Hurts So Good

arnold & slyHappy Friday, everyone!

There’s a principle in body building that gets a lot of press.  You have to work the muscle, essentially tear it down from the inside, in order to strengthen it.  Your body was designed with amazing self-healing powers.  The workout that kills you actually does make you stronger.  Because you won’t die for real. Not today.  But you might ache all over.  Sitting could prove challenging; standing up makes you yelp out loud. Wearing your purse on your shoulder – either shoulder – causes you to rethink why you carry a purse at all.  And really, ladies, why *do* we? Sigh.

From bodybuilding.comResearch has shown that in order to increase muscle mass, stress must be put on the body, leading to increased hormone release, and increased flow of nutrients into the muscle, and with rest, muscles will grow.

So, the great thing about all of this is that as you continue to push yourself, you gain physical strength. You increase stamina as you run longer distances.  Your body acquires efficiency in utilizing oxygen. The heart reaps fabulous benefits from aerobic stress.  See, the human machine learns as it goes. It adapts to what we teach it.  It’s interdisciplinary at the cellular level.  Yet it’s little by little.  You don’t wake up one day and run a marathon.  Unless you’re Dean Karnazes. Just trust me, you’re not.

As I look at this minor running setback, I’m reminded that the potential for greater wholeness often comes out of breaking. It applies in the spiritual world as well.  God can make something new out of our brokenness. In fact, God shapes us all the time:  But now, O LORD, You are our Father, We are the clay, and You our potter; And all of us are the work of Your hand – Isaiah 64:8. We learn as we go.  Sometimes, our entire paradigm changes. Hopefully, we gain wisdom and greater faith, line upon line, truth upon truth. In the vernacular, we “work smarter, not harder” due to knowledge gleaned from painful experience. I look forward to the good things the Lord will bring out of this season.

Embracing the Storms

A couple of weeks back, a guest speaker visited our church.  He spoke about the storms of life and how to embrace them.

“Every one of us is either going into a storm, in the middle of a storm, or just coming out of a storm,” he told us.

I’d never thought about it that way.  Some storms happen to us and some we bring on ourselves. He told us storms change us.  They become pivot points that change our direction and destiny.  When you enter a storm, know it will bring change somehow.

Yesterday, I found myself reliving some of my own personal storms.  Anyone who ever says Christians don’t experience regret is lying to you.  I’ve got plenty for things I’ve said and done. I’ve been brought to the end of myself more times than I can count.  What God brought to mind is that His plan has never been to destroy me or anyone else.  Not ever.  Storms reroute our lives.  They move us into a new direction and sometimes a new destiny.

Storm will pass…you’ll be ready for the next one…

The story of the prodigal son in Luke 15 shows this.  The younger son takes his inheritance and squanders it on wild living.  When he runs out of friends and money – right about the same time – he finds himself humbled.  He returns home to a father who jumps up and runs to him.  All is forgiven.  Now, the young man deserved some kind of consequences for his selfish behavior, right?  He brought that storm of hunger and deprivation on himself.

But that’s not God’s heart.  Even if we bring the pain onto ourselves, He will restore.  He will continue to bring good out of bad circumstances.  He wants to be connected to us, simply because He loves us. He understands our limitations and like a good father, lets consequences teach.

I would encourage you to embrace the storms in your life.  Don’t be afraid of change.  Let it come.  Learn from it.  Let consequences teach, if necessary. Today, I can say I’m grateful for the storms of life – unemployment, broken relationships, loneliness, physical pain – because the Lord brings good out of it all.

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. – Romans 8:28

You Go Girl Half Marathon Recap

you go girlYesterday, I ran the You Go Girl Half Marathon in Tacoma. And I finished.  Let me sum up.

I signed up for this race back in the late spring.  I figured I’d have enough time to train for it, adding in Saturday long runs to increase distance.  I did 8 miles, 9 miles and so on, adding another mile each week.  My training runs, as you know, met with mixed results.  I hurt, and a lot.  Pain during and after these runs rated about a 6-8.  The last long run I did, which ended up being just shy of 12 miles, was on September 1.  Then I got a cold, which kicked my butt for most of the week.  I had to taper much earlier than I planned.

My last run Thursday before the race ended up being around 2 miles.  Due to jackhammer-like pain, I had to piecemeal it.  Enormously frustrated, I walked inside, head down.  That night, I’d had it.  How could I possibly run 13 miles in 3 days?!  I could barely run 2 back to back.

Mercifully, Jonathon suggested we pray.  At this point, I was angry.  I didn’t want to pray.  Perhaps you’ve felt this way.  Where was God during all this time?  I prayed on my own and with others several times during the past nearly 2 years on this very subject.

As we prayed, something came to mind:  the 2012 Portland Marathon.  That, friends, was my last long race.  If you recall, I made it to 18 miles before I bonked and had to drop out.  I made light of it and tried to move on, but the failure, after working so hard and trying and pushing, crippled me.  Literally.  The pain in my back that radiated down my right leg caused me to be able to only walk for a season. You’ll never know how many odd stretches and strengthening exercises I tried to relieve the pain. I improved over time but never reached full strength.  I didn’t even like running most of the time because of it. I internalized the failure and as I trained for yet another endurance run, my old inner vows haunted me. I hadn’t forgiven myself.  It appears I jammed the disappointment and self-hatred at scoring a DNF into my right rear pocket.  Nobody could see it, but boy, did I feel it!

I had to repent of believing I was a loser.  I had to confess I thought of myself as a failure, at least in this regard.  My body could only react to what my spirit told it. Believe me:  I know this sounds weird.  All I know is after I prayed and told God I was sorry for believing those lies, the healing began.  I felt the pain moving like a tingling down my back and out my leg.

The healing continued that night as I slept.  I could lie on my back again, where for nearly 2 years I’d had a golf ball-sized knot preventing me from any position but on my left side.  My right shoulder got healed, too, something I’d been seeing the chiropractor for for at least 4 years.  I was, and am, so very thankful to God.

Grateful and overwhelmed, I hit the start line on Sunday morning with only 2 thoughts:  be ferociously optimistic and go slow, taking it mile by mile.  Honestly, to be pain-free felt like a huge victory in itself.  I almost didn’t care about the race.  Almost.

The day dawned beautiful and cold at 36 degrees.  Mom, Jonathon and I made our way to Tacoma as the sun topped the tallest trees. Tacoma, situated on the Puget sound, reminds me of Portland.   We arrived at the start line and saw several hundred women – and a couple dozen men – waiting and chatting.  Most men wore pink, part of the deal allowing them to race.  Some took it a step further and wore tutus and pink compression socks.  Several non-running dads pushed little boys and girls in strollers as their wives pinned on bibs.

I spotted the 2:00, 2:10 and 2:20 pacers right off.  Ideally, I wanted to finish in 2 hours.  But since I hadn’t raced this distance in 2 years, I figured I better just aim to finish.

The race had several downhill parts, the tall buildings providing welcome shade. We did a mile loop on a gravel path in a darling local park.  Jonathon and Mom waved to me from there.The first six miles went by pretty quickly.  I kept around my normal pace and focused on relaxing and looking at the scenery along the way. I thanked God for cool breezes and getting to be outside. This in itself felt miraculous.

Since the race was supposed to be all women, I’d hoped to find camaraderie on the course.  I did.  As I crested the first overpass down by the waterfront, I chatted with two gals in purple tank tops on my left.

“Why can’t it end here?” I asked, looking out at the peaceful Pacific, dreamy blue in the morning light.  Boats large and small pushed through the inviting water.  The panoramic view encouraged my decision to walk a minute and breathe it all in.

“Oh, don’t worry, ” said the redhead, her hair back in a French braid under her visor.  “It’s pretty flat from here.”

And it was.  Flat and long.  The stretch to the turnaround proved to be endless.  The trouble with turnarounds is that someone is always already on their way back while you continue to soldier on in pursuit of the end of the loop. I kept looking, and looking.  Orange safety cones stretched on an endless asphalt horizon.  Where *was* the blasted thing?!  Wait a minute.  What if I turned around now?  I could just skip over to the other side of the cones and turn towards the finish.  Who would know?  Bad Susan! I had to hold myself by the scruff of the neck to stay on the straight and narrow.  Sigh.

At last I reached the turnaround.  The final 3 miles stretched on and on, sun-drenched and dazzling.  I had to walk more here as my stamina gave out.  I chose to stay encouraged and enjoy the day anyway.

The two gals in purple passed me at mile 11.

“Let’s go, Shelton!” the brunette cheered. It lifted my heart.

After running for a while by my lonesome, I caught up with a tall gal in blue, dark hair back in a ponytail.

“Hey, good job!” she said to me.  Truly, we ladies encouraged each other all along the course.  Shouts of, “You can do it!” and “Way to go, ladies!” chorused out across the miles. We were all in this together, win or lose, anyway. No multitasking here.

“And to you! Hey, I’m getting hungry,” I said.  My stomach growled its assent.

“Me, too,” she said, a small grimace creasing her face.  “But we’re almost there.”

Soon after, she took off.  We caught up again later.  By that time, we needed to crest one more overpass, run over the top and then down to the finish.

As I spiraled down the ramp, I saw the finish line, inflatable and unmistakable.

“It’s mine!” I said and sped up.  Grinning like an idiot, I made it in just under 2:20.  Not bad for an old broad.  I ran into both the purple-clad ladies, thanking them for their friendliness, and the blue gal.

“I haven’t run a half marathon in 13 years,” the pony-tailed Amazon told me between sips of water.  Wow.  Impressed,I congratulated her.

I had no idea when I signed up for this race all that would occur. Why didn’t God heal me sooner?  I don’t know. Maybe I wasn’t ready to admit my own powerlessness and sinful thinking until earlier last week. I’m just glad He healed me. I have a comeback story of my own. Today, I’m a little stiff but nothing too serious.This pain, birthed out of extra exertion, will subside. Thanks be to God! His love endures forever.

But in my distress I cried out to the LORD; yes, I prayed to my God for help. He heard me from his sanctuary; my cry to him reached his ears. – Psalm 18:6

Thursday Good Things

I know it’s August, but I feel like counting my blessings, especially after yesterday

It’s cooler today.  You can call me a wimp if you like, but 89 degree days make me melt.  The marine layer over our little town makes me happy and grateful.  It can burn off, oh, at noon or so.  I’ll be ready for warmth by then.

The kids are getting along well.  Must be the Fruit Loops they ate.

I got an email from Runner’s World talking about how to loosen up tight hamstrings and it made me reconsider my routine.  It had some suggestions like dynamic stretches to do after a race or long run.  I discovered I’ve been stretching my hamstrings wrong. That’s why I’ve had pain in my right leg for 18+ months.  I’ve been doing static stretches, bending over at the waist, to get at the muscles.  Or I’ve sat on the floor with my legs out straight, reaching for my toes.  Neither of these stretches are bad. However, static stretches enforced the hamstring’s position of “locked long”, due to stronger quad muscles pulling the pelvis forward. Strangely, it never occurred to me that I could help myself.  It seemed I would be injured forever, until Jesus came back or some other miracle happened. But doing this particular exercise before I ran today did the trick.

This isn’t exactly the video, but you get the idea.  Wow.  What a difference!  As I ran this a.m., I realized I’d lost a certain amount of stamina over the last year plus because I couldn’t run as long with the pain.  Just a little honest assessment there. So, that’s the next hurdle to work on.  I am so happy about this I can’t even tell you.  To not have pain in my leg to some degree all day, every day,will be a huge blessing.  Running could get fun again.  Look out!

Lastly, the day doesn’t have too much to fill it up.  I’ve done chores and I have a meeting later with my fabulous writer’s group. Happy Thursday, everyone!  Or as one of my friends calls it, Friday Eve!

 

 

 

In the Long Run

Photo by jerseymomsblog.com.  This isn't me.  I hate running on beaches.  So there.

Photo by jerseymomsblog.com. This isn’t me. I hate running on beaches. So there.

I’m training for a half marathon and each week I’ve added an extra mile onto my long runs.  Can I tell you they have each been hard in their own way?  The ten-miler was tough because my brain had to get around the double digits involved.  The eleven-miler last week hit me hard because my heart wasn’t in it at the start.  Then my legs started to hurt.  A lot.  I walked a ton and ended up feeling defeated by the time I reached home. 

This pattern didn’t encourage me.  How could I recapture enjoying running long distances again?  I thought about it off and on over the week.  I knew I needed to run this morning, a Thursday, because we leave for Rockaway for a family reunion-beach vacation in about an hour.  Running 12 miles along Hwy. 101, aka the road with a teeny shoulder, fog and log trucks, didn’t appeal to me.

I talked to Jonathon about it last night. I thought there might be a mind-body connection, meaning the more I worried about it, the more the muscles seized up.

“You need to change your meta cognition,” he said.

Huh?  Dr. I., you lost me!

“You need to think about how you’re thinking,” he explained.  “When you ran long before, you didn’t focus on your legs hurting.  You didn’t care.  You got excited thinking about the distance involved and just getting there. You love being out on the road.”

I pondered this for a moment.  It’s so long ago now.  Did I?  Methinks he’s right.

“So, you can do this.  Who cares if your leg hurts?  You finished last week, even through the pain.  What’s one more mile?” He smiled his adorable smile, the one that melted my heart.  I got it.

Indeed.  This does not mean if excruciating pain or injury crops up that I will ignore it.  It does mean that aches and pains are part of running and training.  I can strengthen muscles and stretch out kinks, but pain remains. If I don’t hurt, frankly, I wonder if I’ve done enough.

This morning, I got up, did my devotionals and got caught up on the world, ate breakfast, completed my chores and went out for a 12-mile run.

As I moved along, I thought about Jonathon’s insightful assessment.  The pain came.  I let it ride.  Yes, I walked a bit.  Especially when my left calf cramped up in mile 9.  I stretched it as best I could and kept going, walking when necessary. I thought about how I’d mentally counted myself out because of this pain that has dogged me for more than a year.  What if I didn’t let it stop me?  What could I accomplish?

Do I hate walking while on a run?  Yes!  Do I get discouraged when I need to walk now?  No.  I never would have been able to say that to the old Susan. Walking doesn’t mean it’s over.  Walking is taking a break, reassessing, but still moving.  I ain’t dead yet.

And so it is in every aspect of life.  We keep parenting even when we see no visible fruit.  We keep loving and serving our spouses in the darkest times.  We took a vow and the vow binds us.  We go to work and do the best we can to honor God and our employer, though things get sketchy at times.  We may need to walk at times, change tactics and figure out a new strategy.  We may need to apologize and backtrack. Pain is part of the human experience.  It’s not the end of the story, but possibly the beginning of a new chapter.

There is hope only for the living. As they say, “It’s better to be a live dog than a dead lion! – Ecclesiastes 9:4

 


 

April Showers

I spent a good morning with the kettlebell crew.  Our instructor left me in charge today.  Bwahaha!  We completed a furnace workout, three and a half circuits.  That’s twenty seconds on, ten seconds off.  We did each exercise twice. The monthly challenge was on the table but I chose not to take it up.  It’ll keep. I almost made myself sick today. Darned jump squats! Good times.  I figured I’d better dial it back a bit.  Everyone survived, even the guys who’d been gone for a year.

