Archive for ‘running’


Good Form

running-symbolA couple of weeks ago, I went to a running clinic on Good Form. I’ve been running for almost a decade, so why would I need a Good Form class? After my car accident earlier this year, it took me a while to get back into my normal workout schedule. And unfortunately by the time I was done with physical therapy, much of my endurance that I built up last year was lost.

This hasn’t been discouraging for me. In fact, I’ve focused on more cross training with dance, shorter running routes, and strength work as I gear up for a Warrior Dash in October. But even as my focus has been other types of exercise, I have this longing to train for another longer race. And with that longing has come a desire to improve my running both in form and speed, which I know will increase my overall benefit from it. It made sense then to start with my form as a precursor to speed training.

At the class, our experienced instructor Tammy Sanders took a video of each of us running past her. Then she played our videos back one by one in slow motion, pointing out how our feet were striking the pavement, what our posture looked like, and if our arms were in the right position. We learned that cadence, or the number of steps per minute, is important too.

It was very enlightening to find out that I’m a heel striker, my arms are coming across my body too much, and that I have good posture and head position. I left the class focused on the simple truths that would help me correct my poor form: bend my knees, center my posture, look down the road and not down at the pavement, lean slightly forward, run with light steps to stay balanced.

My first solo run to practice the good form tips I had learned went well for the first mile or so. But I noticed after that, my body wanted to return to old habits. I struggled at times to keep the new, better form even though I knew that it was more efficient and would help me avoid injuries common to runners. I measured my cadence that day, and found out that mine is about 170 versus the optimum 180 strikes per minute. I have work to do there too.

For a decade, I’ve been running—with success—as far as I would define it. I’ve never been fast; I’ve had very few injuries, but with good form now added to the mix, what more might I discover I can achieve?

What if I practiced good form in my spiritual life as well?

I’m not asking this question to lead into a discussion on “works” here. I’m talking about what if I consciously started to address the bad spiritual habits or baggage I picked up along the way that is throwing my form off.

For those of us raised on church, sometimes bad spiritual form is linked to our families and how they relate to church or other believers. If we’ve been hurt at church, sometimes it is linked to forgiveness we refuse to extend to other Christians or a church as a whole. For those of us who were or are preacher’s kids there’s a reason that there is a negative stereotype equated with many of us. And we see many pastors and wives of pastors (I was also one of these) wound up in burdens that while related to ministry also have to do with poor spiritual form due to burn out, unresolved conflicts, and living hidden lives outside of their parish.

But like the formation of any bad habit, poor spiritual form doesn’t happen overnight. I know for me, I can think of several very distinct instances or situations even in the last five years of being a Christian where certain seeds planted bad form. And frankly, I let those seeds take root.

This bad form has made me more cautious about being “too involved” at church sometimes. It has made me distrust certain Christians without real cause. Basically bad spiritual form has given me excuses to hang some of my decisions on, a place to justify a distance and a separation that I sometimes have practiced in order to protect myself.

I know there is a different way. I can practice good spiritual form. It isn’t easy. Bad habits are hard to break.

But I can start with some simple truths:

bend my knees in prayer

center my posture on God

look down the road and see who is in need not down at the pavement absorbed in my own problems

lean slightly forward into hope

run with light steps giving my burdens to God to stay balanced

Father, help us to practice good form in our spiritual lives that we may be strengthened in you and that we might discover anew what you can do through us to the glory of your Kingdom. Amen.



Besides the 26.2 miles that make up one of the definitions of the word “marathon,” the word also means “a lengthy and difficult task, event or activity; a test of endurance.”  Endurance is an interesting thing.

When I trained for a marathon a few years ago, I quickly learned the difference between sprinters and elite athletes vs. the more common runner that makes up most of the field in any number of races across the country.  I was surprised to find my training team was made up of people who looked like they were in worse shape than me.  And I was even more surprised to find out how many of them could smoke me on the running trail.

It was all about endurance.  They had it; I didn’t.  I didn’t at first anyway.  But as the mileage climbed for our team training runs, my body responded.  And eventually I did it—finished 26.2 miles despite an injury to my right leg just weeks before the race.

A few weeks ago, I got the notion to run a half marathon with just one month to train.  I knew it would be a stretch.  I had trained for the full marathon for five months.  Yeah…the math didn’t exactly add up just because I was only doing half the distance.

Ironically, while I trained, at choir we were involved in our own kind of endurance test.  We were preparing for a concert that featured Samuel Barber’s Prayers of Kierkegaard—a 20-minute piece with major highs and poignant lows.  And we were also learning the lengthy Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine by Eric Whitacre.

The styles of the music couldn’t be different.  The Barber piece is fully orchestrated; the Whitacre piece is a cappella.  The Whitacre is a fun, moving exploration of the genius of Leonardo da Vinci as dreamer and inventor working out the problem of flight.  The Barber is gentle then clamoring, melodic then dissonant, soft one moment and then suddenly loud and dramatic.  It is a wonderful composition of Kierkegaard’s heartfelt and intelligent writings honing especially in on the unchangeable nature of God.  What a blessing to sing such music.

