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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Very Tempting...

Running Goals for 2009

Yeah, it would be a lot easier if my goals would just stand still...

But, while I have numerous spiritual and personal goals for the year, I'm not willing to publish most of those here (but you can ask me when privately if you lay awake nights wondering!).

Running-wise (and I always run wisely), my big goal for the year is to run three 100M races this summer. It takes me a long time to recover from a 100M race and I generally do one a year, so this is, for me, a big goal.

I like to have a big goal each year for motivation. It's easy to run when the weather is nice, but at other times just knowing that if I don't train I'm going to end up in deep doo-doo down the road, is a highly motivating reminder.

I'm also hoping to set a PR (personal record) at the Cool 50K in March. Cool was my first ultra (2001) and I finished in 5:18. The two times I've run Cool since I finished in around 5:30 and 6:00. My fastest 50K is 5:12 at McKenzie River though I did a 4:30 at "50K" that was actually a few K short of full deck.

All of which means, after two months of light running (100M per month) I've got to get cranking starting tomorrow. I did get 2100+ miles in for the year, a lot for me; and I'm rapidly closing in on 20,000 miles lifetime (19,553 since 1997).

We've got a pretty good New Year run planned, I may even have pics for you... next year. May your 2009 be a year of prayers answered beyond your expectations!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The world's most patient man

How valuable is patience? This guy can't read or write, but because he's the world's most patient man, he just earned $20 million dollars for his work!



Hat tip: Ted H

Saturday, December 27, 2008

An Honest Atheist

What's amazing about this article isn't what is being observed (the power of the gospel to change lives from the inside out) but the person doing the observing. Please read the whole thing!
Now a confirmed atheist, I've become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people's hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.

Trash-talkin' Wives!

My wife (and for that matter, most of the wives I know personally), avoids the problem discussed here (with only occasional slip-ups!) but I've observed many, many wives in my time who couldn't seem to stop putting down their hubs; whether they were present or not.

OTOH, I've heard lots of men put down their wives to their faces, but almost never hear a man say anything bad about his wife when she isn't present.

Before anyone calls me a sexist: it's OK if there are some ways in which men behave better than women. When I was a kid I thought cats were girls and dogs were boys. Lots of people today seem to believe that women and girls are angels and men and boys are devils.

"I think women are likely to notice so much more easily the things that aren't getting done," Mrs. Weiner-Davis said. "If they happen to notice what does get done, since women are often perfectionists, the only thing husbands hear is what they aren't doing right. Who wants that?"

Quite frankly, I am not surprised. I honestly don't think women spend much time thinking about how they treat their husbands.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Focus!

In our church, we call our small groups "Focus Groups" and tell everyone that the purpose is to help us keep our focus on the right things. One of my main goals as a pastor in this culture is to try to figure out how to help Christians be more focused, and thus disciplined, in their spiritual and relational lives.

The "seven deadly sins" include one called "sloth". But "sloth" as defined by the church never meant sheer laziness. Rather it meant a lack of passion, or focus, for the things of God. You can be very busy, very disciplined, very focused (on lesser things) and still be slothful in the eyes of God. Many activities are simply ways of avoiding authentic commitment to our Lord.

David Brooks touched on this today, in his NYT column:

Control of attention is the ultimate individual power. People who can do that are not prisoners of the stimuli around them. They can choose from the patterns in the world and lengthen their time horizons. This individual power leads to others. It leads to self-control, the ability to formulate strategies in order to resist impulses. If forced to choose, we would all rather our children be poor with self-control than rich without it.

It leads to resilience, the ability to persevere with an idea even when all the influences in the world say it can’t be done. A common story among entrepreneurs is that people told them they were too stupid to do something, and they set out to prove the jerks wrong.

It leads to creativity. Individuals who can focus attention have the ability to hold a subject or problem in their mind long enough to see it anew.

As we approach a new year, it's the perfect time for each of us to do some self-evaluation and ask ourselves: what am I focused on? What am I TOO focused on? What am I not focused enough on? What do I need to change to get my priorities where I want them to be?

Today's Political Commentary

In response to the President's request at the end of this interview:

Thursday, December 11, 2008

People Unclear on the Concept(s)...

Exhibits A and B:

The top pic is for real (San Diego - I only hope that they are going up the down escalator). The bottom pic? Must be another megachurch built around the Pastor's (Chris's) charisma. I never have to worry about that!

You asked for a sign...

Both offer good advice...

Sunday, December 7, 2008

CIM: My Head is Spinning


My goal, when I signed up for the California International Marathon, was to break 3:46 and qualify for the Boston Marathon in 2010. But later, after running a half-marathon last month in 1:39 I realized I should be able to break 3:36 and qualify for 2009 (the standard gets easier as I get older). I also thought, that with an ideal race, I could break 3:30. CIM is a fast course, might as well go for it!

My goals came into question when I spent about 21 of the 35 days prior to the race suffering from various colds. The last, and worst cold is the one that left me with laryngitis up to the race and a very nasty deep dry cough. The night before the race I was kept awake most of the night by my coughing.

So I went into the race undertrained and badly needing sleep.

I started out at a 3:35 pace, running at around 7:45 minutes-per-mile with one-minute walking breaks each mile for an 8:12 mpm average. This worked out fine for 17 miles. The weather was cool, dry, windless, ideal.

At mile 17 I started to feel dizzy and walked a minute until it went away. From there to the finish I kept getting dizzy when I ran, but it would clear up if I walked a minute. This slowed me up a lot. And my legs started tightening up (lack of training). I'm not sure what caused the dizziness, but it may have been an after-effect of the cold or the sleeplessness.

I still managed to hang on for a 3:39 finish. And I felt much better after a nap.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

On Giving 100%

A fellow ultrarunner posted the text from a sign he really liked (on the door of a gym):
"By entering here, you agree to give 100% of what you have. There are no second chances. Every day, every moment is an opportunity to excel, to be more, to be your best. Do not squander your time by going through the motions. Train hard and get results. At the end of the day, look in the mirror and ask yourself if you gave it your all. If you do not have this type of commitment, do not waste your time or ours"
I responded:
One of the greatest challenges of life is figuring out how to give 100%, 100% of the time. If you literally give 100% to your workout, you may not have much left for the remaining 16 hours of the day. If you give 100% to the first 100 yards of an ultra, you'll fall short of 100% for the race.

One of the most transferable lessons I learn from ultras is pacing. What's a pace I can sustain and give my most and my best to all my responsibilities? Giving 100% to marriage or parenting or spiritual growth or friends or even to a career is a lot more challenging than giving 100% to a race or a workout and involves incorporating rhythms of rest and restoration, etc.

It's the greatest challenge (and for me, one more area where I find Jesus to be the perfect role model- "Run with endurance the race set before you, fixing your eyes on Jesus..." [Heb 12:1-2]). There is something within me that so wants not to give anywhere near 100%, and something else, deeper, that won't settle for less.

Life lived well isn't easy.

Life lived easy isn't really life.

Silent Reading

It's been a strange week, being muted by laryngitis. I had to cancel all my appointments, including a message I was supposed to give at the seminary chapel. Mostly I've been doing lots of reading. My voice is barely starting to return (barely) and providentially I was planning to take this weekend off to go to Sacramento to visit "the kids" and run a marathon. I wouldn't have been able to preach anyway.

My energy finally started to come back Thursday and I've done a couple of tune-up runs and my lungs are clear so I'll give the marathon a go. Should be OK. I still have a nasty deep dry painful nighttime cough, but today's the first day my throat hasn't hurt.

Here are some of the books I've been reading in the past few weeks:
  • Jesus and the Victory of God, by NT Wright (scholarship on the historical Jesus)
  • Full Dark House, Christopher Fowler (mystery, good but not great)
  • Refiner's Fire, Mark Helperin (long, outstanding novel!)
  • Blue Latitudes, Tony Horwitz (re: Captain Cook)
  • The History of Christian Thought, Jonathan Hill (basic but I need the review)
  • Sources of the Self, Charles Taylor (great book by a great philosopher, very deep)
  • Spiritual Formation as if the Church Mattered, James Wilhoit (excellent and comprehensive guide to spiritual growth)
  • The Unnecessary Pastor, Eugene Peterson & Martha Dawn (various essays on spiritual leadership)

Friday, December 5, 2008

How Much Would You Pay?

Back to the title question in a moment. First:

CHICAGO – Older adults who exercise regularly show increased cerebral blood flow and a greater number of small blood vessels in the brain, according to findings presented today at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

The study, conducted at the University of North Carolina (UNC) – Chapel Hill, is the first to compare brain scans of older adults who exercise to brain scans of those who do not.

"Our results show that exercise may reduce age-related changes in brain vasculature and blood flow," said presenter Feraz Rahman, M.S., currently a medical student at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. "Other studies have shown that exercise prevents cognitive decline in the elderly. The blood vessel and flow differences may be one reason."

The researchers recruited 12 healthy adults, age 60 to 76. Six of the adults had participated in aerobic exercise for three or more hours per week over the last 10 years, and six exercised less than one hour per week. All of the volunteers underwent MRI to determine cerebral blood flow and MR angiography to depict blood vessels in the brain.

