Friday, December 31, 2010

Topping Terrapin

LCA runners atop Terrapin Mountain

After my first season as a high school head cross country coach, my finger felt the beat of adventure running through my runners' veins. They got used to following me anywhere and everywhere on local trails, putting in miles on our distance days. Sarah even decided she never wanted to run a 5K again. She named herself "UltraGirl", helped me sweep a 100-miler, and accompanied me on a 20-mile training run a few weeks back. But for now, my most serious runners transitioned to the indoor track season. I came along as their coach.

For distance runners, "indoor track" is an oxymoron. Seldom do we stay indoors. Rather, it's out into the windy, cold days of winter. While our speedy counterparts come toting shorts and t-shirts to the temperature-controlled track, my kids show up with tights, hats and gloves, and jackets. It's up the mountain, around campus, through the fields. Our faces go numb, lips unable to form intelligible words. Eyes water, fingers go cold. We slip and slide on snowy trails, grabby trees to stay upright on tight turns. Our return trip to the track office is filled with musings about hot chocolate and warm showers.

Of course, we pay our dues with speed work on the track once or twice a week. But too much track work is punishing pounding for the necessary mileage. Sometimes we get inventive. After working hard on the track Monday, putting in a two-hour trail run on Tuesday, we did hills on Wednesday. Never mind that we got to the bottom via sleds. Our workout was climbing back to the peak to go again...and again...and again.

When I suggested we go run a challenging ten-mile loop in the mountains, they jumped at the chance. A promise of a free lunch didn't hurt either. Attempts to recruit sprinters to join us failed miserably. We could only recruit a decathlete, polevaulter, and the head coach. Nevertheless, I distributed every hydration pack and bottle I had before we headed to the start. As anticipated, there was snow. What was not anticipate was how much snow.

Abby Quigg follows Trey Fisher through Fat Man's Misery
By the time we bagged Terrapin Mountain's summit, we were tired; tired of stomping through drifts that swallowed my leg knee-deep. The trip down was more of the same. Run, run, run, splat. Face plants were frequent when the snow refused to release a leg. Even the squeeze through Fat Man's Misery was met not with angst but with excited anticipation. Never once was there a complaint. Never once a whine. Just endless chatter and laughter; resounding, raucous laughter watching most of the group slip, slide, or roll down the final steep incline.

I loved this run. I love these kids. I love it that they are embracing the challenges and accepting these activities as "normal."

I love them being this gullible.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Whiter than snow

To the door I marched, flipping on the outside spotlight just like when I was a little kid. A smile spread across my face, erasing all the fatigue of Christmas preparations. Filtering down from above, small white flakes fell toward the earth, turning a green yard into a landscape awash in white. It was beautiful. The snow-lined trees were now silhouetted against the dark sky. I lingered a while, watching. And then, opening the door, I stepped into the chill, spread my arms wide and lifted my chin to the sky. I took a deep, cleansing breath as the heavy, wet snow landed on my eyelids. Leaving the noise of chatter inside, I reveled in the tranquil and silent snowfall. The world seemed to slow a bit, as if wanting to silence the frenzy of Christmas day. But alas, I reluctantly returned to the climate-controlled indoors and participated once more in post-dinner conversation.

We awoke on this Christmas morn to a dusting of snow. It wasn't much but the ground was covered. It was fitting for the holiday. As the day went on and despite frequent snow showers, a gentle rise in temperature rendered my wonderful, holiday snow to disappear, changing my yard back to dismal brown. The weatherman had reported no expected accumulation so I wasn't surprised. Yet, I secretly praying he was wrong.

With dinner safely tucked into the oven, I looked to see the snow pick up again. Ah-ha! Brown was again giving way to white. My pulse raced. I excused myself, changed into tights and slipped my anxious feet into  running shoes.

"See you in a little while," I uttered to whoever was in earshot. Down the long driveway I went, my feet making fresh prints in the snow. The snow was gentle, the wind still. The neighbor's cows played a game of frolic as I passed by. I think they liked the snow as much as me. Further on my journey, a hunter emerged from the woods carrying his unfired gun. We nodded to each other as we went our separate ways. I was alone with my thoughts, the cool temperatures clearing my mind. I felt alive, thankful for the moment.

All too soon, I stepped back into the warm glow of the house. It was dusk and high time to put on the final touches to Christmas dinner. As we sat down together as a family, the fellowship was savored as much as the food. There we were, me in my running clothes, Grandpa still wearing his own hunting gear, my niece in her new shirt, a Santa hat perched atop Skip's head, and the others in various stages of dress, sharing the beauty of the occasion. As snow continued to fall, it was what Christmas dreams are made of.

The forecast has now changed and the "snow showers" prediction has been replaced with snow measured in inches. I hope they are right this time. I could use another day of whiteness. For me, the snow demands a time of reflection. A time of quiet. And how perfect to have it on Christmas.

When the Christ-child was born, he came to a world darkened by sin. Atonement was necessary. And atonement is what the Lord Jesus provided as he hung on that cross 33 years later. The temple veil was ripped in two and direct access to the Father granted. As the blood sacrifices covered sin in ages past, the blood sacrifice of the Perfect Son covered our sin. No longer are we black-marked. Rather, we are washed in the redeeming red stream and purified as snow, the whitest snow ever.

Rejoice with every flake that falls. Revel in the earth's white garment. Be reminded, even when you need to shovel it.

“Come now, let us settle the matter,”
   says the LORD.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
   they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
   they shall be like wool. (Isaiah 1:17-19)


Monday, December 20, 2010

The Ugly Truth

I just discovered something the other night as I was adding Hellgate stories and stats to the extremeultrarunning.com website.  After being delighted to report a 14 minute PR for myself, I must recant. Sad, indeed.  Here is what happened.

When I looked up prior results, I stopped short when I saw a previous time for me at 15:54 since I did not remember running under 16 hours three times. Guess what?  2004 was the 15:54 but in 2007, I ran 15:40:22.  My time this year? 15:40:31. Shoot.  9 measly seconds away from a PR.  In the context of nearly 67 miles, that really isn't much.  UGH!!!

Sorry for the misinformation. Somehow, I'm not quite as excited anymore. I was loving the idea of a PR.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Hellgate: Take 8

How odd that a 67 mile race matched to the name of the parking lot at the start would be so descriptive. And who, pray tell, thought of naming that piece of land "Hellgate" in the first place? Who does that?

Images conjured up by the name "Hellgate" leap to mind. Quotes from sources such as Dante's Inferno ("Abandon hope all ye who enter here") to country crooner Rodney Atkins ("...If you're going through hell, keep on moving. Don't slow down...”) grace t-shirts handed out at check-in. And with runners arriving in the cold and ominous darkness for a midnight start, comrades instinctively join together against the waiting, sinister course. It's just not your normal race.

But a race it is. A race with such growing popularity that many are turned away not simply because of limited race slots. They are turned away because the race director regards them incapable of such an undertaking. It is a not a race for the faint-hearted or inexperienced. Each year on the second weekend of December, the rugged course, daunting climbs and technical descents draw the runners into the inky cover of darkness, some of them destined to never run into the light of day.

I know this course, this race, this pre-Christmas challenge. For each of the eight years of its existence, my name has been on the list of competitors. I’m not sure why. Each year I swear “never again.” And yet, my name appears as if written by the devil himself. To the mountains I must go. I must face the demons that await.

One year, the demons won my soul. I could not conquer the course and surrendered when I could not breathe about halfway through the required 67 miles. However, I out ran them each of the other years. Some years were harder than others to avoid being snared by their wicked grip, but never was it easy. I didn’t expect my eighth year to be anything different.

But it was. I found myself smiling at the start. I did not feel the trepidation that usually trumps all other emotions. I surged into the night anticipating what might come. I had no delusions of grandeur but was comfortable with my task. I counted sets of running steps mixed with hiking steps as the first ascent climbed skyward, headlamps above twinkling like tiny stars. My breathing was controlled; legs working well as I concentrated on small steps and mid-foot plant. Unlike other years, I climbed higher and higher passing others along the way.

Through the night I ran. I was surprised to be shoulder to shoulder with racers accustomed to being in front of me. At times I would pull away, content to take in the cold, still night alone. Occasionally I would run with- and then ahead of- female runners. I didn’t quite understand the excitement of my aid-station tending college friends upon my arrival. Why the hubbub?

Somewhere along the way I realized I was actually the second place woman. It was hard to comprehend. It had been years since I had been in the hunt and the miles through thirty seemed so easy, so effortless. Why was this happening? Had the devils left the woods?

No. I found them hiding behind the trees and lurking under rocks in their own territory: a trail we call “The Devil Trail.” A stomach turning south and waning energy from not eating chased me. So did another female runner. She passed me at about 43 miles. It was third place for me with twenty-some miles to go. My fun meter pegged zero.

