Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,--Hebrews 12:1

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Thank You VHS Cheerleaders, Students, & Faculty!

Lots of people think kids are bad these days. I can't tell you how many times I've heard people tell me they could never teach because they could never deal with kids today. But that stereotype doesn't fit the kids at Vilonia High School.

Several weeks go, VHS cheerleading sponsor Judy Cox asked if she could have her girls raise money for St. Jude through Running with Amanda. I've avoided directly raising money through the school to avoid any sort of ethics violation or conflict of interest. But since this was initiated through others, I didn't see a problem with it.

For three days last week, the cheerleaders took time out of their lunch and collected money from students and faculty for St. Jude. In these tough economic times, they collected $123.23. Then Cox matched that amount to bring the total donated to $246.46. We just put the check in the mail today, so it should show up on our St. Jude fundraising page within a couple of weeks. When it does, it will bring our total raised this year to $2362.46. That's about $100 less than we raised for St. Jude all year last year.

Our goal for this year is to raise $3500 for St. Jude. We're still a long way from reaching that goal, but we still have time to get there. We'll run the St. Jude Marathon on December 1st, only two months away now.
"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ." -- Ephesians 1:3

So thank you to the Vilonia High School cheerleaders and Ms. Cox for putting this fundraiser together, and thank you to the students and faculty who made it successful! We are truly blessed to work with such great kids!

If you don't know Jesus as your personal savior, if you're missing the faith, hope, and love written about here, if you want the peace that we as Christians have in our lives, please visit our Got Jesus? page for step-by-step instructions on how to accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Winslow Half Marathon Race Recap & Weekly Journal Entries

It's been a really busy couple of weeks, busy enough I've found little time to update training logs or post here. Trying to catch my breath and catch up a little here.

Thanks to Facebook posts I can update the training logs, even though I can't remember details of many of the runs listed here. But, the two-week stretch did end with the VERY memorable Winslow Half Marathon last Saturday. So I'll just make this post a race recap.

Training Week: September 10 - September 16

Monday6 miles
Tuesday6 miles
Wednesday6 miles
Thursday5 miles
Friday4 miles
Saturday0 miles
Sunday0 miles
Total27 miles

Training Week: September 17 - September 23

Monday0 miles
Tuesday7 miles
Wednesday5 miles
Thursday6 miles
Friday0 miles
Saturday13 miles
Sunday0 miles
Total31 miles

Janice was out of town last weekend so I decided to head up to Winslow on Friday night and just sleep in the back of the Blazer. The town is small, even for rural Arkansas and runners were warned to arrive early because parking would be scarce. I got in about 1 AM and didn't have any trouble finding a place.

Winslow is the highest incorporated town in Arkansas, nestled snugly in the Boston Mountains. I had all ideas it would be plenty hilly when I signed up, but I didn't know how hilly. It should have registered with me when I overheard a conversation near the start. One guy asked another if it was bad and the second said, "It's pretty flat compared to what you'd expect in Winslow." Turns out flat by Winslow standards isn't really flat at all.

Before the start I had the chance to share our story with several people, including several from Conway with whom we'd run a few weeks ago, 10 miles in their Running Down the Night event. This is a fun bunch and I look forward to running many more races with them. I started out with some of them, but we separated in latter part of the first mile.

I was ready for the long climb that made up the first mile or so because the elevation chart had clearly showed it. What I wasn't ready for was the constant up and down, up and down throughout the middle 11 miles of the race. An elite runner might feel like s/he's on a roller coaster running this race. It didn't seem like we were ever on a flat stretch.

Around mile 2 or 3 I caught up with a couple I'd been running behind for a while. He was mostly running but walking most of the uphills by this time. She was chugging steadily along, but falling behind when he began running and catching him again when he walked up the hills. About the time I passed him going up one of the hills he asked her, "Why did you pick this race?" Then for the few more minutes I was within earshot they exchanged a friendly and fun argument about which of them really chose Winslow.

Not long after I left them, another man wearing a Dallas/White Rock Marathon shirt caught up with me and asked what was the farthest I'd carried the pictures on my back. It gave me a chance to run with him and tell our story for a bit. His name was Mike and he explained to me that he began running marathons when his wife died of cancer. She had been training for her first when she was diagnosed and never got the opportunity to run one. So he decided he would train and run after she died to see what it's all about. So far he'd run 4 marathons. He was running Winslow because he was in Fayetteville for parents' weekend at the University of Arkansas where his daughter is a student.

