Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thankful for faithfulness

It was the kind of whirl-wind week that could turn a tornado jealous.

I'm not sure how it happened. Well, no. I take that back. It happened because 1) I have this habit of getting "great" ideas or 2) I say "yes" quicker than I say "no."

Following a hectic cross country season and knowing indoor and outdoor track seasons were knocking on the door, I embraced the idea of some down time. That didn't really happen. I failed to add significantly to my manuscript, build up my mulch pile, or get the house in pristine shape. But I did have a lot of fun.

With some left-over points at our time share, the Shindigglers (plus some extras) and I ventured off for a two-night girl's retreat. Chick-flicks, sweet treats, a morning run, outlet shopping, and hot tubs under the stars punctuated our time at the Williamsburg resort. I could have used another day to relax. I was tired.

Back at home on Tuesday, our Thanksgiving guests for the week arrived shortly after my car pulled into the driveway. Thank goodness my sister-in-law brought a crock pot full of chili for supper. Wednesday was filled with shopping and preparing meals for the next couple of days. The house filled with wonderful chatter and tempting aromas. But I was tired.

By Friday morning, the house cleared but I followed the last one out the door. I was taking a group of my runners to a prestigious race in North Carolina. That meant another night away from home and a long day Saturday. The kids ran well and the trip was enjoyable. I was thankful, however, to get home and sit with my husband. I was tired. So tired.

Sunday morning was worship and the afternoon filled with catch-up duties. Then we headed out the door to bid farewell to a retiring elder. I was tired and must have looked the part. Someone commented on it.

Serving our assembly from the time we first met in a member's garage to present, George and Brenda are dear to us. We gathered this last time around the piano, singing favorite hymns, and Psalms, and spiritual songs. The richness of the words and the sweet harmony bound us together. We sang for an hour or so, interspersing memories of our time together. But one song, in particular, said it all. I didn't feel so tired. I felt soothed and blessed.

Great is Thy faithfulness, oh God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not;
As Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be.

Chorus: Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided;
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon, and stars in their courses above
Join with all nature in manifold witness
to Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!



Wednesday, November 16, 2011

On becoming a substitute runner

For many weeks, Christy and daughter Emily, an eleven-year old sixth grader, faithfully headed out the door for a run. Emily, fresh off her first season of middle-school cross country, was anxious to take on a half-marathon. Christy, inspired to complete the event as a mother-daughter duo, had also been training. With a short week before the big day, everything was falling into place. Well, almost everything.

Bad, bad bouncy ball mishap
Christy is an assistant elementary school principal. Of course, school-age children go hand-in-hand with school-age fun. And this principal was not to be left sitting on the sidelines. She chose, instead, to sit on a big bouncy ball. After a couple of test bounces, it reared up like a deranged stallion and threw it's rider to the side. Somewhere in the catapulted trajectory, the meniscus in her knee said "no" to flying, leaving her with a gigantic, swollen leg. When four days of rest produced little relief, her doctor evacuated the built-up fluid, deflating the knee as well as her spirits. Christy's race was over before the starting gun sounded.

"Are you going to let her run by herself?" I questioned.

"No. She's so young. I am heartbroken that my injury is keeping Emily from her dream."

"Well, how about I run with her in your place? Do you think she would like that?"

"Yes!" And, so it was. I would be the substitute mom to accompany Emily on her journey along the Dan River.

Before the race begins
The day was picture perfect with sun shining and pleasant temps. The course wound along the banks of the Dan River, offering views of water fowl, the river cascading over dams, and fallen leaves enjoying a journey on the gentle current. Emily seemed to take it all in stride. She was calm at the start but appropriately anxious to be underway.

Off we went, making a short mile and a half journey to the south before retracing our steps to continue to the north. "You okay? Be sure to let me know if we need to back off." When she assured me she was happy, we followed the crowd along the tree-lined path. We even tried our hand at capturing leaves fluttering down from above. All was well.

I took great joy in telling everyone along the way about Emily. "Can you believe she is a sixth-grader and doing so well?" All were amazed and encouraging. As the miles ticked off, I also enjoyed talking with everyone I could. It gave Emily someone else to listen to other than my running mouth.

At each aid station, I suggested what Emily should eat and drink. She readily complied. But when we got to the four mile hilly loop, she told me about developing blisters. A helpful volunteer pulled out some band-aids and we applied them to her foot. There is nothing worse than thinking about aching feet with more miles to run. With the repair completed, we continued on our journey.

With the loop checked off, we had but four miles to the finish. "Emily, on a scale of one to ten, how bad are you hurting?"

"Hum. About a five, I guess" was her response.

Smiling, I said, "Well, good, you have plenty of room to suffer." She grinned but kept running. No complaints. No whining. Just forward motion.

