How You Run the Race

Had my fifth kidney stone recently. Painful may be too merciful a description. I've written about the nasty little boogers previously.

This one hung on longer than any predecessors. Five days. It was either delusions from pain or delusions from pain meds. At least I had an excuse for my delusions. Those five days.

It took five days for that stone to move one inch. I'm no longer using, "Slower than molasses in January." My now ultimate slowness quip is, "Slower than a kidney stone in a preacher."

With the dawning of day five, however, I was just tired of it. Nasty little booger wouldn't move an inch. So I made a decision that morning. No matter the pain. No matter the drag of the pain meds. I was going to choose to have a good attitude that day. I was going to be an overcomer even as I was feeling beaten. I was going to be focused even though I was wrung out tired.

Not being able to run while on the ropes with a stone, my thoughts turned to running. Running marathons. Brutal self-torture as my wife sees it. And then a thought came to this mid-pack marathoner, kidney stone sufferer, everyday philosopher's mind: It's not where you finish; it's how you run the race.

What about you, Dear Reader?

What are you dealing with right now that you wish was just flat done over? 

What are your greatest challenges? To your strength? Your perseverance? Your grace? Your faith?

An illness. A person. Your past. Your future. You name it.

And then you choose. Choose to run the race differently.

You still may finish mid-pack or back. Your finish may even come before the finish line.

It's not where you finish. It's how you run the race.

My five day stone got the message. Within hours of that decision. It passed. The pain was gone. And this stone prone preacher boy had learned a lesson.

It's how you run the race.

I have not yet reached my goal, and I am not perfect. But Christ has taken hold of me. So I keep on running and struggling to take hold of the prize. My friends, I don't feel I have already arrived. But I forget what is behind, and I struggle for what is ahead. I run toward the goal, so I can win the prize of being called to heaven. This is the prize God offers because of what Christ Jesus has done. Philippians 3:12-14, CEV

And all God's people - with all our struggles - said, "Amen."

Run on, Dear Reader.

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Aaron's Rules - Marathon Edition

With my family after crossing the Memorial Stadium 50 yard line finish line of the 2011 Lincoln Marathon.

A few years back I wrote Aaron's Rules. Twelve rules for running. Twelve rules for life.

This year I have a number of friends training for their first marathon. All 26.2 miles. Marathons are hard. They hurt. For days even weeks afterward. But they are worth it. In honor of these friends & marathoner's everywhere, I write today. 

No offense to the half-marathon folks. It is a great distance. Attainable for most people. Even those with just six months running. The desire to get fit, lose weight, or simply compete are great reasons to get out there & do a half.  You can ramp up training in 4-6 months. You can run a maximum of 20-25 miles per week.  And most can finish a half marathon in 1.5-3.0 hours.

At 26.2 miles, the marathon, however, is another event altogether. Double the mileage makes it exponetially more difficult.  It has to do with physiology & time in motion. Once the body is in motion beyond two hours, physiological changes occur that make continued motion at the same intensity much more difficult. Those changes begin to hammer you after three hours. Into four hours & beyond one struggles to continue.

I know folks do ultra marathons of 50 or even 100 miles lasting up to 24 hours. I know folks compete in full Ironman events that last more than 12 hours. These folks are amazing. And crazy. I am awed. They are physiologically gifted, highly trained, & incredibly driven. Me? I'm an Average Joe who has run—and completed (non runners always seem to ask that)—four marathons in the middle of the pack.

So, for the mid pack & back friends, here are Aaron's Rules - Marathon Edition.

The Half-Mil Rule. "You wanna run a marathon?," folks will ask you. With emphasis on the "Yoooou" or the "MAAARathon." Fact is: There were 503,000 marathon finishers in the USA in 2010. Some folks ran one. Some ran many. So it's hard to say how many folks total. The fact remains that marathoning has grown exponentially from 299,000 just ten years ago in 2000. You may be many things - and weird may be one of them - but running a marathon is too commonplace to be labeled weird anymore. Run on. With half a million friends in your club.

