Saturday, February 28, 2015

Not just another birthday

I went to bed in a funk. I woke up in a funk. Not because I was upset being at the precipice of another birthday, but because my brain cells were stuck thinking about a disconcerting situation. Yea, yea. I know. "Why worry when you can pray?" Guess I'm still working on that one.

With a 100K approaching two weeks hither, it was important to get in a long run despite the "funk." With snow and ice piled up in the mountains, the thought of a slogfest was not that appealing. And a solo road run? Less than appealing. So I did what any reasonable TrailMama would do. Last evening I sent out a Facebook message to my band of loyal Shindigglers and asked if they would join me. "Yes!"
came the answer. There. It was settled. Now I HAD to get my posterior end out the door and down the road.

But not before the door flung open this morning to the sound of music (at least I think that's what that sound is called). In they came singing "Happy birthday to you. . .", bearing gifts to boot. A plethora of trail food snacks, gift cards for ice cream and food, letters carefully scripted, cards thoughtfully signed, and a framed picture collage of moments from previous adventures. Oh my heart! The funk was nowhere to be found, replaced, that is, by the love and enthusiasm of these college girls and a couple token guys.

We spent the next three-plus hours running, laughing, stopping for photo ops (a vainly-disguised excuse to pause when we grew weary), and wondering why it wasn't getting any warmer. There were cows to chase, "Poo Sticks" (as in Winnie-the) thrown into the stream from the bridge, human pyramids to build, and musing about what conditions might be like atop the tall mountains in the back drop of our view. The new guy shared his story of grace and mercy, while others told stories of significant encounters and progress in their Christian lives. Fruit snacks and energy gels got eagerly snarfed down to fuel the endeavor.

Every step was uplifting, no matter the toll the accumulating miles took on our legs. "Coach T," Sarah rang out. "It's a longstanding tradition to take turns voicing what we appreciate about you." And so it began. Despite temps in the teens, my heart melted into a molten mass. Could it all be true? Do they love me that much? I hoped so. There was no doubt I loved each one of them.

When the country roads led us home, the house nearly burst with giggles, the aroma of hastily created pizza, and the sweet, gooey goodness of oven-broiled s'mores. A DVR'ed episode of Fixer Upper produced ohs, ahs, and girl bonding time as all six of us piled onto my bed to soak in the glory of realty re-dos.

So yeah, it wasn't just another birthday. It was a day to be remembered. A day to be cherished. A day to relive over and over again.

Thank you, my little Shindigglers. Tough but tender. Serious but silly. Centered but just a tad to the right of crazy.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The first test

The training was in the bag. Test time was moments away. But in the darkness of the frigid morn, I couldn't find The Shindigglers. Where were they? How hard could it be to find my five favorite girls? Still, among the nearly 250 runners plus volunteers and onlookers, they remained illusive until the waning moments before take-off time. There was no time for even the briefest version of my pre-planned, pre-race advise and encouragement. No pre-race pictures to compare to post-race later on. Brief hugs had to do. And at the last minute, a note was slipped into my hand. "Coach T. Read this when the going gets tough." I didn't have the heart to tell them I didn't put my contacts in. Still, I slipped it in my pocket and purposed to read it in the aftermath.

This was my tenth running of the race, the last version in 2008. For four of the five girls, this was their first long race. The fifth was more experienced with about 5 ultras under her belt. When I began coaching four of these five kids five years ago, I heard some parents were fearful they would turn into ultrarunners. I guess they were right to be concerned.
This race, a reverse double loop course, allows a runner to see all the other runners coming or going. I chased Sarah for the first loop, catching glimpses of her blue jacket just ahead of me. She didn't know I lurked until she spotted me through the trees on a hairpin turn. She waved and politely smiled. And then she ran faster. Despite the pleasant surprise of steady and strong running on my part, I chased her from behind the rest of the day. She beat me to the line by about seven minutes. We might need to discuss whether or not this is the proper level of respect for her elder.
Rebekah with race director David Horton

The other four, taking a more conservative approach, ran behind me. Abby and Kendal looked like they were having fun. Rebecca was not. IT band pain produced tears at the turn-around point. But quit? Never, no never! Caroline, her sister, took to her side, offered encouragement, and led them through the finish line as sisters united. Six Shindiggler starts. Six Shindiggler finishes. It was a very good day. It was a test passed with flying colors.