The out and back had plenty of water stops, approximately one every mile and a half until just after mile 4. That's where the pavement ended and the course continued on a dirt road that carried us to the turnaround. It wasn't bad for a dirt road, but it wasn't like running on pavement either. Just before the turnaround we started into a pretty lengthy downhill. Of course that meant we'd turn back and face an immediate long uphill on the dusty path.

It was kind of rough climbing back up, but seeing and encouraging Mike and my friends from Conway kept me chugging as I crept up the hill. On the way out as I passed a lady struggling up one of the hills I said, "Every one of these hills we have to climb on the way out is one we get to go down on the way back." I knew when I said it that it also meant every downhill would be an uphill when we turned around but that wasn't something I wanted to say.

Now though, it was irrefutable as the never-ending up and down just kept on going and going and going. At this point, the increasing numbers on the mile markers gave encouragement as the small field was separated and I found myself pretty much alone with only 3 other runners even in sight.

They stayed ahead of me for a while until I passed them going up a hill at mile 11. That's when I found my second wind knowing only a little more than two miles were left in the race, with the last mile a big downhill. By the time I passed the 12 mile mark I was pretty much alone. If anyone was in sight, they were behind me and I didn't know it.

The final turn was staffed by two volunteers who promised after the steep 40 yard climb that I faced after the turn, it was all downhill. And DOWNHILL it was. A long, steep downhill that tested the knees and took everything one had to keep from toppling head first and sliding to the bottom.

That ending downhill made for a fast final mile though and helped me knock the pace per mile down a little. The last 50 yard stretch went through an S-curve after reaching the bottom of the hill. The momentum that carried me down the hill was still pushing me through the finish to make it appear like a really strong ending to the 13.1 miles.

All-in-all it was a great race, well organized and staffed with adequate volunteers. The hills were tough, but I knew they would be going in. So it would be pretty sorry of me to complain about them.

My goal coming in was to finish averaging a 10 minute mile. I thought if I could do 13 miles in the hills at that pace, I can surely do 26 on a level course at the same pace. I finished the race in 2:06.38 chip time, a 9:40 pace, so I considered the race a success though it was nearly 7 minutes off my PR.
"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." -- Philippians 4:13

This was the first time I can remember running an entire half marathon without stopping to walk (except for a few feet at each water stop.) I don't count the walking at the water stops because I do that even in 5Ks. But even up the hills the Good Lord kept me pushing, never giving up to walk.

I have to say that it's a race I'd like to do again someday. Challenging for sure, but fun just the same. I couldn't have done it on my own strength, only the strength of a mighty Savior could have kept me going the distance.

If you don't know Jesus as your personal savior, if you're missing the faith, hope, and love written about here, if you want the peace that we as Christians have in our lives, please visit our Got Jesus? page for step-by-step instructions on how to accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

20 Months and Still Hard

This month we passed through the 20 month anniversary of Amanda's murder. Twenty months without her... We're fast approaching 2 years.

Before Amanda died, I never considered myself sentimental, not the least bit, but the loss of a child changes you. After almost two years, Amanda's room remains pretty much the same as it was when we lost her. Her car sits in the driveway still, unmoving day after day, week after week, month after month.

Every day I think of her. Every single day I picture her doing the things she did. Those visions are almost as vivid as if she were still alive...almost.

The other day on a trip to a cross country meet I saw a rainbow, only the second I'd seen since she died. The rainbow has an extraordinary significance these days. The song Amanda used for a ringtone when she was killed was "If I Die Young" by The Band Perry. The line from that song rings in my head at least every day, "Make me a rainbow. I'll shine down on my mother." So every time I see a rainbow, to me it's Amanda shining down on Janice.

The rainbow is also important because it reminds me of the trip we took the summer before Amanda was killed. It was the first trip of its kind we made as a family. For two weeks we toured the western United States, the four of us in our Blazer. Along the way, in eastern Montana, we went through the strongest thunderstorm I'd ever seen. After we made it through, a beautiful double rainbow appeared. Amanda took some great pictures of it.

Sometimes the silliest things, the most unexpected things, remind me of Amanda. In that storm mentioned above, we were bombarded by golf ball sized hail. I still drive the same Blazer and it has a crack that runs horizontally just below the middle of the windshield from side to side. That crack began a chip created by one of those giant hailstones. This dawned on me the other day and immediately reminded me of Amanda and the rest of us surviving that terrible storm together. I realized then that I'll never have that windshield replaced.

