forgotten how humid it gets in Tennessee. Before the start of the race, I bumped into Karl. I worked with Karl at both Square D and Gibson, and last time I had seen him was Mountain Mist. Turns out he was running The Dizzy Monkey. He started out running with Rick whom I had met at Mountain Mist as well. It was a lot like old home week.

The first part of the race was uphill. Go figure. At the top of the first hill, a sign said "300 Feet.3300 to Go". My lungs were not happy with the humidity but luckily Monsoon Monkey began shortly after that hill. My goal for this race was to finish. I had recently come off of a foot injury that put a snag in my training. Trent said you cannot train for Monkey anyway. I just wanted to take the hills as they came and enjoy the park. The park, by the way, was absolutely lovely. There were nice winding roads, plenty of trees, and plenty of hills. There were aid stations every couple of miles with brave volunteers who stood out in the rain, handed out water and gatorade, and encouraged the runners. Trent had taunting encouraging signs along the course and every once in a while you would get a glimpse of a wet monkey. At one point on the course, there was a sign that indicated you could go either direction around a loop. Since everyone was going right, I headed left. As one runner passed by me going the other direction, he smiled and said, "There's always got to be one." I grinned back and resounded a proud "Yep!"

Kristen and her Monkey
The rain was falling at a pretty good clip for the majority of the race. I was thankful.  During one section of the second half of the run, I was running on blacktop with a mirror water overlay. Leaves were sprinkled all along the path. It was easy to imagine I was actually running down a dark, leaf-speckled stream in the middle of a forest.
Me, John, and Mike
John ran a 3 hour Monkey! Amazing!

The finish was a mudfest. The day of rain had turned the finish and field area into muddy mess.  That didn't stop everyone from hanging out and partaking in all of the yummy foods at the end or the free Yazoo beer.  The Flying Monkey is a top notch event, and I had an absolutely wonderful weekend.

Think Monkey. :-)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Hoka One One Bondi B Shoe Review

Plenty of folks debate what type of shoe is the right shoe to wear. Some even say wearing no shoes at all is the way to go. I am just happy that there are multiple options available. The Saucony Kinvara was my "go to" shoe over the last year. Unfortunately I injured my foot a few months ago while walking around barefoot, and the ball of my foot swelled and stayed that way for quite a while. I figured out that I could cut a hole in my insole to take the pressure off of the ball of the foot which allowed me to walk normally, but running was still an issue. Around the same time, a friend completed a 100 mile ultra in a pair of Hoka One Ones

I'm not a fan of not being able to run, but I also want my foot to last.  I decided it was a good time to try the Hokas. Since I knew I would be doing a lot of road running during the colder months, I went with the road version: the Bondi B.  These shoes are not cheap. I was happy to find them on sale at The Tri Shop, and I used a $25 coupon.  Cheaper than a custom orthotic or a doctor's bill at least.
Hoka One One Bondi B's (with Lock Laces)
When I got the shoes, I removed the insoles and threw in a pair of Ortholites I had around the house to add a little more cushion.  As soon as I started walking in them, it was what I didn't notice that counted the most. All other shoes pushed on the swollen part of my foot and hurt. I could not wear other shoes without my high-tech (aka insole with a hole) insole. The Hoka's with the Ortholites didn't hurt. I was happy about that because I didn't particularly want to butcher another pair of insoles. 
Hoka - Time to Fly?

Well, I am not sure about flying, but these shoes have a lot of bounce. I wore them everywhere. I wore them to work so I could walk normally. I wore them to run. I wore them going to the kitchen to get water. (Walking barefoot hurt too much.) While I wasn't up to my normal weekly mileage initially, the Hoka's at least allowed me to get in some miles. Without these shoes, I would have missed a 200 mile relay, a couple of 5Ks, a 15K, and two half marathons. I did a test run in my normal shoes yesterday after two months, and my foot still isn't 100%.  My normal shoes now feel lifeless, flat, and extremely stiff. 
Hoka Bondi B / Saucony Kinvara 2
Hoka Bondi B Size 8 Women's (without insole) = 7.4 ounces
Saucony Kinvara Size 8 Women's (without insole) = 6.3 ounces
I thought these shoes were so comfy, I ordered a pair for my mom who has foot problems. She isn't a runner, but she walks a lot. After wearing them for a few weeks, she said, "I just wanted to say thank you for the shoes. When I wear them, I feel like I'm back to my old self. They make a big difference."  Hey, moms know best, right?

Overall, I am very pleased with my Hokas. For me they were the difference between being able to run and having to stay on the couch. I've put over 200 miles on them, and they are still in great shape. With a perfectly well foot, I'm not sure that they would be my first choice if I were trying to PR at a 5K. The cushy nature of this shoe dampens the energy return to the legs somewhat. That characteristic is what also is saving my foot at the moment. They are my shoe of choice for my upcoming marathon.

If you are looking for something different, I would recommend giving the Hoka Bondi B's a try. The road calls. Time to fly!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Competing for Christ

That's the motto for Team FCA Endurance. I've thought about it some, and I wasn't sure it really fit for me. I do my best not to compete with anyone but myself. Sometimes that is easier said that done, but I still try to keep it in perspective. Something about the word compete seems divisive to me. You know that moment in a race where you see someone up ahead that you might like to pass? You feel a push to speed up and a slight little rush of adrenaline. If it is someone you don't know, that may last for a few seconds and then back to normal. When it is someone you know, that changes things a bit.  The thought of blowing by an acquaintance during the last mile of a race isn't my idea of winning. A knockdown, drag-out racing session with anyone during the last mile or less of a longer race isn't something I want.

I recently found myself in this exact situation. I could see someone up ahead, and the finish line was a couple of miles away. I could feel myself pushing to speed up. My only goal during the race was to keep a particular pace, and I was right on track. I was trying my best not to let the push to compete affect my actions. I didn't want to to slow down because then I was altering my actions, and I might miss my goal that I made in vacuum of outside influence. I also didn't want to speed up to pass because that had negative consequences as well. I did my best to hold steady as I pondered the situation. I didn't like the negative feelings associated with either of my choices so I asked God to let me run the last mile of the race in a way that would glorify him and not me. As I caught up to the other runner who had been speeding up (it was toward toward the end of the race, after all), I spoke. What came out of my mouth was "Let's finish this together." Those words completely changed everything. We ran together for a short while, and I mentioned my goal pace. She told me to go ahead and began to slow a little. I asked her to run with me. She said she had already made her goal and insisted that I go and keep my goal. All negativity had faded away, and we finished within a few seconds of one another.

In the end, it seems I was competing for Christ. It had nothing to do with competing with anyone else. There was nothing divisive about it. I am thankful for the experience.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Sugar Free Me

So at the end of September, my mom announced that she would no longer be partaking in concentrated sugar treats. I agreed that this sounded like a good plan, and that I, too, would be taking on the same mission. I'm a big fan of experimenting with how food affects me. I've gone a month without caffeine a couple of times. I've gone a week gluten free. At one point, I did 3 days of low carb. (Let me tell you, that wasn't pretty.) I don't eat red meat at all and haven't in 6 years due to an allergy.

Of course, this isn't the first time I've attempted to cut back on sugary things. This is the first time that I decided to stop eating them altogether. I went in without a plan other than to just skip it. I had no timeline of how long I would keep at it which is somewhat usual for me. I have a general guideline in my mind that if it is a dessert or if it is something that contains more than 10 grams of sugar on the ingredients list, I don't eat it. No cookies, no cakes, no flavored lattes.  I'm still eating apples and oranges which both contain sugar. You get the idea.

At first it was rough. The first few days, my body was not happy. It seemed like no matter what I ate, it wasn't satisfying. Logically, I had no desire to consume the sugary items, but it was almost like there was something missing from my life. To me, that was proof that sugar has some addictive qualities.  Of course, I'm not the first person to say that.  The big difference now is that I know how it feels.

It is now November and still no concentrated sugar. Mom and I are both still standing strong. I survived Halloween without even one piece of candy. Strangely, it seemed easy. Thanksgiving is next. One of my favorite Thanksgiving treats is pecan pie. This year I will be eating the pecans without the the pie. I am beginning to wonder if this is going to be a lifestyle change for me. It really wasn't in my plan to be, and I hope to live a very long time so it's hard to predict. That said, it feels great to be able to say no to sugar. I also seem to be craving healthier fare now that I've cut out the sugar. I'm not sure where the strength is coming from... but it feels like a gift.

Mom says farewell to the sweet stuff. We walked into and out of the Hershey store 
without eating one piece of chocolate.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Mason Half Marathon

A week ago I came across the Mason Half and decided it would make getting in a 20 mile day a little more exciting. The course appeared to have a few hills which was a good thing as my next event has a crazy amount of hills. I had also never been to Mason, and running in new places adds to the enjoyment.

At the beginning of the race, I met (DailyMiler) Andrew who happened to be standing very to near to where I was. I've never had so many people pass me in the first mile of a race. And no, I wasn't up front. It took all the will power I had to keep it slower than 9, but that was my plan. As we turned the corner for mile 2, we began going uphill. Around mile 6, I spoke with a couple of guys who were trying to keep it under 2 hours. That was my plan as well so I had some company the majority of the race. At mile 7, we ran by the tennis complex where the Cincy Western & Southern (Tennis) Open is played. A little before mile 12, we started going uphill once again against the wind which had to be about 10 mph for the majority of the mile. It almost broke my will. Since I didn't want to get left behind by the two fellas, I put more effort into it and crossed the finish with them. There was a very nice pancake and bagel breakfast in the Mason High School after the race. After a shower and nap, I headed out for another 6 mile run / hill workout to make it a 20 mile day. It has been a couple of months since I've been able to get that kind of mileage in a day due to the foot injury. That alone was enough to make it a good day, but I also got the bonus of a fun half marathon that was for a good cause.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Peace on Earth

"Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the Presence of God."

The days are getting shorter and colder, and we are heading into the holiday season. They say the holidays are tough on folks. I will admit that for a long time, I found them to be difficult. When I was younger, my mom and I would spend time with the extended family. It wasn't the Norman Rockwell scene. Things could range from general rudeness to passive-aggression. While I didn't understand what was going on, I just knew I was pretty miserable spending an entire day with people who didn't seem too nice. When I was 10, my granny passed away, and the family stopped getting together for holidays. While I didn't miss the family gathering, I could not help but feel that something was wrong. After all, everyone I knew was getting together with family. It seemed that either way, the holiday season was not what it was supposed to be.

But something happened which changed my entire view on the holidays. I stopped focusing on what the world said about the holidays and how we are supposed to spend them. I let go of all the disappointment and began focusing on what was really there.  The very first time I listened to "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" I realized this song completely captured the transformation that occurred on my view of the holidays.

From this:
"And in despair I bowed my head. There is no peace on earth I said.
For hate is strong and mocks the song Of peace on earth good will to men."

To this:
"Then rang the bells more loud and deep. God is not dead, nor doth He sleep.
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail. With peace on earth, good will to men.
Then ringing singing on its way. The world revolved from night to day.
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime Of peace on earth, good will to men"

Life may not be exactly the way the general majority portrays that it "should" be.  In fact, it may not even be close. That doesn't make it any less spectacular.  On Thanksgiving morning, I will be running the Turkey Trot with 7000+ others into a great Thanksgiving day.   May you find your very own peace and joy this holiday season and every day of your life.

I am leaving you with a gift--peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. Do not be troubled or afraid. John 14:27

Thursday, October 27, 2011

One Foot at a Time

Returning from an injury can be tough. At least it feels tough at times anyway. My little boo-boo I picked up by walking around barefoot. Nope, I'm not talking about any minimalist running. I mean literally walking... in the house.. barefoot. So well over a month later after walking into an object, the ball of my foot is still slightly swollen. It's getting better.  A lot more slowly than I had wanted, but still it is improving.

I've learned a lot about the foot that I didn't know. I've found shoes that will actually let me still run some without causing pain. I've done some shorter events. I even decided to start blogging again. While this isn't exactly how I had planned my training to go nor was it a preferred scenario, that doesn't make any of this a less valuable experience.

While this foot injury isn't a huge deal, it makes me think. What happens when something goes wrong that doesn't heal? Life is temporary. It is only a matter of time until our physical experiences come to a close. These are not happy thoughts nor are they a good place dwell, but regaining perspective over our earthly situations can be a good thing. If I can use the smaller things to practice how to handle the large issues, wouldn't that be useful? If I can find a way to be thankful and find joy whether or not I'm happy with my situation, won't that help me learn how to do the same when things get really hard? Perhaps the smaller things help to develop coping mechanisms that we need to navigate life.

It is also a reminder that I am not really in control of the world around me. Sure, I can make choices that help protect me like always wearing shoes in the house, but that is still no guarantee that something else won't happen tomorrow. The idea that no matter what you do things can happen outside of your control can be scary. It doesn't have to be, though. Giving up the illusion of complete control is the first step. Turning it over to God is the next. Those two steps lead to freedom. It took time and life for me to really understand how to do those two things. I also didn't understand the kind of freedom gained until I got it. Some days it is still difficult to let go and turn it over, but I am taking it one foot at a time.