I worked hard to gain a ridge high above the valley floor. I ate and drank when I could. My smile had faded but my legs kept moving albeit at a slower pace.  Push. Push, I told myself even after a rock reached out to pull me to the ground face first. I didn’t like it that several men had gone by looking much more energetic than me. It was hard not to be discouraged.

But then came Rick. Rick Gray. A faithful friend with a heart as far from gray as could be. Golden, even. He is an encourager and gentleman no matter the circumstances. He was running toward a personal best, pulling me in his wake along the long, thin ribbons of trail. I let him. I needed mindless motion while I struggled to regain my strength and will.

Up and down. In and out. The never-ending trail changed as much as my emotions. I was fighting off sleep while trying to calm my stomach. I nearly lost my will in the gentle currents of the creeks we crossed. When will we be through? Where is the aid station? It seemed so pointless. Pointless until Rick softly called my name and I glanced backwards. Another woman approached, moving well. Suddenly I was awake and moving once again, trying to keep her in contact once she took the lead. Soon the initial surge wore off and the disappointment of falling into fourth position settled in. Nevertheless, her parting words haunted me, urging me onward. “Kerry’s coming.”

Not again, I wanted to scream. She was a strong finisher and certain to run me down. I barely held her off by a hundred yards in a prior year. Rick and I took on the final three mile ascent, glancing often back down the mountain. I knew she was close. I could feel it.

Crossing the gap to fall off the other side of the mountain on the final descent to the finish, I turned again. There she was. My heart jumped, spirits fell. But Rick and I ran on and on and on. . . and on. I dared not look back. My breathing became labored, arms flailing and legs heavy. It was all I could do not to give into the devil’s prompting to stop, abandoning hope even at the late hour. But over the din of the wicked one’s prompting, Rick reached out and grabbed my hand, joining with David, another runner. His message of triumph rang loud and clear, silencing the devil’s clamor. We crossed the line together, exhausted. Rick ran nearly an hour personal best. Me, a best by fourteen minutes.

Though the devil tried to dance, his music went silent.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Standing in the storm

The wind buffeted us as we ran along, making the 25 degree temps feel all the more frigid. It was hard running into the wind, heads bowed forward to protect our faces and keep our eyes from tearing up. I much prefer a balmy, calm day when I need to get in some miles. But alas, we had no choice.

With another windy day on tap, I just read a friend's blog describing a recent marathon. It was a six mile loop that when running west, was directly into a stiff wind. Two pacers ran in front of her in an attempt to block the air currents making progress a bit more pleasant. But still, it was hard going. I'm sure she wished for the gale to cease.

As I began to work in the office this morning I clicked on the morning news and was captivated by a special piece on Elizabeth Edwards, presumably in her last hours. At the end of a long struggle with cancer, the story highlighted her life with all of it's ups and downs; the political scene, the pressure of being the perfect wife, the gut-wrenching lose of a son to an accident, the birth of other children later in life, a devastating diagnosis and equally devastating infidelity of her husband. Drawn from an interview in past years, she was quoted as saying that she wished her children to remember her as a woman who "stood in the storm...and adjusted her sails..." That is quite the legacy.


The analogy of a storm is not unfamiliar. Think of Jonah on that boat headed to Nineveh. The storm raged and he was thrown overboard since the crew's storm-fraught predicament was all his fault. Jonah was running hard from God, not standing tall in the face of what God asked him to do. In fact, trying to escape on that boat was his way of slouching cowardly, turning his back on God. So into the churning sea he went. I bet he never expected that big 'ol fish to swallow him up and then spit him out. But it was only when hit the beach on his knees that he could stand tall. He could stand to face the challenge because he knew his God had been in the storm with him.

Ever feel like you're in a storm? I do. Pressures, challenges, and heartache come from all directions. It is not a particularly pleasant experience. Fortunately, some come and go quickly. Others show no sign of clearing skies. Still, it is in those dark and blustery days that we must learn to stand tall in the storm.  But just as important, we must learn how to sleep in the storm. Really. I'm not kidding.

Sleep is reserved for those who are at peace. Remember how the Lord was in the boat when a vicious storm arose on the Sea of Galilee? Waves washed over the sides, nearly swamping it. The disciples were frightened senseless. And yet the Lord slumbered, the disciples thinking him oblivious to their peril. Finally awakening him they said, "Teacher, don't you care if we drown?" (Mark 4:38b). I can see it now. Jesus probably gave them that “give me a break” kind of look, drew in an exasperated breath and then told the wind and waves to cease. 

Silence and calm. That’s what happens when the Lord is in control. But we error if we think God was not--or is not--in control when the seas churn and the winds blow. The only difference is our ability—or perhaps, willingness—to believe that God is as much God in the storm as in calm.

Stand tall in the storm. Then find rest and sleep despite the roar of the crashing waves.

"The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head. To the roots of the mountains I sank down;  the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you, LORD my God, brought my life up from the pit. “When my life was ebbing away,  I remembered you, LORD, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple." (Jonah 2:5-7)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Time trials

OK. I did it. I said "yes" to being the distance coach for indoor track just when I was eagerly anticipating free afternoons at the conclusion of the cross country season. But alas, I could not turn down the kids' pleas.

We started practice a few days ago. At least fifty kids showed up in the classroom for the first meeting. There was standing room only. I knew the cross country kids but everyone else was a stranger. The head coach addressed the anxious athletes, laying out the rigors and rules for the season. Then he dropped the bomb. "We will be having time trials on Thursday. You'll have to run the minimum times to make the team."

This was the first time he had decided to take this approach. In other years, all-comers were welcomed. But not now. With  dwindling access to the indoor track and sprinters who don't fancy running out in the elements, he decided that stampeding the hallways of the school in large herds was not a good idea. Hence, the tryouts.

I understand but have mixed feelings about it. I look at some of my cross country kids who have hearts of lions but lack the predator's power and the speed. These kids will do anything you tell them-and with a smile-but they won't get to the finish line first. They are great team members, encouraging and supporting without hesitation or jealousy of those who are swifter. Their improvement from the first of the season to the end is measured in minutes, not seconds. Anyone of them could have been awarded the "Coach's Award" for admirable traits. But alas, now they must face the click of the stopwatch. I wonder how they will fare.

None of us like to fail by missing the mark-or see those we care about do the same. It is a painful process. But we do know that it's a part of life. Not everyone who runs wins the victor's crown. Still, my guess is that some of these kids, cross country cross-overs along with others, will not make the standard. How can I help them through this process without coddling or patronizing?

There are a bazillion quotes about failure, some of them quite poignant, others cliche'. Try these:
  • Fear of failure must never be a reason not to try something.” - Fredrick Smith
  • The greatest barrier to success is the fear of failure. - Sven Goran Eriksson
  • The only real failure in life is the failure to try. - Unknown
  • Life's real failure is when you do not realize how close you were to success when you gave up. - Unknown
  • Try and fail, but don't fail to try. - Stephen Kaqqwa
  • Failure is a detour, not a dead-end street. - Zig Ziggler
  • A man may fall many times, but he won't be a failure until he says that someone pushed him. - Elmer G Letterman
  • Failure is not falling down but refusing to get up. - Chinese Proverb
Enough of that.

But I was interested to read what Job, the persecuted and tried man of old, thought about failure. Here he was, an illustration, and flannelgraph object lesson even, used by God. His possessions, family, houses, status in life; all taken from him. The only thing left intact was his ability to take in sustaining breaths and that was not without difficulty. Did he feel like a failure? Yes. Was the process heart-wrenching and painful? Yes. Did all these maladies make him "feel" good?  No. And again I scream, "NO!" It was horrible, terrifying, numbing. And yet the man never cursed God. He took what came his way and despite the misery of it, reveled in God's sustaining mercy. He came out on the other side of the adversity as a man standing tall.

So to all those who momentarily know the pain of failing-or fear that possibility-take heart. At least there is hope for a tree: If it is cut down, it will sprout again, and its new shoots will not fail. (Job 14:7)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

U-turns

It was funny...the first couple of times. After that, not so much.

I was with my cross country team at a big regional race down in Charlotte, NC. The kids were excited. This trip had become a tradition for many. Although it was not a required event, about fifteen of them chose to give up a full day of Black Friday shopping, opting instead for a bumpy and boisterous bus ride and an overnight stay. I have to admit; I was not fully committed to the adventure. I was exhausted from having out-of-town guests for over a week and had given up highly anticipated plans to attend my 35th high school reunion and visit my mom in Pennsylvania. But the kids begged and I relented, not wanting them to miss an opportunity to end the season in style.

The trip went well on the way down, arriving at our hotel without difficulty. We also successfully managed to find the race headquarters to pick up race numbers as well as directions to the event site. Our next goal was to visit the course before nightfall to familiarize ourselves with the paths and stretch our legs in a light run. Easy enough.

