It’s a Bermuda-ful Day: Bermuda Half Marathon Race Recap

Last year, my friend Jen suggested a bunch of us do the Bermuda Triangle Challenge for our birthdays (a milestone year for a few of us). I’m not sure whether she really expected anyone to take her up on the idea, but eight of us ended up making the trip this past weekend–four members of Springfield Moms RUN This Town; another running/triathlon friend, Marianne; and three spouses, including Robert. Four of us went for the full challenge, which is a one mile run, 10K run, and half marathon on successive days.

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Two of us ran the half marathon only: Sophie, who is currently 18 weeks pregnant, and yours truly, whose body continues to reward me for not running two days in a row (exception made for Ragnar Relays). Plus, I wanted some sleeping-in mornings. Marianne was going to do the full challenge but her knee was talking to her after the 10K, so she wisely took it easy and went swimming instead. I told you she was a triathlete!

We all had a blast, and if you have the inclination and means to do an international race, this is one for your bucket list.

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We did not throw away our shot!

I blame the song “Kokomo” for my ignorance of Bermuda’s location–it is nowhere near the Caribbean, nor any other island, really. But it’s super accessible from the East Coast. Bermuda is an easy country to visit and navigate. The people are warm and helpful and buses and taxis are plentiful. Businesses take US currency, so logistics are a breeze, and even in the off season, there’s plenty of stuff to do, or beaches on which to lounge and stroll if you don’t want to do much. Robert was super bummed that he was not able to scuba with Jen’s husband Fred because of some fleeting chest congestion. But the guys all went snorkeling on Sunday and on Monday and saw tons of colorful fish, old cannons, and a gigantic elusive grouper fish that became the inside joke of the weekend.

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Some people have strange reactions to so-called runcations. Why would you want to run on a trip like this? Why exert yourself so much? Sounds stressful. Just lie on the beach!  

My favorite kind of foot photo.

My favorite kind of foot photo.

Well… People should do what makes them happy. But I think runcations can be more relaxing than trips in which you cram a bunch of sightseeing into a few days. Our group was up early each morning to run, which meant afternoons were for relaxing, and evenings were festive but finished up relatively early.

On a runcation, you may end up at the grocery store for a favorite pre-race snack or sunscreen, which gives you a glimpse of a place’s local culture. And hey. Running burns calories, so you can indulge in food and beverages without coming home with 10 extra pounds. (More like 5.)

Most importantly, there’s nothing quite like seeing a place through the power of your own two feet. No, you can’t tick off as many sites as you do from a bus or on a hectic tour, but you see them in a deeper way. You see and smell flowers:

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You get a good look at real local living, like homes…

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Businesses… (I’ve always loved this verse)

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Architecture…

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Even cemeteries. Running by cemeteries always reminds me to embrace the experience of running as the gift it is. I get to do this:

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Better to be running past it than buried in it!

And you get a flavor for the local population, at water stops and along the course. The crowd support was fantastic all weekend. People sat in lawn chairs in their front yards, clapped, and offered high fives and many a “Well done!,” my new favorite term of encouragement. I love when races put the runners’ names on the bibs, and here, people actually used them. There’s something powerful about total strangers cheering for you by name.

As for the half marathon–it was an excellent race. Spectacular course, excellent support, great logistics (mostly).

We stayed at the official run hotel, which meant we ran into legend Bart Yasso the morning of the race. He complimented us on our skirts. But really, how could he not:

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These are Sparkle Skirts, and I do believe we sold a few out on the course.

The start/finish line was modest but with all the amenities, including actual flush toilets (and soft drinks at the end, along with the traditional Gatorade and water–our group was elated). I had plenty of time to pee twice before the race, which is about right for me.

It was a beautiful morning:

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Sporting our MRTT “Be Amazing” shirts! We got a lot of attention for them.

Had time for a photo with the town crier, who also led us in a moment of silence for a fallen runner whose name I didn’t catch.

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Then we were off!

