Sunday, October 21, 2012

Runner's Prayer

What do you pray for when you run? Or, for my non-believing friends, what do you wish for? Sometimes, I wish for trivial things--like the next stoplight being green, the next hill being shorter, or the next mile being faster. Sometimes I pray for friends, or family, or things going on at work.

I know this is a blog about running (and urological problems), so I won't dwell too much on the details and theology of prayer. When I run, however, sometimes the run becomes a prayer itself. In the movie, "Chariots of Fire," the character portraying Eric Liddell says, "I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure."

Sometimes, not always, and not even often, I feel that way.  God's pleasure isn't a "voice inside my head" feeling. I don't get divine instructions telling me how to structure my training plan, which race I should run, or how I should vote, but I feel it nonetheless. It's in the silence of my otherwise restless, overactive brain. My thoughts are still, and I'm simply being, experiencing, and observing.

When I am blessed with those runs, I feel a peace that passes understanding when I run. No matter how hard things seem--how sad, angry, or stressed I've been feeling, it all melts away. My run becomes a prayer of motion, of exertion, of inertia. For a little bit, nothing else matters. There's only the movement, the breath, the sun on my face. The oaks, the cottonwoods, the flocks of geese. The songs of birds and the hum of traffic--I observe them, but my mind is clear.

Words can't do it justice. Call it a runner's high--a rush of endorphins. Call it whatever you want, but it's real to me. And if it's all in my head, what does it matter? If it's just an illusion brought on by endorphins, by some pleasure center in my brain, who cares? If you don't believe that God is real, I won't tell you you're wrong. But I will tell you that I believe in a God that's real, a God that's alive, and a God that cares about humans. A God that feels our pain and our pleasure. I believe in a God that fills us with grace, grants forgiveness freely, and forgets all our mistakes.

Those runs don't happen often, but when they do, I know their grace. God listens to all his children's prayers--Hindus and Muslims, Christians and Jews, Atheists and agnostics, Mormons and Jehoveh's Witnesses. He even listens to those ready to kill in the what they think to be his name. He listens to those ready to be lined up and shot before denying God's name. He listens to the cries of children inside the womb and out. The tears of the old and the young.

Life is precious. Life is a gift. Today I'm going to go out and enjoy it on a run--I'll think about you while I'm there. God is love, and if you're using your god to hurt, kill, or hate, I'd like you to stop. I'll try to do the same.

Happy running!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Breakfast Cookies

It's time to share one of my training secrets--breakfast cookies. This recipe was passed down from a childhood babysitter, to my mother, to me. I've tweaked the recipe here and there to make them a little "healthier," so feel free to tinker in whatever way you'd like. Here's how I do them:

  • 1 cup quick oats
  • 3/4 cup old fashioned oats
  • 1 cup whole grain flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon 
  • 1/2 bag of your favorite chocolate chips

  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup applesauce (or you can just use 1/2 cup butter)
  • 1 cup sugar (I've used Truvia before, and it works OK)
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 medium over-ripe bananas
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F

  • Cream butter/applesauce, sugar, and egg
  • Add over-ripe bananas and vanilla
  • Mix well

  • Mix in separate bowl
  • Add slowly to wet ingredients until mixed consistantly
  • Scoop onto un-greased cookie sheet (I use foil over mine) in 1" lumps
  • Bake for 10-12 minutes
  • Lick the spoon

Makes about 20 cookies.

Happy Running!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Whistlestop Recap

The course
The blazing orange and yellow fall colors of the Ashland area were barely visible through the windows of the school bus as I rode to the start line of "The Whistlestop Marathon" in Ashland, Wisconsin. I was sitting next to a class act and fellow member of the Minnesota Running Wild (MNRW), Don Sullivan. We chatted about the race, about our families, and about Lewis and Clark as we rode from Ashland to the "Tri-Timbers Resort."

After what seemed like hours, we climbed out of the bus and into the brisk, damp Lake Superior air. Runners mingled around the bag drop outside, and lines loosely formed near the two rows of port-a-potties. On the way to the lodge I met Sheila, a runner I'd paced at the 2011 Brainerd marathon. She said I was a great pacer, which made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.  A little later, I met another runner, Kyle, who I knew I'd seen before, and he showed me and Dan LaPlante, another MNRW member, a back door to the lodge, where runners had packed themselves to stay warm.

