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, July 13, 2014

My First 50K Finish -- Full mOOn 50K 2014

Oh what a difference a year makes!

It was this time last year that I had to write a post about my first DNF at the Full mOOn 50K. That also happened to be my first attempt at an official ultramarathon, and I failed, dropping out after going 23 of the 31 miles on the course. I had no intention to attempt it again this year, but the nagging feeling of leaving the course without finishing the race pushed me to pull the trigger late last month.

Last night was race night, and things went a lot better this year. It took me FOREVER to get to the finish line, but I did cross it, and under the stated 9 hour time limit. We started at 7 PM on Saturday. It was 3:53 AM when I ran over the timing mats in the finish line chute. Official time was 8:53:26, less than 7 minutes to spare to make the cutoff, but made it just the same.

So what made the difference? How did I finish this year what I couldn't last year? I think that's best explained starting with what I did wrong last year.

I never intended to sign up for the race last year. It was actually a decision made in moment of rage. My wife and I were in North Carolina visiting family when a dog of theirs got on the table and chewed up my Garmin. It had been three months since my last marathon and I was having withdrawals I guess. Because I couldn't be too rough on a family member's dog, I sat down and looked for the closest race I could get to the quickest. Turned out, it was Full mOOn. So I'd say I signed up for last year's race for the wrong reasons. Most of the time, decisions made in anger turn out bad. That held in this case.

To say I hadn't trained for last year's race is an understatement. When the heat and humidity set in, I limited my long runs to 10 miles. So by mid July of 2013, it had been more than 6 weeks since I'd run anything approaching a long training run to prepare for a 50K. I was definitely underprepared for last year's race.

Last year, all I knew of the course was, "the first three miles are uphill." That's not exactly true because there's a pretty nice downhill not long after the start, but the rest of the first 3 miles IS uphill. Turns out, about 80% of the first 10 miles is uphill, and a lot of that is pretty doggone steep uphill. The middle 10 miles is a series of steep inclines and descents. Because I didn't expect such drastic elevation changes, I paid a heavy price last year for pushing too hard on many of those uphills, expecting to find long downhills just around the next bend. Those long downhill stretches proved nonexistent and I ended up spent long before I reached the finish.

So those are some of the things I did wrong last year. Now let me tell you what I did right this year.

"He will cause deceit to prosper, and he will consider himself superior. When they feel secure, he will destroy many" ~ Daniel 8:25a

Even though I was visiting family in North Carolina again last month when I signed up for this year's race, it wasn't in anger. I thought about it and prayed about it and got a feeling that I had to at least attempt to finish what I'd started last year. I can't say I was 100% sure that God wanted me to run this race, but I turned it over to Him and knew I had to try and use it to bring glory to Him. I decided I'd go in and do my best and be satisfied with whatever the outcome would be.

There were lots of prayers that went up for me and this race this year too. Up everyone of those long uphills I was praying, praising God, and even singing some. But that wasn't all. Prayers were sent up from friends across the country. They posted requests on Facebook and there is no telling how many people prayed for me and this race. I believe in the power of prayer and I believe that Jesus heard all those prayers and answered last night.

I was much better trained for the race this year, mostly because of last month's double marathon in Utah and Idaho. Two marathons on consecutive days gave me the long runs I was missing last year. Three weeks before those marathons I had attempted another in Little Rock. I made it 25 miles before the heat took me out of that one, but still, it was another 25 mile run to help prepare me for this race. Almost all my running since the double last month had been in heat and humidity too. I was acclimated to the race conditions and far better prepared.

This year, I knew the course. I knew what to expect so the drastic elevation changes didn't catch me off guard. Last year I didn't regret stopping after 23 miles, but as I rode back in the sag wagon, I realized I quit before the easiest part of the course. All that long, drastic climb at the start of the race would have been the end of the race if I'd finished. This year, I knew it was coming and devised a plan to take advantage of it. For the first two hours of the race, I walked. I walked all the way up that crazy long uphill at the start. After that, I only ran the downhills and walked everything else. I actually felt good when I got through that crazy up and down, up and down and reached the turnaround. By that time last year, I was considering quitting. When I reached the point where I did quit last year, I can honestly say I still felt good, 23 miles into the race. Knowing the course made a huge difference, enabling me to come up with a strategy designed specifically for this race.