Some think that time heals all wounds. Some even Say so from time to time. But Amanda's death left a hole in us that will never heal. We'll learn to live with it, with the pain that comes with it, and even adapt to accommodate it, but we'll never get over it.
"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." -- Philippians 4:13

What makes it possible to continue on, to press toward the goal, is knowing that Jesus Christ came, died, was buried, and rose again so that when it's our time, we'll join Amanda in paradise. We'll be with her again and we'll spend eternity with her in a place that knows no tears, no pain, and no loss.

Without that security, I don't know how anyone could survive such a tragedy, how anyone could keep going. I know I couldn't.

Twenty months have now passed since I last told my daugther goodbye. And it's still tough. But if it's God's will, I'll make 21, 22, and however many more He has in His plan for me. But it will never be easy.

If you don't know Jesus as your personal savior, if you're missing the faith, hope, and love written about here, if you want the peace that we as Christians have in our lives, please visit our Got Jesus? page for step-by-step instructions on how to accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Weekly Journal 9/3 to 9/9

A week that started out with really tough running conditions, hot and humid, ended on a great note, for running that is. The storms that pushed through our area Friday night brought more than rain. They were at the leading edge of a cold front that dropped nightly low temperatures 15-20 degrees. The rain, wind, and lightening wreaked havoc on high school football Friday night, but brought great relief to all of us looking for lots of miles on Saturday morning.

Monday was Labor Day, a day off work and the final day of a three day weekend. It came on the heels of a short mileage week for me. After a worrisome pain showed itself in my lower right leg on Wednesday, I backed down to try to avoid injury. We had a cross country meet on Saturday that knocked out any chance for a long run that day. So I took advantage of the day off from work to knock out 11 miles. Hot and muggy but a great start to this week.

Had a great hill workout on Tuesday as our head coach for cross country threw a little curve to the routes we usually run. We did a sort of cross between our hill route and our six mile route. The run started with hitting all three of the big hills we run in Vilonia, then stretch it out after topping the last one. I was holding back with the slower kids so I didn't get in as many miles as some did, but I was able to encourage those slower ones to make all three of the big hills and add a little afterwards.

Wednesday is speed work day at cross country practice and the kids had to run a mile warm up then 4 sets of a 300 meter run followed by a 1000 meter run, then a cool down mile at the end. I started out doing the same workout, but I'm way too old and fat to keep up with 15-18 year old kids doing speed work. After the mile warm up I hit the track and managed two sets of the 300/1000 meter workout. By then I had had all the speed work I could handle. So I reversed course and walked and jogged the opposite direction to encourage the kids as they went through their workout. When all was said and done my Garmin showed I'd been 6 miles.

The kids get to practice on their own on Thursday so that allows me to run with my normal Tuesday/Thursday group. I love working with the kids, but I'm grateful I still have the opportunity to run with these folks once a week as well. We ran the hill route they introduced me to a couple of weeks ago. It was hot and muggy, making it somewhat of a struggle, but enjoyable nonetheless.

We did a 5 mile route on Friday that includes a couple of really tough hills. I did the first mile and a half at a pretty good pace (for me) but waited on the kids we'd passed at the water stop at the bottom of the first big hill. These kids might have been running at the back of the pack, but they've shown great improvement since we started working this past summer. I wanted to stick with them and encourage them on the climb up the big hill. They did great and worked hard all the way to the turnaround, which is at the bottom of the other big hill on this route. I asked them to run with me at least halfway up, then we could walk if they wanted. They gutted it out and kept running all the way to the top. At the top they had to take a walk break, but I can't tell you how proud I was at the effort they were displaying on this run.

Saturday's 20 miles were extremely enjoyable, even though the temperature hadn't dropped as low as I'd hoped. It was about 65 degrees when we started at 5 AM with high humidity. I did the first 5 mile loop with four others, three of whom I hadn't run with in quite a while. At 6 AM more joined us and I headed out for a 6 mile loop with them. We got back to the parking area in scattered groups so I waited a little while for any others who still wanted to get in more miles. I was pleased and excited to see the preacher from my previous church, the man who preached at Amanda's funeral, show up and join us for this next round. He was looking to run 5 miles so three of us made that run. When we got back to the cars my Garmin showed I'd run 16.48 miles and it was only me that wanted to keep going. So I set out on the last three and a half miles by myself. The last two miles were tough, but the Good Lord kept me going.