And that note? They carried a copy as well. It was what inspired them. . .and that inspires me.

Words to run by "These are my kind of girls. They are tough but tender. Serious but silly. Centered but just a tad to the right of crazy. May we shindiggle together over many more miles" Coach T

"Run silent. Run deep. Run long. Run strong." Coach T

Songs to run by: In Christ Alone, Never Once Did I Walk Alone, Courageous, Ain't No Mountain High Enough

Verses to run by: "You, Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light. With your help I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall. As for God, his way is perfect:The Lord’s word is flawless; he shields all who take refuge in him. For who is God besides the Lord? And who is the Rock except our God? It is God who arms me with strength and keeps my way secure. He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he causes me to stand on the heights. He trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend a bow of bronze. You make your saving help my shield, and your right hand sustains me; your help has made me great. You provide a broad path for my feet, so that my ankles do not give way. (Psalms 18:28-36)

Did they ace the test or barely skim by? They aced it absolutely and in so many ways! Second test is scheduled for March 21. Stay tuned and Shindiggle on.

Postscript: On a number of our Shindiggler events, we've allowed a boy to go. Ben, (or is it Sam?), is a welcome member of our training runs. But sorry, Whipped Puppy Boy, (I think he's in love with an certain Shindiggler), you have to possess two X chromosomes to be a true Shindiggler. Nothing personal. We still like you.

Photo credit on the finish line pictures goes to Martha Wright. Thanks!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

My kind of girls

Partially-filled plastic cup in hand, I climbed the step stool to do battle with the stink bugs that came in for an impromptu landing on the kitchen ceiling light. It's an easy job to hold the cup up to the not-so-bright insects and watch them jump in for the finals of the backstroke. But it seemed a bit harder tonight. It wasn't so much increased resistance to take the pesty plunge, nor was it climbing the two steps of the plastic ladder. It was coming back down that got my attention.

"Yowza! My quads are REALLY sore," my brain registered as my arms reached for the countertop for balance. All day I had been feeling it. I had to be intentional about the act of standing, using my arms to provide another little push. And sitting? Well, it was the same thing in reverse. But tell you what. This was a pain that hurt so good. So good? Yes. It's the best pain I've felt in years.

Big bumps on a little log
21 years ago I was told I couldn't run 50 miles. "Watch me." That was the beginning of a long career marked by ups and downs, fear and failure, triumph and tragedy. Many of those years were under the watchful eye of a mentor and complimented by a running cadre that lived for the weekly group run. But the time came when I adopted the mantra, "Run silent. Run deep." Solo runs, introspective, quiet, and interrupted only by the sounds of falling leaves or snapping twigs under my feet became the norm out of necessity. And that was okay. For a period.

I've moved on. I am now the mentor. College students, once part of my coaching responsibility when they were in high school, have morphed into ultra-distance runners. They have drunk the Kool-Aid. They have become what their parents feared should they hang around with me. Their perspective of what is normal has shifted off-center. They spend hard-earned money to enter long races and assume the responsibility to train. And I love it.

Topping out on 3 Ridges
I put out a Facebook message to this special group of girls; The Shindigglers, as we like to call ourselves. "Want to go long in the mountains on Saturday?" knowing all would be towing a start line in just a few weeks.

"Yes! We were going to run a loop at Holiday Lake but we like the mountains better. Can two more friends come?"

"OK. Where and when?" I wrote. Their answer let me decide. I knew they needed to see something new. Something that would get their attention. Something they would be hard-pressed to forget. "I'll be at your house at 6:15 a.m. with packs for everyone." I barely slept, anticipating their response to the huge, ominous mountains we would climb and descend.