I made a few other changes that I think helped too. Last year I took Gu along with salt and potassium tablets every 5 miles. This year I dropped that back to every 3 miles and added a magnesium supplement (100% recommended daily allowance) every 9 miles. I never felt that physically drained feeling that comes when I've sweat all those mineral out on a long, hot, humid run. I could still taste salt in my sweat at the finish line, which is normally long gone in similar conditions. One last thing I did was leave my hydration pack at home. I didn't take off on a 31 mile run without fluids, but I made another change. This year, I froze 6 bottles (16 ounces) of water and 2 bottles (quart) of Gatorade. I lined a backpack with a trash bag and lined the trash bag with a towel and packed the frozen drinks inside. I didn't tap them until mile 12, but when I did it was like drinking liquid Heaven! There was still a big hunk of ice in the first bottle I pulled out and when I started drinking that ice cold water it immediately went to work to cool me down. Those drinks stayed ice cold until way late in the race, and having cold water and Gatorade to drink made a huge difference.

It took me almost 9 hours to finish, but by God's grace and mercy, I chalked up my first ever 50K finish, and in pretty good shape too. I'll be back next year. Not sure if I'll run the 50 or 25K next year, but I'll definitely be back. Thanks to all the volunteers and race organizers and sponsors who made this a quality event. Now it's time to rest up.

Next marathon is Mid South Marathon in Wynne, AR on November 1st. In the interim we'll be running some shorter races. As always we're running to raise awareness of the dangers of teen substance abuse, to honor our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and to raise money for Soaring Wings Ranch.

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.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Surprise, surprise, the lobby to legalize marijuana lies

How many times have you heard, "If marijuana was legal, there wouldn't be a prison overcrowding problem?" Or been told the same thing? I know I've heard that argument more times than I could count. Personally, I'm against legalization for many other reasons, but even I figured a significant percentage of the prison population is incarcerated because they were arrested for using, possessing, or somehow otherwise violating laws concerning marijuana.

During the jury selection for Amanda's killer, Cody Gorecke's defense attorney quizzed potential jurors on whether or not they could "send someone to prison for marijuana?" Even though the trial wasn't about his marijuana use, even though it was about the violent murder of my 17-year-old daughter, you could see in the jury pool that his strategy was building up a sense of sympathy for Gorecke. You could see it in their eyes. You could hear it in their responses to the questions. This pool of potential jurors, from whom would come the 12 who would decide the fate of Amanda's killer, believed that many otherwise innocent people were imprisoned because they used marijuana.

Their sympathy for my daughter's killer forced us to accept a plea of manslaughter. Their vision of Cody Gorecke as a victim of harsh marijuana laws threatened to set him free if we pursued the charge of 2nd degree murder at trial. Their misconception of the impact of marijuana convictions on Arkansas' prison population forced us to take a plea that resulted in a 16-year prison sentence for the man who killed my daughter. If 16 years sounds like a long time to you, then consider that he was up for parole as early as this coming November, less than 4 years after my daughter was shot and killed.

"He will cause deceit to prosper, and he will consider himself superior. When they feel secure, he will destroy many" ~ Daniel 8:25a

THV 11, central Arkansas' CBS local station in Little Rock, today posted a story that showed just how misled the public is about marijuana convictions and the Arkansas prison population. Reading the article, I learned that LESS THAN 1/10 OF 1% of inmates in Arkansas' prison system are incarcerated for marijuana convictions. LESS THAN 1/10 OF 1%!

It was the Baxter County Sheriff who actually demonstrated just how misinformed the public is about the relationship between marijuana use and prison sentences. He posted an unscientific poll on his website asking respondents to tell what percentage of inmates are behind bars for marijuana. Almost 25% thought more than 50% of Arkansas inmates were there for marijuana convictions. Another 27% thought the number was 30% or 40%. More than half of those who responded believe that 30% or more of inmates in Arkansas prisons are there because they used marijuana.

