Sunday, November 30, 2014

Big Cedar 100: Thoughts from my first 100.

The physical toll from my first 100 mile journey on foot was more than I expected.  I’d somehow thought that since the race had a Friday start and a Saturday end, I would be able to hobble over to Mass on Sunday.  When I could barely even get out of bed the morning after, I saw how ridiculous that idea was.  My wife, Sonya, even had the homebound ministry come visit me to bring me the Eucharist.  I tried to sit up on the side of the bed to receive, and thankfully my friend Catherine said it was fine if I wanted to lie down.  In my debilitated state, I admit it felt more like “last rights” than a bedside Eucharistic service.  It wasn’t just my debilitated state that made me think about what had transpired the past few days. During Catherine’s reading of the Gospel for the day, Matthew 25: 31-46, I couldn’t help but reflect back on the race.

Jesus said to his disciples: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, ’Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ …”

Speedsters at the front of the pack
The Big Cedar Endurance Run took place in Duncanville, Texas.  It’s amazing what the Dallas Off Road Bicycle Association has done out there.  They’ve built so many trails that we were able to do the 100 miles in 4 loops of 25 miles with only about 6 miles of each loop repeated.  I’ve run many times out there, so I knew what to expect.  Those who hadn’t were quite surprised to find themselves on a trail that never seems to be flat or straight for more than a few minutes.  Instead, you are always twisting, turning, going up, or going down.  You had better pay attention when you have all of this trail laid out so close together, as it can get confusing as to where you are on the course.  The first 50 miles or so went about as I had planned.  I ran all of the flat sections, gently cruised the descents, and walked up every single hill.  I tried to keep moving and not linger around the aid stations for too long.  Sonya, my friend Judy, and her daughter Grace had been crewing for me all day and helping out with changing some gear from time to time, but everything was going pretty well during the day.  This got me to 50 miles in a little under 12 hours, which was slightly off of my goal pace, but I was fine with it, since the ultimate goal was really just to finish. 

At the halfway point of the run, I was allowed to have a pacer.  Your pacer is there to keep you safe and going in the right direction, make sure you are taking care of yourself, and do everything he can to get you to move just a little faster than you probably want to.  I was blessed enough to have two guys willing to come help me.  Chad is a friend who has paced our friend Matt a couple of times and also just finished his own first 100 miler.  He would help me get through the 3rd quarter of the race.  Jon is a friend whom I paced at his first 100 miler, Rocky Raccoon.  I know what he went through there and that he knew what it might take to finish the race.

Chad looking ready to run.  We did, for a little while.

Jon and I hanging out before the race.
Things were going well as Chad and I started our loop together.  We were still jogging all the flat areas and jogging down the descents we could manage - just catching up and letting the miles tick by.  As we left an aid station at about mile 59, the skies suddenly opened up, and rain came down.  It probably only rained hard for a few minutes, but it was a complete game changer.  My friend Matt told me months ago what a mess the trail would be if we had any rain, and he was completely right.  It only took a few minutes of rain to turn buttery smooth, hardpacked trail into something completely different.  After only a few steps of walking through the sludge, we had at least 5 pounds of mud on each shoe.  We managed to get out of the open areas where the mud was really bad and do some actual running again, since the tree-covered areas on top of the hills were still somehow pretty runnable.  I was still feeling positive about keeping up a good pace until we got to a small segment called “S.O.S.”   It was a complete mess, full of slippery ascents and descents and long open areas where we had pounds of mud caked to our shoes the whole time.  The toll of 65 miles on my feet plus having to pull my shoes up out of the suctioning mud, while carrying along a bunch of extra shoe weight, had finally added up.  The tendons in my feet and ankles were so sore, I wouldn’t run another step the entire race.  Chad helped me get back to the main aid station at mile 69, and we decided to do a pacer change.  Jon would have the task of helping me make it through the next 31 miles of mud.

It was muddy...
At 2:45 on Saturday morning, I was listening to Chad give a pass down to Jon and my crew on my status.  Somehow I couldn’t remember things like the importance of eating on a 100 mile run.  That’s what Chad was currently tattling on me about to Jon and my crew.  “He needs to eat more..he’s not eating enough.”  I committed to eat more, and Chad was right; it helped.  When Jon and I headed out, I really wasn’t sure what I would be able to do.  I remember trying to run a little bit down some slopes, but my feet and ankles were so shredded, it was all I could do to put one foot in front of the other.  Between my current state and the mud, the run turned into what I had wanted to avoid the most: a long, slow death march.    