Easy enough if we could find the right road. Somehow, we missed a key turn, extended a fifteen minute trip to forty-five and practiced the fine art of U-turns, most of them legal. After jogging the course in the deepening dusk, we climbed back onto the bus, wanting very much to get refreshed and find dinner. I was somewhat melancholy, mindlessly gazing out the window, when my assistant coach (who doubles as the bus driver) handed the map to one of the senior guys. Bad idea. Wrong turns and endless speculation about the relationship of the downtown skyline to our desired destination dominated. The once carefree chatter ceased as hunger pains grew. I kicked myself for not remembering the GPS.

We finally arrived back at the hotel if for a brief few minutes, time enough to tidy up and grab wallets. Back on the bus we piled, eager to fill our stomachs. Pulling up to the hotel's carport to pick up the last few people, spirits rebounded, the bus once again filled with happy noise...and the noise of the bus's roof mounted vent and escape hatch being unceremoniously ripped from its hinges. A loud, incessant buzzer sounded to tell us the hatch was awry. Really? The hole in the roof wasn't clue enough?

Thankfully, no damage was done to the hotel. A couple of kids held the broken cover in place as we drove the three miles to the location of approximately ten restaurants. Unfortunately, the entrance into the mall area was missed, finding us driving down a limited access highway instead. The chatter once again ceased as the buzz of the still-resounding alarm spotlighted our situation. After another turn-about, we finally arrived at our destination and filled our bellies. Packing tape now filled the gaps around the fractured vent.

"You got this?", I asked Jeff the next morning. After a scenic tour all over Charlotte the day before, I wanted to confirm that he had his bearings to get us back to the event site.

"Yep. Sure do" he said, handing the map once again to the same boy. I should have known better. I unwisely relaxed and sat back content to entertain some things heavy on my mind. Bad idea. Before long, I realized that we were again displaced from the proper route. A few more speculative U-turns and a much less direct route eventually returned us to the race site in the nick of time. The angst of arriving late must have been motivating. Jeff went out and ran a lifetime best and won the masters division of the open race.

After a day of successful racing, I took hold of the lousy and incomplete map and directions, guiding us on our way back home. It was without incident. Without incident, that is, until an hour and a half up the road, I startled out of a light sleep to realize we had missed a key exit onto another highway. It was almost laughable. Another grand detour and a few more groans eventually led back to Lynchburg. It could not have come any sooner.

So, what's the point? We are all laughing about it now but it wasn't quite so funny in the midst of it all. Had I just remembered the GPS, we would likely have had no difficulties. The problem was that we were relying on instinct, faulty as it was, coupled with a photocopied, hand-drawn and incomplete map. Even an old-school atlas would have provided superior direction.

I get myself into a lot of trouble, wasting time and energy, when I fail to rely on good directions. Surely, they are available but I either choose to ignore or disregard the directives. I rely, rather, on my own faulty premises and feelings, trying to reason my way back to where I need to be. That isn't too bright.

I gain understanding from your precepts;  therefore I hate every wrong path. Your word is a lamp for my feet,a light on my path. I have taken an oath and confirmed it, that I will follow your righteous laws. (Psalm 119: 104-106)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Appearances

Hum. Maybe he has a point, I thought to myself. Time for a little introspection.

I know I shouldn't judge a book by its cover. Many a rich word has been written between the pages of old, crusty and dusty covers. But I do not speak of a literal book. I think you know what I mean. I see a dirty, homeless-looking guy holding a sign in the median by Wal-Mart and immediately have thoughts of drunkenness and lack of motivation. A morbidly obese overweight woman in stretch polyester pants walks by speaking harshly to a young child and I assume she's not much of a mother. Or, I see a tattooed teenage boy trying to keep his pants up and figure he has little to offer the world. Am I right or wrong thinking these thoughts?

This is not a phenomena peculiar to my generation. My parents were suspect of boys with long hair and girls wearing bell bottom pants and leather fringe back in the day. In their minds, no self-respecting Christian young person should dress that way since there was a cultural association with the Beetles, revolution, drugs, alcohol, and free love. Was there an element of truth in their thinking? Perhaps. The masses do have a tendency to mimic the characteristics of whatever-or whoever-they fancy themselves to be. But even if the outward appearance of being a radical hippie was there, was that reason enough to hold those people at bay?

We have a son who walks to his own beat. He has pierced ears and doesn't own any real trousers, opting instead for pencil thin jeans. He is a creative, right-brained photographer who expresses himself through his work and appearance. And, he seems to attract more of the same. Recently, a girl showed up at our house with hot pink hair and a loud, interesting dress and sweater, her well-endowed features spilling out over the top. I have to be honest. It was hard not to make an instant judgment. I made it a point to speak to her, howbeit not for long since she and Seth were watching a movie. She seemed like a nice girl and had to have something on the ball; she had just turned 17, graduated early from high school and was taking college classes. Still, it was hard not to make judgments. I wish it were not so.

James strongly warned about giving preference based on outward appearance. Review it with me (James 2: 1-13) but be prepared. These are powerful words.

   My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism.  Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, "Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
   Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?  But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court?  Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?
   If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.
  Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. 

Goodness. Mercy triumphs over judgment. That is an incredible truth that is so easy to say and so hard to do. Is it possible that this girl's outward appearance indicates a set of values not consistent with holy living? Maybe. Maybe not. But does it relieve me of the responsibility to interact with grace and mercy, showing her God's love through my words and actions? No. Absolutely not.

God help me.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Good Race

It could not have been a more beautiful day. The sky was bright, air clear, temperatures crisp. The brilliant colors of fall covered the mountainside, leaves refusing to lose their grip on the trees at the lower elevations. And there I was, running through woods just as happy as could be. That was a nice change.

In recent years, I haven't always been happy. Races had become a chore. An obligation. Sure, there was some satisfaction in getting the job done but there were many more moments of pain and suffering, both mental and physical. I suppose there were a lot of reasons for that; insufficient training, poor time management, getting pulled in a hundred directions, burnout after nearly two decades of hard running, and the prevailing thought that I would rather have a power tool or shovel in my hand to work on a big project. Hence, not a lot of smiles.

Photo courtesy of Seth Trittipoe
But this year was different. The start of the Mountain Masochist 50 Mile Trail run in the pre-dawn hours was met with an element of anticipation. I had put in long trail miles through the summer and daily shorter, more intense miles with my cross country team. There is something motivating about trying to stay ahead--or at least abreast--of the team members. It's that example thing that spurs you on to producing pools of sweat, aching legs and burning lungs. A few pounds shed in the process and no injuries loomed on the horizon. I thought there was a possibility of a good day.

The miles clicked by as did the mental cogs in my brain. Eat. Drink. Run when I'm supposed to run. Walk when I'm supposed to walk. Be smooth and efficient. Get to Long Mountain Wayside in good time. The race starts there.

For the first time in the race, I glanced at my watch at the "halfway" point; a bit more than the 26.9 mile advertised distance. History has proven that no matter how speedy or turtle-like, if you double the first half time, you get pretty close to your finish time. My watch said 5:11.  I wanted to be closer to ten hours than eleven. There was hope.

My second half was more social than the first. I ended up playing cat and mouse with a number of the same guys. A few wanted to know what was coming up in the course and I was happy to share my knowledge with them, this looking to be my thirteenth finish. Strong marching up the hills and steady running felt good. I was able to pass a good number of people, particularly encouraging in the closing miles of the race. With sore feet from significant rock-kicking my only malady, I crossed the line in 10:18.

10:18. Definitely not my fastest (8:57 back in 1998) and not my slowest (11:14 in 2006). However, I had not run better since 2004. I enjoyed the day, embracing the hardship of the elevation gain and the terrain. I had no in-the-pit low times. I was able to eat and drink with ease (except when I overdosed on Gummy Bears.) I was dressed perfectly for the day and enjoyed making footprints in the first snow of the year. It was a good race and a good ending.

A good race. I think of another good race; the one I am to be running on a daily basis. Sure, there will be rough spots in that race. Times of doubt. Times of angst. But there will also be joy and movement forward will be possible through love.

Run the good race.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.  fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-3)

Monday, November 8, 2010

Say it outloud. Write it down.

Goodness. Best of intentions have gotten me again. I really, really wanted to post at least one a week. But from the looks of it, I have fallen off the wagon since September. It's not that I haven't thought about it. In fact, I had these thoughts rolling around inside my head for quite a while. But life gets busy and my energy run out at the end of the day. However, I must pen some ideas now lest they dissipate with the wind rustling the leaves outside my window.

A week ago Thursday, my cross country team was facing conference championships on Saturday. It has been a good year but a few things were yet to be accomplished. In a "fireside chat" before we set out on our run I asked the kids-all of them-to publicly state their goal for the race. After the initial panic subsided, the kids started talking. Most took the task quite seriously. Some had a time goal to beat. Others wanted to place. A friendly but mutual "I want to beat her" dual even emerged. Two runners wanted to win it all. Each goal, no matter how optomistic or realistic, was written on a tablet and guarded for safe keeping. On Monday we would revisit that list.