In reality, LESS THAN 1/10 OF 1% are in prison for marijuana convictions. (I know I've said that several times, but I can't stress it enough.) Are you one of those misled by the marijuana legalization crowd? Have you bought the lie that legalizing marijuana would ease prison overcrowding?

From the article, "There are approximately 14,500 beds in the Arkansas Department of Corrections with another 2500 convicted inmates waiting to go to prison when a bed becomes available." So there are ~17000 people residing in Arkansas prisons, or in county jails awaiting open beds in Arkansas prisons. Here's the math...LESS THAN 1/10 OF 1% of those are there for marijuana convictions. 1/10 of 1% of 17000 is...wait for it...can you guess?...17!!!!!

That's right! Of the 17,000 residents in the Arkansas prison system, fewer than 17 are there for marijuana use! Fewer than 17! So, if we made marijuana legal, and even vacated the convictions of these convicts, it would free a whopping 17 beds in the entire Arkansas prison system.

17. Think about that for a minute and let it sink in...

Have you bought the lies of the legalization lobby? Are you one of maybe hundreds of thousands of misinformed Arkansans who believe that legalizing marijuana will ease prison overcrowding? If that's why you support legalization, then maybe you should rethink your position.

Spread the truth and stop the lies of the legalization lobby.

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, July 1, 2014

Runner's World: Tips for Running in Humidity

Gotta share this article from Runner's World. I've been running the past week in eastern North Carolina where the humidity is normally around 90% every morning. Back home in Arkansas, same thing. It's just plain tough to run when the air is thick as soup, sweat doesn't evaporate, and temps are high.

I fight the battle every spring, trying to acclimate when the weather turns sour. This year, on May 25th, I crashed at mile 25 of a marathon I was attempting. Both legs locked up in cramps and I fell like a tree. The weather had changed and I hadn't run any long runs in those conditions since last summer. I knew better. I told myself if it was like that I'd bow out, but I guess you can tell that common sense didn't rule the day. After two IVs and a $400 ambulance bill, I was good to go, running the next day. But it was a pretty hefty price for not using my head. I knew better, but hopefully the tips in this article will help someone else, before they end up on the ground.

Jesus replied, "Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise," ~ Ephesians 5:15

Hope you all have blessed and happy runs, even in this heat.

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, June 30, 2014

Halfway There!

I started this year with a goal of running 2014 miles before we ring in 2015. That's about 150 miles more than I managed last year, and a lot more than I've ever managed in a 12 month period before. But I felt like God was calling me to the challenge and accepted it.

I knew that I could never succeed on my own, that any hope of getting there would only exist through our great and mighty God. If I had to rely on my strength, and on my ability, I knew I'd fail miserably. So I handed it off to Jesus and started running.

Jesus replied, "What is impossible with man is possible with God." ~ Luke 18:27

Today marks the end of the first six months of 2014. We're halfway through the year. It looked for a while that I was falling behind. Heck, I guess I did fall behind. I was way ahead going into the month of June. But we've done quite a bit of traveling this month that upset my running routine.

Though 2014 by December 31st is my goal, I really wanted to be on track at the halfway point of the year. That meant I needed to have logged 1007 miles before the calendar flipped to July. When last week started, that looked like a long shot, especially since I'd be running these last miles of June in hot and humid eastern North Carolina. But I figured out what I needed to get there, and decided to give it a go.

I'm pleased to report that Jesus actually dropped the temperature a few degrees, and the humidity a little too, these past couple of days to make things a little easier for me. And, with today's 8 mile run, I've logged a total of 1008 miles so far in 2014, over the halfway point to my goal by one mile.

God is so good! I want to reiterate that it's only by His mercy and grace that I could still be on track six months into 2014. Not one of those miles would be possible if He didn't will it, if He didn't make it possible. I am truly blessed!

Thank you Jesus! For everything!

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, June 29, 2014

I'm Back!

It's been a while since I've posted here, and for that I'm sorry. Things got crazy toward the end of the school year, and I actually began to think it was time to give up this blog. But now things are settled down some, and I believe I just needed a break. It's now time to get back to what I'm supposed to be doing here.

I have continued to run, and continued to study, even while taking a break from this blog. Last month, Janice and I did the Bear Lake Double in Utah and Idaho. She did the halves and I did the fulls. By the grace and mercy of the Almighty God, those were my 13th and 14th marathons to finish.