This is my fifth half marathon, and I wasn’t running for time. I’m trying for a personal best (PR) at the Rock n Roll DC in March, but for this one we all wanted to be leisurely, take in the scenery and get lots of pictures:

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Lots of mirrors for driveway visibility on these little streets. Couldn’t resist this one.

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Temps were in the 60s, but the ocean breeze kept things pretty comfortable. There was also a good bit of shade.

Here was the moment I knew I’d never forget. Crashing surf and party music:

The marathon is a double loop of the half marathon course, and we laughingly wondered when the leader would lap us. It was at mile 10. Mile 10!

I’m notorious for fading out in the latter miles of long races, which is something I’ve been working on. So around mile 11 I decided to take off and see if I could pick up the pace. I was assisted by a nice downhill in that! When I had about .2 left I stopped and waited for the group so we could cross the finish line together. They were only a couple minutes behind me.

At that point our stomachs were all growling. An 8 a.m. start is very civilized–and the 10K the day before started at 9!–but brunch was definitely calling. We passed a froyo place with just a tenth of a mile to go, and I’m now kicking myself that we didn’t go in to get some, because that would have been an awesome finish line photo. But it was still pretty wonderful. (And there’s video!)

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I mentioned that the logistics were mostly great. The big buzzkill was that they ran out of half marathon medals. That was a bummer. We were all looking forward to medal photos on the beach. And Jen, Stephanie and Todd (Sophie’s husband) had completed three races and were supposed to receive four medals, and we’d been laughing about wanting to get a picture of all of them on the “medal rack” in the hotel room (OK it was a tie rack, but still). I never did hear what happened, but they’ll be mailing them to us. Ah well.

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Stephanie and Jen are holding teeny pics of our friends Sara and Tish, who were with us in spirit.

Finally, I need to say a big thank you to my mother, who kept the three amigos safe and entertained so Robert and I could get away. We couldn’t have done it without you.

All in all, an unforgettable weekend!

Why Improv? Five Questions for a Thursday

I’m speaking and preaching at Red Clay Creek Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, DE* in a couple of weeks, and one of their pastors, Nate Phillips, (who is also an author!) interviewed me as part of their publicity. I liked their questions and thought I’d share the answers here.

First off, what is “improv” and how did it become an interest of yours?

When we think of improvisation, most of us think of jazz improv, or the comedic performances we see on Whose Line Is It Anyway and similar shows. I’ve been captivated by improv for years, but always as an observer. I love being around people who can create on the fly like that—as if from thin air!—but it never felt like anything I could do.

I did a lot of theater in high school and college, but those experiences centered around scripted shows and musicals. We’d do an occasional improv game or warmup, but I always found them painfully hard. So I come to improv as someone who’s not naturally oriented that way. I often joke that organizing is my true superpower. I like knowing what’s going to happen. I appreciate planning and deliberation. Flying by the seat of my pants feels deeply uncomfortable to me. (I’m a Presbyterian after all.)

702But the older I get, and the longer I serve as a pastor and spiritual leader, the more I realize that life rarely conforms to our carefully laid plans and expectations. When the unexpected happens, we can cling ever harder to illusions of control, or we can learn to be flexible and open to the mystery as it unfolds, trusting that a gracious and creative God is with us. I started to dabble in improv because I suspected that the things we learn in an improv class might serve us well in our everyday lives. And those suspicions have been proved right again and again. Improv requires good listening, collaboration, humility, and risk—which are all things that make for an invigorating, fruitful life. It’s also a whole lot of fun.

When did you begin to see connections between improv and the work of the church?

Several years ago I saw a YouTube video of Stephen Colbert speaking to a group of graduates about the basic rule of improv, which is to say “Yes-And.” When people are on stage together, their job is to accept what their partner offers and to build on it: “To build anything onstage, you have to accept what the other improviser initiates on stage. They say you’re doctors—you’re doctors. And then, you add to that: We’re doctors and we’re trapped in an ice cave. That’s the ‘-and.’ And then hopefully they ‘yes-and’ you back.”

He concluded, “By following each other’s lead, neither of you are really in control. It’s more of a mutual discovery than a solo adventure. What happens in a scene is often as much a surprise to you as it is to the audience.”

Stephen is a good Catholic boy at heart, and I realized he was describing faith as well as improv. The deeper I get into studying improv, the more captivated I am at what a profound spiritual practice it is.

The contemporary church finds itself in a time of profound and dizzying change. Neighborhoods are changing right out from under us. Congregations are shrinking. Old notions of “if you build it, they will come” no longer work. The younger generation has less and less connection to and interest in organized religion.

Congregations can respond to this reality in a number of different ways. We can keep doing things the way we always have, hoping for a miracle, or dwindling bit by bit until we die. Or we can improvise. We can look at the world around us—as it really is, not as it used to be or as we wish it would be—and figure out a “Yes-And” that is faithful to who we are and our gifts as a people.

Can you give a couple of examples of how embracing improv might be important for today’s church?

Church of the Pilgrims in Washington DC is a great example of a congregation that’s been implementing improvisational elements into its Sunday worship services. They serve a relatively young, increasingly diverse population in the inner city, including many people that did not grow up Presbyterian. The services typically follow the basic structure of our Service for the Lord’s Day, while allowing for creative expression at various points in the service. Liturgy is defined as “the work of the people,” and that work is sometimes unscripted and messy—but always grace-filled.

That’s a clear example. But any congregation that is embracing something new, with a spirit of risk, as a response to the world as it actually is, is improvising. And it doesn’t happen instantly—the change can come after many years of discernment. I think about Arlington Presbyterian Church in Virginia, a congregation that recently sold its building and will be renting space in a new multi-purpose space that includes affordable housing. After many years of “business as usual,” with ever-shrinking membership, this congregation decided not to die a slow death. They realized that their neighborhood had changed and had new needs, and that they still had a ministry there—but it would require a new way of being. They found a bold “Yes-And,” and are pursuing it with renewed vision and vigor.

You will offer a class/ workshop at 9:30 on January 22. What can folks expect if they attend?

Folks can expect a combination of presentation and conversation, with some video, art, pop culture, psychology, theology and more. I like to introduce an improv exercise or two, but these are always simple and completely voluntary. I expect us to have a playful spirit even as we learn together.

I know that you have a book on all of this coming out soon – could you tell us a little bit about it?

The book is tentatively titled Improvising with God, and considers improv as a spiritual and life practice. I explore seven basic principles of improv and how they might guide us into more creative and faithful living. And I consider the ways in which God improvises with us. As Presbyterians, we hold up the sovereignty of God as paramount, which I understand as the sense that “God’s got this.” At the same time, scripture is filled with stories of God changing course, experimenting, and collaborating with humanity in surprising ways. That’s a God I want to know better! Improv is both a tool and lens for engaging with that God.

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Are you looking for a preacher or speaker for your event? Check my Events Calendar to see what I have coming up, and contact me. The winter and spring are pretty booked, but I’m scheduling fall 2017 and beyond. I’d love to come meet you!

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*This event in Delaware will be my 26th state for speaking events! Woo-hoo!


Create Your Own Visited States Map

 

Ten for Tuesday: Eye Candy and Posts to Ponder

Here are 10 things that captivated me this week. Lots of visual stuff!

1. This guy makes sweaters with designs of different places, then goes to those places and takes a photo while wearing it:

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2. I love Elizabeth Gilbert’s practice of writing down moments of happiness on slips of paper and keeping them in a huge jar when she needs a little boost.

3. Why do I adore improv? Because it’s fun and can change your life. And it can help all kinds of people, including kids with autism.

4. The Impossible Cool is a favorite site, featuring photos and quotes of amazing people. Here’s Keith Haring:

“I am a necessary part of an important search to which there is no end.” Keith Haring.

“I am a necessary part of an important search to which there is no end.”
Keith Haring.

5. Witenry (Adam Hillman) is a must-follow on Instagram, and this one spoke to me. We are the art, and we are the instrument.

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6. Stephen McMennamy does Photoshopped mashups, combining images together in whimsical ways. Check out Colossal for a whole collection. My favorite:

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7. Writer and filmmaker Kevin Smith shared a note he received at age 19 from the mother of an ex-girlfriend. It said, “Kevin Smith will never be a famous writer. He does not have the drive. I do wish luck.” See the note and read his response on Facebook. (Hat tip to Dan Blank, whose weekly emails are a useful boost of mojo for creative professionals.)

8. My friend Janet posted this article last week: You probably know to ask yourself, “What do I want?” Here’s a way better question. And the question is: “What pain do you want in your life? What are you willing to struggle for?” It reminded me of a while back, when I was interviewing for a high profile job that would have meant a quantum leap in responsibilities. I felt I could do it, but was I called to? I ultimately removed my name from consideration, having decided it wasn’t mine to do. When friends asked me about it, I said, “Those weren’t my ulcers.” I’m not sure whether that was original or not, but the article goes down a similar path. For what are you willing to suffer?

9. Cookies! Caroline got the Dorie Greenspan Cookie cookbook for Christmas. It’s gigantic and gorgeous. (OK, I was the one who bought it for her.) We have an unofficial resolution to bake a cookie a week. Last week was chocolate waffle cookies with ice cream and chocolate sauce, which I requested for my birthday. This week was chocolate pecan pie cookie bars:

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A bootleg copy of the recipe is here, but please buy the book if you’re so inclined.

10. (A personal one) Friends. I’ve been sailing aboard the Friend-Ship a lot this week. Had lunch today with the mid-Atlantic contingent of my beloved lectionary group. And this weekend, Robert and I head to Bermuda with a group of running besties and a few of their spouses, to run all of the miles. I’m sticking with the half on Sunday, but there’s a one miler Friday and a 10K Saturday as well.

Monday Runday: On Getting a Coach

FB memories reminded me that three years ago today I was in Orlando, preparing to run the Disney Marathon. (Here’s the recap, Every &*#@! Mile Is Magic.)

It’s something I never thought I’d do when I started running.

Last month I did something else I never thought I’d do: I hired a coach.

I’ll be working with Lena from TRF Coaching at least for the next few months, through the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon here in DC. I met Lena through Moms RUN This Town and love her energy and positivity. She is a running rockstar, but celebrates and supports runners who come from a variety of experiences and fitness levels. When I was injured and she was pregnant, we did a lot of pool running together.

This will be my third time running RnR. I’ve improved my half marathon time gradually over the years, but I’d like to see what I can do with a customized training plan and a bit of a push from someone who knows what she’s doing.

I’m a big believer in coaching in general. I had a ministry coach when I first started a call in a new church. I’ve coached or mentored people informally over the years, and will be getting my coaching certification through the International Coaching Federation this spring.

So why is working with a running coach something I thought I’d never do? Well, there’s the expense. I’m a Presbyterian, and typically we’re frugal folk. Running is theoretically a cheap sport–all you need is a decent pair of shoes. And yet… things easily snowball:

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There are tons of running resources available online, to say nothing of books, and I love doing my own reading and research. So this isn’t something I need. But I’m considering this stint of coaching to be an investment in myself and in something I love to do. I’ve already learned valuable stuff about good form and proper training. And my physical and mental health are not extravagances. So, we’ll see where this takes me.

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I’ve realized, though, that the cost thing is only a small part of a larger dynamic: the feeling that coaches are for other runners. Better runners. Faster ones. Not middle-aged, middle of the pack runners.

Indulge me as I drill down on this a little.

One of the ways we protect ourselves from feeling vulnerable is by pretending we don’t care that much: “That thing I love? I don’t really love it. I could take it or leave it.” We apply a thin veneer of “cool” to our lives, because to throw ourselves in with our whole heart means to risk disappointment, failure or embarrassment.

As Brene Brown reminds us in her work, wholeheartedness constantly fights against two twin messages, constantly whispering in our ear:

  1. Not good enough.
  2. Who do you think you are?

I hear these messages in my head from time to time when I run. Thankfully the running community is pretty good about affirming runners’ bodies in all their many shapes and sizes and speeds. (Check out I Have a Runners’ Body on Instagram.) But I’ve also heard snide comments at races, directed toward us slow-but-enthusiastic turtles. Not good enough. Who do you think you are?