It’s raining off and on today.  And it’s raining off and on in my life.  In the last couple of weeks, I’ve heard from several friends with huge transitions and challenges in front of them.  I find myself praying a lot, lifting up their burdens to the only wise God.  I’ve had a few hurdles of my own to navigate as well.  It’s so easy to spiral down into despair when  horrible things happen.  We feel so powerless.  We see our controlled, scripted life, so very carefully planned, go up in smoke.  Poof! Now what?

Which begs the question:  Where is God when the bottom drops out?  Does he switch His answering machine on – “Leave a message at the beep and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can”?

No. The Bible holds great comfort for those who hurt.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted (Ps. 34:8).  Psalm 55:22 says:  Give your burdens to the LORD, and he will take care of you. He will not permit the godly to slip and fall. And for those who remember scripture songs, Psalm 46:1:  God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble.  Now you have the song stuck in your head, dontcha? One more:  The unfailing love of the LORD never ends! By his mercies we have been kept from complete destruction. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each day Lamentations 3:22.

There are no guarantees, as the song above says.  Bad things happen. In fact, Jesus promised it (John 16:33).  He also said He had overcome the world.  His love and mercy remain.  May they anchor your soul today.

 

Velocity

volleyball

School is almost over.  Zac is about to be in high school.  Eek!  Which reminds me…

Somehow,  I got to thinking of  the years I played volleyball in high school.  Generally, it went like this:  school was out.  Yay!  Summertime was basically your usual stint of hanging out at home in the country with cats and the family.  Then, the last two weeks of August, we would get “invited” to pre-season.  Invited!  Like it was a party.  A party of pain, more like. The glorious summer was officially over.  RIP.

We showed up for an 8 a.m. practice, filled with anticipation.  We met at the high school gym, dressed in shorts, t-shirts, kneepads at our ankles. We wore our running shoes and had our volleyball shoes – Mizunos, I think – knotted in our hands. For at least 3 hours, we jumped rope, lifted weights, ran the track, ran stairs, did line sprints, push ups, burpees, and suchlike. We were verbally harassed encouraged to get our bleepity butts in gear.  We got (some) water breaks.  Lastly, we stretched after all that sweating. This was called “conditioning”. Then we went home and ate some food, if we weren’t nauseous.  We showered.  We crawled into bed.

After dinner, we came back!  Huzzah!  Inevitably, we ramped up to daily doubles because we were in such poor shape. It felt like a prison term. During this second session, we finally touched the ball. We practiced serving.  We practiced setting, over the net and to each other.  We practiced spiking.  We did ball drills, otherwise known as “people spiking the ball in your face”. We blocked (ha!).  We dove.  We rolled.  We strove to not let the ball hit the floor.

During all this time, we were watched.  Our head coach, a native Hawaiian nicknamed Pineapple, assessed our ability.  She had a couple of assistants who kept an eye out, too.  They wanted to see if we had “hustle” and “drive”.  They also wanted to see if we had acquired more height, something I never really attained.

We scrimmaged.  We played 6-2 and 4-2.  We played boo-boo ball, a version of 3 on 3.  You would keep the ball moving, three hits per side.  If someone messed up, they were out, and another player took their place.  Immediately.

Somewhere in here, we felt we had aged about 30 years.  We groaned at the thought of getting up and doing it again.  We so wanted to make the team.  We ached.  We creaked.  We applied Ben-Gay.  We smelled atrocious but we were getting stronger.  We were no longer teenagers; we were suddenly middle-aged.  We did more circuits in the weight room.  We ran a timed mile to qualify for varsity:  under 8 minutes.  We rubbed our tired legs and each others shoulders.  We iced bruised arms and torsos.  Through it all, our coach encouraged us and drove us on. Some girls dropped out, unable to keep up the pace or intensity.  They couldn’t take the pain.

But those of us who did:  we were Amazons.

To this day, the smell of the bleachers and a wooden gym floor takes me back there in a second.  I never did make varsity and had to drop out of pre-season my senior year, but I wouldn’t trade that time working hard, learning to be a team player and taking the hits, for anything.

Thanks, Pineapple, wherever you are.