Every race, every mile, in races and in training, are only possible because Jesus allows me to run to bring glory to Him. I couldn't run a step if He didn't will it, or allow it. And I realize now, that's why I've got to keep this blog going as of my ministry, the ministry He has assigned me.

Sometimes it's easy to feel overwhelmed, even ineffective, as we go about trying to fulfill the assignments God has given us. Partly because our human nature wants instant gratification, to see the fruits of our labor materialize right before our eyes. When we don't see immediate results, in the form of lives changing around us, we begin to doubt. We doubt that we're really in God's will. We doubt whether our efforts are producing any fruit at all.

Satan works through doubt. The Devil places those doubts in our minds to throw us off course. To get us to abandon the mission. To turn from God and His work. And too often, it works. We doubt. We give up. And we turn away.

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

But we're promised that our works are not in vain. We're promised a reward if we don't give up, if we keep doing the good works God has intended for us to do. Even when we can't see the results, they're there.

So I was feeling overwhelmed for a while there, and thought this blog wasn't having much of an impact. But in the weeks since I've posted here, God has shown me this blog is still part of His plan for me. That said, I return with that same message for others out there. Others who may feel discouraged. Who feel they're giving it everything they have, all they can do, but nothing good is coming from it.

Do what you know is right, all the time. Do what you believe God wants you to do, all the time. Never give up. Never quit Him. Even when you can't see it, your work for God is bearing fruit. We may never know in this life all the lives touched and changed because we followed God's will. We may not always understand the good that comes from following His will. But it's happening.

I'm rested and rejuvenated and ready to get back to work here!

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.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Remember those you're supposed to remember this weekend

It's Memorial Day Weekend, extra time off for almost everyone. It's sad that many think of it as just that and nothing more, a three-day weekend. Picnics and parties, the first weekend at the lake for many, cookouts and the kickoff for summer, a great big good time. But all those celebrations too often obfuscate the real meaning of Memorial Day.

. Monday wasn't set aside to celebrate the beginning of summer, but to honor the many men and women who died to give you the freedom to celebrate the beginning of summer. It wasn't set aside as a day to gorge yourself on hamburgers, hot dogs and beer, but to reflect and remember the sacrifice of those who fell in service to this great nation. It wasn't set aside for you to test the water temperature at your favorite lake, but to pay tribute to those men and women who died so that you can be free to celebrate, to eat, and play howsoever you choose.

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. ~ John 15:13

Most people who never served don't realize, that fighting men seldom fight for themselves. At the front, with that rifle in his hands, it's not him he's fighting for. When he kills, it's not his own life that he's trying so desperately to preserve. And when he dies, he dies hoping that he was able to save the lives of those who stood beside him. Greater love has no man than this, than to lay down his life for his friends. These are the men and women who should be foremost on your minds this weekend. Those men and women who did just that.

So take time and thank God for the men and women who fought and died so that you can have this weekend.

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.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Bib #13 at Toad Suck 10K Today...

I kind of fell off the wagon this week as far as miles go. But at least God blessed me to have a few banked as of the end of April. Working in Vilonia since Monday took it's toll and I just couldn't pull myself out of bed early enough to run on Thursday and Friday. But I've seen amazing things this week from students, coworkers, friends, and complete strangers. So many people poured into this little town to help. Physical labor, heavy equipment, and more supplies than an army could use, all came here to help those struck by the storms. Today, I felt a little guilty as I laced up my running shoes and headed to run the Toad Suck 10K instead of returning to help clean up.

When I picked up my packet and pulled out my bib, for an instant I wondered if I'd done the wrong thing. #13 was my bib number for the race. 13...what most consider an unlucky number. And that's the first thought that came to mind when I saw it. It seemed a sign that my guilt was not misplaced and maybe I was supposed to be back in Vilonia, helping with the clean up.