And oh, how it kicked my butt!  Working with and around choral music the last decade, this material gave me an awakening to the simplicity of music most church choirs are singing.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  It’s just that preparing for this concert was nothing short of a vocal marathon.

As the concert approached, I began to wake up with the music playing in my head. Different phrases and bars that I was trying to work out would come to mind at times, and I would practice my singing in the car on long drives.  I consulted with more experienced choir members over challenging passages, and during coffee outings with musician friends I would bring my music out and ask questions.

Then a couple of weeks before the concert, our director “took the training wheels off” on us on the Whitacre piece.  With no piano help, we all floundered a tiny bit, but miraculously we made it through.  I think everyone was stunned, and I tried to contain my internal celebration as we moved on to rehearsing the Barber score.  We had done it!

Seems that musical artistry has a few things in common with endurance training.  Just like with running, our practice and persistence over time had given us the ability to make it through.  And from there, both pieces blossomed.  After we had “gone the distance,” we had the confidence to really make music.  We continued to sing as we waited for the big night.

Meanwhile, I had a half marathon to run.  Three hours before our final choir rehearsal, I took to the starting line hoping to finish and make it over to church afterward.  As the runners started in 20 or more waves about two minutes apart, I stood with 30,000 strangers ready to begin my 13.1-mile journey.  I was so excited to begin. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but I was ready to go.  I was confident I would make it to the finish.

Finally the moment came, and as I started to jog over the starting mat, I glanced down at my left foot sporting the computer chip that would track my official time.  We were off!  A sea of colorful runners headed down Broadway towards downtown Nashville, and I was proud to be one of them.

The first few miles went as expected as I paced myself.  Just like in my training, at around mile seven, I started feeling the run.  I began to work a little harder. I hydrated and sucked on a few oranges along the way.

The end of the course put a beating on me.  I knew from studying the map on-line that there were some hills to tackle.  Unfortunately some of those hills are in the last couple of miles.

Ultimately I crossed the finish line more than 10 minutes off my desired total race time.  I had probably set the bar a bit high for the training time I took.  Nevertheless the sense of accomplishment was wonderful.

As I met up with my daughter and the friend that graciously watched her while I ran, I felt grateful and hungry!  We dashed to the car as a large thunderstorm started, getting soaked by the time we made it.  Always a wonderful support to me, my little girl beamed with pride as we toweled off, chatted about the race and made our way to our favorite burrito joint.

The next evening, we headed to church for the concert.  I was dressed in black from head to toe having dusted off my longest formal skirt that had been stuffed into the back of my closet.

In contrast to my excited and relaxed start of the race, I was shaking all over from nervousness as walked out and took my place with the choir for the concert.  It didn’t matter that the crowd was small.  I still had to consciously breathe deeply in an attempt to relax as the notes began for our first piece.

At the end of the evening’s repertoire a familiar feeling of accomplishment came over me.  I was blessed as friends and family stayed to mingle over plates of cheese and crackers and as we collectively celebrated the music that night.  Finally, we shuffled to the car, and once again, my girl beamed with pride.

It was late.  It had been a busy weekend.  All my adrenaline expired; it was time to go home.

As we drove, I reflected on endurance.  Endurance training does not equal perfection.  After all, I had missed a few notes that night.  And I certainly did not finish first in the race or even in my age division.

But endurance makes a difference in life and faith.  When we endure, when we apply that “training” and reflect on the tough junk that God has gotten us through and the wonderful stuff that He has accomplished through us, we can face anything with a confidence and a peace that comes from Him.

May we follow more closely the ultimate authority on endurance. Hebrews 12:2-3


The Flood

I was set to post a new entry to my blog on Friday, April 30th—just under the wire for my goal of a monthly entry.  My mom came in that day from Florida, and we had a family fun night up at my daughter’s school.  I was a bit distracted by all the activity, and so I compromised and told myself I would post the blog first thing in the morning.

That Saturday we expected rain.  We keep close tabs on the forecast since my girl is in the middle of softball season.  Once the downpour began and I knew we were in the clear and didn’t have to pack up to go the field, I pulled on my running shoes and ventured out into the pouring rain for a jog.  “How refreshing this will be!” I thought as I started out.

But I quickly found out, light rain this was not.  Pools formed in every dip in the road.  I wasn’t just getting soaked, I was wringing out the sleeves of my jacket before I reached mile two.  I found myself unconsciously pushing to get to my turn around point more quickly.  Somewhere during mile three, there was a huge lightening crack.  I ran faster.