Training Week: September 3 - September 9

Monday11 miles
Tuesday6 miles
Wednesday6 miles
Thursday6 miles
Friday5 miles
Saturday20 miles
Sunday0 miles
Total54 miles

This week's big mileage brought me over 1300 miles for 2012, on track to break 1700 miles for the year. I've never logged my miles before this year, so I can't prove how that compares, but I can say I've never trained harder and more consistently. However this year's mileage compares to previous though, I can say that every step, every mile has been a gift from God.

Starting with Amanda's death, it seems like life has thrown road block after road block into our path. Nothing's been easy and sometimes we've been tempted to throw in the towel. For me, it's the running that has kept me going.

The routine, the exertion, even the pain that comes with putting in this many miles have given me things to focus on other than what is falling down around me. The energy that builds up through the trials of life is pounded into the road with step after step and mile after mile. That's energy that would likely be channeled into destructive behaviors without the running, this gift of God that allows me to disperse that energy into productive activity.

"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”" -- Joshua 1:9

Before Amanda was murdered, I didn't believe I could run a marathon, or even 20 miles. When my friend Jesse challenged me to run the Marine Corps Marathon in 2011, I initially refused. I had run two half marathons and believed running twice that distance would be impossible for me. But as the days after Amanda died turned into weeks, the urge to accept the challenge became stronger and stronger.

I was afraid before. But as I turned more and more to God to help me fight through the grief and pain of losing Amanda, his will and the realization that He would walk with me through any fire, through any challenge became stronger and stronger. As I began to train, getting stronger than ever, running more miles than ever, I could feel God's presence with me through every mile.

"Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”" -- Mark 10:27

In late October of last year, I completed my first marathon. After 8 months of training, it was done. What I had believed impossible before, became possible as I turned things over to God. That's when it became clear this is what I was meant to do. This is how God wants me to carry on.

I can't run a marathon on my own. I can't run 20 miles on my own. Truth be told, I can't run 1 mile without the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ. If I hadn't turned to Jesus when Amanda was killed, if He hadn't picked me up, dusted me off, and pulled me forward, I don't know where I'd be right now.

But I can guarantee you I wouldn't be writing to tell you that I ran 20 miles yesterday. I know that without a doubt.

If you don't know Jesus as your personal savior, if you're missing the faith, hope, and love written about here, if you want the peace that we as Christians have in our lives, please visit our Got Jesus? page for step-by-step instructions on how to accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior.

Monday, September 3, 2012

A Rainbow and a Sweep, What a Day!

The bus was passing through Fayetteville, AR and the clouds were building when this beautiful rainbow appeared off to our left. We were on our way to the first cross country meet of the season at Shiloh Christian Academy in Springdale. It was only the second time I've seen a rainbow since Amanda was killed and I should have recognized it as a sign that this would be a great day.

The rainbow holds special significance to us these days because of the lyrics of a song, the song that she had for a ringtone on her phone when she died and the song we chose to have played at her funeral. "Make me a rainbow. I'll shine down on my mother," is a line from "If I Die Young" by The Band Perry.

Since Amanda was murdered I've looked for rainbows every time conditions are right. For 19 months they've been extremely scarce, but when I do see them, I know it's a sign that Amanda is watching over us. She was with us this day, and it turned out to be better than I ever hoped.

This summer I started helping with our school's cross country team. We started practicing in May, right after school let out. Throughout the summer, with the exception of two weeks when coaches aren't allowed any contact with students, we met three days a week at 7 AM.

"Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows." -- Proverbs 11:25

Through the hottest weeks of the year we averaged about 40 kids at practice on those days. Since school started our high school team has been meeting at 5:15 in the morning, junior high at 5:45. These kids have put in the miles this summer and continue to work hard even though they have to get up early. They sowed sweat and pain this summer and this weekend they reaped the harvest.

All that hard work and dedication paid off Saturday when we drove the team three hours on a bus to their first cross country meet of the season. All four teams--junior and senior high boys and girls--won the 4A/5A division 1st place trophies at the Shiloh Christian meet this week! It was exhilarating to watch these kids, who've worked so hard, make their way to the front of the crowd to claim their trophies.

"And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues." -- 1 Corinthians 12:28

I am so thankful and so blessed to have the opportunity to work with these great kids, parents, and coaches. I know that God has me right where He means for me to be and look forward to what lies ahead.