Twice more, I asked her for a number. Seven and seven and a half were the answers. After that, I stopped asking fearing the fun meter was running out. Instead, I said "Em, let's try to keep ahead of the guy behind us and catch that woman up ahead." She gave it all she had.

Emily and Rebekah nearing the finish
We had but a half mile when we crossed the footbridge. "We're almost home! You did it. Be sure to smile for your mom and dad." She did. With Christy's tears hidden behind sunglasses, she watched her daughter cross the line in 2:18, a noteworthy pace of 10:36 per mile. She was happy for Emily's accomplishment, but at the same time, sorrowful she missed the opportunity to sweat along side her.

Thank you, Christy and Emily, for allowing me to share in your day. It was my utmost privilege to be a substitute.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

It's all about the cross

It was the day before the state championship meet. This group of cross-country runners had worked long and hard for nearly four months. The season was punctuated with stellar runs, personal bests, and conference titles. Now it was time to wrap it all up. During this practice,  no running workout could assure exceptional performances the next day. But, there was an opportunity to refocus.

The group divided into four teams and raced to form letters and numbers with their bodies. It took team work and analysis to use all team members in the effort. Next, each team formed a "dragon" by holding onto each others' waists. The task was to protect the "tail" from being tagged by another dragon team. Strategy was required to survive the dragon wars.

The entire team was then asked to figure out how to keep a balloon off the ground simply with string. It took forming a circle and tossing the ball of string to teammates across the way. Soon, as the ball of string repeatedly criss-crossed the circle, each person pulling their "piece" taut, a complex, inter-connected web formed. With tension on each line, the balloon was kept in the air with little effort.

It was obvious that working together was critical in the three exercises. But one more activity remained. Each teammate was handed a personalized puzzle piece. They were given no instructions other than to assemble the puzzle. Following initial mayhem, leaders emerged and assembly began. "What shape is it?" they queried.

"Can't say. You'll know soon enough," I answered with a smile. Standing back, I continued to watch and listen. Soon, the entire group shouted when the last piece was arranged in place.

"It's a cross! It's a cross!" And with that, the lesson began.

"Yes. It's all about the cross. All about the cross."

"Look at it, guys. What do you see? Are you drawn to the names or to the cross?" I could see them begin to mull over the truth. "We've talked a lot about being "Team Peculiar" this year. We've challenged one another to make the most of every opportunity to represent Christ in everyday interactions and to see our athletics as expressly given for the glory of God. But listen, we fail as a team if people can't see that wonderful cross when they look at us."

I continued. "Everyone of us has a unique position and purpose in that cross. Our identity is fully embedded in that cross. But, what happens if I take out a piece? There's a hole, isn't there? You're eye is drawn to the 'hole' rather than the 'whole.' That vacancy detracts from the cross's glory. Can we begin to understand how important it is to embrace each and every one of our positions in that wonderful, magnificent cross?"

"As we go to the state meet tomorrow, what will other teams see? Will they see individuals running for themselves? Will they see swagger or less-than-best efforts? Or, will they see actions and attitudes that point squarely to the cross of Jesus Christ?"

With that, the team bowed in prayer to seek guidance and offer thanksgiving. Truly, it is all about the cross.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

LCA Cross Country team gets great press




On November 10, 2011, Lynchburg, Virginia's News and Advance newspaper published an article about the Liberty Christian Academy Cross Country program. It is a fitting tribute to my kids who have worked so hard throughout the year. Check it out here.

Team Time


The New Covenant Schools soccer team gathered moments prior to the Division II title game at the National Association of Christian Athletes tournament in Dayton, TN. The coach handed his captain a piece of paper. “Josh, would you please read this to the team? Drew (a former player) sent us a message.” 

The first NCS Championship Team (Nov 2005)
The team listened intently, absorbing every word like a thirsty, dry sponge.  “Well, team, it’s the big day: Championship Friday. Word has spread that you guys have put on a great show thus far and, judging from the brackets, you certainly have. The NCS soccer team hasn't been in this good of a position since this day six years ago, the same day they took home the title. I have faith that today your team, or should I say, "our team," has a legitimate shot at a Division II title. . . No pressure. I'm sure you know you have the backing of your fellow students and faculty but you also have the backing of your former students and teammates. Just remember that for some of you it will be your last shot that many of us former players never had. And for you non-seniors, understand you guys are partaking in something almost sanctified in the eyes of many. . . Enjoy it. Today is a very special day for you. Go out there and play with intensity, leaving it all on the field, knowing that some day you can look back and be proud. . . Finally, play being mindful of who you're playing for, the name of the school on your jersey, and the name of your Savior on your heart. . . Break a leg, Gryphons. Beat Chattanooga. Win or lose, I couldn't be more proud of you guys.”