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; ~ James 1:13

But then, in a matter of seconds, those thoughts were replaced with others and I began to feel a peace about being there. What changed? The verse James 1:13 came to mind, a verse that I have often called upon since we lost Amanda, a verse that tells me God is not capable of evil and He is not to blame for the tornado that roared through our community. We often blame God when evil pays us a visit, but it is in fact Satan who terrorizes us in an effort to turn us from Christ and back to the world.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[i] have been called according to his purpose. ~ Romans 8:28

Something else I'd heard before then came to mind...what Satan means for evil, God can use for good. I saw a post shared on Facebook the other day that said this better than I can. Here is her post.

I've been asked and I've asked myself why does this keep happening to our community... Why such a Christian-based community that has to endure such pain and emotional trials... Then I see the interviews of survivors and majority if not all have references God and his mercy... I realized we aren't being punished or any kind of abomination... God knows that we are his people... People that will witness to the nation about our Faith and how we know he is in control... That we will Praise God in the Storm... He has used our communities to witness to the world... We don't get on camera and doubt God's Plan... We thank him for his protection and blessings... So proud to be from an area that is faith strong and blessed in so many ways! We will praise him through the storm... We don't doubt God's Will. Proud to be an Eagle... Bleed and cry red.

Another post from a kid, a senior in high school, who lost everything...

People Want To See Angels, Take A Walk Through Vilonia And Look At The Volunteers Helping Throughout The Town. There's Your Angels!

There are times when our hardships seem too difficult to bear. Times when we wish things happened a different way. Times when we just can't understand.

But I'm proud of this little community, proud to be a part of it. A community where kids didn't see missed school days as an opportunity to goof off or wallow in self pity, but an opportunity to work and help their neighbors in need. I work in a school where teachers didn't consider staying home because school was cancelled. I was so proud of my colleagues who showed up in work clothes and climbed into piles of rubble, trudged through briars, woods, and fields to help clean up and recover anything that might be salvageable. And I was proud of the victims who refused to be defeated by Satan's attempt to shake their faith, who boasted of God's love and proclaimed Him sovereign to anyone and everyone who asked them how they're getting through this.

I thank God for the opportunity to work with such great people in such a wonderful community. I often tell people they'll have to kill me or fire me to get rid of me. That's more true now than ever as we once again come together to help and to heal.

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.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Praising God, Even in the Storm!

Exactly three years before the April 27th tornado struck Vilonia this year, I wrote this post describing the inspirational way our community was dealing with another destructive tornado only two days prior. "Faith, Love, and Hope at Work in Vilonia" I titled that post.

Here we are, three years and a few days later and I'm writing another post-tornado blog, again describing an amazing community already making significant progress toward recovery, only five days after another, even more destructive twister.

This time, we lost twice as many residents in the tempest. This time, those deaths hit a lot closer to home. A former student was taken that night. Both parents of another former student were lost to the tornado. Several teachers at our high school lost everything they owned, twenty seven students at the high school (not counting kids at the other schools) have nothing left, and many, many more suffered significant losses in the storm. To say it was terrible does not even describe the devastation visited on the town of Vilonia on April 27th. This system was far worse than the one three years ago.

Most would expect people here to be paralyzed from shock, unable to cope. After all, many of the victims lost everything for the second time in only three years! I even spoke to one couple who was hit by both tornadoes and had trees blown into their home five years ago by strong, straight-line winds. But this is Vilonia, and that's not what I've seen.

It's amazing how quickly and strongly this little town is bouncing back. Already, most debris is piled and smoke is rising from flames consuming the rubble to ready this town for rebuilding. Residents, relatives, and many with absolutely no connection to Vilonia except through what they saw on the news leaped to action as soon as the sun rose the next morning and got to work. Packing and storing what was salvageable, piling what was wasn't. Relief centers quickly filled to overflowing with supplies. I swear I think we have enough bottled water in this town to float Noah's Ark. Supplies came from within Vilonia and a thousand other places. It seems everyone jumped in to help.

The amount of help is inspiring. It will restore your faith in humanity when you see it. Here, I have to mention how proud I am of the students I teach and the teachers with whom I work. We haven't been in school all week, but I've seen my students and my colleagues every single day, out there working, piling debris, digging for salvageable possessions, moving furniture, and doing anything and everything they can to get this town back on its feet. One student who lost everything posted on Facebook earlier today, "People Want To See Angels, Take A Walk Through Vilonia And Look At The Volunteers Helping Throughout The Town. There's Your Angels!" So many people helping, from here and elsewhere, from all different walks of life, have joined together to help people in need, and it's an awesome sight to behold.