Well, guess what happened? That's right. Many of the goals were achieved. Great satisfaction followed in the wake. But what about those who fell short? Each was analyzed for it's merit and what may have gone wrong. We had to talk about how to respond to apparent "failure." Was your pre-race preparation adequate? Could you have done any better at a particular point in the race? Did your will betray you going up that tough hill or chasing down one last opponent?

It was an interesting exercise not only for them but for me. When we commit to something openly, our feet are held to the proverbial fire. It's hard to escape our own words, our intentions, our goals. Will we fail somewhere along the way? Probably. But as the fortune cookie quip read at the restaraunt on the way home from the championship: "A man may fail many times but he is not a failure until he stops trying."

I commit to write at least once a week. There. I said it. Now help me keep to it.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Ten Miles

Ducking into some bushes down from the track, I dropped low to answer the call of my churning insides. "Ah, that feels better," I thought after a few awkward minutes of hoping no one was watching. Continuing the short walk to the growing crowd, my mind picked up on the churning action. The first of two times I made this walk was in 1996. I was 39 years old. The last time was 1997. The race was a big deal to locals and many from afar. Back then, I was running strong. Not so much anymore. But, the Virginia Ten-Miler, now in its 37th running, pulled in nearly 3,000 runners this year to run the hilly course. So, what in the world was I doing toeing the line?

I am not a road runner. I am an ultrarunner, much preferring the rocky ribbons of trail traversing mountainsides. But I am also a coach; a middle and high school cross country coach. Many of my kids had signed up for this race or the companion 4-Miler. And my assistant coach, Mr. Speedy Gonzales himself, was shooting for another sub-60, top ten finish. How could I not?

I used to have plenty of fast twitch muscles. I was a champion sprinter in high school back in the mid-70s. Undefeated even. But miles of trails teamed with multiple birthdays have turned the fast-twitch into hardly a twitch. I have become turtle-like; slow and mostly steady. The road race scares me but. . .

But it's those crazy kids; those kids who enthusiastically filled out the entry forms and sent them in. It's their willingness to submit themselves to the training. It's their glee to keep in front of me at practice. It's my competitive nature to not let that happen too often.

1996 Virginia 10-Miler Pictures
Hence, toe the line I did. In 1996, just two years into my ultrarunning career, I ran 70:05, placing 7th overall for the woman. But after a 7:15 first mile this year, I couldn't fathom how I ever did that. Still, I ran on, trying to hold my pace up those big hills. I told myself to stay relaxed, try to enjoy the bands and people along the way. I watched as my top cross country girl began pulling away at mile three. I noted a friend of mine running just ahead of me waving to the crowd as people called to her.  Everyone knew her. She looked like a princess going to the prom. I saw streams of runners ahead and behind. Occasionally, I heard my name but mostly ran in anonymity, alone in my thoughts though amidst so many in and along those city streets.

Someone told me to have fun. Fun? Well, I'm not sure that labored breathing is a barrel of monkeys but - I tried. I tried to embrace this rare experience of racing on roads. I counted down the miles as I crossed the markers painted onto the road's surface. I worked hard to stay in contact with Prom Princess. I passed a number of people down a long hill. A few passed me as we ascended another. I wondered why the water station at the bottom of Farm Basket hill was handing out pink latex gloves to runners. I supposed it was some cancer awareness thing but was too tired to surmise further. That hill was sucking the life out of me and my mind finally relented to allow ten walking steps, twice, to keep my heart from exploding inside my chest. As I did, a young girl, about 18, I guessed, came along side and quipped, "Come on. You can do it. You are almost to the top of the hill."  I wanted to smack her but that would have taken too much effort.

I passed the final mile marker. I knew I would be close to 80 minutes, a time I arbitrarily picked as a goal. It was less than a minute per mile slower than I ran fourteen years ago. With 400 yards remaining, the still-smiling Speedy Gonzales ran out to bring me in after completing his race in 57 minutes. "Come on, Coach T. Here's a little down hill. You love downhills. You have a pretty good pace going. Now pick it up." Sadly, I could not. I couldn't even pick up a smile.

I heard my name announced over the loud speaker. By my watch, I missed my mark by 20 seconds. Shoot. Had I used one less water stop. . .had I not taken those few steps. . .had I reached down deeper. I was glad to be finished but immediately felt disappointed by my failure. Still, I had faced my fear and found the finish.

Awaiting the ceremony to see Speedy rewarded for his efforts, I heard the announcer say, "And the Women's overall Grand Masters champion is Rebekah Trittipoe." Yippee.  I have to admit, I had thought about that possibility as I walked to the line and ran those ten stink'n miles. I didn't see anyone around me who looked old but they could have been out front. I could only hope. A heavy trophy was handed over to me, a photographer snapped my picture against the backdrop, and a certificate for a new pair of shoes was offered. Now I could smile broadly.

Yesterday I ordered my free pair, a minimalist racing shoe. Then, I began looking for my next race. . .on roads. Scary. I must have been taken over by aliens.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Rocky Ridge

Rebekah, Joy, Sue
I really wasn't counting on the rocky route across the ridge.  But there we were; three woman in their fifties ambling along. We were three-fifths of the girl contingent that converged in the mountains of Virginia. Joy, my sister-in-law, discovering she had an open week at her timeshare, had her sister, Jackie, fly in from California for the occasion. Joy's friend from childhood, Sue, flew up from Florida along with her sister, Jackie's best buddy from yesteryear. A full week of lounging, reminiscing, watching movies, cooking dinner, and other stuff one only does on vacation was planned. I was invited but could manage only a single-night sleepover and one day of fun. Still, it was better than nothing. But I digress.


The three of us more adventurous types decided on a little hike. The trail descriptions were read over and over again, trying to decipher what we were getting into. We didn't want a paved path through the woods but Joy and flat-lander Sue didn't necessarily want ten miles of treacherous trekking. After some debate, we settled on the Ridge Trail, parking up the mountain where access to the trail was easy. The route would lead us along the spine of the mountains and take us to the top of a ski trail at the Massenutten resort. From there we would descend the mountain and hike our way back to the condo. We would reclaim the truck still at the top of the mountain later. I'm pretty sure Joy mentioned something about five miles in seventy-five minutes. Hum.

"Ah, look at them. They have their little backpacks. Looks like they're prepared for a hike," I commented as we watched four grandma and grandpa types ascend the steep stairs leading to the trail. A few minutes later and just as we crested the stairs, here they came. They had enough. . .all three minutes of it.

"Good luck if you are going to hike," they quipped. "Too many rocks." But we weren't worried. They could not deter us from our adventure. After all, we were much younger.

Off we went. The trail wasn't smooth but was still runnable, I noted to myself. But we weren't there to run. We were happy hikers. After a few minutes of following the blue markings painted on rocks, we noted a blue diamond nailed to tree. "0.25 miles RT." One-quarter mile in the bag with a couple miles of Ridge Trail to go.

Conversation flowed easily as we caught up on everything. No one struggled as my companions had daily walks and fitness to count on for conditioning. However, as the trail continued, our progress slowed as the rocks, pointy and standing up on edge, seemed to rise from the surface with increasing frequency. Still, we were content to feel the mountaintop breeze and take pictures along the way.

We had read that the trail was "difficult, steep and rocky" about halfway in. "This must be what they were talking about," we surmised as we picked our way along the narrow and now much rockier trail. We had not seen additional mileage signs though numerous minutes had passed. "They must have decided not to put up anymore signs."

Sue climbing up the rocky trail

We had to reconsider our assumptions. Sections further down the trail, if you want to call it that, took us on steep rock scrambles along the very narrow ridge. No dirt. No mud. Just rocks. Lots and lots of rock, boulders, even. The journey was so interesting we even decided to sit and contemplate life for a few moments every so often. It would have been nice to "contemplate" over a sip of water. . .but we didn't have any. Unfortunate.

After what seemed like a very long time, we spotted one of those blue diamonds. "1.75 miles. RT"

"1.75 miles?!?!?" We were incredulous. How could that be? We figured we had traipsed at least three and a half rocky miles by then. But we had no recourse other than putting one foot in front of the other. We could see the ski slope off to the left along the same ridge and knew we were getting closer.

Continue on we did. We were pleased that no one had tripped, bloodied themselves, or fallen to an untimely death. No concussions. No twisted ankles. No heat stroke and no one would likely die from dehydration. Those rocks had nothin' on us. We came, we saw, we conquered...

Conquered, that is, until the rocks gave way to kinder, much gentler trail. It was easy going, nothing compared with what we had just done. We relaxed, our pace quickened. . .and then we all repeatedly tripped, stumbled, and faltered. What's with that? A life lesson, that's what.

When you think about it, we are forced to concentrate on the here and now in a time of crisis or hardship. Instinctively, we focus our attention, keenly aware of our surroundings, circumstances, and necessary actions. We read our Bibles, pray, meditate, and solicit God's guidance in every waking minute. We are steadfast. We are strong. But as soon as the storm passes, we relax to the point where we lose mental and spiritual acuity. We simply proceed on in an automatic gear. Should we really be surprised when we stumble over the easiest obstacles, awakening only as we hit the ground?

Be steadfast. Steadfast when the way is difficult. Even more steadfast when the path is smooth. Take nothing for granted.

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.
(I Peter 5:10)

Friday, September 10, 2010

Pushed to new limits

"To the line, Group 1. Ready? Go. Keep it steady. Hold that pace!"

Group 1 took off on their appointed task, leaving Group 2 on deck and Group 3 in the hole. I held stop watches in both hands, trying to time laps and rest periods for the twenty-some teenagers making their way around the track. Lap after lap, they started, stopped, and sucked down gallons of water on command. Their faces told the story.

After casual running throughout the summer, this practice was the first true test of so many things: fitness, speed, endurance, motivation, discipline, and of course, attitude. I tried to prepare them mentally for this difficult workout: a ladder run at tempo for 400, 800, 1200, 1600, 1600, 1200, 800, and 400 meter distances. The rest periods were slim at 1, 2, 3, or 4 minutes between the various rungs. It was tough; I proved that in the surreal fog of the early morning hours prior to practice when I ran the workout alone. I had told the kids I would never ask them to do what I was unwilling to do. Hence, my own fast paced laps.

I was interested to see how they would respond. With the sun climbing higher in the sky and not a cloud to provide shade, the kids persisted. Each time they came to the line they brought with them determined faces despite fatigued muscles and labored breathing. No one complained. No one whined.

By the time the last runner crossed the line, they were exhausted. Yet, I could tell they were pleased. It was a tough workout and they had divided, conquered, and returned with honor.

I am proud to call them "my" team.

(Describing the August 17 pre-season workout and in honor of the 2010 Liberty Christian Academy Cross Country team.)

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Bye-bye

"Lord," I prayed this evening before supper, "thank you for this beautiful day and safety as we went about our separate ways. Thank you for my run in the mountains and the jobs that the boys both have and now for this food that you provided. Help us to have a great evening together and . . .Well, OK. Bye."

"Ok. Bye." WHAT did I just say?!? Did I just say bye-bye, adios, Ta-Ta, Auf Wiedersehen, farewell to God? Yes. Without a doubt, I did. Seth told me so. There was a moment of silence before Caleb tried to suppress a laugh. Seth joined in and before I knew it, my eyes misted over as I clutched my side in raucous laughter. The more I thought about it, the more I laughed. And the more I laughed, the more the boys did the same. It was ridiculous. But, I bet God laughed, or at least snickered, as well.

Was I irreverent to say "bye" rather than a hearty "amen" at the end of my prayer? If I was, I certainly didn't intend to be. I know we are to approach the throne of our King with piety and great consideration. But I know that this heavenly King is also a Father who wants us to approach often and without hesitation. Do we not say hello and good-by to our fathers when coming or going? Why not with God the Father?

Sometimes we think that we have to go through some elaborate process to speak to God. I also think we make it too complicated. I once had a pastor who suggested we never say a final "amen" at the end of a prayer because it is, well, so final. It's as if we can take a big 'ol red pencil and check off that box on our to-do list. But what if we didn't say amen but rather utter, "Bye-bye. Talk to you soon" just like we do with our friends? Do you think we would leave with the expectation of continuing the conversation? I do.

Let's be careful not to compartmentalize prayer as if it should only occur in church or in special times of need. Keep the lines of communication open regardless of day of the week or time of day. Anticipate a great conversation. Listen for His call and respond on bended knee. . . or in the car, the cereal isle, or the repair shop. Anytime. Anywhere.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.
(Ephesians 6:18)

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Answered prayer

I should have written this over a week ago. Why didn't I?  Am I not happy, delighted even? Is my relief almost palpable? Then why wait?  I guess life got in the way and inspiring words went missing. So now, I must write. I can wait no longer.

If you have followed this blog over the last several months, you will remember the unique set of circumstances the our oldest son, Caleb, found himself in. After an unfortunate and completely unanticipated medical discharge from the Navy, his plans were turned topsy-turvy, his future uncertain. Since then he has been biding his time at home, deciding that a job at Liberty University might be a good alternate flight path: a steady income, benefits, and free tuition. Only problem is, those jobs are hard to come by.

Like all huge organizations, it seems like you have to know someone to get a foot in the door. We knew a few people in the IT department, Caleb's field of choice. Still, it was a long shot. But Caleb took the advise given him, completing an on-line application and applying for an apprentice position. Such a position pays little more than minimum wage but offers full benefits and free tuition, a necessary component allowing him to finish his degree. He would be delighted with that. Then we prayed.

After several long weeks of waiting (see a pattern here?), the call came. "Can you come in for an interview?"  This was just what we had hoped for. He prepared himself by talking with a VP of a large IT firm, absorbing all his wisdom about how to succeed. Then he went and bought a book to study to prepare for an A+ certification. Don't ask me what it is. Just know it is an impressive credential to have and shows that you know something about networks. He read 300 of the 600 pages immediately. On the day of the interview, Caleb left the house looking very handsome and polished, his confidence appropriately high. He returned with a smile--but no firm answer. His interview went well and his network problem-solving test was successful. He would have to wait...again.

An answer was promised in a week. On or about day six, my phone rang as I was rummaging about in the wide Wal-Mart isles in quest of a few needed items. "Mom. I have some news," Caleb reported.

My heart leaped. He got the apprentice job, I thought to myself. Yahoo! But wait. There was more.

"Actually," he continued, "I didn't get the apprentice job...they decided to make me an associate right away! Full time, full benefits, decent salary and free tuition. Can you believe it?" I heard the excitement in his voice. I felt immediate relief.

Me, the emotional being that I am, started sniffling right there in between the small appliances and the ironing boards. "What an answer to prayer. You do know it is an answer to prayer, don't you? So many people were praying..."

"Yes, Mother. I know."

Sometimes what we "know" and "believe" are two separate things. May we never, ever forget that our God hears us and answers. . . in His own time, in His own way. . .even when our faith is small.

So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer.
Ezra 8:23

Friday, August 6, 2010

Keep on keeping on

Don't you just hate it when you think you're making progress but have nothing to show for it? It's like when you are trying to lose a few pounds but the scale just won't cooperate. You even go out to buy a new scale. Surely, the calibration in the old one is wayyyyyy off.

Or, how about this? A long road trip is required and you are eager to arrive at the destination. The signs all point north and display decreasing miles to the city's border. Decreasing that is, until a detour routes you in the opposite direction. Ugh! Though you continue to move, it hardly seems like forward progress.

I've been feeling that way as of late. This new-fangled Garmin GPS watch is both a blessing and a curse. I feel compelled to strap on the heart rate monitor and hook the watch to my wrist every time I step out the door. With anticipation, I head down the road after pushing the right buttons. Knowing that is is measuring out my time and distance, I don't feel too relaxed since that smart-alek watch will quip "Behind by "x" seconds" should a faster run have been recorded. I try not to look at my watch, which, truthfully, I can't see very well without my glasses anyway. But I don't want to take a chance on being discouraged. So, I simply press on.

Once back at home, the watch starts talking to my computer and before you know it, my course is mapped out, minimum, maximum and average hearts rates, speed, and elevation gain and loss all laid out for me to see in pretty graphics. Sometimes, I can only sigh at the report, disappointed on some level. Other times, there is a slight improvement and with that, a small glimmer of hope. But what I am really looking for is not a glimmer, not a sliver, not a smidgen but a great big, bright and beautiful door that shows the way to grand improvement.

Alas, I still wait for that door to open and the light to come streaming in. I am working hard. I am back to charting my daily performances and recording my every move. I'm even trying to keep up with those young whippersnappers on my cross country team. Surely, I should start to see some improvement soon. I look at times for specific runs recorded years ago and compare that to nowadays. I can't fathom (or even remember) what it was to run like that. Now, I doubt I can ever regain the speed of yesteryear but it sure would be nice to achieve some gains.

How long will it take for those gains to come? How many weeks (or months) will I need to sweat and struggle to achieve my goals? I don't know. You would think that a little more time will stop the watch quicker on my daily run and get me through those mountains before the heat of day catches me. But I'll never know unless I keep on moving. Keep on trying.

I am reminded of my spiritual journey; a journey that at times seems to be going nowhere fast. I become discouraged in my own spiritual growth and even more so in my inability to minister effectively to others. It feels like my Biblical scale is broken and my spiritual watch only reports deficiencies. And yet, I must remember to press on though I have no idea where the course will take me or how long the traverse will be. I must keep on keeping on.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. (Philippians 3:12-15a)

Book signing is scheduled



On September 16, 2010 from noon until 2 p.m., I will be doing a book signing at the Barnes and Noble Bookstore on the campus of Liberty University.  If you're in the area, stop by, chat, and pick up a copy of the book. These make great everyday reading gifts for friends, family...and yourself.  It's the book that lasts all year long!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Friend, Friendly, Friendliest (a.k.a. Good, Better, Best)


For years and years, I looked forward to the Sears catalog arriving at our house. In particular, the Christmas catalog was the best. Hundreds of pages filled with images conjured up visions of what it would be like to have that "Easy Bake Oven" and "Creepy-Crawler" maker. But somewhere in between those pages holding my highest interest was the section on home goods and appliances; something slightly irrelevant to a young girl. But even the eyes of a youngster could see a pattern. The catalog writers promoted their goods as a continuum of value. Hence, good, better, best.