The room fell silent save sniffles wiped away on shirt sleeves. The message penetrated, the soothing ointment of words seeping into every rusted cranny of the players’ souls. The significance of who they were, who they represented, was the oil needed to ignite the spark. They cried together, prayed together, and went out and won together.

The NCS soccer team was reminded of their connection to things much bigger than themselves. The team was not an island. It was just one more set of waves that followed all the others to the shore. The team was part of a constant tide that rolled in and out. They, like the team six years prior, simply capitalized on the opportunity to ride a huge swell.

A team must see themselves in the big picture or risk becoming self-absorbed. It’s not unlike a believer who understands he does not function apart from the millions before and those coming after him in the body of Christ. Embracing our heritage, we become mindful of who we are and from where we’ve come—and that makes all the difference in the world.

For I have always been mindful of your unfailing love and have lived in reliance on your faithfulness (Psalm 26:3).

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Mountain Masochist in perspective

Check out this "fly-over" of the Mountain Masochist 50-Mile Race course. No matter how often I have been on the course during the race or in training, this vantage point blows me away. Click to see the MMTR topo image flyover of the entire route . It's no wonder I got tired.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Journey of the Skirt: Part 2

The night before the Mountain Masochist 50-Mile Trail Run seemed way too short. I'm pretty sure I didn't sleep at all, though I was snuggled under my comfy covers. Lying there in the darkness, my mind repeatedly reviewed the facts: 1) In the last forty-five days, I had done but three runs of about seventeen miles. 2) Preparation to bag a good race has always included weekly long runs of twenty to thirty miles for months preceding. 3) Running with my cross-country team was great but not well-suited for mountain racing and was low in mileage. 4) I wasn't getting any younger but, most importantly, 5) I was going to sport my new skirt. Who could sleep anticipating that thrill?

My carefully-planned race outfit
The pre-race prep was standard and details boring. I got up, did this, did that, milled around at the start, and started running when the director said "go." With so many miles ahead and woefully low expectations for the quality of my run, the only thing was to settle in and get those despicable road miles out of the way. By the time I hit the first trail, dawn had come and along with it, skirt compliments. "Ah, love the skirt." The day was looking up.

I promised myself to be happy all day--or at least I would try. When I wasn't accepting compliments on how fashion coordinated I was, I made sure to look around at the leaves stubbornly gripping tree branches and the mountain tops above. And, with the sun still en route to it's peak, the dappled light made for interesting shadows. It was pretty, I suppose. But honestly, I was much more interested in checking off aid stations to get further into the race.

I moved steadily along the first twenty-seven miles. But steady wasn't getting me anywhere fast. Few spectators huddled around the aid stations. The crowds of crew had already moved onto the next one in support of their runners. What was left was a handful of faithful followers for those moving at a more pedestrian pace. They were pleasant and encouraging but I noted a stark difference from when I ran as a contender.

In general, I was pleased with the way my legs were holding up. When called into action to run, they didn't rebel--much. But I was baffled on the uphill climbs. In the past, I've zipped right along, as if pulled by a ski tow. Now, it was like everyone but me was holding onto the rope. No matter what I did, nothing got me up those hills any faster. My only recourse was to glance at the hot pink flowers on my skirt and mutter, "It's you and me all the way." I forced myself to relax my face and smile.

It was good to have Caleb, my oldest son, out there helping me for the last half of the race. He never complained about all the hurry up and wait shenanigans. When I saw him for the last time with fourteen miles to go, I suggested he download War and Peace on his Kindle. He was likely to get most of it read before I got to the finish. He drove off and my skirt and I flitted away toward the beginning of the end.

Now, I have to admit, I was having long conversations with my inner self. Though I was getting queasy, nothing was really wrong. I was just slow. I was impatient. I thought about how many people had already finished the race, soaking in the afternoon sun and spectator praises. But not me. While I mixed in trudging uphills with running downs, I decided I was through with ultras. After seventeen years of competition, I no longer enjoyed solo training. I despised the time it took away from my growing list of other interests. I even decided to give up on the wicked Hellgate 100K in five weeks. I would let go of my status as the female with the most finishes. But then, someone would ruin my quitting plans and compliment my skirt.

"Great skirt. My girlfriend would love that one. She refuses to wear anything but. Where did you get it?" And with that, things seemed to get a little better. I can't say I liked being out there at that point. My burning desire was to cross the line and go home. (And if I could puke before that, it was an added bonus.) I was dizzy from not being able to eat or drink and really didn't care if I was passed in the last mile. I was tired of running. All I cared about was finishing my fourteenth Masochist so that I could earn my fifteen year jacket next year. Though I crossed the line with a new PW (personal worst), my skirt made the journey just fine.

You should see the outfit I'm planning for Hellgate.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Journey of the Skirt: Part 1

Author in a boring black skirt. (Photo by Seth Trittipoe)
I've experienced this kind of day sixteen times before. It's the day before the big race: the Mountain Masochist 50-Mile Run. I can think of nothing else all day long. I think about being so cold right before the start. I think about the more-than-advertised 5.7 miles of repetitious road (before hitting the first trail) and how much I hate that section. I think of how other runners, no matter how good shape I'm in, blow by me on the first climb toward Peavine Mountain. I think about marching uphill and consoling myself by saying "It's so early in the race. They'll pay later for running now." I try to imagine each section of the race. I focus on how I might feel, what my strategy should be, and my pace at the end. I pack my bag with everything I think I might need during and after the race. Then, I unpack it to reanalyze before stuffing it all back in and zipping it closed. I know sleep will be scant tonight as thoughts, hope, and fear play tag inside my brain.

Long ago, I floated through the pre-race activities as a front-runner favorite. People expected a good performance and in the early years, I delivered. It was fun but not without pressure. I was always glad when it was over. Then came the troubled years when I struggled with an undiagnosed malady. Twice, I dropped out mid-race as a result. With that behind me, now I run the races without the training base I am used to. You might as well flip a coin to predict the outcome.

So, with the quality and final disposition of my race up in the air, I really have but one thing to focus on: my running outfit. Yep. It all comes down to that. I spent a good part of the day yesterday trying on different combinations of tights, tops, and the newest running skirts to come off my sewing machine. My considerations are these: 1) Don't dress too warm 2) Be able to take off and put on 3) Retain easy access for on-the-go peeing 4) And most of all, make sure socks, skirt, and top match at all times.

Yeah. I've reduced myself to a meandering older woman who now runs races mostly in the interest of fashion. I do not race races. I am more realistic about what my body can and will do (though I get frustrated with others in their fifties who are able to maintain). But alas, I am no longer a primed and ready competitor. But, what I have left is a smile on my face and a bold floral print on my skirt.

I'll let you know all about my skirt's journey when the race is over.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Champions

With the warm afternoon sun shimmering off the leaves still hanging golden, red, and yellow, no one wished the race had been run Saturday. A conference championship in frigid conditions and several inches of wet snow would not have been ideal. We were grateful the postponement gave us near perfect conditions on the first day of November.

We trained hard for this day. Fast intervals on the track, miles of trails, and up and over mountains prepared the kids for this tough, hilly course. The conference meet is always hard-fought and we expected nothing different this year.

The men's gun sounded first. Trey, my consistent number one runner, ran with a specific plan. Only one of these opponents had beaten him before. But that prior defeat was just what my runner needed. The loss had festered for some time, every workout focused on righting the wrong. His plan was to be patient until halfway up a mile-long climb. If his nemesis was close, Trey was going to pull away in a definitive surge. He intended to break this other runner despite it being his home course. Cresting that hill, he would fly down the other side before tackling another uphill to the finish. The plan worked perfectly. Trey claimed the championship by a substantial margin. Teammate, Ike, crossed the line in fifth place and, along with Trey, earned all-conference honors. The men's team placed second in a strong field of eleven. It was a great start to a great day.

The women's race was an epic battle. Though the course was novel, we studied it beforehand and trained specifically for the terrain. War raged early as a tight pack of four of my runners and an opponent lead the way. Close behind, another pack of red-uniformed runners from another school ran in hot pursuit. They rounded the bend and ran out of view to fight their way up the mountain and back again. When they returned, a red-uniformed runner lead the way. But it wasn't the red of our uniforms. Abby, my runner, trailed by fifty yards across a flat. But a steep gravel hill in the last half-mile started to break the leader. You could see it in her face; the pain, the strain. She clutched her side and fought back tears. Abby dug deep and gained ground. Toward the top of the hill, our eyes locked. She was within ten yards of the struggling runner. "Abby. This is your day. I know you can chase her down. Go! Go!" Her eyes turned back and locked onto her prey. Abby was the hungry lioness chasing down the tiring gazelle.

With that, I raced off cutting the corner to the finish line. Looking over my shoulder, I saw Abby take the lead on the final grassy ascent to the finish. She held her position for those two-hundred yards, placing her name in the record books as the 2011 conference champion. But there was another race behind her.

Rebecca was at her breaking point. Her race plan was an aggressive one that I fully supported. I knew there was a chance she would blow up. Nevertheless, I was confident she could handle the physical and mental stress. When she came across the line, she was pale, legs wobbling and no longer trust-worthy. It was all she could do to emerge from the finish shoot on her own power. Then, down she went. She had raced herself right into the abyss, a frightening place few runners dare go. Recovery was long and difficult but she was rewarded with the fifth place all-conference honor. Behind her, sister Carolyn captured eight place and Jami, tenth, to round out the all-conference team. Their efforts earned them the team conference championship.

Well done, Liberty Christian Academy. Well done.