Tag Archives: competition

Monday Runday: On Being a Family of Runners

James is doing a running challenge with me, in which we’re running 26.2 miles over the next 8 weeks. It’s been astounding how dedicated he’s been to this task.

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Thanks to Facebook memories, I’m recalling that three years ago, I took the girls through Couch to 5K, two years after going through it myself. Since then, each girl has participated in Girls on the Run and assorted races here and there.

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2013

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Robert also runs, although he’s currently sidelined with a cranky Achilles.

Somehow, over time, we became a family of runners. 

I’m tempted sometimes to enroll my kids in club running activities–recreational track or cross country or somesuch. It’s startling how easily that thought jumps into my head. My kids enjoy this, therefore they should do it in an organized way. It’s what we do as parents. A kid’s interested in the guitar? We get them private lessons. They like to do art? Sign them up for pottery camp. They want to learn tennis? We find a league to join. At least where I live, that’s an implicit or explicit responsibility of a parent. We nurture through providing opportunities. And as the mother of a kid on the swim team told me a few years ago, it’s never too early to think about a child’s college application. (Her kids were in elementary school.)

Certainly there are benefits to team sports–a good coach can be one of those inspiring childhood influences that impacts a person’s whole life. And while running is an activity that we most of us learn to do naturally as children, there’s always stuff to learn. Still, I’m trying to resist the impulse to formalize this interest of theirs. Kids today are continually evaluated, graded, scantronned, judged and compared. Not with this. This is our limit.

Part of that comes down to money and time–there’s only so many enrollment fees we can handle, and only so much carting around we’re willing to do. (I have a friend who calls this phase of parenting “Carpool.”) But on a broader level, I want my kids to have something they can do purely for the joy of it. They can set goals, or not. They can strive to improve, or not. It’s entirely up to them.

And they’re teaching me a lot. I realize, as I continue to claw my way back from last fall’s injury, how easily I’d fallen into a mode of improvement and incessant goal-setting. This is painful to admit about myself, though will surprise nobody who knows me. (My friend J took a personality inventory that suggested she stop thinking about life as one big self-improvement project, and she was incredulous: “What else would it be???” Oh, my sister.)

And so, this is a new touchstone for me:

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My hopes and dreams are to be able to run for my entire life, to stay healthy and injury-free, to get an occasional PR through smart training, and to have a spirit of adventure in what I do.

When James runs, he says, “Look how fast I am!!!” I suspect if he joined a kids’ running team he would discover that, comparatively speaking, he isn’t fast. That’s the McKibben/Dana genetic lottery at work, and there’s only so much you can do to overcome that.

But at the end of our runs together, when the house is in sight, he turns to me, waiting for the signal. I say, “Now, James, turn on the gas!” and he does, leaving his mother in the dust… busting through whatever 8-year-old hopes and dreams he has, scattering them like leaves in the wind.

Change Your Life on Wednesday

Wednesday, June 3 is National Running Day. If you’ve ever had the slightest interest in trying this sport, what better time to start?

Everyone says “If I can do it, anyone can.”
But believe me: If I can do it, anyone can.
Anyone.
You.

It’s common to meet adult recreational runners who played various sports growing up: “I played soccer.” “I ran a little track.” “I was on the swim team.” That wasn’t me at all. The closest I came to a sport was Academic Decathlon. I started running at age 39, and it was a bit of an accident—I needed to get ready for a big hike during vacation that summer, and I figured Couch to 5K would be a decent way to work on some cardio and muscular fitness. I made it up the mountain, though it wasn’t pretty… but it didn’t matter, because running was what I was really meant to do. The means had become the end.

Don’t get bogged down in the equipment in the beginning—the tech fabrics and fancy socks. All you really need to get started is a decent pair of running shoes. It’s best to get them fitted at a running store, but if you’re starting with a program like Couch to 5K, you’ll be walking more than running, so [I’m not a doctor] it’s probably OK to go with what you have for the moment, unless [I’m not a doctor] you have some kind of chronic joint problem or other health condition that would require something fancier.

harriettethompsonsandiego15Perhaps you read this weekend about Harriette Thompson, the 92-year-old woman who became the oldest woman to finish a marathon—her 16th marathon since 1999. She did this through a combination of walking and running, which is a great approach for lots of people for lots of reasons. I have friends who run/walk all of their training runs—and many of them are pretty darn fast. I incorporate walking into most of my long runs and races. Not only does it diversify the kinds of muscles you end up using, but it reduces fatigue and also breaks up the monotony. I will probably never win my age group in a race, but I’ve never had a significant injury either, and if I live to be 92, I want to still be running. So if you’d like to run but are worried about stress on your body, consider a run/walk approach, especially to start.

The physical benefits of regular exercise are well known. (And guess what—running probably won’t kill your knees. In fact running can actually be beneficial for them.) But here are some other benefits I’ve found:

  1. I’m better connected to nature. I’ve seen more sunsets and (especially) sunrises in the last four years than I did in the previous forty. Rain and lightning used to be vague inconveniences I paid little mind. Now I tune into the weather and scan the sky for telltale signs. (I also run in the rain.) I’m learning to see spring evolve in all its subtlety, from the early buds of Bradford pears to the heady aroma of honeysuckle that announces the imminent arrival of summer. And every neighborhood hill I blithely barreled over in my van is intimately known to me through the pounding of my feet and the puffing of my breath. Viewing nature at a pace of 5-7 miles per hour gives you a completely different vantage point.
  2. I view food differently. I still eat way more junk food than I should. But I’ve started to view food as fuel, and to think about the components of my diet. I am mindful about what I put into my body: will this nourish me and help me be strong, not only as a runner but as a mother, writer, spouse, human being?
  3. I’ve found a community. I ran the first three years mostly solo but have been doing more group runs through the Springfield chapter of Moms RUN This Town. I’ve met wonderful people through running groups and races. You can be as extroverted or introverted as you want on a run. Eavesdrop on the conversation going on around you while you huff and puff away, or join in (which is a good way to know you aren’t going too fast—you should be able to converse comfortably on your easy runs!). There’s something magical about the things that get shared when everyone’s looking straight ahead rather than at one another—there’s both an intimacy and a sense of personal space. And there are few places more full of inspiration than at the finish line of a race. Whether it’s the first runner or the last, or the one in the middle wearing the “I beat cancer” T-shirt, a finish line is a “thin place” where heaven draws near to earth.
  4. It’s a spiritual discipline. By spiritual discipline, I mean that it’s a practice that will teach you about yourself. It will shine a light on both your strengths and your vulnerabilities. There’s nothing like a hilly race in 97% humidity to teach you what you fear, and what you have the power to overcome. Running can also connect you to something larger than yourself—whether that’s God, nature, community, or a sense of your own smallness in the world. I recently ran with a couple of women, one of whom shared some deep stuff she’d been through. Afterward we all agreed that it felt like we’d been to church. Some members of my mama runners’ group have jokingly called me the group chaplain and I happily accept that honor.
  5. Competition loses all meaning. So much of our culture pits us against one another–who’s the smartest? the prettiest? the richest? And on a basic level, competitive sports are no different. If you run with someone, one of you will inevitably be faster than the other. But there’s always a host of complicated factors at play in that: genetics, motivation, age, injuries, amount of free time to train, etc. Running teaches me (again and again, since I need to keep learning this) that it’s ridiculous to compare yourself to others. There will always be someone faster than you, and slower than you. Even world record holders know that future generations will be breathing down their necks. All the more reason to set your own goals and run your own race.

I will celebrate National Running Day at the track on Wednesday morning, where I’m doing a mile time trial. I’m nervous about it—I did my first time trial in January, and I’ve been working really hard on speed and endurance since then. I know I will feel disappointed if I don’t see any improvement. I also know I have the climate preferences of a polar bear—the heat and humidity just kill me. So I need to be kind to myself. Yet I don’t want to let the summertime conditions be an excuse to accept less than my best. (See item #4 above—it’s not just a time trial, it’s a dang spiritual wrestling match!)

If you’re in the Northern Virginia area and you’d like to run on National Running Day—or any other day—I’d love to run with you. Get in touch!

For other stuff I’ve written about running, click here. Or check out these specific posts:

I Am Neither Slow Nor Fast
Grace in the Running Magazine

I Am Neither Slow Nor Fast.

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Not long ago I was speaking to a group of pastors and church musicians. The focus of the conference was on small congregations–their particular gifts and challenges.

It’s easy sometimes for small churches and their leaders to feel down about themselves. They often feel an abundance of the family vibe, but a scarcity of resources. They may have lots of down-to-earth authenticity but lack the programs and “flash” of larger churches.

After the presentation a man came up to me, thanked me for my comments, and handed me a small piece of paper. “This quote has really helped me keep things in perspective,” he said.

Here it is:

Avoid adjectives of scale. You will love the world more and desire it less.

This is former poet laureate Robert Hass, paraphrasing the poet Basho. And I can see why this colleague has been carrying it around. It’s been working on me for the past couple of months. I love the distinction between loving the world and desiring it. To love the world is to love what is, to experience contentment and joy. But desire… desire is insatiable. We are never satisfied.

Love is a hand, relaxed and open. Desire is a clutching fist.

Through the lens of this quote, I’ve been seeing anew how much of consumer culture centers around comparing ourselves to others—usually in a way that draws us up short.

Too fat.
Too old.
Not wealthy enough.
Not white enough.
Less popular.
Not as talented.

Or we compare ourselves to our past selves:

I wish I had that body back.
Look how many more wrinkles I have! 
My marriage was more romantic back then. 

Of course it’s fine to want to better ourselves. Last year I had only one running goal: to get faster. I didn’t have specific time goals, I just wanted to improve. And I did: I achieved PRs (personal records) in three recent races of various distances recently. There’s lots more room to grow, and I hope to finish the Marine Corps Marathon faster than I did Disney, even though it’s a tougher course.

But why? If I’m pursuing these goals out of desire, I will never be satisfied. I will always be slow compared to someone. But if I set goals out of love for the sport and for discovering what this 43 year old body can do, I can’t lose.

The running group I belong to uses Facebook to set up group runs and share running successes and challenges with one another. Without betraying the confidentiality of that space, we constantly check each other when using words like “slow.” Slow, compared to what? To whom? Everyone’s slow compared to Shalane Flanagan. Everyone’s fast compared to someone sitting on the couch.

Part of what adjectives of scale do is put us in our place. Many of you know Brene Brown, professor of social work, writer, researcher on shame and wholeheartedness, and big sister I wish I’d had. She told Krista Tippett not long ago that shame hinges in two basic thoughts:

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

 

I wonder whether these messages are at work when the mama runners (including me) share a happy milestone, but feel compelled to add a qualifier: “I hit a great pace on this run–for me.” “I ran X miles this month—but I know others are running even more.” It’s the tendency to downplay our own belovedness and to be much kinder to others than we are to ourselves. Other people’s achievements are celebrated. Our own come with an asterisk.

Much better to say, “I felt strong on the hills.” “I’ve improved a lot.” “That was a crappy run, but I’ll try again tomorrow.” “I’m running X miles at Y pace this weekend; who wants to join me?” Much better to see ourselves as we are, and to describe that as faithfully and graciously as we can.

Captain Obvious: I’m not just talking about running anymore.

Sooner or later, whether due to age or other physiological factors, I will plateau and decline. And that’s as it should be. Continuous growth is not sustainable for our planet; continuous improvement is not sustainable for a body, either. So I’m working on embracing the spirit of Gandalf, whose cheeky comment to Frodo (above) feels a lot like radical contentment. I am neither slow nor fast. I am the speed I am meant to be right now.

On Competition and the Church

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I ran a race on Saturday morning, the Fairfax CASA Run for the Children. Our church has gotten connected to this organization, which provides volunteers to support abused and neglected children making their way through the court system. It was a beautiful day for a run, and we had 8 folks from Tiny Church participating in the 8K run and 3K run/walk.

I love road races for a lot of reasons, but one of the big ones is that it gives me perspective on my competitive nature. I’ve always been competitive, which is strange since I’m not much of an athlete and never have been. So my competitiveness would come out in other ways: trying for first chair in the junior high choir, taking part in speech/drama events, and competing with the Academic Decathlon team.

A drive to improve and achieve can be an awesome thing. It can also be harmful to one’s self and one’s relationships. (Sometimes it’s neither great nor harmful, it just shuts down the fun. Just ask Robert about The Canasta Incident.)

But road races are a great check on competitiveness. Half a mile into any race and you get how ridiculous it is to compare yourself to other people. Yes, there’s a certain kick of motivation you get when you turn on the gas to pass someone. But how meaningful is that? For all you know, they’re nursing an injury, or just started running a couple months before. (Then there was the woman who passed me in my first half marathon wearing a T-shirt that said, “I just finished chemo three days ago.” Fierce!!)

I spent most of Saturday morning ten paces behind a guy who looked to be at least 75 years old. OK, that was a little depressing. Until I realized he’s a living reminder that I can keep doing this for the next 30 years, maybe not breaking any speed records, but keeping fit and having fun.

The drive has to come from inside yourself, and be directed internally.

You’d think the church would be a good model for cooperation and mutual support, especially among clergy colleagues. We are educated in a theology of call in which it’s all about “fit” and the work of the Holy Spirit. But it’s complicated. Search committees still look for certain traits, whether overtly or subconsciously. The deck is still stacked against women and people of color. Sometimes youth is an asset; other times the congregation wants “experience.” In the Presbyterian Church (USA), we have cleared the way for LGBT people to be ordained, but it’s a tougher sell in many congregations.

And as church membership rolls continue to shrink and full-time positions decrease, there will be more and more contention for fewer and fewer slots. If you’re one of those folks whose livelihood is on the line, it’s natural to read those glossy Meet Our New Pastor brochures and think, “Why did they choose that person and not me?” We take vows to be a friend to our colleagues in ministry, but jealousy rears its snarky, catty head. All the time.

This stuff was on my mind as I spent time with The Well last week. We have “tall steeple” pastors and pastors of small churches. We have folks who’ve been open to a new call for a long time, and others who frequently get contacted by churches even though they’re happy where they are.

But just like the road race, it’s silly to think comparatively. There are too many factors at play. Several of our members are geographically limited because of their spouses’ jobs or other factors. Others have had the benefit of stay-at-home spouses who manage home life so the pastor can pursue a career more intensively. And then there’s the fact that many of us simply don’t want the kind of positions that others might clamor for. (God might surprise me, but I am having too much fun doing writing and part-time parish work to imagine going back to a full-time pastoral position.)

All that said, members of the Well have been in contention for the same ministry positions. This has happened at least five times in our six years together.

So far, we’ve weathered these situations well. We’re not perfect at this, and it would be hubris to say that we’re immune from the hurt or resentment that can come from being passed over, or the “survivor guilt” of being the one chosen. But we have learned some things along the way. Again, I offer our experience for the benefit of other colleague groups.

Transparency. Our norm is that if we find out another member is interviewing for the same position we are, we talk to that person. It’s tricky because we don’t always know, but we do our best. (Third parties who are in the know can help this along.) We picked this up from another group’s experience. One year they met and had a member of the group come down at dinner time wearing a suit and heading off to an interview. The next day another person came down, similarly dressed… and off to an interview at the same church.

Grounding. Within the safe space our group, we see our role as to build one another up when a tough call is wearing the person down, AND to keep the person’s ego in check when he or she starts to believe her own press. And outside of the group, we have that person’s back 100%.

Increased Accountability. We’ve started talking about how we can hold one another accountable to good self-care and boundaries. We have a check-in time at the beginning of every week, but it’s easy to gloss over the hard stuff. A member of the group suggested an intentional question to ask each person: Is there anything else going on that you need to tell us?

Discernment among Friends. When I was discerning whether to stand for vice moderator, I talked with members of The Well. All were helpful in making sure I was thinking well about the situation. And one person put it plain: Give me three reasons why you want to do this… and be honest. I am grateful to her.

What do you think? What is your experience?

~

photo credit: mino2006 via photopin cc

Find the Kenyan Within

Starting line!

Starting line!

That was just one of the signs I saw while running the DC Rock and Roll Half Marathon, my first race of this length. There were also variations on that theme: “Run like the Kenyans, then drink like the Irish.” (Hey, it was St. Patrick’s Day weekend.)

Along those lines, saw several signs that said, “Worst Parade Ever.”

The signs really do help pass the time. I noticed they got more PG-13 when we got to Adams Morgan. Lots of “That’s What She Said.”

Then there were signs riffing on a meme:

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And then the two signs together: “You can do this!” right next to:

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Biggest wow, yikes moment: running across the Memorial Bridge and seeing the metal teeth between the segments bouncing up and down. Power to the people!

Biggest OMG: the guy who was juggling beanbags while he ran. Even bigger OMG: passing him and seeing that he was wearing the blue bib, not the red. Yep, 26.2 miles of juggling.

Let me be an encouragement for anyone who would like to try this crazy sport. I am thankful for Facebook timeline because I can report that exactly two years ago, I started Couch to 5K, having never run before. Never. I was the nerdy kid in school, remember? So if I can do it, you can (assuming you don’t have a condition that rules it out, of course). It’s a cheap, convenient mode of exercise.

I get emotional sometimes during races. I don’t sob when I cross the finish line or anything, but certain scenes or images will choke me up. It doesn’t take much: the guy handing out Jolly Ranchers, or the other one giving out “free high fives.” But the one that got me was the sign that said:

Trust Your Training.

Yes. Yes.

I had a short moment of doubt before the race started, then remembered that I’d already done the hard part: all those weekday and weekend runs to build up strength, endurance and awareness.

That said, I also like that there was some mystery to it. I’d never run more than 10 miles before Saturday. There was a surge of excitement when I got to that mile marker and still had a 5K to go. Beyond this place there be dragons.

If you struggle with the demons of competitiveness, as I do, races are a great way to exorcise them. There really is no way to measure oneself against anyone else. And no point. To whom would I compare myself? The woman with the T-shirt that said, “I just finished chemo 5 days ago”? Or the guy running with the knee brace? Or the person who’s run since she was in high school? Or the person twice my age? Such calculations don’t even make sense.

I did my best, and I had fun. Next stop: who knows?