I got to thinking about that tonight. On the way out the door, one of our sons (who shall remain nameless) said, "Just because you don't have any friends to go hang with...."

Somewhere between taking offense and laughing raucously at such a statement, my brain lit up when millions of synapses connected all at once--and trust me, that doesn't happen too often these days. Though I held my tongue, my mind screamed out, "Whoa there, Buckaroo. That's just enough."

Gladly, we do have friends; lots of them. Some are the good kinds. You know the type. We can remember their names (most of the time), carry on conversations and share a few laughs. They are certainly more than acquaintances but we may not be stoked about spilling our guts to them about our deepest concerns. Most of us could fill a page with the names with these kind of friends. That's a good thing.

Then we have the better kinds. The relationship goes a little deeper. We share common ground whether it be work, families or faith. We might get together over supper or even take to the road on a joint vacation. The walls of our lives become more transparent and our inadequacies difficult to hide. But still, there is a back hallway that remains off limits, some things better left untouched. The names of these friends could also fill a page--as long as it isn't the size of a large legal pad.

But finally, we have those friends who mean the world to us; the best kind. These are the people that would drop everything to tend to you. If good news is the topic of the day, they will know it before the sun sets. When difficulties come, their number is on your speed dial and in your email address book. They know when to ask probing, uncomfortable questions and they know when to keep their mouth shut. They know how to encourage. They take extra care not to discourage. They know when chocolate is needed; lots and lots of fine dark chocolate. They will laugh and cry with you, having plenty of tissues on hand for either occasion. When they say they will pray, they do. When they say they will help, they come armed with all that is needed, even if that means cleaning a yucky bathroom or helping to tile a wall. They do not lead astray. They keep your best interest in mind. Even if circumstances or miles separate, the friendship cannot be extinguished. We are fortunate if the names of these kind of friends can fill a small note card. Actually, make that a Post-it note.

I have a special group of friends. We call ourselves the "Sisters of Mercy." There is little that we don't know about each other (although I did find out today that one of them was a waitress at a swanky restaurant for some period of time.) Ladies Night out is our therapy session, locks colored and toenails painted in the process. We know what is going on--or not--with all of our kids. There is no pretense of perfection; just simple honesty. There is a code of respect about what is said and what should never be repeated. The Sisters are quick to come to the aid of one who is hurting. You can act goofy and look ridiculous and they won't care. They may even join in. They will love, laugh, hug, encourage, commiserate, and yes, even admonish when necessary.They'll tell you if your new haircut sucks. It is like the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, only better. Much, much better. For what binds us together is not based on emotion or convenience or similarities. If you saw us all together, we are as different as night and day, salt and pepper, hot and cold. What binds us together in sisterhood is our Father, from who we all find our being and purpose.

My son reminded me of how grateful I am for my Post-it note friends. Thank you, girls. I treasure y'all (which is Southern for "The whole stink'n lot of you").


If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!
(Ecclesiastes 4:10)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Update on Caleb

Just thought I would let everyone know what is happening with Caleb.  If you have been a blog reader, you know that he was medically discharged from the Navy for a dime-sized spot near his belly button.  They said it was psoriasis which is a deal-breaker for being in the military.  After three horrendous weeks in the discharge unit, he came home two weeks ago today.

With hopes that he could turn around and go right back in with a diagnosis other than psoriasis, he visited a local dermatologist.  She said she saw no evidence of psoriasis.  Good news, right?  Not really. Since everything was clear, she could not make a definitive diagnosis.  So, the  rapid re-entry is off the table.

The plan is to stop using any ointment and see if it comes back.  If it does, he will have it biopsied with hopes of a more definitive diagnosis since it could be a simple dermatitis.  If that were the case, he could wait a year and then reapply and start all over.  It's along shot but...

In the meantime, he is looking for a job. Caleb has his application in for a full time position at Liberty University which, after six months, would extend free tuition to him.  He also has his resume in at a large IT firm.  This week he will be following up on those jobs and looking for others.  We are praying that he would soon be encouraged by a job and new direction for his life.

Thank you all for your concern, notes, and prayers on his behalf.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Every little step

Yes! What a score!!!

I was excited. Really excited. I had wanted a GPS watch for quite a while. But now that I am a cross country coach with miles of trails at my fingertips, I want to be able to send the kids out on runs of known length. So, on the way home from an appointment I stopped in at a local sporting goods store to look at their selection of devices. I had no intention of buying since I was confident I could get a better internet deal. I wandered the store and found nothing. A simple question to a sales associate, however, sent me to a disheveled sales table.

"I think there was one of those green Garmin 'thingees' in here somewhere," she said as we began rifling through the disorganized bins. I found bits and pieces of a cheap tin camping cook set, fishing lures and countless other items, most sans their original packaging. But suddenly, I spotted it: the allusive green Garmin Forerunner 405. I tried to control my excitement, my pulse quickening with anticipation. I began to search in earnest for all the components, the instruction book lighting the way as to what I was looking for. Little by little, I placed each found piece in a ziplock bag labeled with a price tag of $349.00. Too rich for my blood. However, for the trouble of a successful search and find mission and some wrangling with the manager, I walked out of the store with the watch, books, heart rate monitor and all the adapters, chargers and USB sticks for $175 even. Thank you, Lord!

Now, I just have to figure out how to use this modern piece of technology. The touch-tone bezel is new to me; simple taps of the finger on the watch replace cumbersome buttons. It can record heart rate, courses, elevation gains and losses, speed, mileage, GPS position, and can even guide you back to where you started. It interfaces with your computer and creates lovely charts and graphs. You can set it for interval workouts, repeats, and hill work torture tests. The possibilities are endless.

Last night I strapped it on and headed out the door. I tapped the bezel and pushed one of the two buttons as I remembered the booklet to instruct. However, without my glasses, I had a hard time reading the watch face as I sauntered along. It was only upon my return that I saw that the battery went dead somewhere along the way. I'll have to get used to an eight-hour battery life and plan better. Nevertheless, with great anticipation, the watch and computer had a successful conversation once I snapped on the charger. I was amazed.

There, right before my eyes, was a graph of my run. One line showed the ups and downs (but mostly ups) of my heart rate. Hum. No wonder it felt so hard. Another line on the graph showed my pace. Ugh. Not very impressive. I'll chalk it up to the heat, humidity and too much meatloaf for dinner. A click on an icon pulled up a chart of the average pace, heart rate, feet of elevation gain and loss and a myriad of other parameters, even the calories spent. (Yes! I can have a snack!) And, it even showed a map of my route, that is, the route before the battery went dead. Pretty cool.

When I wear this watch, I can't cheat. It knows when I go fast, slow, or in between. It even flashes "Off course" if I leave a pre-determined path. It records the thub-dub of every heart beat and knows every second spent in motion or stopped dead in my tracks. Scary. At least when you think about it.

Oh dear. How often do I forget that my every heart beat, my every step, the thoughts and intentions of my mind and my actions, big and small, are all within the purview of my heavenly Father?  There is no escape; there is no battery to go dead. I have a feeling that if I really understood that, my everyday behavior might be different.


O LORD, you have searched me
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you know it completely, O LORD.

Psalm 139:1-4

Monday, July 19, 2010

Golf ball run

The air was hot and thick. I was covered with sweat, my arms and legs brown and dirty. I had just finished shoving downed branches and limbs through my chipper. It was a filthy job but I needed mulch; it was worth the effort. But now, with daylight promising to fade, I simply took off down the road to get in a short run. I should have changed shoes but didn't take the time. I noticed my heel was hurting and any spring in those worn-out shoes was long gone miles ago. I felt sluggish, running merely out of obligation and guilt. I didn't feel very inspired.

When I got to my pre-determined turn-around point at the top of a hill, I started back down. Off in the weeds I noticed something white and round. "Ah, a golf ball," I thought to myself. "I should pick it up." But why? I don't play golf nor does anyone else in my family. Still, it's hard not to pick up a found item no matter what it is. I feel a sense of pride every time I return home with some random object, showing it off to whoever will give me the time of day. So, compelled to do so, I picked it up and ran on. But not very far.

