My name is Jeff and I'm a pastor of a small, local, Christian fellowship

It's a wonderful thing to love your work; to know that when you do it you are doing something that you were born to do. I am so fortunate to be both. I don't say I am the best at what I do. God knows that are so many others who do it better. But I do feel fairly lucky to be called by such a good God to do work I can only do with his help, to be loved by a beautiful woman, and to have a workshop where I can work my craft. These musings of mine are part of that work.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Reaching the 10,000 mile mark baby-stepping it once again

Last Saturday evening, with a warm wind at my back, somewhere about seven miles east of Chetek on lonely Moose Ear Lake Road I crossed over the 10,000 mile mark since I started recording running miles in the year 2000. After about a twenty year hiatus from my “halcyon” days in high school cross country, in 1999 a kid in our youth group got me running again with a little article he had clipped out of Running Times. It was a six week plan to ease the newbie into the running habit. Call it the Baby-Step Way to Better Running. That summer, as soon as school let out, I and five or so other kids from that group as well as one of our adult mentors began to meet daily at our local track to begin our new running regimen.

That's right, baby-steps...
 Most people when they think of getting in shape they immediately think about going out for a run of two or three miles. Provided they have decent shoes, it sounds and feels like a good idea at the moment...until two days later when muscles that were atrophying for years suddenly are screaming for relief. The better call of wisdom seems to rest a day or two and then before you know it, maybe getting in shape isn't what it's all cracked up to be and the shoes go back in the closet until the next fitness whim hits. But in the Baby-Step plan you literally baby-step your way back into it.

Here it is in a nutshell:
Week 1: 20 minute work-out running 30 seconds (yes, seconds) at talking-pace and walking 90 seconds consecutively. Do this Monday thru Friday and rest on the weekend.

Week 2: 20 minute work-out running 45 seconds at talking-pace and walking 75 seconds consecutively. Again, do this Monday thru Friday and rest on the weekend.

Week 3: 20 minute work-out running 60 seconds at talking pace and walking 60 seconds consecutively. Once again, M-F off on the weekend.

Week 4: 20 minute work-out running 75 seconds at talking-pace and walking 45 seconds consecutively.

Week 5: 20 minute work-out running 90 seconds at talking pace and walking 30 seconds consecutively.

Week 6: Running 20 minutes consecutively.

The genius of it is that it not only works your body but also creates a sense of momentum that your mind becomes convinced it can indeed run 20 minutes consecutively (obviously some people have no problem in this department but many, many people do). If memory serves me right, I think Weeks 2 and 3 we repeated to build a sense of confidence but by the end of July I was running 20 minutes a day regularly.

By mid-August, I began to build on that 20-minute work-out by running 20 minutes straight and then adding an additional 10 minutes by running 30/90 and so forth until I had worked my way up to 30 minutes consecutively. By mid-October, I was working on moving up to 40 minutes straight. Of that original group, we managed to stick together for only about a couple of weeks before their enthusiasm began to wane but I am very grateful for those first few weeks of my new running-habit. For there were a couple of days in there that the only thing that got me down the track was the fact I knew some people were waiting on me.

That was a lot of miles ago. I was 37 when I began baby-stepping my way down the road. Within two years I ran my first marathon of the eight that I have since run (I've also run one ultra – a 50K – as well as perhaps six dozen other races of variable distances. It's a lot of t-shirts to be sure.) Most years I have managed to log about 700 miles but in 2001, 2003 and 2007 I ran over 1,000 miles. I've also had a few lean years when either injury or a case of life-interruptus has put a damper on my running groove (2004 and 2011, specifically when I only logged about 500 miles those years).

These are considered badges of honor
 Speaking of injuries, I've been pretty fortunate in that department (if you don’t count innumerable cases of groin, armpit and nipple rashes, occasional blood blisters on a few of my toes and getting a slight case of frost bite on my left thumb one blustery day) but have had to deal with plantar fasciitus and iliotibial band syndrome (ibs) which was such that I actually had to see a physical therapist for. I also no longer have much of a toenail on my second toe of my right foot. It’s an ailment many runners suffer from (in my recent journey to Uganda, I met activist-author Katie Davis, also a runner, who I couldn’t help but notice had a blood blister on the same second toe on her right foot.)

I've “bonked” in more than a fair share of my long races but have never (yet) recorded a DNF (Did Not Finish) to my name. Over the years, I've run from dozens of dogs as well as a small flock of sheep that for some reason was intent on following me one spring day a few years back. I've kicked up deer, run with a fair amount of horses and cattle and twice veered to the far side of the road just to stay clear of the skunk that happened to be out for an early morning run himself. Just last week right as dawn was breaking I was startled by a black bear that was running head-long towards the woods (apparently away from me). I've run on days when the temperature was in the 90s as well as being the only fool one wintry morning to be running in -20 degree weather. I've run in Canada, in the Philippines and, most recently, in Uganda. In fact, if I’m going somewhere – anywhere, really – more than likely my gear is going with me.