I debated calling someone to come pick me up but felt guilty about it, and instead just pushed on.  Though I bested my time from the week before, it felt like the longest 4-mile run I had ever done.  I toweled off on the entry pad just inside the door while my family praised me for my diligence for running in such weather. I kept quiet, knowing I shouldn’t have been out there like that at all.

And the rain kept coming tumbling down.

The storm grew worse.  By afternoon, I was clearing out a large closet that was our designated shelter after hearing the tornado sirens and the weather reports.  My ten-year-old seemed suddenly much younger as I tried to ease her fears while we sat on the floor near the boxes of Christmas décor.

And the rain didn’t stop.

Eventually, the tornado warnings passed.  We looked out the window and marveled how quick the water was moving over the street.  By the next morning, Sunday, there were plenty of spots where the water had risen quickly.  I figured I would head to church and to choir alone for the late service to save my mom and girl from getting out in the mess.  But the reports from the local news stations didn’t look good.

I finally made the guilty call to my choir director.  I left a voice mail that I wouldn’t be coming to church that day.

I would later learn that, hours before my call, water had started running into the church at the 7:30 service.  Before the second service, two choir members that had arrived early went unsuspecting from the second-floor choir room towards the sanctuary on the first floor only to find water rushing up to the stairs.

Other choir members and church members that had no warning about the deteriorating state of the roads were getting trapped in various parts of the city as they ran into flooded routes time after time.  A couple of choir members gathered in the parking lot of the grocery store one block from the church, unable to cross the short divide.  A few minutes later, that parking lot would be unsafe and covered in water as well.

Meanwhile, an older couple on the way to our church drove through water that overcame their car.  They got out.  Then they got swept away.  Their bodies were found about a half-day later about a half a mile apart.

Story after story has been told in the days after the flood.  Some of those stories have ended with tragedy and others with miracles.  In the hours of rising water, many people were faced with decisions that they sensed would save or kill them depending on how it all turned out.  Many had to choose to leave everything behind and accept an unexpected rescue after holding out hope that the water wouldn’t get that high.

In the days that followed, my friends started to call to find out if we were all right.  “Yes, we were,” I gratefully reported, but so many were not.

Work, writing, and normal life has been difficult to get back into.  The damage is not just about property and things but also about people and their spirits.  And it is a bit strange to know that living on the top of a small hill sometimes made all the difference between losing nothing and everything.

A friend told me that she found many critical voices on the internet mocking the flood here, wondering why Nashville folks couldn’t handle a little bit of water.  I can’t believe anyone would think something like this is a joke when I think about all the things I’ve seen the last few days.

Our church’s bottom floor was completely devastated. Working with a crew there post-flood, I threw away hundreds of dollars worth of ruined Bibles, books, children’s ministry furniture and educational resources, many of which were handmade one-of-a-kind pieces.  I yearned to save things that were deemed contaminated.  The 30-foot dumpster we filled that day was emptied and filled again several times over.

A few days later, I passed out flood clean-up kits, food, masks, gloves, and visited with people in the Pennington Bend.  The faces of people sitting on their front steps with the contents of their houses spilled out onto the front lawns and stretched out to the curbs was surreal.  I met an Egyptian girl thankful that her bedroom and toys were on the second floor while she watched her immigrant parents carry loads out of her house from the back of a pick-up truck.

Last week, my friend Omar faced the tough decision to walk away from a house that he had hoped to buy soon.  His family moved in a few weeks ago, and was just settled in when the flood hit.  Our crew was there to do what we could to rip out wet drywall, molding and insulation, but in the end, there was too much damage.  Now he, his wife and two kids are staying in one room with family until they find a new place to live.

This week I visited River Plantation.  Filled with retirees and older folks, the condo complex that encompasses multiple blocks was hit hard.  Now many in that area are struggling against fixed incomes and lack of strength and youthfulness to rebuild.

Nothing about these and the countless other stories are a joke.  Some farmers lost all their livestock and all their spring crops. Some businesses that were barely hanging on in the economic crisis will never recover due to the flood damage. Immigrants face confusion over what their rights and options are in the wake of it all.  Several families had not just a flood to clean up after, but funerals to plan as well.

The Sunday after our church was hit, we celebrated the lives and mourned the passing of our two congregation members that were lost.  Our priest reminded us that troubled times do not have to mean troubled hearts. We sang Amazing Grace, and I was so struck by the third verse—you know the one we so often don’t sing?

The Lord has promised good to me,

His word my hope secures;

He will my shield and portion be

As long as life endures.

We ought not to skip that verse.  It is the perfect precursor to verse four:

Through many dangers, toils, and snares,

I have already come;

‘Tis grace that brought me safe thus far,

And grace will lead me home.

Dear God, bless those among us that are facing present devastation. Encourage them as they endure the long road to rebuilding.  Help them with every need, especially those needs that go beyond all the “stuff” that has been lost. Remind us all that we are a people who belong to the Risen Christ—the conqueror, the redeemer, the restoration specialist.  Amen.