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. ~ James 1:12

But going back to that post about angels, I think that exemplifies what impresses me the most through every aspect of this tragedy...the victims themselves. I've talked to several, worked with several, and know several. Every one of those I've worked with, every one I know, and even the ones I've seen interviewed on television have continued to praise God even after losing everything! That is amazing!

These people have lost every material thing, yet still they praise God. It made me think of the many I see so often, even myself sometimes, getting upset and frustrated and even angry about things that seem so petty in comparison to the devastation I've seen these past few days.

So yes, the volunteer effort has been impressive. I'm so grateful that so many from here and from other places have come together to pick up the pieces. But without a doubt, the people who impress me the most in this situation are the victims, the victims who lost everything but haven't lost perspective. The victims who continue to Praise Him in This Storm!

I'm proud to work in such a wonderful community, filled with so many wonderful people. Praying for everyone affected by the tornado, and praying that God will continue to be glorified through it all!

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, April 27, 2014

RussVegas Half Marathon Recap!

It seems like forever since I've posted here, other than the short little Easter post I put up last week. Please forgive the dearth of writing. It's just been a crazy busy couple of months. In my high school and college classes we've been going as hard as we can to catch up after what seemed like a month of snow days. And this month has been packed with races as well, including the race I directed last week. So, even though I haven't been writing much, I've been burning up the road. (Well, I'm not really fast enough to burn it up, maybe just keeping it warm.)

But the inaugural RussVegas Half Marathon was yesterday in Russellville, AR. I was blessed and had a blast. It was the first race I've run since Amanda was killed that I didn't wear my Running with Amanda shirt, because I was an "Official Pacer." That's what was emblazoned on the back of the neon Go! Running shirt I wore, "Official Pacer." It's only the second time I've officially paced a race, but last time I was able to wear my shirt. This time, since Go! Running sponsored the pacers and paid for my entry, I was required to wear theirs. Completely understandable, and I am grateful for the opportunity to lead, along with my co-pacer Karen, one of their pace groups.

There are a lot of great things about leading a pace group, but it does deny you the opportunity to take in the scenery and other stuff that I usually use to write detailed race reports. Pacing requires a near total focus on two things, your pace and the runners in your group. Karen and I were pacing the 2:20 group, leading folks who wanted to finish under 2 hours and 20 minutes. That meant we needed to maintain a 10:41 pace per mile, and that we had to encourage and motivate the runners who set that as their goal and chose to run with us. So this post will include a lot more details about interacting with the pace group than the course and the race itself.

At the start, it's almost impossible to tell which runners are in your group. There were ~1200 runners packed into the start corrals and it takes a little while for the crowd to thin. Within a half mile or so, the road seemed to open ahead of us as the faster runners moved on. It looked like we were going to have a pretty good-sized group. So this is when I chose to shout out the strategy Karen and I had planned for the race, to let everyone know what to expect as we traveled 13.1 miles together on the roads of Russellville.

Because mile markers on the race course never seem to match perfectly with our GPS watches, and our watches usually show the course a little longer than the official distance, and because the finish time of a runner is figured by the race clock without regard to what our GPS watches say, we planned to run a little faster than the 10:41 pace required to meet our goal. We decided to try and clock every mile, according to our watches, between a 10:30 and a 10:40 pace. Because almost every half marathon runner has a GPS watch these days, and because every one with a goal time involved has looked up the pace required to meet that goal, we had to explain early on exactly what and why we planned to run the race.

My watch clocked our first mile at a 10:37 pace and was off from the race Mile 1 marker by just a few yards. All was going according to plan. It was still really nice weather and everyone with us seemed in pretty good shape. I asked the group if there were any first time half marathoners with us and...crickets. Either nobody with us was doing their first, or they didn't want to admit it, or they had earphones in and couldn't hear me. But one of the guys with us told me this was his second Half. He'd run his first three weeks earlier in Fairview, TX.