If you don't know Jesus as your personal savior, if you're missing the faith, hope, and love written about here, if you want the peace that we as Christians have in our lives, please visit our Got Jesus? page for step-by-step instructions on how to accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Weekly Journal 8/20 to 8/26 & 8/27 to 9/2

Another journal entry with two weeks worth of running! School started on the 20th of August, leaving me with little time to keep up with posting. But I am blessed and grateful for my job that allows me to work with so many great colleagues and students.

That said, I can't remember a lot of details for the week of 8/20--8/26. The tables below show the miles I ran, but things all run together after this much time has passed. So I'll give details on the runs from this week.

Monday started with a 6 mile run on one of our regular routes for the high school cross country team. It's a route with 205 feet of elevation change, including one pretty serious hill. Early in the summer when I began working with the cross country team, I had to stop and walk part of the way up. Now I hang back with the kids having a rough time, even turning back and running parts of the hill twice to help encourage them up. God really can move mountains, especially when we're willing to put forth a little effort along with our faith!

We ran the route named the Hill Run with the cross country team on Tuesday, then a lap around the school campus to finish off a 6 mile run. The Hill Run includes three pretty serious hills with the one mentioned above being the easiest of the three. The first is a short but super-steep climb, the second a long, more gradual ascent, then the third described earlier. I took up my usual position toward the rear of our column, encouraging those toward the back. This day I had the opportunity to run with a junior high girl who wanted to run with the high school kids. We stayed together as she made her way to the top of all three peaks and finished the run. These are the things that make this job so enjoyable!

As great as Tuesday was, Wednesday went the other way as far as running went. I'd been feeling some soreness in my right calf and ankle for a few days. After Wednesday morning's mile workout it was worse than ever before. I decided to call it quits on running for the day, figuring the planned speed work ladder workout would cause more problems for me than it would solve. I stayed on the track and walked around encouraging the kids, but only got in a mile of running this day.

Thursday is our "kids run on their own day," so I had the opportunity to join my old Tuesday/Thursday morning group. Three of the four of us who've been running together since I started were there. The fourth was away on business. I enjoy the company on Thursdays and am grateful for this opportunity to keep in touch with my old running friends. :)

On Friday, practice was called because of the storms created by Tropical Storm Isaac's path through Arkansas. I took the opportunity to get 6 miles on my own in the rain that came from the former hurricane.

Our team's first cross country meet was Saturday so I didn't log any miles there. I ran a little warm up with the junior high girls before their race kicked off the event, and ran to and from various points on the course during the four races to encourage our runners. But that was nothing like a normal training run so I decided not to log any of it. So the week ended with my lowest mileage in a long, long time--25 miles total for the week--but I thought I needed to rest the right leg before something went bad wrong.

Training Week: August 20 - August 26

Monday6 miles
Tuesday6 miles
Wednesday6 miles
Thursday6 miles
Friday16 miles
Saturday0 miles
Sunday0 miles
Total40 miles

Training Week: August 27 - September 2

Monday6 miles
Tuesday6 miles
Wednesday1 mile
Thursday6 miles
Friday6 miles
Saturday0 miles
Sunday0 miles
Total25 miles

The cross country meet went better than we could have hoped for! All four teams--junior high boys and girls, senior high boys and girls--took 1st place in the 4A/5A division at the meet. Our three-hour, one way bus ride was well worth the trip as we came home laden with the four trophies marking the kids' successful efforts.

This was the first cross country meet I've ever attended and it was more enjoyable than I even expected. I had a blast! I am so very blessed to have the opportunity to work with these great kids, parents and coaches. This is going to be a great year!

"Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up." -- Galations 6:9

We began practice for cross country right after school let out last May, three days a week at 7 AM through the summer. The kids had a training schedule for running on the other days of the week as well. Even through the hottest weeks of the year, we probably averaged 40 or more in attendance at our summer practices. This is a hard-working bunch of kids!

This weekend, at their first meet, that effort was rewarded. Many of the schools there had only begun to practice as a team in recent weeks. Though our kids may have felt weary at times in the heat of summer, they stuck with it while friends and classmates lounged in the air conditioning. They didn't quit. They ran when it hurt. They ran it wasn't comfortable. They ran when others wouldn't.

They didn't give up and Saturday they reaped the harvest from their perseverance! I am so very proud of them all! And I thank God for giving me the opportunity to work with them.

If you don't know Jesus as your personal savior, if you're missing the faith, hope, and love written about here, if you want the peace that we as Christians have in our lives, please visit our Got Jesus? page for step-by-step instructions on how to accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior.