Monday, April 15, 2013

Boston Take Heart . . .

Instead of doing my 20 mile training run this afternoon, I stayed home to read the news about Boston, and I made my first ever meme:

I'm still determined to qualify for Boston, now more than ever.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Plan to Stick with the Plan

Outside of running, most of my plans don’t usually work out like I want. Sometimes this is because I don’t do enough planning or because I’m not good at planning or because other people choose not to follow my plan or because I get distracted and don’t stick to my plan. Sometimes I just think that my plan failed when in reality I actually failed to plan. Sometimes I confuse hoping with planning; some of my “plans” are really just “expectations.” Most significantly, sometimes “my plans” are superseded by “God’s Plans” – this is ultimately always a good thing, but it doesn’t always feel good. Failed plans can bring disappointment and frustration and all of the bad behaviors that often come with them.

Even though so many of my plans haven’t worked out, I still continue to plan because plans help me progress – even when they fail, they help me progress because I get yet another opportunity to practice managing disappointment and frustration.

Running has helped me understand many principles about planning, but I’m just going to focus on two now.

1. It is important to have a plan. Before almost every run, I set a target for my distance. Once I start a run, I almost always go the distance. If I didn’t have a target distance, then my runs would be much shorter because I would give up when it started getting difficult. The commitment (plan) that I made helps me stick it out when I start to get tired, or when it starts raining, or when I start to hurt, or when my legs or arms start to chafe, or when I hit the hills and want to walk or stop. There are many small reasons to just quit, but there is always one big reason to keep going – and that is simply that I planned to keep going. When it gets really tough, my running mantra is, “I run until I’m done,” and I’m done when I meet my target. Now of course, I don’t advocate running through serious injuries or in dangerous conditions, but I do advocate sticking it out through most everything else. If I didn’t plan to run, I wouldn’t run. The plan itself provides the momentum I need to keep going. Planning in advance to stick with the plan gets me through those faltering moments.

2. I don’t create Plan A, God does. God’s plan for me is “Plan A” – generally, it is the Plan of Salvation; specifically, it is the individualized experiences that I need to grow spiritually, minister to others, and become more like Christ. I can only accept or reject “Plan A,” and since I can’t actually plan it or have advance knowledge of the details, I am often much more comfortable with my own plans. My own plans feel like Plan A, the best plan, and when God blesses me with a course correction or a challenge, then it feels like Plan B at best and like a complete free fall with no plan at all and no end in sight at worst. The problem is that I can’t really see the way to the place I really want to go, and that course correction or complete free fall might just be exactly what I need to get me to my destination, even if that destination is just a momentary resting place before my next course correction or free fall.

Plan A includes tribulation in this life; life is hard. God doesn’t create the tribulation, but he allows it, for good reasons. (My own plans often willfully reject any possibility of tribulation – no wonder they don’t often work out!) It is easy to let my mind stall at the tribulation part of Plan A and forget that it also includes transcendence and triumph over tribulation. Christ stuck with Plan A, even though it was harder than I can ever imagine. I need to trust Plan A, however it unfolds in my own life, and plan now to accept all of the external interference with my own plans so it will be easier for me to be comforted in my disappointments and changed for the better. This ranges from the daily annoyances of being interrupted while working intently on personal projects or being held up in traffic to the devastating change of plans people must cope with when a marriage doesn’t work the way they wanted or when they aren’t able to raise a beloved child into adulthood like they planned.

I think my “running plans” are more or less irrelevant to Plan A other than that it has been a good choice for me to care for my body, mind and spirit. I share my running plans with God and I often feel His presence in that part of my life, but I know that the plans that matter most aren’t the ones that I make about running. I think that God just blesses me enough in my running to give me encouragement to hang in there during the trials in life that have much more significance. My running teaches me that plans can prepare me for both physical and spiritual endurance. When I commit ahead of time to a certain distance, I can usually do it. If I commit ahead of time to responding with faith to a challenge or loss, then I will be partially prepared to meet the challenge or overcome the loss. I feel strengthened every time I stick with my distance plan for each run; these small successes give me confidence that I can stick with Plan A when I recognize it, knowing that sticking with the plan will get me through those faltering moments – and if I don’t move through those faltering moments, those moments when I’m not getting the results I expect or desire and I want to give up or go another way, then I’ll never get to where I really want to go, and where I really want to go is not to be found at the end of a single run, no matter what the distance.

Material that I pondered:
John 16:33 and Doctrine and Covenants 63:47
But If Not . . . by Elder Dennis E. Simmons (April 2004 Conference address)
We Are the Architects of Our Own Happiness by Bishop Gérald Caussé (November 4, 2012 CES Devotional)

Sunday, December 16, 2012

26 Reasons to Run 26 Miles: A Memorial Marathon for Sandy Hook Elementary

When I used to hear or see the number “26,” my first association was the 26.2 miles of a marathon. That changed yesterday when the list of names of the twenty-six innocent people killed in Sandy Hook Elementary was released. My daughter is 6. She is so innocent. So young. Many in my family work as educators. They are so dedicated. They give so much, and they have so much more to give. I think of my own family when I think of those killed inside that school.