We finished Mile 2 a little hot, clocking it at a 10:27 pace. The first half of this mile was going uphill and I think we picked up a little too much speed on the other side. It wasn't much of a downhill, but we might have let gravity do a little too much of the work and picked up three seconds we didn't really want. Still, it was early in the race and we still had a fair-sized group of runners.

Mile 3 got us back on track, coming in at 10:36. It was somewhere along here we started talking more. Karen and I began swapping running stories, and that led to others joining in the conversation. This is also an important part of pacing. Some people may think it sounds like boasting, but there's a purpose behind it. First, is to give your runners confidence that you know what you're doing. I let them know that I paced Soaring Wings last year. When asked how many Half Marathons I'd done, I told them I didn't know. I'd lost count of the halves after I started running marathons. I let them know my goal this year was to run 2014 miles and this month I'd go over 700 logged miles for the year. This does sound a lot like boasting, but a big part of leading a pace group is to encourage and motivate runners to achieve their goal. To accomplish that, they have to believe you know enough to get them through. Sharing all of this wasn't meant as a boast, but to make sure they knew that we were confident and capable of helping them achieve what they set out to achieve when they crossed that start line.

I'm not sure why, but we slowed a little on Mile 4, logging that one at 10:46. We weren't too worried about it though. We'd logged three good miles and could spare the 6 seconds as long as we didn't make a habit of it. This part of the course was almost completely flat so the terrain didn't slow us down. Maybe the story-telling distracted us, or maybe it was something else. No matter. No permanent damage was done. We just had to refocus.

Mile 5 came in at 10:35. We were back on track, and mile 6 followed at 10:37. At the water station between these two mile markers, I was blessed to be handed water by a former student of mine. As I came through, I heard, "Mr. Allison!" and looked up to see Faith's smiling face as she handed me that cup of water. I told her I'd give her a hug, but that I was sweaty and she let me know there was no need. :) I'd learn later on Facebook that another former student, Mason, had been at the Mile 4 water stop, but somehow we'd missed seeing each other. And at the finish line, another former student was working as a volunteer for the race.

Let me interrupt the race recap to give a shout out to all the volunteers at the races we run. Your value is immeasurable and our thanks are inadequate for the service you provide. These races most certainly could not happen without your presence. We appreciate all of you, but it's especially rewarding to see my former students out there making these races, in this sport I love, possible. So thank you to all the volunteers, on the course and behind the scenes that allow us to get out and do this.

We crossed the 10K point, marked by a huge flag, and the halfway point, according to my watch. Mile 7 came in at 10:45...again, I have no idea how we lost that 5 seconds. I don't remember even noticing this when the watch sounded, so I must have been distracted by the story telling duties and falling down on keeping track of my pace. By this time, I'd learned the guy running his second half marathon was also a teacher. So, we were probably swapping teaching stories or something. It was also around here, I learned that a father-son pair who were running with us had a brother/uncle who ran the Boston Marathon last week. I'm guessing it was these conversations that took my attention away from the pace during Mile 7. Again, no harm done, and the story swapping can be as important as the pace watching in the middle of an endurance race.

WA left turn on Phoenix not long after the Mile 7 marker and we began to see a few faster runners coming the other way. There weren't many, and the ones we saw were pretty spaced out. No tight bunches battling for position. Seeing those faster runners can affect different runners in different ways. Some are inspired, recognizing that in a little while, it will be them others are watching heading for the finish. Some are depressed, thinking those folks are almost finished and I still have almost half the race to run. So, here's where a pace group leader has to exploit the feelings of the optimist to encourage and motivate the pessimists. More stories!

We logged Mile 8 in 10:36, back on track again. Not long after passing the marker, we came in sight of the Arkansas Tech University campus. The course made a loop around the campus and headed back the way we'd just come. Now we saw a steady stream of runners headed back our way and I told our runners we were close to the turnaround. Out came the pessimists again. "I think that's a BIG loop!" someone said. Turns out it was, but I needed them thinking positive.