Soon, I saw another and another strewn along this lightly-used country road. They were not clumped together. Rather, over the course of a mile and a half, I continued to find perfectly good golf balls. And since I picked up one, I was compelled to pick up all the others. Soon, I had four in each hand and another eight or so stuffed into my running bra. It was quite a sight. My chest had turned into a voluptuous, albeit bumpy, uniboob. Talk about some bounce. The chested balls had a tendency to pop out as I ran, sending me to chase them as they rolled down the road. But chase them I did, wondering what circumstance produced this smattering of golf balls along my route while hoping that none of the neighbors were watching. My run now had purpose and I was delighted.

About a half mile from home and just when I could not find another millimeter of bodily storage space for the next found ball, there in the ditch was a basket, the kind you find at a driving range. My growing and carried load had a new home. Good thing. I found another half dozen before turning down the driveway.

Did I need those golf balls? Hardly. Was it fun to find them? You bet. Almost as much fun as finding all those candy-laden eggs my Grandma used to hide come Easter morning. Thank God for small pleasures. Proudly, I placed the basket full of golf balls on the counter and waited for the questioning to begin.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Birthday mishap: A tribute to my now 19-year old son

 (Taken from the July 14th story from Pace Yourself: 366 Devotions From the Daily Grind.)

Five years ago to the day we were sitting in our lawn chairs at “church.” At the time, our start-up fellowship was meeting in a three-car garage, worshiping without the trappings of a formal sanctuary. Our church had just suffered a split and I was preoccupied with a bad work situation. I didn’t have it together.


Sitting in that hot garage, I glanced over at Seth. To my surprise, tears streamed down his face. To coin a phrase, “Oh dear, what could the matter be?” The matter was this: we had forgotten Seth’s 11th birthday. The young boy was distraught. He could not be consoled regardless of heart-felt apologies. No “Happy Birthday” upon rising, no special breakfast, no unique gifts. It was just a lot of nothing.

Seth eventually got over his disappointment and to this day, it is one of our long-standing family jokes. So, as the sun set last night, I made sure to get in the first birthday greeting in anticipation of today. I certainly did not want him to think I could forget his birthday. . .again! On the way home from work, I made a stop to pick up some plaid shorts as a gift. I was relieved he liked them; he can be pretty picky. Whew. Another birthday without incident.

Kids are wonderful. Each has their unique personality, sense of humor, strengths and weaknesses. Seth has been “busy” since conception. In utero, he made like a chicken trying to peck his way out. As an infant he refused to sleep longer than twenty minutes at a time and was a front-runner to be a poster child for colic.

After him, no more kids for me. Maybe Leah thought the same thing after Judah's birth. Perhaps he was difficult as well. “She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, ‘This time I will praise the LORD’. . . Then she stopped having children” (Genesis 29:35).

At four, Seth rode his motorcycle through the woods as fast as he could, standing on the seat like a pipsqueak Evil Knievel. In school, he was the center of attention. And now, as a young man of seventeen, he is an outgoing, know-no-stranger kind of guy, full of wanderlust and enthusiasm. His camera is a constant companion.

I thank God for Seth. He’s a special kind of kid.

“and she gave birth to a son and named him Seth, saying, "God has granted me another child.” (Genesis 4:25)

Daily challenge: Little kids are like kittens: cute and easy to love. But don’t be blind to the beauty in your big kids.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

"Recalculating"

Gary steered the car along the exit ramp and turned left into a gas station. "Recalculating," she said. "She" is the tiny little woman who resides inside our GPS unit. I shall call her Gertrude.

Gertrude can be a great help. This past weekend we traveled to a family reunion in Pennsylvania. I carefully plugged in the address of my aunt's house. Sure enough, zipping along the interstate, over hill and dale and through the rolling countryside, we successfully pulled into the driveway at our destination. Gertrude had been good to us. However, she was not always happy with us.

Several times we ran into construction and re-routing along a detour. Gertrude did not approve. She clearly took issue when we took an unexpected turn. She annoyed us with her constant "Recalculating. Recalculating." When the detour took us in a big circle, she cried out even more. We didn't want to hear it. In fact, we even unplugged her when we thought we knew better.  Apparently, either she did not understand what was going on or she protested because we were in err. Hum...

Sometimes it was hard to figure out where to go. Gertrude told us one thing while the atlas suggested otherwise. What to do? What to do? If we chose the map, Gertrude protested. Protested, that is, until she  convinced us that her route would get us where we needed to go. She then fell silent, content that her will and the map's will matched. It was a peaceful, easy feeling.

I've been feeling a bit conflicted myself, hearing "recalculating" as recent events forced a course change. I bet Caleb feels the same way. The way seemed so clear, so obvious. But then unanticipated construction - or was it destruction? - caused a detour. Around and round we all went, losing our perspective. Where are we? Where are we supposed to be going? But now, though traveling an unfamiliar road, Gertrude's voice remains calm, directing us little by little. The final destination is still in the distance, the route unclear, but the wheels are turning in the right direction.

I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free.
Psalm 119:32

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Still waiting

It is so hard to wait. . .just ask Caleb.

It is now one day shy of three weeks when Caleb was told that his dime-sized red spot on his belly button was a deal breaker to stay in the Navy. That decision sent him immediately to a holding division, so grief stricken that he could only sit in stunned silence on the cold, hard tile floor, his back against the unforgiving wall.  He bore the pain alone until he was able to call Gary the next day. He was distraught, nearly destroyed. It was then that we plunged into the depths of disappointment and angst, waiting along with him, wanting to reach out and hold him, wanting to ease his hurt. And we wait still.

The occasional phone call tells us that despite the conditions, his wait for discharge has moved from a full-blown knock-out punch to incomprehensibility to a glimmer of hope to an ultimate acceptance of what he cannot change. It has been a hard process.

The holding division is a place where bureaucracy meets inefficiency. The result is a no-mans land of endless days and nights with nothing to do. There are up to 80 men in residence at any one time. Some are there for medical discharges. Some because they tried to run away. Many others are being discharged for new diagnoses of anxiety, stress, and even attempted suicide. They rise at 6 a.m. each morning to face a purposeless day. Except in a lounge where access is limited, there is no furniture to sit on. Beds are off limits, the concrete-tiled floor their only option. Some books are available and an occasional DVD movie is allowed. They cannot go outside. There is no exercise. There are no tasks. There are no knives at meals to limit suicide attempts and no shoe strings for fear of the same. They all simply wait.

Caleb decided to work as he waits. He volunteered to be the yeoman for the unit; scheduling appointments and completing volumes of paperwork. He gets to sit in one of the few chairs. Still, he waits to see his name come through on the departure list. He hates it that his original graduation date quickly approaches and he is no longer part of it. He is in limbo; a place where frustration and shattered dreams collide.

But out of the dust, the soul survives. Something in his brain has clicked. He has accepted the inevitable and entertains future options. He will get second opinions and assuming a diagnosis different than the Navy's, may pursue his option to obtain a congressional waiver and re-enter the fray all over again. Our congressman stands willing and at the ready. But he also considers full-time employment, working his way through to finish his degree. His planning tells us that though the stealth tsunami violently tumbled him into a deep and dark sea, he will hit the beach alive and well.

May we all learn a vital lesson as we further wait; wait for answers.

I wait for you, O LORD; you will answer, O Lord my God.   
Psalm 38:15

Friday, June 25, 2010

Father knows best

Who could have imagined the events the last week have brought? We were living high on the continuing stream of good news trickling out from Great Lakes, Illinois. Caleb had entered Navy basic training and excelled in every way. We were shocked (pleasantly so) to see him transform from a laid-back, somewhat unmotivated kid to a man with a passion for excellence. He was at the top of his division. He scored perfectly on the tests. He did everything right.

Then last Friday, one dime-sized red spot on his belly button turned the world upside down. A referral to a dermatologist and a less than 30 second assessment ended it all for Caleb. When the word "psoriasis" was written on the record, this disqualifying condition rendered him unfit for military service. That's it. End of story. No exceptions. He was removed from his division and placed, like a leper, in a holding compartment (barracks) to wait out his discharge. Despite valiant efforts from my Navy captain brother and the commanding officer who tried everything he could to find a way to keep my son, he will be sent packing next week.

How do we reconcile what we thought for sure was God's will for Caleb and what has happened? It seemed to be exactly what Caleb needed at this time in his life. Things were going so swimmingly. The Navy was going to be his perfect ticket to pay off student loans, finish a degree, and partake in the best nuclear engineering training possible. The circumstances all pointed to the fact the God had ordained this path. But what should we think now? Were our assumptions wrong?

Does God still care? I know intellectually that He does. Has He abandoned my son? A good Father doesn't do that. Did He make a mistake or was the mistake ours to misinterpret the facts? Hard questions all in a time of crisis...except for the one about God making a mistake.

There are many instances when we can only see the work of God's hand in retrospect. Perhaps this is one of those times. It seems as though these short five weeks have developed a side of Caleb that we had never before seen. Maybe all these recent days in the holding compartment and the endless hours of introspection and conclusions reached were reason enough for this short-lived journey.