So I’ve hired a coach–to support and encourage me in my running, sure. But also as an act of wholeheartedness–as a way of committing my entire self to something.

My personal goals are modest–they’ll never get me to Boston, for example. But this matters to me.

What matters to you? And how do you affirm that wholeheartedly in your own life?

I Hope to Read More Books in 2017. Here’s How.

Cooking expert Alton Brown has a thing against unitaskers in the kitchen. These are gadgets that exist for one purpose only, and accumulate like crazy and clutter up your kitchen. (Why do you need a special maze-shaped brownie pan that creates brownies with edges on every piece? Just use a muffin tin.) He claims that the only true unitasker you should have in your kitchen is the fire extinguisher.

I’ve been a smartphone user for almost ten years. The beauty of the smartphone is that it’s a master multitasker. I don’t have to name all of its possible functions here–you get it. Suffice to say that I may use two dozen different apps on any given day. It’s made my life better in countless ways.

untitledBut the beauty of the smartphone is also its downfall. Because while kitchen gadgets and smartphones are great multitaskers, the human brain is a terrible one. In fact, people don’t actually multitask, but instead switch rapidly between tasks, losing efficiency and effectiveness with each switch. I think about this every time I unlock my phone in order to check my to-do list and end up on Twitter, or go to read a book on Kindle and get sucked into blogs instead.

This year I’m setting the intent to immerse in art, and especially to read more books. I read about 20 last year, which is nothing to sneeze at, especially considering I was writing one. But that number was way down for me. In 2017 I’m diving into Taylor Branch’s gargantuan three-volume series on the civil rights era, and I’ll be supplementing that with other books for allies, plus plenty of reading for pure pleasure. I don’t have a goal other than “more than 20.”

More broadly, though, I’m taking to heart what Andrew Sullivan wrote last year in his incredible piece, I Used to Be a Human Being:

The engagement never ends. Not long ago, surfing the web, however addictive, was a stationary activity. At your desk at work, or at home on your laptop, you disappeared down a rabbit hole of links and resurfaced minutes (or hours) later to reencounter the world. But the smartphone then went and made the rabbit hole portable, inviting us to get lost in it anywhere, at any time, whatever else we might be doing. Information soon penetrated every waking moment of our lives.

As Sully points out, the content itself often isn’t bad. On Facebook, I’m connected to people I genuinely care about. My daughter communicates with me via text, and at almost 14, it’s often the best way to get her to open up (yes, even in the same house). I read blogs and news in order to be an informed citizen–that’s deeply important. Many of us are thinking about activism during the next administration, and many of those connections will be made via social media.

However:

Has our enslavement to dopamine — to the instant hits of validation that come with a well-crafted tweet or Snapchat streak — made us happier? I suspect it has simply made us less unhappy, or rather less aware of our unhappiness, and that our phones are merely new and powerful antidepressants of a non-pharmaceutical variety.

In order to accomplish this book goal–and to read and think more deeply in general–I realized I needed a unitasker.

We have an old iPad mini that has gotten way too slow to be useful as an all-purpose tablet. But it’s just right for what I need. I wiped the device and installed the barest of apps on it:

  • Kindle
  • iBooks
  • Goodreads–so I can keep track of what I’m reading
  • Washington Post and New York Times apps
  • Music player
  • iMessage–this is the one app that allows for two-way communication. But the idea is to not have my phone with me all the times, and this allows family to reach me in case of emergency.

In the less than 24 hours since getting this set up, I already feel different, and have gotten lots of reading done.

I’m fortunate to have an old but functional gadget lying around that can meet this need. I post this not to suggest that everyone can or should do the same thing. Rather, this is an example of how we get our systems in place in order to accomplish our goals. (Read this article to learn more about the relationship between systems and goals.)

I wonder what hopes or goals you have for 2017, and what processes or tools you might use need to set yourself up for success.

OK… back to the books.