Jon, Judy, and myself hanging out and trying to get some calories in.
The last 31 miles turned out to be just that.  The trail got much worse because we had more rain, and there was a 50K race going on concurrently.  The clumpy mud turned to a very slick variety, so now we were sliding all over the place.  This really turned into some humorous situations.  Jon commented that he wished he had his camera when I approached a slick bridge, and we decided it would be best to get down into the ditch and use the bridge as a rail for my hands.  I looked like a little baby cruising along some furniture.  Whenever we had to go up or down a steep and slick slope, we used little tree branches along the trail’s edge as a way to pull ourselves up or to keep from sliding down.  The biggest challenge might have been a concrete drainage slab that was on an angle and covered with slick mud.  We finally figured out the best way to handle it was to lay out on all fours and crawl sideways across.  All of this added up to a very slow pace.  We figured we were averaging about 30 minutes per mile toward the end. Maybe. 

Now back to that Gospel reading...At some point, I realized I had turned the reins over - given up the car keys, so to speak.  I put my trust in my pacers and crew and let them take over for me.  For example, when Jon and I would approach an aid station, we would have a little talk about what we thought I might need.  It was up to him to remember once we got there because I’m pretty sure I forgot the results of those conversations within minutes.  The Gospel reading was realized many times over again.  Jon would tell me I needed to eat, and an aid station volunteer would cook me a cheese quesadilla in the middle of the night or perhaps serve up a delicious bacon grilled cheese sandwich!  I was hungry, and you gave me food.  People I had never met welcomed me to an aid station and gave me a warm and welcome look in the eyes.  I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.  I am grateful that my crew took over when I saw them and got everything Jon asked for out of my drop bag.  I’m pretty sure I would have just rummaged around for a few minutes and ended up thinking, “what was I looking for?”  Then there is the long slow march that Jon led me on.  I can’t even believe what he did for me.  Walking for thirteen hours through all kinds of sloppy mud? Yay!  Jon just kept going, leading the zombie at a pace slightly more uncomfortable than what I really wanted to do.  In a very strange way, I was ill, and you cared for me. 

Getting some kind words from a couple of veterans I have great admiration for - Judy and Drew
During the final three miles to the finish line, I started to get pretty emotional as I reflected on how covering 100 miles had affected me.  All of my runs have some meaning to them.  This one is different.  This experience has changed my life.  To complete something like this is incredibly empowering.  It helped me learn that I can be really strong when I want to.  Maybe a better way to put it is that I don’t see limits or distractions the same way anymore.  I’m also incredibly humbled.  I’ve heard humility described one way that I think really nails it – “there is a God, and you aren’t it.”  I don’t know what left me most humbled.  Maybe it’s the pain I experienced.  Maybe it’s the fact that I relied on friends and strangers. Maybe it’s due to the many prayers and my faith which I relied on to help me finish.  The end result is that I feel incredibly humbled after finishing.  You might think those two virtues, strength and humility, are mutually exclusive, but they’re not.  The truth is, there is strength in humility.  

Steps from the finish, giving thanks to God

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Rough Creek Trail Run Report: 40 miles and a serving of humility

This race was to be a step towards ramping up for the Big Cedar 100 in November.  I’ve done this before with other races, with good results.  The basic idea is to try to treat it as a training run for a more difficult race later on.  You might end up having a lousy finishing time, but if you recover well, a great training effect.  It was also my return to the ultramarathon distance after over a year of dealing with an injury.  I was both excited and grateful to be running, but also nervous about how things would go. 

Rough Creek Trail Run  

I certainly picked a tough course for a return to ultrarunning.  I guess I forgot how hard it was since I ran the ½ marathon in 2012 and then hung out in the shade working an aid station last year.  Yeah there are long flat sections where you can cruise along without having to even look down for rocks, but then there is this stuff: 

over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over... 

I’ve run a few hard races, including some in the mountains, and this might be the toughest race I’ve run.  The rocky, technical nature of the crown and the accumulation of the steep ascents and descents really add up, even though it’s a small portion of the course.  Try to remember the beautiful view waiting for you at the top...

because remember you get to do this:

over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over...

Might not look like much if you've run those mountain races.  Trust me, it isn't easy...

Thoughts from the trail…

“…Mind, body, and soul all do best when none are neglected…”  This was something I read just prior to the Rough Creek 40 miler and it would certainly frame much of my thoughts during the run.  Where was I right now?  This run would be pretty revealing in all three areas, and a good learning experience overall.

The Body

I’ll start with the area that had the weakest showing at Rough Creek.  OK, so I did a handful of runs in the 4-6 hour range, I was acclimated to the heat, I had done hill repeats.  I was still kind of ramping things up though and only had about 3 weeks of what I would consider good ultra training under my belt and it showed.  Loop one was easy except that I was sweating a lot and felt dehydrated even though I was drinking and trying to take care of nutrition.  On loop 2, I started to get cramps in my calves, which I've never had before.  I was still able to run about ½ the flat sections.  I knew part of this was probably a result of being undertrained for this course, but I saw some signs that I was getting really dehydrated as well.  I spent the entire 3rd loop trying to manage my cramps and dehydration just so I could finish the run.  It turned out to be a long walk with a little shuffling mixed in.  Lots to work with here, both in my training and with my race-day fueling and hydration.

The Mind

I took a wrong turn the last time I ran here, no wrong turns this year.  I was especially cognizant of following trail markings. 

I kind of screwed up by getting behind on hydration but once I recognized it, this became a focus area.  I set goals between each aid station like what I would force myself to eat and drink.  I made myself drink so many bottles of fluid at each aid station and between each aid station.  In retrospect, I might have been able to regroup better if I would have sat down in the shade for 20 minutes or so and recovered more fully before moving on.

I admit my mind did wander and I did think about quitting, which is uncharacteristic of me.   I’m usually good at keeping positive but I found myself thinking “these rocks suck, this rusty crown sucks, this heat sucks, my cramps suck.”  It’s easy to do that.  Heck, it’s easy to do that in life, isn’t it?  I tried to think about how working through my physical and mental challenges would probably be of great benefit in a couple of months when I’m going for the 100 at Big Cedar.  And turning those thoughts positive finally started to happen…“There are beautiful yellow and purple flowers along the trail, I get to go do this, I’m still moving, I’m in a beautiful place with a great group of people!”

The Soul

What is it about these runs that get to the soul?  It’s probably all the hours on the course without a lot of distractions.  Even though I make a focused effort to cultivate reflective time into my life, it’s nothing like a full day of running around in the woods.  Add in a few challenges and I might have to think about what’s really important.  What is this suffering all about?  Is it something I should run away from, quit?  I often worry when life’s difficulties come up and wish things would go “the way I want them to.”  That’s a complete waste of time.  Maybe I could decide that the suffering could be redemptive...maybe I could even accept it and decide to carry my cross a little while. 

Dave (race director extraordinaire) asked me before I headed out for the final loop what I thought of the course since it was modified since the last time I ran it.  I said something like, “I’m really thinking about humility, Dave.”  And really that was what I thought about on the last loop.  A couple of funny things came up to help with that.  I left my shirt at a crossing where I could pick it up later, something I’ve done many times before.  I grabbed it on the way back and stuffed it in my waist band.  About a hundred yards down the trail I started to feel a growing burning sensation in my nether region.  After a quick inspection, I realized I literally had ants in my pants!  I’ve heard the phrase many times before, but whoever coined that phrase, really must have experienced ants in their pants.  You will jump around like a crazed nut and shuck your pants down without checking to see who’s looking to get rid of ants in your pants.  And that is exactly what I did. 

The hills and the cramps were really the humbling part of this experience.  Having not really experienced such disabling cramps before, it was almost comical to have the same series of events repeated over and over.  All of a sudden one of my calves would seize up, which resulted in my toes pointing straight down, which resulted in my tripping.  Soon to follow was some weird noise from me that sounded more like the bleat of some distressed animal and a flinging of my bottles up in the air as I headed for the ground.  The only way to recover was to stretch the cramp out by bearing weight on it and then pull myself up like a little baby trying to stand up for the first time.  I know it sounds like I’m being very dramatic but I think if you’ve ever experienced that you know what it feels like. 

The final 3 miles to the finish were flat.  I finally saw some signs that my hydration was getting better.  I actually shuffled along a few times without cramping up but really I just walked.  I would like to say I made a miraculous comeback but that’s not going to be part of this report.  When I got to the finish line area, I didn’t even try to muster a jog.  I just strolled on in, bottles in one hand.  Rough Creek had humbled me for sure. 

I am so grateful for this experience.  As I finished, I thanked God for humility. I thanked Him for my health.  I thanked Him for everyone out here running and volunteering.  I thanked Him for my wife, children, family, and friends.

Monday, September 15, 2014

And the band played on....

Something pretty cool happened recently at Mass.  A pretty mild Sunday rainstorm somehow knocked out the power right in the middle of the celebration.  All the lights went out and suddenly we were all in the dark other than the light coming in through the stained glass windows.  Suddenly, it seemed as if we had gone back in time about two hundred years.  I couldn’t help but wonder how magnificent those stained glass windows must have been to someone who had not been fully desensitized by all the “flashing bright lights” of our current time.  I imagine it would feel like Heaven had come to Earth.  It was also a reminder to me that that was exactly what was happening at that very moment in our very Church.   

I was slowly transported back to the present as everyone started dusting off the flashlight app on their smartphone.  That was when I started to look around and see what was going on.  People just started helping each other out, shining lights on hymnals so people could keep singing, alter servers positioned with candles to light the way, and the band played on…The choir never seemed to break stride and the band kept playing despite the darkness throwing them this little distraction.  They got a well deserved applause at the end, one of the loudest I have heard in the Church.  And just to boot, they threw in “Rain Down” for their next song.    

I don’t want to over dramatize it, but it was neat to see people spontaneously helping each other out.  Let’s open these doors to bring in some light…lets put these candles here…I’ll light your hymnal…let me help that older person who might not see as well…let’s go get the flashlights…hey let’s just keep going...

Yes, let’s keep going.  What’s really important?  The Eucharist, our community, loving one another.  As my Priest said after the celebration, “Well this is how we did it for the first 1800 years or so, we don’t need any stinking electricity.”  Well said Father!  


Saturday, August 23, 2014

Altra Lone Peak 2.0 - A Comparison Review

Altra Lone Peak 2.0 on the right...1.5 on the left (picture in the driveway...but both have seen extensive trail time)
The Altra Lone Peak 1.5 has been one of my daily trainers this summer.  One of the reasons for this is that it’s one of the shoes in the Altra lineup that still has the firm/moderate cushioning that I prefer.  They replaced my beloved original Instincts, as I couldn’t find them anymore, and after putting probably a ton of miles on my last pair of Instincts, I finally retired them.  So it is with some excitement and also some anxiety that I ordered a pair of the new Altra Lone Peak 2.0 for comparison.  I was excited in that I thought it might be more comfortable for longer distance.  What made me anxious was that I thought they might be as super-soft as the Instinct 2.0, which I did not like.  This review will be a comparison of the Lone Peak 1.5 and 2.0 to see how they stack up.
Lone Peak 1.5 insole laying on top of the Lone Peak 2.0 insole
The fit is about the same when comparing the two shoes.  If you look at the insoles, they have about the same footprint.  If anything, the 2.0 has a bit more space at the big toe and small toe areas. 
Lone Peak 2.0 has a softer and more padded heel collar and softer upper overall
The uppers of both shoes are different and affect the fit and feel of both shoes.  The material of the 2.0 is relatively soft and flexible as compared to the 1.5.  The overall result is that the 2.0 feels very comfortable on my foot.  That softness can feel great when running on flat, non-technical trails.  When I hit more technical trails, I find myself wanting the tighter weave of the 1.5 upper to hold the foot in place.
Altra Lone peak 2.0 - midfoot "straps" from the midfoot eyelets that go to the base of the shoe - grey part near my thumb. 
A neat feature that somewhat makes up for the looser feeling upper on the 2.0 is that the laces run through some mid-foot straps that go all the way to the footbed of the shoe.  That seems to secure the mid-foot a bit, although I had to tie my laces pretty snug to get this effect. 

Altra Lone Peak 2.0 outsole on the left, 1.5 on the right
 The outsoles of both shoes are about the same.  If anything, the 2.0 has a little bit more tread.  I prefer more of a hybrid outsole, so this isn’t really a big deal to me.  For those who really like an aggressive outsole, the 2.0 might give you a little more grip. 
Altra Lone Peak 2.0 on the bottom, 1.5 on the top - much more cushion
The new midsole is the major change in this update.  The 1.0 and 1.5 both had a more “minimal” feel but ran like a bigger shoe.  In other words, even with a relatively low stack height, I would feel comfortable running on just about any surface in those shoes.  The 2.0 not only has a higher stack height, but also has a softer feel compared to the previous version.  This will probably frustrate those who were in love with the earlier versions of the Lone Peak, but I bet it will be welcomed by most.  For me, the main downside for the change is a slight loss of agility and balance from being up higher on the softer platform.  As someone who does longer trail runs though, I can appreciate the extra cushion.  My feet felt much less fatigued after a recent 5 hour training run, and I didn’t feel like I sacrificed a lot in the way of running form.  

