Monday, November 2, 2009

What I've learned from running

Here's part two of tonight's double feature:

Susie and I take a good hard look at our family budget at the end of each year as we look toward how we can best use our resources during the following year. At the start of 2009 we decided to quit our health club for a few reasons: we anticipated being out of town more in 2009 which rendered our membership useless, the club had gone severely downhill in maintenance and cleanliness, Cade presented the need for childcare if we were going to work out together, and we figured we could save a little money.

Without a designated place to exercise, I began to run. I have never liked running, but I figured it would be the easiest way to burn calories. Running is free, and I can run wherever I travel and in all seasons. Also, my health seems to go downhill easily when I carry a few extra pounds around. My nose was broken when I was in 6th grade (another story for another day) and I seem to be susceptible to upper respiratory problems if I’m not careful. But most importantly, I was feeling the need to set a good example for Cade in fitness and health. It’s amazing to see how much of our actions and words he’s already picking up on. My dad has been a picture of consistency in exercise for me, and I want to be that same picture for Cade.

Despite my loathing to run, I had found it to be the best way for me to lose unwanted pounds and stay in shape. The runs were purposely kept short at the outset, partially because it was still cold outside, and partially because we had started to train for a half marathon when we lived in Houston and my knees started breaking down due to overtraining. By very slowly ramping up my miles each week I could hopefully avoid injury.

Near the end of March I was sort of getting into a routine so I set my first goal. I was at 235 pounds and I wanted to get down to 210 by the time Cade turned one at the end of June. I don’t know why I picked 210, but I needed a hard number in front of me instead of a nebulous goal. To reach this goal I estimated that I needed to run at least 2 out of every 3 days. I made a spreadsheet to track my progress and Susie made fun of me because I’m a big dork.

I made my goal of 210 a couple weeks before Cade’s birthday and I found another goal. I let my buddy Jared talk me into doing a half marathon in October. Now I had a training schedule and a much bigger goal than merely weight. As I ran throughout the summer, something funny happened: I started leaving my iPod at home and started really enjoying my runs. If I missed a day I started missing it. As soon as my last run was done I’d start mentally preparing for the next one, especially if it was going to be a long one. As I mentioned in a previous post, the half marathon was a big success for me and so I wanted to write a post about what I learned while training for and competing in this race. Here we go:

· You can do a lot more than you initially think you can. I figured I could train up to running 13.1 miles, but it really was a daunting prospect. If my schedule called for a distance that I’d not previously run I’d have to mentally prepare to run it. So the first time I ran 8 miles, and then 9 miles, and so on was kind of intimidating because it was a step into the unknown. I ran 13 miles a few weeks before the race just so I had a mental edge of having done it before the race. But this goes far past running. It really applies to any aspect of life. We didn’t realize how little sleep we could actually function on until we were pressed to do it when Cade couldn’t go more than an hour or two without eating at the beginning. I didn’t realize how incredibly full of grace and love Susie was until I watched her interact with our son. Pushing boundaries is essential to becoming a better person.

· The things you appreciate the most don’t come overnight. 2009 has provided me with two opportunities to practice patience towards a goal. The first was losing weight and preparing for the race. I mentally had to expect to lose the weight over a period of time, not overnight. This long-term approach allowed me to trust my training and my eating habits and when it was all said and done I exceeded my goal. As I lost weight and gained conditioning, my pacing got incrementally faster, which encouraged me to stick with it even more. When your goals reference a point in the future you don’t get distraught over small temporary setbacks and you don’t get impatient with slower progress as long as it’s steady and marked. Secondly, I’d never read straight through the Bible. So Susie and I have been part of a Facebook group designed to get us through the Bible in a year. The Bible is a large book, but staying on pace with the group has kept us on track, and I believe we’ve become closer as a couple as we spend time in spiritual discussions that challenge our minds regarding what we’ve read. I’m not going read the Bible in one sitting, and I’m not going to lose 25 pounds overnight, but slow and steady progress makes the end result worthwhile, which brings me to my next point, which is:

· The end is not necessarily the end. I’ve referenced Don Miller in this blog before, and something he said in his talk a few weeks back has been working around in my mind. In his talk and his latest book, he uses the analogy of story for how to live fulfilling, meaningful lives. Every important aspect of story, such as a protagonist that desires something, conflict, and sacrifice all play a part in a compelling story. We would be wise to consider these elements and how they are involved in our lives. But there is one element of story that we are not meant to experience in this life, and that is the climax and the big finish. Companies sell us goods under the proposition that their good will lead to a fulfilled life. But what good ever has? Even Christian spiritualism has become consumer-centric, promising in many cases that Jesus will solve all your problems. This is not Biblical, but it’s preached ad nauseum. I don’t know anyone, Christian or not, that has reached the point in their lives where all conflict is gone. Even Paul in Romans 8 talks about how creation groans as in the pains of childbirth and how we eagerly await a future glory with hope despite our current sufferings. Not exactly a pitch you can use on a late night infomercial. This point was brought to mind as I watched "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" yesterday. I’d never seen the show before, but we watched because it was the episode that was filmed in Owensboro back in September. Throughout the show I kept hearing lines like “Our troubles are over,” “We don’t have to worry about anything now,” and “This new house will fix our problems.” The show was sweet and sappy, but unlike a fictional movie where the credits roll and all is happily ever after, when the credits rolled on this show the dad in the family still had health issues and treatments and still couldn’t work. The mom still had to be the breadwinner and care for her husband. Not even a new house and car in place of their trailer and clunker could completely fix and fulfill their lives. Not to sound like a downer, but this is the world we live in. That’s why, in order to continue to live fulfilling lives we have to continually push ourselves with loftier and loftier goals and never rest on what we’ve accomplished. I’ll have to admit when I first signed up for the half I had these lofty visions of ripped abs and laurels and glory as I crossed the finish line. I still have love handles. I can still get faster. There were nearly 400 people that finished ahead of me (and this was a small race compared to other half marathons). After the high of finishing with a good time wore off I was mentally searching for the next thing, because there is never fulfillment (read Ecclesiastes for extra food for thought). So as I type I’m currently pondering my next race in order to push myself again and train to beat my time. And now we’ll head back to less of a philosophical realm:

· When you run you automatically have millions, and probably billions of partners out there. The camaraderie is great. I like waving to other runners as we pass on the street or trail. I like to see other runners running when I’m driving around doing errands. It makes me want to run. There have been a few times where my path will allow me to run for a few blocks or more with a complete stranger, but we always seem to have a good time talking until our paths separate. While training I often did my long weekend runs with Jared, Jason, and Robert. One time I ran with Susie. Last weekend I ran with my uncle. Sometimes my pace is pushed, sometimes it lags more than normal, but it doesn’t matter, because it’s time to spend together and talk and experience the run together.

· Running provides good views. A city looks completely different running than it does when you drive through it. The slower pace allows you to soak in the surroundings more. I like this, especially when traveling. One place in particular I recall was when I was up at Purdue University doing some recruiting for my company. I parked at a park in Lafayette and ran down to the river and across into West Lafayette. My run took me up into campus and I ran around for a while before heading back. I noticed houses and buildings and people that I’d have never appreciated if I had just driven over to campus the next day for the interviews. It even let me scout out some interesting looking places to eat.

· The right equipment makes all the difference. I used to make fun of people who wore running clothes when they ran. Then Susie got me a couple running shirts and some running shorts. Man, did I feel light as a feather. Then my parents took me to a running store to be custom fit for some shoes based on my foot and gait. I bet the right equipment shaved 10 seconds off my mile pace right there. Susie also got me a GPS watch for my birthday that allows me to regulate my pace and train more effectively. The right equipment makes all the difference.

· People are generally very polite. I’ve noticed this as I’ve run along streets and encountered cars. Despite running somewhere between 600 and 700 miles this year (most of them on roads/sidewalks), I can only think of one time where I feel like a driver intentionally cut me off. For the most part people are very eager to yield to a runner. It’s made me more conscious of runners when I am driving.

· You can generally tell whether the people in each house use the sidewalks or not. If the trees and limbs obstruct the sidewalk, there’s a good chance the people in the house don’t take walks or they’d realize how bad it is. On the other hand, you can tell when people do utilize the sidewalks because the sidewalks in front of their houses are well trimmed.

· You can’t judge a runner by what he or she looks like. This is probably a “duh” point, but as people we spend so much time sizing others up based on their appearance. There have been plenty of times I’ve been smoked by someone at a race that initially looked too short or too fat or too unathletic. You’d be amazed at how goofy some people look while they’re passing me. This is like that whole idiom about a book and something about its cover, but it’s true.

So that’s probably more than you were interested in, and major kudos for still reading. I figured I could sneak this in if it came as a double feature. Thanks for continuing to frequent this inconsistent blog about my son.


Jill said...

So immediately prior to reading this, I got an email from a friend about a half marathon...

SG said...

Great post! Pretty soon, Cade'll likely be running right beside you!

Matt said...

Do it Jill! It's a great way to spend time with a friend/friends while doing something good for you. Firm goals are very motivating.

And I would love it if Cade picked up on the running thing. (Not that he isn't already running everywhere. I'd just like it to be a little less dangerous for his head.)