Dumbest running-thing I've ever done? Well, that would take too much space to record but in retrospect it wasn't very smart to go running to London (Wisconsin) on the Glacial Drumlin Trail a few days after running in Grandma's one June summer. I hadn't recovered my running legs yet and ended up walking a lot and when I finally got to London (Wisconsin) and discovered there was nothing really there, I had to walk back to Deerfield where there was a convenient store so that I could call my dad to come pick me up. So much for being a running stud. I remember accidentally tearing my contact the morning I ran the Lake Monona 20K and essentially had to run it blind. And while the Whistlestop 2001 Marathon remains my fastest one to date (4:37), I was a bit under-dressed for it and by race's end, as my wife could tell you, my lips were blue (Whistlestop is Ashland's premier event and it's either a gorgeous fall day or rainy with slightly blizzard-like conditions. Like the year I ran it.)

Great running moments? One early winter morning I was running on 22 ¾ St just outside of town and suddenly a shadow came up on my right and running in stride by the light of the moon was a white stallion in the adjoining field. It was a moment that still gives me shivers when I think of it. The first year I ran Bayfield's Run-On-Water (2003). There I was running out on the ice road connecting Bayfield and Madeleine Island and thinking, “I'm running on Lake Superior!” I know it's just ice but it was an exhilarating thought. And the last time I ran Grandma's Marathon (2007). As usual, I was struggling with the heat and once again my quest to run a sub-5 hour Grandma's had ignominiously failed but in the homestretch, my two youngest kids, Ed and Emma, jumped out of the grandstands and ran the last 50 yards with me. That made all the blood (I usually have a case of the bloody nipples during long, hot runs), sweat and tears worth it. My best 10K has got to be the Amery Fall Festival in 2000 (48:49 – I don’t think I’ll ever see that again) and my worst 4-miler – the Fishy Four (Chetek’s premier running event) was just last year (37:42) (may I not see that again!)
A special moment for me
I have yet to figure out how to use an mp3 player so I still run with nothing but my thoughts (unlike my much more accomplished son who runs with a whole collection of inspiring songs on his unit.) Occasionally, the beat that my shoes make on the pavement reminds me of a song and it plays for awhile in my mind (sometimes repeatedly and annoyingly so). I’ve tried running mantras but the only one that sticks all these years later is actually a modified quote from the 1973 movie Papillon, the story of a young man’s quest to escape from a penal colony that he has been condemned to for a crime he never committed. At the end of the movie, when he is now an old man but at last successful in making his escape, from the little raft he has made he yells up into the sky, “Hey, you ****, I’m still here!” So at the end of an especially tough run I may not have the strength to yell it but I sure do think it.

Steve says it with much more panache
I still dream of running a sub-Grandma’s 5 hour marathon, would love to do Chicago someday and while it would be a hoot to somehow qualify for Boston (I think I’d need a coach and some illegal substances for that kind of feat), my true uber-dream is, in fact, to run the Antarctica Marathon. Somehow to run on the land that Shackleton and his ilk once crossed on sled and ski seems so alluring to me (as expensive as this pipe dream really is!) But in the meantime, I keep running. Through the seasons, through the good years and the not-so-good ones, reveling in the good runs and enduring the long ones that kick my butt. In fact, last Saturday night’s run is a great case in point. The Saturday before I had ran 16 miles in a comfortable 3-hour pace. At the end of the run I was a bit winded but if I had needed to, I could have run further. But this past Saturday, on an evening perhaps 20-25 degrees warmer than the Saturday before and with a warm wind at my back, despite “crossing over” by the end of the run (which turned out to be just a few feet short of 16) I not only was bushed but I had run it almost 8 minutes slower than the week before. All these years later on that run it felt like I was still baby-stepping. The best thing about it that can be said is that at every hill when I wanted to walk I kept running albeit slowly (at one time being paced by one of  the cows  from Sugar Bol Farms) until I was done. It wasn’t pretty but…well, you know…nearly twelve years and now over 10,000 miles later “…I’m still here!”

In honor of my upcoming 50th birthday, a week from Saturday I will run the Chippewa Moraine 50K, an out and back race on the Ice Age Trail. I figure if I can make it to the turn-around in a little more than 3 hours (after all, it is a trail race), that will give me nearly 6 hours to finish the rest of it. My last ultra (the Tuscobia Ultra run in 2009) took me 9:03. Perhaps this time I can run a sub-9? Hope springs eternal. Besides you don’t know unless you put the shoes on and go try, right? What’s the worst thing that can happen? My thoughts exactly.

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