If you think the previous versions are the greatest shoes in the world, you might want to stock up now because the Altra lineup seems to be trending towards more cushioned shoes.  Overall though, this is a good update that I think will appeal to many people who like the zero drop, foot shaped approach but didn’t want the more minimal cushioning of the previous versions. 
Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Praying and Running

The last couple of weeks have been a little tough….not “how am I going to feed the family” tough or anything like that.  It has just been one of those periods where things start to add up, and I become a grouchy person to be around.    You know…work stinks, the house looks like a dang construction area, some folks are driving me batty, it’s 97 degrees for weeks on end, and I’m trying to find time to get in a long run, etc… 

Remember this guy?

I’m grateful that my wife, Sonya, has been patient.  She has put in a couple of thoughts about my grouchiness, but that’s OK.  I needed that.  I certainly do the same for her.  That’s one of the ways we serve one another.

The telltale sign that I’m not coping well is cynicism.  What better way to revel in my misery than to deny the sincerity of your actions?  And if I can throw in a little subtle sarcasm, I can even pass it off as light humor, right?  HA, HA!  Some other signs include general jerkiness, brooding, and long, prolonged sighs (as opposed to cleansing breaths).  Where does it get me, really?  No where.

For some reason, I always seem to neglect the two things that help me most during these times – prayer and running.  My prayer life is liturgical in nature and includes reading the psalms.  I can easily fall into a quick read on the “Prayer Express” if I’m not careful.  The running can go the same way.  I’ll default to just getting in a quick run here and there, rather than going on a long run to clear my mind or trying to maintain the focus required of my hill repeat workouts. 

What I miss out on during the “Prayer Express” is a real conversation with God.  I jump past those important listening moments.  Why do these few words in particular get my attention?  What does this passage mean for my current situation?  How can I pray about the meaning of this?  I recently remembered some words of wisdom from a wonderful Franciscan Priest I met named Father Francis – “Don’t try to overdo it or get all fancy with what you do.  Find out what works for you, and try to do it first thing in the morning.  The point is to spend time with Jesus.  Spend ten minutes with Jesus every day, and that’s a good start.”  Good advice…

Many people have written about how running can be addictive.  If it was a drug, I would classify it as an antidepressant and an anti-anxiety medication with a hint of something to add a little focus.  It may seem strange and even kind of pathologic to say that I use running to cope sometimes, but I freely admit it.  It seems to smooth things out when I’m feeling anxious.  It gives me a jolt of energy when I’m feeling down, and in a world that seems to lack focus, it is one thing that really helps me bring focus back in my life.  If I have something on my mind, it’s a time to block out the many distractions in life and collect my thoughts.  Often, the results have also been some of the most moving prayer experiences I have had.  What better way to spend my ten minutes (and more) with Jesus?

By the way, Oscar was just misunderstood.  He really just loved trash...

If you can't see the video (click here)I

Thursday, July 10, 2014


What is healing?  For my running, that might mean being able to finally do the longer runs I’m used to.  Being able to head out the door and run for 3 hours or so without worrying if I might have to detour back home is a good measure of my physical healing. Yes, the miles don’t roll by as easily or as fast as they have in the past, but that will get easier.  Anyone in Texas who is trying to put in a long run in the middle of the day at this time of year is really just surviving the run, anyway.  Regardless, I am grateful to be able to do it. 

I work in a hospital, and you might think that I get to see people cured all the time.  Objectively, that’s not necessarily true.  Acute care hospitals are generally not a place where you are admitted with an illness and come out “cured.”  That does happen, but most of the time it’s only the start of the process.  I might get to spend a few days or maybe even weeks with patients, but they might be fighting their diseases for months, maybe even the rest of their lives.  I rarely get to see how everything turns out for these people. 

Even though I rarely get to see the outcomes for the people I am with in the hospital, I have seen a great amount of healing.  When does that happen?  It happens when a patient is calmed by someone sitting with them for a few moments and listening.  It happens when someone gets a hug from a coworker.  It happens when someone comes along and wakes you up by saying just what was needed.

Healing does happen with comfort in the early stages.  We have to have comfort to calm ourselves enough to process what is going on in our lives.  Later on, healing seems to be different.  A better description might be one of change or transformation.  At some point, maybe healing looks like someone with heart disease who is (almost) happy about eating broccoli.  Maybe it is someone who realizes they can turn away from addiction.  The most wonderful change I see is when someone realizes what a gift life is and decides to live each day with a renewed joy. 

I fully recognize that healing from a running injury pales in comparison to some of the suffering in the world.  In fact, I have had some guilt about the time I have spent whining about it.  However, what does my healing look like besides how far I can run now?  It’s a realization that I need to do other things besides going running to take care of my body.  It’s a new joy I have when I head out the door for a run.  It’s a new hunger to find out what happens wherever my feet take me.    

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Funeral Plans

Don't Worry.  I'm not dying any faster than the rest of you.  I'm just planning ahead.  You might want to try this.  It will help bring a focus to your life.  


“Lean On Me” by Bill Withers:  This was the song of thanksgiving selected by myself and the other members I went to Cursillo with.  In addition, it is just one of my favorite songs and really conveys the Gospel message in action.

“Prayer of St Francis”  by Sebastian Temple:  Again, one of my favorite hymns because it conveys how to approach others  or situations as perhaps Jesus would.  Really, this is a great reminder for me when my instinct is to do the opposite at times.

“Canticle of Mary” by Luke:  Any variant will do for this as long as it maintains the integrity of the scripture.  I have prayed this prayer nightly during evening prayer for years.  This is really a beautiful song to read every night and as a convert to the Catholic faith, really helped by develop a love of Mary.

General Theme: Live life with the “Joy of the Gospel” to quote Pope Francis. 


OT – Isiah 58:7-10  Some real examples for how to lead a Christian life.  Clothe the naked, feed the hungry, etc.  Having an internal sincerity about your faith and your actions are connected. 

Psalm – Psalm 139  God knows me, truly.  He is always with me.  And you too.

NT – Phillipians 2:1-15 or Colossians 3:12-17: Live your life with self-giving love, as Jesus taught us to lover our neighbor as ourselves, even before ourselves.

Gospel – John 13:1-17 Jesus washes the feet of the disciples.  I’m really torn here between several Gospels passages.  I also considered the salt of the earth/light of the world (Matt 5:13-16) and the great commandment (Matt 22:37-40) but I think these ideas can be incorporated in the themes of the homily.


I would prefer that the homily focus on how we can live out Christ’s message of love in this world rather than focusing on the resurrection.  The great commandment tells us what we ought to do, love our neighbor.  The salt of the earth/light of the world message tells us that we are called to show that love to the world.  In a sense, we are the image of God to others in our words and deeds.  The washing of the feet is probably my favorite example of how Jesus calls us to love our neighbor.  The act is one of humble service.  I suppose that I can appreciate the image from my experience working in a hospital.  There is nothing exactly exciting about washing dirty, stinky feet (or other parts for that matter).  So in a sense, it is really easy for me to see how it is a totally self-giving act of love. 

All of the readings give the intended impression that we are called to action if we are disciples of Jesus Christ.  I don’t think it is required that you go wash feet, feed the poor, or become the director of some great program at your church.  Perhaps the best thing to do is live your life fully present with the joy of the gospel.  That might just mean that you share that joy with those around you every day. 

Other boring but important details – No flowers, no viewing.  Burial site is already purchased at Cope Cemetery.  I would like to be cremated and buried next to Sonya.  If you want to have a small get together at the house or parish hall afterward – please have someone make the chocolate sheet cake that Sonya makes.  I don’t really like chocolate cake but I like the one I always called the “Texas funeral cake.”  I love you all! 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Running and the Virtues of Fortitude and Patience

Virtues are habits and firm dispositions to do good.  The word virtue is from the Latin virtus: virility, strength of character.  Fortitude is a firmness of will in doing good in spite of difficulties faced.  To put it plainly, I think of it as overcoming fear.  You might become a pretty good ultrarunner if you have a well developed sense of fortitude.  Anyone who is willing to toe the line at a tough run of 30, 50, or even 100 miles has hopefully spent some time developing this virtue.  In fact, I think that is one of the major aspects of training for and racing the longer distances – to know it might be really awful at some point but to do it anyway.  Fortitude is something that most runners develop through their training.  In fact, it happens naturally as our long run increases and as our weekly mileage grows.  We run longer and more difficult races.  The distances that used to scare us don’t keep us awake quite as much the night before.  The interesting thing is that a lot of this transfers over to the rest of our lives and we learn to “be not afraid.”

The virtue of patience is a form of the moral virtue of fortitude.  Knowing that, you might think that patience involves just getting tougher and enduring whatever comes along.  The distinctive mark of patience, though, is that it involves bearing the difficulty caused by another person or situation.  So, instead of overcoming fear, we are now talking about dealing with situations we don’t like very much - and maybe even seeing the joy in that.  We can grow in this virtue by learning not to complain to ourselves and others, to use hardships as a way to progress in this virtue, and maybe even desire difficulties as a source of growth in patience. 

Most runners I have met tend to get fortitude down pretty well.  Patience is sometimes another story.  Part of this is just a symptom of our culture.  We are a very time-impatient society.  We want something right away, on our schedule.  My shoe order said free 2-day shipping, and my shoes are taking 3 days to get here.  I’m thinking of the finish line, and maybe I should just focus on the next aid station.  If something doesn’t go just right in my race, does that mean it’s over? What if I tried to accept it and deal with it…what if I maybe even welcomed it…what if I was grateful for the difficulty?

My own struggle has been when my sense of fortitude leads to impatience.  For a while, that involved dealing with a setback in training.  My sense of fortitude made me initially say, “No big deal…that pain will go away,” followed by something dumb along the lines of, “I’m sure I can just run through it and then it will go away once I start to taper.”  This kind of thinking led to having to back out of two goal races I really wanted to run.  In the end, it is only through patience that I am really able to heal.  Truly backing off and starting over has made me grow in patience and is also making me a stronger runner and person.  The whole thing reminds me of some advice I got from a veteran ultrarunner before I ran my first ultra.  They told me simply, “Don’t try to push too hard and make things happen.  Relax, let the miles come to you.  If something comes up (and it will), just be patient and deal with it.”  That has been some of the best advice I have ever received.    

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Altra One 2 Review

Before talking about the Altra One 2, I want to let you know where I am coming from with this review.  I have run almost exclusively in Altra shoes for the past 3 years, and run mostly in trail races and a handful of ultramarathons.  Most of those were run in the original Altra Instinct.  As a Physical Therapist, I could tell you all of the reasons why I thought running in a zero drop shoe with a wide toe box is the way to go but a lot of it comes down to comfort for me.  They are just about the most comfortable feeling shoes I have ever worn.  And if you are going to have a shoe on your feet for 12 hours or more...they had better be comfortable. 

Altra is coming out with a lot of new shoes and updating their older models.  The One 2 is an update to the previous One but it’s really it a completely new shoe.  There is a lot to like about the new model.  The first thing I noticed about it is that the entire shoe is very flexible and lightweight.  It has that slipper-like feel when you put it on your foot.  Very comfortable. 

Altra One 2  
The upper is very pliable and soft as there are no rigid structures in the upper.  I want some snugness in a trail shoe.   For a road shoe though, I have recently learned to like a softer feel throughout the upper.  One complaint I do have is that the toe box height is very low.  I have tried a thinner sock and a thinner insole and that helped.  I did check after I had already starting wearing out the shoe and Altra does recommend sizing up.  If I could do it over again, I would go up at least a ½ size to help with both length and toe room.

Altra One 2 - Very unstructured upper
One big surprise I don’t remember having in a shoe before this one is the lacing system they have in the One 2.  The lacing system runs in a diagonal direction towards the lateral toes. 

Altra One 2 offset lacing
 The tongue is stitched on the medial side and free on the lateral side.  This seems to let the tongue just slide laterally as far as needed so that it doesn’t bunch up if you need to tie your shoes tighter.  The lacing system and the tongue really work well to secure your foot but without putting too much pressure on the top of your foot.

Altra One 2 with tongue stitched on one side only
The midsole is a soft, segmented, and very flexible.  I have heard other people compare it to the Saucony Kinvara or Viratta.  Of those, I have only run in the Kinvara and can see the comparison there.  I would say that the One 2 has less structure throughout.  If you like those shoes, but also like a wide toe box, this might be a good option for you.  Despite the light weight, there is still a lot of midsole under foot.  Enough that I could see running in this shoe in a road marathon. 

Altra One 2 midsole
Overall Impression...


     Light weight
     Comfortable, soft upper
     Lacing System
     Enough midsole for a daily trainer or race shoe up to marathon


     Low toe box height – highly recommend going up a ½ size.
     Prefer outsole to cover each segment to help w/ longevity of shoe

Bottom Line...

This shoe works for me.  It’s very comfortable for most of my daily road runs.  I could see this being a racing shoe for anything from a 5K to a road marathon.        

Update:  I finally got the correct size in this shoe (1/2 size up).  Since then, put many, many miles on this shoe, including the bulk of my training for my first 100 miler.  It's amazing to me how this shoe can be so light and still have so much cushioning.  It's the shoe I go to day after day.  I only find it lacking for the most rocky/technical trails.  Otherwise, you'll see me in this shoe for just about everything else.  