The Heart Rule. Marathons are just about the safest place in the world to have a heart attack. You are less likely to die of a heart-attack running a marathon than the average citizen is. And, having completed just one marathon at any time during your lifetime significantly reduces your chances of dying of a heart attack at any later time. So tell your worried friends & family not to worry about your heart.  Also tell them not be jealous of your superior heart health.

The Fuel Rule. This one is the least flashy, but most catchy. You gotta get your fuel right. I'd recommend reading up & getting great stuff at Hammer Nutrition. Heed or Perpetuem will help you - if your an average runner like me - make the distance into the third & fourth hours. And be sure to practice your fueling strategies in your long runs. You need to know it works. Almost equally important, you need to know it won't upset your tummy & ruin your day.

The Crown Rule. I'm not talking about releasing your inner Kenyan & dusting the field in order to receive a winner's crown. That dream is longer than 26.2 miles from reality for us. I'm talking about the crown of the road or the trail. You know how it's higher in the middle? If you spend all your training on one sloped side or the other, you will end up injured. You can't run 30+ miles per week with one leg reaching lower than the other. So, get to the crown. Run on the level spot in the middle of the road or trail. Not in traffic, of course, then we'd need to add the "Squished Like a Grape" Rule. Be smart. But in training. And in the race. Be mindful the surface level beneath you.

The Longer Half Rule. It's been said there are two halves to a marathon. The first 20. And the last 6.2. The shorter half - only the last 6.2 miles, right? - seems so much longer. Yes, 13.1 miles is the halfway point in distance, but its not near the halfway point of endurance. That happens around mile 20 or just past 3 hours running depending on your speed. That's when the physiology of glycogen depletion jumps on your back like a mean, stinking gorilla for the rest of the race.

The Tin Man Rule. In training & in the race. No matter how well you trained. No matter if you got weekly massages. No matter if you tapered your training to perfection. You will feel like the Tin Man who needs oil desperately but with no hope in sight this last 3-4 miles. Prepare for it mentally. Your long runs can prepare you for it physically & mentally to a certain amount, but never fully. Be ready to ache. Be ready to feel stiff. Be ready to push through.

The Don't Worry Rule. Don't worry about your time. At least your first time out at the marathon distance. Just run your race, Finish. And be happy. Finishing is huge. Be happy along the route. Say thank you to volunteers & law enforcement. Thank the crowd. If you really want to have fun, cheer for the crowd. Call out a cute kid, the best sign, the most enthusiastic crowd member. And, of course, share it all with your fellow runners. Those passing you. Those you pass. Everyone. Enjoy the your humanness. Exult in your ability. No matter your speed. Don't worry. Run happy.

Much more can be said. But seven seems plenty. For marathons or for life: be yourself; be healthy; be strong; be careful; be persistent; be courageous; be happy.

Rules to run by. Rules to live by.

Run on!

Question Marks

Olympic marathoner, Peter Maher states, "Running is a big question mark that's there each & every day. It asks you, 'Are you going to be a wimp, or are you going to be strong today?'"

I finished my second marathon feeling more wimp than strong on Saturday whipped by the 20-plus mph north winds that arrested my steps six out of the final eight miles. With greater nausea than celebration I crossed the finish line 10 minutes & 41 seconds beyond my four hour goal. Was I strong? Did I wimp out?

Running isn't a question mark for most.

Life is. Work is. Marriage. Money. Parenting. Love. Forgiveness. Self. Pain. Addiction. Past. Future.

Those are question marks.

How will I answer?

Where will I turn?

What will I do? 

Who will I trust?

"There are grave difficulties on every hand, and more are looming ahead; therefore, we must go forward," wrote William Carey, founder of the modern missionary movement & no stranger to danger. 

Psalm 23 goes so far to say that God's people will "walk through the valley of the shadow of death" & not over or around it. In John 10, Jesus refers to himself as the Good Shepherd who protects & cares for his followers that he analogizes to sheep. In verse four Jesus says, "his sheep follow him because they know his voice."

What do I do with the question marks in my life? The big ones? The scary ones? The little ones too?

Follow Jesus.

Move forward.

Answer the questions.