Using a novel method of three-dimensional (3-D) computer reconstruction developed in their lab, the researchers were able to make 3-D models of the blood vessels and examine them for shape and size. They then compared the blood vessel characteristics and how they related to blood flow in both the active and inactive groups.

The results showed that the inactive group exhibited fewer small blood vessels in the brain, along with more unpredictable blood flow through the brain.

"The active adults had more small blood vessels and improved cerebral blood flow," said the study's senior author, J. Keith Smith, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of radiology at UNC School of Medicine. "These findings further point out the importance of regular exercise to healthy aging."

Granted, this is a very small study (link); it is supported by many other studies (granted, the word "prevent" in paragraph 3 should be "slows"); and is intuitively supported by the long-known fact that aerobic exercise causes the body to grow new capillaries (one major reason why running becomes a lot easier about six weeks after you start a consistent program).

Added to all the other proven psychological and physical benefits of aerobic exercise (check out this, that, and the other), try this little thought experiment: How much would you pay for a daily pill that could provide for you all the benefits that running provides? $5, $10 a day? More?

Monday, December 1, 2008

Speechless

The day began with a coughing fit that left me with a headache and a stomach ache. I felt like I was about to cough up my stomach lining and decided that the only reasonable thing to do was to rush over to Dr. Tim's office, interrupt whatever he was doing with some whiny hypochondriac "patient", and demand an immediate prescription for the strongest cough medicine known to man. And full anesthesia until it was filled.

The flaw in my brilliant plan was the realization that as soon as I barged in and attempted to commence shouting my demands, nothing would happen. Or everyone would laugh at me. Because today, my lips move, but no sound comes out.

Fortunately, the OTC cough syrup that did nothing yesterday worked miraculously well today and Dr Tim's office presumably got through the day blissfully unaware of what-might-have-been.

I've had mild laryngitis before, but never like this. I had to go out and buy more cough syrup and I stopped at Manhattan Bagel and Barnes & Noble. Everywhere I went people asked me questions like, "How can I help you?" and then looked at me while I tried to figure out, "Now what do I do?"

I can whisper, sort of, but then I have to get close to people, which, for their sakes I've been trying not to do. If I try to talk, the first syllable of the first word comes out kind of croaky and after that it's just lips moving and (inaudible).

Now you understand why I'm blogging so much today. It's my only outlet.

Living Life to the HILT

Let's talk about character development.

One part of spirituality is like an on-off switch: you are either genuinely yielding your life to Christ or you are not. The other part is maturity: With time we are to become more and more like Christ in our characters. This part is progressive.

My mnemonic for character is HILT. The key components are:
  1. Humility
  2. Integrity
  3. Love
  4. Trust
Humility grows out of truly comprehending grace and is a somewhat inevitable outcome from truly seeking to grow in integrity, love and trust. Since God is opposed to the proud but blesses the humble, it is obviously essential.

Integrity means developing congruence between your visible life and your invisible life. Your visible life is what you do in public and what you say. Your invisible life is what you do in private and what thoughts you allow to run through your mind. Integrity is when visible and invisible are an undivided whole. None of us have arrived; the question is: is this something you constantly strive for, or not? If not, the opposite of integrity is hypocrisy. According to my Bible, Jesus is not terribly fond of hypocrites.

Love is the fulfillment of the law and the goal of the gospel. All of the bad things we are not supposed to do: the reason is because they keep us from love. Christian growth isn't just sin management. Sin (the flesh, selfishness, lethargy, apathy) needs to be reined in and controlled because it gets in the way of loving and growing in love. If you are growing in love for God and people you are growing. Anything that helps you grow in love is good; anything that gets in the way is an impediment.

Trust = Faith. We are humble (we stop trusting in ourselves) so that we can exercise faith in God. If your goal in life is to please God, then go and learn what this means: "Without faith it is IMPOSSIBLE to please God."

Grow in these and you are growing indeed! And yes, this will all be on the test!

That's just sick!

"That" being yours truly. Here's some advice: If you wake up and are coming down with something, running a 10K race as fast as you possibly can under the conditions will NOT help your body fight or minimize the incipient cold.

Hopefully I'll be fully healthy by the big marathon next weekend (I feel a little better today), but I only got about 100 miles in in November, compared to my "normal" average of close to 200. You are supposed to train harder for a marathon, not less, but it is what it is and if I'm healthy I should still be able to make the Boston qualifying standard for 55 year olds (3:45:59 or less) and qualify for the Boston Marathon in 2010. If I have a REALLY good day I may break 3:35:59 and qualify for a BM in 2009 (no comments on that last phrase, please!).

Right now a REALLY good day would be one with as much energy as the average septuagenarian. Have you ever coughed until your stomach ached? You don't miss it, do you?