Inside the lodge I borrowed a dollar from Dan to get a cup of "Hawaiian" coffee--that's what the friendly bartender at the lodge called it. I assumed she meant a Kona blend, since the pure Kona blend costs around $60 a pound. I hadn't had caffeine for over a month, so between the caffeinated gel Don gave me and the cup of coffee, I knew I would be wired. After some time relaxing, focusing, and a little chatting with Dan, I headed to the start.

When the gun went off, I settled into a comfortable pace alongside Don--he said he was shooting for a 2:45, so I thought I'd stay right with him and hope for the best. The course was scenic, but the rain had left the trail soft, and it was challenging to find a firm place to run. We often had to sacrifice running tangents in favor of firm footing.

A couple miles in, Don and I began running next to a tall woman in a red singlet. Eventually we introduced ourselves, and I found out she was from St. Louis Park and running her second marathon. She was also aiming for the 2:45ish range. It was awesome having three of us running together--for much of the race Don and Jenelle were the only runners I could see.

Don, Jenelle, Nate
Laura had graciously come along on this trip as wife support. The first time I saw her she was cheering and taking photographs. "Do you want to throw your things?" she asked. The dampness and cool weather made me shake my head, "no." It was too cold to get rid of my hat and gloves.

The miles ticked by as we ran through the fall foliage of yellow birch and various northern hardwoods. We chatted here and there about running--Jenelle had also run in college, though much better than me, I'm sure. It was only her second marathon, and she'd had a kid in between. Don offered a little advice on the course (slippery bridges, elevation profile, and surface), while I gave my water stop tip (dump some liquid out if it's too full, then pinch for an easier pour).

I don't really remember a ton of details after that. I know I saw Laura again around mile 7. Jenelle and I picked it up a little, while Don kept the same pace. Around mile 16, Jenelle had to stop at an aid station when her shoe came untied. Luckily a volunteer was able to tie it for her--the weather made for cold hands. I couldn't open my gels with my fingers either--my teeth had to take care of that. At the same aid station, I choked on my water and Don caught back up to me for a bit.

After pulling away from Don, I could hear steps clicking behind me on the soft crushed limestone. For about a quarter-of-a-mile I thought it was Don, but it turned out to be Jenelle. She was feeling good and looking strong. "You think you're going to pick it up at mile 20?" she asked.

"No," I said. "But if you do, do you mind if I try to stay with you and draft?" I asked. "And same goes for you if I pick it up."

"No problem," she said.

She picked it up at 20, and I after trying to stay with her for a mile, she was gone. From that point on I mostly remember pain. I got a weird tunnel vision, where when I closed my eyes it looked like I was playing "The Last Starfigher." Why did I close my eyes during a marathon with an uneven surface? According to the exercise physiologists, my brain was not getting enough glycogen to properly function. If, however, you ask my family, that happens to my brain often.

 As bad as it hurt, I tried to stay on pace. I knew a 2:45 was out of reach, but I was hoping to at least break 2:50. I tried pumping my arms harder to make my legs follow suit. I tried to embrace the pain, to breath into my hamstrings as lightning bolts of pain shot through them.

Somewhere around mile 23 or 24 I went past Gerad Mead--a runner I normally wouldn't see until after the race. He was grabbing his hamstring and walking. I gave him a low five and kept moving. Then, I passed Kyle. "C'mon Kyle," I said.


"The top of my foot is killing me," he said. "Good luck."

I crossed a road where a volunteer shouted, "Looking good!"

"Liar," I replied. I was trying to be funny, but I probably sounded angry, so if that volunteer's out there, I apologize.

With about 1.5 miles left, we hit the pavement. A switch flipped in my hamstrings, and the pain was gone. I picked up the pace as we rounded the corner towards downtown Ashland. With less than a mile left, Kyle caught back up to me and passed me.

As we moved through a series of turns, I tried to position myself on his outside shoulder. Our pace increased. We came around the last turn, a volunteer called out, "the finish is just past the train depot."

Kyle & Nate
We were sprinting. I came alongside him. I could hear spectators getting louder as we approached the finish. The announcer was saying something, but I couldn't hear what. We went across the line at the same time. Kyle later said he went across ahead of me, but I don't know how he could tell--our gun times were identical: 2:50:28.2. I'm not sure of the nuances of USATF rules, but since my chip time was over two seconds faster than his, the final results have me in front of him--6th overall, 5th male, and 2nd in my age group.

Thanks to everyone who made this race possible. All my running friends, including members of MNRW who've helped push me in training. Junal for letting us stay in her "cabin" near Ashland. My family for being proud of me. My high school track coach, Coach Rathke. My mother for birthing me. And the students, parents, and staff at Quest Academy, for giving my training an extra little kick once school started.

And most of all, thanks to Laura. She put up with my sweaty, stinky self all summer, helped me pack all my crap for the race, lets me eat like a starving grizzly, and is incredibly supportive and kind.

Happy Running!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Whistlestop Marathon - It's Goal Time

The brisk breeze and bright sun of this past weekend's Twin Cities Marathon got me all jazzed-up for my upcoming marathon--Whistlestop Marathon in Ashland, Wisconsin. With less than four days to go, it's time to set some goals.
Image Credit
I haven't raced a marathon since Boston in 2011, so I'm a little nervous. One thing that helps my nerves is crunching some training numbers. If you don't share my affinity for numbers,skip the next paragraph. Especially if the idea of statistics makes you queasy and brings back unpleasant memories of an Algebra class where the teacher's spittle splattered on the overhead as he explained the quadratic formula.
Being the number nerd that I am, I created a spreadsheet that broke down my training with average weekly miles, peak week miles, and an adjusted 10k time. I got the idea from a late Runner's World forum post author who wrote about using his 10k time to predict his marathon. I believe his ratio was about 4.5 or 4.6. My ratios of 10k times to 1/2 marathon times (marathon time/10k time) have been 4.83 (Twin Cities '09), 4.76 (Lake Wobegon '10), and 4.87 (Boston '11). Even though Boston was my PR at 2:59, a lingering cold combined with a tough course made it the "slowest" marathon I've run compared to my 10k time.

After plugging in the numbers and hearing that my original goal of breaking 2:50 was "sandbagging" it, I've decided to set a more ambitious "A" goal. I've yet to hit my "A" goal in a marathon, so if I don't get it this time, oh well.  Here's the goals:

"A" Goal:
Break 2:45

"B" Goal:
Break 2:50

"C" Goal:
Set a PR 

"D" Goal:
Finish the race upright and healthy

Last weekend Laura and I had a little marathon get together where we had the pleasure of hosting Michelle, her husband, and her sister. Later in the day I was a course marshal at the Twin Cities Marathon. Seeing other runners is a huge inspiration for me, and seeing Michelle, the athlete I coached at the Running Room Clinic this summer, and all the other runners working hard to meet their goals was a huge inspiration. Now, I'm going to try to bring some of that inspiration with me to Ashland, Wisconsin.

There you have it. Thanks to everyone who's donated to Quest Academy or Feed My Starving Children. Between family, friends, and school students and parents, we've raised over $500 at Quest. No one has let me know about Feed My Starving Children, but I'm sure there will be a few donations before week's end.

Happy running!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Running for Something

I like training for marathons. I like writing the plan, checking out the paces on the various pace calculators, reading the books, and logging the miles. I like race day strategy--do I go for it right away and risk crashing? Do I go out at a conservative pace and risk limiting myself and missing out on an even faster time?

I've only raced three marathons, and in all that time I've yet to raise money for anything or anyone. I've been divided on the issue in that past. It's strange to hear people saying, "I'm doing a run for charity." In my mind I picture a runner carrying a satchel of vials on her back through the remote foothills of the Andes (the mountains, not the mints), trying to deliver an anti-venom to an orphanage struck by an attack of rare venomous anacondas. To me, that's running for charity.

I understand, however, that many people raise money for worthy causes, and so when my school board was looking for ideas to raise so money, I offered to solicit donations via this blog. I teach at a public charter school, so if you pay taxes you're already giving it some money (roughly three-and-a-half cents). Unfortunately, the money we receive through the state and federal government does not give us the same kind of resources as a larger school district or a prestigious private school. We could use a little extra funding for curriculum (I would really like some literature textbooks), art supplies, and possibly even a field trip or two.

I wouldn't ask for donations if I didn't really believe in what we're doing. I see students who haven't made it in the bigger schools because of bullying, getting lost in the shuffle of huge classes, and missing out on the unique, individual attention we can give at a small charter school.

If, however, you would like to make a donation to a nonprofit entity not receiving taxpayer dollars, I would suggest donating to Feed My Starving Children--an organization that provides food to the hungry in places throughout the world.

Here are links to both organizations. Quest Academy does not have an online donation system in place, but if you mail a check and write marathon in the memo, they'll get the idea.

There is no need to contact me if you donate, but feel free if you do, so I can thank you personally.