If I truly believe that God does have a perfect plan for Caleb, and I do, then I have to accept this surprise ending as a part of that plan. But it's hard. I cry because Caleb cries. I am disappointed because Caleb is disappointed. I grieve because my son grieves at the loss of a dream. I would do anything I could to "fix it." But I can't. I have neither the power nor position to fix anything.

It's easy to trust God when the way is clear and the path well lit. But do I trust Him when the road becomes shadowed and dark? I must. For the mere presence of the shadow proves the existence of the light; the light of the Father. And truly, my Father knows best.

Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul. Psalm 143:8

Monday, June 21, 2010

Anatomy of a DNF

I had been worried.  Worried that I had been working on a fibular stress fracture in my right leg. I hadn't told anyone about it but had done the research. I had all the symptoms supporting the diagnosis. I decided to head to Ohio anyway and hope for the best. This was to be a special run with my brother. It was to be his first 100-mile finish. I need not have worried about the leg.

I left early Friday morning for the long drive to the Mohican State Forest where the race was being held. It was a glorious day, even cool enough to wear a jacket for a time as I sped through the countryside in my little Miata convertible. As the day wore on, I thought about putting the top up to get out of the sun. But, since I had on sunscreen and drank lots of fluid, I figured I'd enjoy the wind-blown look for a little longer.

Upon arriving at the busy campground, host to the start and finish, I found my quite, wooded campsite and happily set up camp. My brother, John, had not yet arrived with his crewman, Chris, and daughter, Hannah. With tent pitched, I grabbed my phone to check messages. I listened to my husband's strained voice falter as he spoke. "Caleb called and it's not good news." My heart stopped.

Caleb has been at Navy basic training since mid-May and has excelled. He has fully embraced the training and scored perfectly on tests. He has been at the top of his division. Now, another physical for the guys in the nuclear engineering program was given.  A doctor said he had a very mild case of psoriasis on his scalp.  For that, he was immediately removed from his division and the Navy is processing his discharge from the military. End of discussion. How could this be? How could this be?

With trembling fingers, I called Gary. As he filled me in on the details, another phone rang in the background. "Let me take care of this situation," Gary said. I had a sickening feeling. It must be Seth. It was. Last week, Seth's Mac Book was destroyed with an unfortunate encounter with moisture. A photographer without a computer is like a cook without a stove. Now the news was that his professional camera and expensive lens had been stolen. No insurance. That is like a cook without the entire kitchen.

Within just a few moments, the stupid race lost its appeal. No draw at all. I wanted to get in my car and run home to cry on my husband's shoulder. I knew it wouldn't help but it would make me feel better. I felt so lonely, so isolated, so helpless sitting on that rustic picnic table. Lord, I cried out, what are you trying to do? What are your trying to teach us? I lost my appetite. I felt sick. I cried.

In time and still waiting for John to arrive, I drove to the pre-race dinner. In my arms I carried a box of new books that I hoped to sell.  But the place was a zoo and not conducive to such things. I looked for familiar faces and saw none. With dinner behind schedule, I chose to hide in a corner and charge my now-dying phone. I wished there to be a plug for me as well.

My brother and company arrived and showed me love and sympathy. At their urging, I stood in line for the few rotini noodles that remained along with a little bit of salad. I drank one glass of whatever it was. That was my tasteless and meager dinner. The pre-race briefing that followed was just as disappointing, my disposition perhaps clouding my judgment. There didn't seem to be a lot of substance or helpful course information. We slipped out before the crowd.

Back at camp, I tried to think through drop bags. I couldn't focus. It was like wallowing in mud. Eventually, I decided on two bags for aid stations inaccessible to crew.  Just a pair of socks and a different shirt. I mindlessly filled my hydration pack making sure to carry plenty of electrolytes. I was sure to need them. I brushed my teeth and drank a little bit of water before retreating to my tent.

Alone again, I cried out to God. I wondered how Caleb must be feeling, isolated from his division, his promising career being yanked out from under him.. . . and just when he had found his passion and started to excel. And Seth, my goodness. . .the lessons he has had to learn in the past few weeks. I ached for my boys; ached so hard it hurt. What more could go wrong? Drunk, arguing couples, yelling and screaming. That's what. Besides my mother's angst, the racous outside my tent and down the hollow robbed me of much needed sleep. I figure I restlessly slept for 30 minutes.

John and I took to the start line. Someone said "go" so we did. I took small sips of my electrolyte drink often. I knew I had to if I was to survive the predicted heat and humidity. At about six miles, we stopped briefly to pee. I was surprised. I could only produce a trickle and it was nearly brown. Uh-oh. At mile 11, I felt my left calf quiver. Double uh-oh. I upped my drinking and chewed on more electrolyte blocks.

John and I talked as we ran, catching up on family news and events that get lost when living miles apart. We enjoyed seeing our crew and appreciated what they did for us. I ate what I could and tried to drink substantial amounts of fluid when we saw them and at other aid stations. The 23 miles of road, some exposed to the sun, found me having to draw up to a walk with increasing cramping after short distances of running. It was in the 90s with equal humidity.

I looked forward to the crew-inaccessible aid stations with hopes of a variety of food and cold, cold drink. I was disappointed more times than not. I pulled out every trick in the book to get a handle on my fluid and food intake. My pee continued to get darker and the drips minimal. I was worried. A knife-like pain was in my distended stomach. I puked about ten times in succession and for the moment, felt better. Maybe I could pull this out after all.

At 52 miles, we met our crew. I sat so I didn't fall. I was so hot yet had chill bumps. I forced myself to drink, made easier with ice availability. The standard chips, pretzels, some chocolate chip cookies, and a few PB&J sandwiches had no appeal. But, when Chris handed me an apple, it tasted great-especially when I added some peanut butter. I took more electrolytes before heading across the road and down the other side.

Within the next mile or two, I noticed that the cramping in my calves, hanstrings, hands, and even my chest muscles was subsiding. We ran for extended periods of time. My legs even felt strong. It looked like I finally got my electrolytes levels worthy of muscle function. And yet, I struggled still to eat or drink, gagging every time. Pulling into the next aid station, I entertained them with throwing up whatever was left in my stomach. It was like I was renting the food; not using it. I was sad and distraught. I sobbed, little wussy girl that I was.

The miles seemed to be so long. The tank was empty. My gut hurt with the impact of downhill running. Back at the start/finish, which was also mile 65, the only thing I could think about was quitting and getting a shower to relieve the pain in my privates. I could not bear to think about struggling on in this 102 mile race. I know that things don't always get worse and found that to be true when my cramping went away. Still, I had not been able to eat, drink, and keep down much of anything for the last 32 miles. My pee was scant and dark yellow, the agonizing sting indicative of acidity-induced chaffing.Why should I think anything would change for the next 37?

Then, there was my brother. He had been letting me lead. I was jealous of the way he was able to eat and drink and even envied his clear, frequent, and copious amounts of urine. Yes, we had thirteen hours to do 37 miles. Should be so easy. But still, if my tank was empty and I never rebounded, I could easily ruin his buckle quest. I was tired. I was distraught. If I tried to go on, my failure might induce his. I apologized for my weakness and watched him run off into the darkness.

At 28:01 into the race, my brother and his daughter crossed the line. Tears poured out of his eyes as he ran into my arms. Hannah cried as well, looking at him and saying, "Happy Father's Day." John was exhausted, his feet a mess. But he did it. I could not have been more proud.

As I looked around the finish line, I revisited the "what ifs." What if I kept going? What if I suddenly found the magic bullet and cured my stomach? What if I could have embraced another dozen hours of pain and persistence to achieve the finish line, those hours so insignificant in the context of a lifetime? I guess I'll never know. With final good-byes, I got in my car, turned on the air conditioning to escape the heat, and started the long journey home.

Postscript:
Though I feel like a failure, there are lessons to be learned. First, I likely went into the race dehydrated. That, I should have anticipated and fixed. Second, despite all the experience in the world and trying to do the right thing, sometimes the body just doesn't cooperate. Third, you have to be totally engaged mentally. 100-milers take a 100% commitment: mind, body, and soul. I don't think I was there. The stress of knowing Caleb (and Seth's) situation weighed heavily. The significance of fighting on to complete the last third of the race seemed unimportant in the big picture. Now, should I have been able to set that aside since there was nothing I could do to "fix" things? Probably. Would it have been wise continue all things considered? Unknown.

As I watched finishers take the final steps, I wondered how many thought "no way" at some point during the race yet continued on. Maybe I should have let John go on and then continued my own race behind him. That way, he would not have felt obligated to stay with me and I could have tested my outer limits. But alas, my surmising does little good now. I came home, tail tucked, another DNF in the history books.

By the way, Caleb sits alone awaiting a final decision from the Navy. He is asking for a second opinion since a dermatologist that saw him in his high school years said it was merely a form of dermatitis. (The two look the same.) Three days of ointment application has cleared up all symptoms. There will likely be an appeal. This is one fight we cannot give up.