How can I mourn with the families in Newtown? How can I help carry their burden? They have much to endure, and their length of endurance will be their lifetimes. In the very least, I can acknowledge their loss; I can memorize the names of those slain. I am registered to run in the Newport Marathon in Oregon on June 1, near the end of the school year. I will dedicate this marathon to Sandy Hook. My prayers and thoughts will be with the family and friends of each person on that list – I will dedicate one mile for each name and pray for God to comfort those who knew and loved that person, to make their burdens light, and to give them the strength to endure to the end when they, too, will be called home to heaven.

Twenty-six reasons to run twenty-six miles:

1. Charlotte Bacon, age 6
2. Daniel Barden, age 7
3. Olivia Engel, age 6
4. Josephine Gay, age 7
5. Ana Marquez-Greene, age 6
6. Dylan Hockley, age 6
7. Madeleine Hsu, age 6
8. Catherine Hubbard, age 6
9. Chase Kowalski, age 7
10. Jesse Lewis, age 6
11. James Mattioli, age 6
12. Grace McDonnell, age 7
13. Emilie Parker, age 6
14. Jack Pinto, age 6
15. Noah Pozner, age 6
16. Caroline Previdi, age 6
17. Jessica Rekos, age 6
18. Avielle Richman, age 6
19. Benjamin Wheeler, age 6
20. Allison Wyatt, age 6
21. Rachel Davino, a Teacher
22. Dawn Hochsprung, the School Principal
23. Anne Marie Murphy, a Teacher
24. Lauren Rousseau, a Teacher
25. Mary Sherlach, the School Psychologist
26. Victoria Soto, a Teacher

And after I finish those 26 miles and cross the finish line, I will reach within myself as far as necessary to gather the strength I need to walk two more miles to express my sorrow for the shooter, and his mother.

Material that I pondered:
Because I Live, Ye Shall Live Also by Elder Shayne M. Bowen (October 2012 Conference address)
The Loss of the Innocents by Ross Douthat (The New York Times December 15, 2012)
Also, Alma 24, Isaiah 2, and Mosiah 24

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Runners & Saints: Faith for the First Footstep

I used to be uncomfortable calling myself a “runner,” and I was even more uncomfortable calling myself a “saint.” However, as I began training for my first marathon (St. George 2007), my training guide, a book, suggested that I start telling people that I was going to run a marathon. I hesitated – it seemed arrogant and potentially embarrassing (what if I failed?) – but I ultimately said it out loud, and to my surprise, it made training easier. I had to be accountable to other people, but I also had more support. I was able to see the end from the beginning which protected me from all the discouragement in between. Telling others that I was a marathoner helped me become a marathoner. We believe to become; we don’t become and then believe.

It was hard to change my thinking. When someone said “runner,” I thought “4-minute mile.” When someone said “saint,” I thought “perfect” (as in always-has-been and always-will-be). I thought of Olympic sprinters and martyrs who were beheaded, stoned, or crucified upside down. I thought such lofty titles as “runner” and “saint” could only be bestowed by others. Leaderboards had the authority to separate the runners from, well, people like me, and an elaborate canonization process determined who deserved the title of “Saint.” I’ve since learned that I don’t have to be fast to be a runner, and I don’t have to be perfect to be a saint. I just have to keep moving forward.

The whole process began with a simple act – signing up. I signed up for my first marathon. I got baptized and “signed up” to be a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Who decides if I am a runner? I do. Who decides if I am a saint? I do. Every day presents many opportunities to recommit and move forward. I’m not the fastest runner, but I am still a runner. I’m not the most Christ-like person, but I am still a saint. For me, marathons aren’t about finishing first. Initially, it was just about finishing. Now it is about trying to finish just a little sooner than I did before. At some future point, given the circumstances of aging or failing health, it will just simply be about moving forward – after all, the most important aspect of life is about direction, not speed or distance.

One of my favorite inspirational quotes is from Gordon B. Hinckley. He said, “Try a little harder to be a little better.” This counsel gives me hope and helps me set realistic expectations. I can try a little harder to run a little longer. I can try a little harder to run a little faster. Sometimes I can even do both! I can be a little kinder. I can be a little less judgmental. Ad infinitum. One mile at a time. One task at a time. One smile or sincere compliment at a time. When it gets really difficult, I just focus on the very next step and remind myself that I am a runner, I am a saint.

Material that I pondered:
The Book of Ether: Chapter 12
Called to Be Saints by Elder Benjamin De Hoyos (April 2011 Conference address)
Guided by the Holy Spirit by President Boyd K. Packer (April 2011 Conference address)
The Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer by David Whitsett, Forrest Dolgener, and Tanjala Cole