"Yep. We were way over there on the Priest!"
Including me, it was six girls and one guy. Poor guy. It could have been awkward but he fit right in, taking his rightful turn as we devised fanciful stories to pass the time on relentless climbs. He even took our pee stops in stride by gazing off in another direction. I suppose we'll let him come on other runs.

Only on the very steepest sections of trail did the forest enjoy peace and quiet. Other than that, it was non-stop chatter and jokes, story-telling, singing, lots of stops to appreciate the vistas and record it on camera phone for

posterity's sake. Never once was there complaining or whining, even when a distant peak was pointed out as the next stop on our woodland tour. They dutifully let me lead, perhaps out of respect for their elder. Or perhaps it was simply that I knew the way and they didn't. But whatever the reason, a brief pause at a large fallen log led me to exclaim, "You know, there is no place I would rather be right now." And I meant every word.

There is no greater joy than to see others come to value what you do. I LOVE seeing these kids embrace the challenge. I LOVE being able to show them the ropes and the way. I LOVE remembering conversations from eons ago on other runs, only to hear myself enter into a similar conversation with current company at the same spot on the mountain.  I LOVE the "Dear Coach T" verbal letters they create for me. I LOVE the fact they get excited to gaze across the valley to the tallest mountain and marvel they were already there. I LOVE to see them take one step at a time to reach a seemingly impossible and distant mountain. I LOVE that a sign indicating less than two miles to go inspires a spontaneous outbreak of song all the way down to the river. I LOVE that they LOVE what I LOVE. I LOVE these kids, and I LOVE that they LOVE me enough to follow in my footsteps.

These girls are my kind of girls. They are tough but tender. Serious but silly. Centered but just a tad to the right of crazy.

May we shindiggle together over many more miles.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

A new generation

Looking back, I wondered if something was wrong with me. I waited to be swept away by the flood of emotions and river of tears I heard would come. I wanted my heart to fill and nearly explode after being overcome with a primal and new sense of love and joy. But alas, I experienced nothing like that.

Don't get me wrong. I love my children. I love my children more than an ocean of words could ever describe. And yet, their births were not the made-for-movies kind of experiences. With Caleb, it was hard work. I decided I wanted to experience childbirth in it's rawest form, which, come to think of it, may not have been the wisest decision ever made. Labor was not fun. It hurt. It was exhausting. It tore me - literally. It was the hardest thing I had done to date. So maybe my lack of gushing emotions was simply due to relief of getting the kid out into this big world.

Fool me once but not twice. I didn't make the same mistake on the second child. After a couple hard contractions it was "Hit me with the epidural." It worked. I thoroughly enjoyed the labor experience without the pain. But my relief of birthing Seth was different than pushing out Caleb. Seth was a hard pregnancy. Unlike post-pregnancy with Caleb, I did not miss being un-pregnant once Seth was born. I remember begging my doctor three weeks prior to my due date to make him come out and play. Seth was relentless in his kicking, jumping, punching, and general state of uninhibited activity. But the doctor declined my suggestion. Instead, despite my best efforts to coerce his arrival, Seth stubbornly awaited the appointed day to make his appearance. So after I pushed and the doctor pulled, I was ecstatic to be no longer with child. Now maybe I could sleep. Silly me.

Am I an unemotional, hard-hearted woman? I don't think so. Ask anyone who knows me. I have a wealth of emotions that show themselves often. But never would I have guessed them to be so front and center than at the birth of my first grandchild.

Asked to drive Claire to the hospital while Seth was racing from work, I felt my heart begin to pick up the pace. But when I walked into the room and spied all the accouterments needed for birthing newborns, the lump in my throat grew to grapefruit size. Nevertheless, as the night wore on as labor slowed down post-epidural, the lump melted away. I felt only tired from the long day. That state would not last for long.

"And the number is 10. Let's have a baby," nurse Brooke declared after checking the progress slightly after 2 a.m.. With that proclamation from the nurse (who, incidentally, had lived for two years in a basement apartment at our house), the room awoke to quick, but quite and calm preparation. I was beyond fortunate to be included as one of three spectators allowed to stay during the delivery. That lump in my throat returned, but grew to basketball size as it became all too real that life was about to change forever.

Seth assisted Claire by holding one of her numb legs while I held the other. Corrie, Claire's twin sister and photographer, captured the scene. Someone observed, "Seth, you look terrified," as Claire bore down once again.

"Pretty much," was his honest response while fixing his eyes on Claire, silently urging her on in the delivery of this special package.

Her labor efforts were effective as the tiny haired head explored the new world a little bit further with each push. "Seth, you need to see this," suspecting the next push would usher his daughter into the world. He turned and looked down just in time to see long-awaited Baby Addyson slide into the doctor's hands. I glanced up to see his face take on the most incredible expression of awe mixed with love. Then came the tears. Then came my tears as I watched my second-born child contemplate the arrival of his own flesh and blood.

Only now, in this first week of Addyson Leona's life, do I understand the many comments from other grandparents. "It's better than having your own kids."

Thank you, Seth and Claire, for helping me better understand love for my own children in the context of love for your child. May you grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ as you raise your precious daughter. May God be pleased as you present your family a living sacrifice to Him.

Thank you, Father, for Addyson Leona Trittipoe. I love her. I love you.

Thanks to Corrie Fewell and Lilybird Photography for capturing these moments on camera.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Legacy revealed

It wasn't in my plans for the week. But at 11:00 A.M. yesterday, I slipped into a pew near the back of the small sanctuary. I glanced to my left and, despite the circumstances, took delight in the fluffy flakes drifting down to earth. The tree-lined street and quaint older houses surrounding the church created a postcard-like effect. But as I turned my attention back to the matter at hand, the somberness of the situation became the new reality.

The family began to file in, taking their places in the front rows of the church as the pianist quietly played classic hymns. Among them, my son Seth, gently guided Claire, the love of his life, to their seats. It was in honor of her grandfather that all had gathered, "Shag," as he was lovingly dubbed for his dance-floor prowess, slipped from this life on Monday. Now it was time to remember.

I had only met Wellman Nash once. That was only two weeks prior. He didn't have a lot to say.
Wellman "Shag" Nash
Rather, he sat quietly on the couch watching the mayhem that accompanies a large baby shower. Having suffered a stroke in prior months, I suspect he was a bit more restrained these days. Still, he seemed content and happy. Perhaps he was pleased to allow his energetic wife, "Bunnie," to display enough energy for both of them.

My attention turned back to the platform. A man was singing a Merle Haggard song, Silver Wings, accompanied only by the mesmerizing chords sounding from his guitar. Many of those in this mostly elderly audience knew the tune, silently mouthing the lyrics. Then the pastor, a younger fellow, stepped to the podium to read and comment from 1 Thessalonians. It's a perfect passage.

It was time to sing. I picked up my hymn book and started to turn to hymn #10. But I really didn't need the words to How Great Thou Art. I know them by heart. Rather, as I contributed the tenor line to the congregational choir, I thumbed through the hymnal and noted it had been donated by "The Happy Class." I smiled at the prospect. Music is such a wonderful gift.

And then a nephew walked to the platform, drawing a deep breath as if to summon the courage to address the mourners. He knew Shag well, recalling sweet stories that reflected his character: kindness, selflessness, a love for family and fellowship, and loyalty. From my vantage point in the second row from the back, many in the audience chuckled quietly or  bobbed their heads in affirmation. But even as a relative outsider, I was drawn in. "I wish I would have known him," I mused.

As he continued on, the focus turned from mere stories to the reason for his legacy; the power of the Gospel. That saving Gospel of Jesus Christ made the difference. It allowed him to emulate his Savior in the way he cared for others. He gave of himself because Jesus gave of Himself. He practiced kindness because that's what Jesus would do. As the speaker offered his closing remarks, I was beginning to understand. I was beginning to know this man.

I paid close attention to the rest of the service. I listened carefully to conversations at the grave site and back in the fellowship hall at the church. Amid fried chicken, mac and cheese, and homemade desserts, it was the same story. Shag's life was a reflection of his Savior. Shag's actions and attitudes simply demonstrated his well-placed faith.

I presume Shag was not perfect. None of us are. But I heard nary a conflicting report. No dissenters. No underlying, "But you didn't know him like I did."

At the end of the day, I was refreshed. My heart sang, encouraged that the powerful, life-changing Gospel was well-represented in Wellman "Shag" Nash. That is quite a legacy.

May God grant His peace to those who mourn, to those who miss Shag deeply. But may Jesus Christ be praised.

Postscript- My own father left a tremendous legacy as well. I wish my children could have known him.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Another year of masochism

It was Friday night. 9:57 p.m. The alarm on my phone reported "6 hours and 33 minutes until alarm." With that and a quick double check of my watch alarm, I tucked myself between the sheets in a spare bedroom of David and Nancy Horton. The plan was to sleep, rise at 4:30 a.m., meet Horton (who would already be up and out), and go run 50 + miles in the mountains. The goal: my 17th finish of the Mountain Masochist 50 Mile Trail Run.

I squeezed my eyes shut and waited for sleep to come. But it would not. My mind began making compounding lists of what needed to get done in the next two weeks. No matter how hard I tried to suppress those dart-like attacks into the synapses of my brain, the assault was relentless and overwhelming. In an odd way, I was sometimes amused at the randomness of what popped into my brain. But generally and not precluding what God can do despite my inadequacies, my brain registered only the potential demise of my newly-established (and beloved) ministry path should the events in the coming weeks fail.

I heard Horton get up at 3:15 a.m. and knew I had about an hour until my appointed time to face the day. When a whoozy-headed feeling finally came on shortly thereafter, my body fell into a light and short-lived sleep. "At least I've been horizontal for hours and nabbed 20 minutes of zzzz's. I can do this."

53ish miles is always a long way. But what can make it seem longer is starting the day in a cold rain. Though miserable weather was predicted, the 6:30 a.m. start was simply 30's and periodic drizzle. If you don't count the two calf-deep stream crossings in the early miles, I never felt wet.

I felt embraced by the dark as I became just one in a crowd of many. "No need to rush," I whispered to myself. Eavesdropping and amused by words of advice offered between runners (some of which was loony), I was content to slip through the forest in my own little world. Only briefly did I enjoy conversation with Sarah Quigg, one of the first runners I ever coached in my high school career. As the trail rose ahead, my young protege' pulled ahead as I yelled out to her, "Have a great day!"

I fell into a rhythm counting steps. 25 walk, 25 granny shuffle run. Repeat on all uphills. Run everything else. I felt it might be a safe approach. Training had been nearly non-existent since August. A tough coaching/work schedule with nearly every weekend occupied by cross country meets, I had managed but one mountain run of 17 miles, and two road runs of 18 and 15 miles. I hoped that the daily workouts I ran with my team added a little something to fitness.

The signs at each aid station told me I was gaining time on the 12-hour time limit. Continually catching people suggested my approach might actually be working. It was fun. Never before had I looked forward to "running" uphill. So with dark and drizzly turning to bright and sunny, the day held surprising promise.

Approaching the "halfway" point (26.9 miles, or so they say), the mountain we would climb was cloaked in dark clouds, sharp, stinging winds poised to pummel. Adjusting my 25 on/25 off approach due to uneven footing and the steep, 3-mile climb, I turned my focus to simply keep pace with fellow runners. My quads felt tired but forward motion was maintained. Hot broth at the aid station halfway up the mountain offered both warmth and needed salt.

About four miles later the infamous "Loop" needed to be conquered. The flat early miles flew by, but the rocky and steep incline slowed my pace. For the first time in a while I was the one being passed. Still, my spirit held strong and my legs allowed me to gain back precious ground on the downhills. Out of the loop and down the gravel road, I drew closer to my goal with every step.

Despite two tortuous climbs in the last eight miles, the section preceding the last aid station seemed shorter than normal. Perhaps it was the chance to chat with runners as we played hop-scotch along the wooded trail. But when that final station came into view, not even the welcoming tents and snap-crackling campfire held enough allure to dissuade me from running by. The silent tick-tock of my watch whispered I might be able to break eleven hours, something I felt impossible in recent years. The changed course and my creeping-up age made all my sub-9s and 10s of long ago seem far away in Fantasyland. But it was what it was and left nothing but down, down, down and off the last mountain.

Then I saw her. Sarah. I was surprised after watching her slip away in the darkness of the first hour. My emotions flipped between joy in catching her and the college runner's disappointment that I did. As the orange-painted "1 mile to go" mark passed beneath our feet, we were side by side. "Hi, Sarah."

"Oh, Coach T," she uttered with a wistful quiver in her voice.

"Come on, Sarah. Let's finish this together."


But it didn't happen. I glanced at my watch. I had time to sneak in under 11 hours if I continued the assault. I pulled away, feeling strong and cajoling her to catch up. It wasn't in the cards. We would not cross the line together. Her dad was standing along side the road. I glanced back to see the pair amble along. The only thing left for me was to make the mental decision to persist all the way to the line. 10:57. Sarah crossed a minute later. The coach and athlete. Together again but never really apart.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Three principles to live by

I thought long and hard all summer but it didn't seem to help. I wanted to be able to challenge my cross country team with something profound, something they could ponder and use to muster up strength and courage when they needed it most. Personally, I thrive on motivational and inspiration"stuff." I'm the one who cuts apart motivational calenders, posting quotes all over my office. It makes me yearn and dream and strive to accomplish the impossible. I wanted the same for my kids but kept coming up short on anything that might have that effect.

But as so often the case, God came through with the right thought for the right minute. Our church began reading our way through 1 Thessalonians. Fortunately, I didn't have to read very far. In the first chapter there it was. Let me set the stage.

Team t-shirts
Paul and his sidekicks, Silas and Timothy, wrote a letter to the church in Thessolinica. The way they begin their letter might be likened to the way a coach addresses his team or a parent setting up the kids for a frank discussion. In other words, start out with the good stuff. Encourage. Don't discourage.

So what did they say? For starters, they said this:  "We thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Thes. 1:2, 3). A few verses later, it gets even better. The writers let the church know that "you have become a model to all the believers" (vs 7) and the "your faith in God has become known everywhere" (vs 8).

Stop the presses! That's amazing. What a way for a group to be known: work produced by faith, labor prompted by love, and endurance inspired by hope. If the same could be said of me and my team, we'll be doing okay. But let's take a closer look.

Work produced by faith. If a skydiver had no faith that the meticulous packing of his shoot was going to do him any good, he might as well take a flying leap without his parachute and hope the clouds will become his trampoline. But that would be stupid, right? Right. As Christians, the faith we have in the grace of God and his saving power urges us on to work hard and carefully advance the Kingdom. The faith we are given urges us be just as meticulous as the "I don't want to die. I wanna live" skydiver in our daily work.

Labor prompted by love. What's the greatest deterrent to getting an employee to give the job all he's got or an athlete to bust a gut in practice? Lack of love. Yep. If you hate what you're doing, chances are you'll quit sooner than later. Of all people, our love for God should be enough to keep us motivated to selflessly reach out, meet people where they are, serve one another, and so become a
Team sweatshirt
testimony to the indwelling Christ.

Endurance inspired by hope. Picture this. A runner is 56 miles into a 100-mile race. The area is remote, he's puking, feet are ravaged from hours of being wet, and it feels like he is carrying a 150 pound pack. Every step is torture as he makes his way into a check point. He sits in a chair, shivering from dehydration and exhaustion. In front of him looms a huge climb up the next mountain and 44 more tortuous miles. Now, if he abandons any hope of  earning the finisher's buckle, do you think there's much chance of him getting out of that chair and proceeding on. No way! The only thing that would drive him forward is a real hope of making it to the end despite the circumstances. Believer, we can carry on because our hope in Jesus Christ is well-placed! We can--and must--endure.

My team and I are in the final weeks of our cross country season. So, what will be our legacy? What will we be remembered for? Will we be known for work produced by faith, labor prompted by love, and endurance inspired by hope? I trust that will be the case.