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Good Shepherd

This is the artwork that has been on the back of my the prayer book I use.  It is The Good Shepherd by the Mafa Christian communities (North Cameroon).  I've spent quite a bit of time looking at the back cover this month.  I'm not someone who is knowledgeable about artwork by any means but I really enjoy this depiction of the Good Shepherd.  I thought at first that I was fascinated by a non-caucasion image of Jesus but I don't think that's it.  I think I like it because it really looks pastoral.  This looks like someone who really is a shepherd out tending the flock.  

The story behind the image is that when a lamb would constantly stray from the flock, the shepherd would then carry it on his shoulders until the lamb learned to stay close to the shepherd and the safety of the flock.  This was done for the safety of the lamb, who might run off and get attacked by a dangerous predator.  It was also done for the safety of the flock, so that the rest of the sheep wouldn't follow the wayward lamb.  There is probably some story, some truth here but I really like the image. 

There are several questions I ask myself when thinking about the Good Shepherd.  How often have I been the lost sheep that strays from the flock?  How much do I stay with the flock and closely follow the shepherd?  When have I been carried by the shepherd?  Besides trying to figure out where I fit into all of this, the important thing is to realize the image of the relationship of the shepherd to the sheep.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep...I know my own and they know me...I lay down my life that I may take it up again.  No one takes it away from me, but I lay it down by myself.    

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

2014 Possum Kingdom Trail Run Report - 20K

This was my second time to run the Possum Kingdom Trail Run put on by Dave Hanenburg and the endurancebuzzadventures family.  It's a great race and a good excuse to get out of the city a little bit.  Last year, I was healthy and in decent shape, and was able to finish the 52 miler.  I even considered it more or less a training run for a 50 miler in the mountains a couple of months later.  That “training run” turned out to be a lot more challenging than I envisioned, but I was able to put my head down and finish the race. 

This year, I've battled a foot injury for a number of months and was glad just to be able to toe the line for this one, picking the 20K as the “easier” distance.  It was only easy in that the distance was one that I knew wouldn’t flare up my injury.  It turns out that running these shorter distances is pretty darn hard since everyone seems to think that we ought to run faster since we don’t have to go as far.    

In some sense, this kind of race was kind of good for me.  I let out a lot of the frustration of dealing with an injury.  Frustration at having to pass on a couple of races because I knew they would probably make the problem worse and frustration at not being able to run as much as I am used to…and so I went ahead and poured some of that into the run.  Before the race, I thought of how some psalms are full of praise and thanksgiving but some are also full of lamentation, even anger.  So I let some of that out during the run.  I think that’s normal as long as it’s momentary, not eating you inside, or affecting how you treat others.  In my case, I just channeled that energy in to the run. 

At the same time, there was great joy in finally going out to race again.  For one thing, it was great to see old friends and meet some new ones.  Also, I really enjoyed trying to run fast.  The course has an interesting mix of both surfaces and terrain and you have to choose when and where to push.  For me, this meant running hard up the hills and then letting gravity take over on the downhill.  One of the real moments of joy included really letting my feet fly running down hill to the point that I could hear and feel the breeze going by my ears.  Maybe you remember that sensation from your childhood when you ran as fast as you could everywhere you went.  That’s what it felt like.

One bonus to turning 40 this year…I won my age group!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Why "Running Along THE WAY"?

Running has become one of the passions of my life. It is no longer something I do just

to stay in shape. After over a decade of running, I have realized that being a runner has

become part of my identity. It is not something that I do as a means to an end. I’m sure

that there will be a day when I’m no longer able to run, but I imagine that I will still think

of myself as a runner.

The Way is one of the names for the early Christian movement. It is mentioned several 

times in the Acts of the Apostles. The followers of the Way had to be full of bravery and 

faith during this time. My faith journey has been much easier than that of those early 

believers. As I have matured in my faith, I have realized that my faith has changed 

over the years. What began with the excitement of conversion has also grown into an 

understanding of discipleship. Similar to my running, my faith has become part of my 

identity. In fact, I would say it is my identity.  I live every moment as a disciple of Jesus.

The interesting thing is that my running and my discipleship are often connected. The 

physical and the spiritual have often both been at work in my running. For example, my 

favorite type of running involves running for long distances in nature. Sometimes I pray. 

Sometimes I sort out the thoughts in my head. Sometimes I talk to God. Sometimes I 

just think about nothing. I find it increasingly important to have this time with God and 

to create a rhythm of activity that allows me to commune with Him. Sometimes, what I 

write will be only about running.  Sometimes I will write only about my faith. Often, 

these two will be connected in some way though, and I hope to share some of what I 

have experienced Running Along The Way.