Out onto Arkansas Avenue we turned, where not much more than the shoulder was reserved for runners. The course lane was probably about six feet wide on this part of the race. By now, we were passing a considerable number of runners, and passing wasn't easy on such a narrow part of the course. We finished Mile 9 in 10:35. It was around here someone said, "Just think. Some people are already finished." It's easy to get down late in an endurance race, and again, it's our duty as pacers to tamp down those negative thoughts. So I told them that we were getting more for our money than those faster runners. Everyone seemed to get a kick out of that. They might not have really bought it, but they did get a kick out of it.

When we reached the end of the campus, we turned right to continue skirting the perimeter of ATU. After passing the football stadium, we turned right and headed right through the heart of the college grounds. Mile 10 we finished in 10:40 and we had a 5K left. Or, as a couple of our runners were pointing out, a little more than a 5K left. For quite some time, my watch was marking the miles about 50 yards short of the official mile markers on the course. This is the reason we had to go a little faster than our target pace. And here we were, still on track after 10 miles.

As we left the campus, we came to a big pasture on our left. One of the guys in the group said, "If we could just cut that barbed wire, we could but across that field." That reminded me of an old joke I told to lighten the late-in-a-half-marathon mood. We made the left turn leaving the campus and were finally meeting the walkers heading TO the ATU campus. Mile 11 we finished in 10:34. I stopped at the mile marker and waved my 2:20 sign to offer encouragement to those behind us. "2.1 miles from right here!" I yelled, then headed off to resume my duties. Only 2 miles to go, of the 13.1 we started with. At this point, most everyone is regaining confidence they can finish the race. From here on in, it's all about keeping them on pace.

Like clockwork at this point, my watch sounded about 50 yards before the official 12 Mile Marker. 10:31 is what it read, with only a little more than 1.1 miles to go. Everyone's starting to feel really good now. At this point, I was figuring the course would be 13.2 miles on my watch. We reached the the official marker and we had a little over 12 minutes to finish. Right on schedule.

Then, after 8 or so pretty flat miles...really flat miles in fact, the steepest ascent of the course, like nothing we'd hit so far, rose from the ground. We were a couple hundred yards away and could see runners ahead of us struggling up the steep railroad overpass. Struggling. You could see it from that far away. And it looked like a monster! As we approached, the complaints started coming, before we even started up. So I told them just stay with me. Not to look at the top of the hill. Look right in front of your feet and don't fall back!

We actually picked up speed going up the hill. My only goal here was to not let them slow down. Speeding up was better than slowing down, and pushing hard meant spending less time struggling up the hill. To walk up the hill would slow us down enough that we'd likely not make our time goal. Karen maintained a steady pace and stayed with those who didn't charge the hill with me. As we pushed up the hill, I told them over and over, it will get easy when we get to the top, look at your feet, don't look up! And we reached the top of the hill. Then it really did get easy going down!

Now we were less than a mile from the finish. At the bottom of the hill, I figured we had 8/10 of a mile to go, including the extra 1/10 according to my watch. We had just under 10 minutes to make it. I didn't slow down now. I had total faith in Karen to maintain the pace. Now I wanted to get as many in as we could under 2:20. I picked it up to about a 10:15 pace, passing several, letting them know as I passed how far they had to go and how long they had to get there and still beat the 2:20 time. My watch told me the 13th mile we ran in 10:21. Not too much faster than we'd planned. I told the men running with me, who had been with us all along, that I was going to stop at the 13 Mile Marker and rally others in. I wished them well, and told them to finish strong.

When I stopped at the 13 mile marker, I turned around and began yelling out how much time there was to finish under 2:20. Only 1/10 of a mile to go...for real...with a minute and 55 seconds to get there. Most of them within earshot picked up the pace as I called out times. When the last runner who had a shot at making the cutoff came by me, I turned and trotted toward the finish. As I made the left turn from Main St. toward the finish chute, I glanced back one last time to see if there was anyone else with a chance to make the time goal. None.

As I ran through the chute, another former student of mine, Taryn, shouted, "Mr. Allison!" I waved but she was on the other side of the barrier. I crossed the mat as the race clock read just a few seconds longer than 2:20. I stopped my watch after crossing the line and it read 2:19:44. Success! By the grace of God, we made our goal and helped several others reach theirs.

3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. ~ Philippians 2:3-4

This was only my second opportunity to be an official pacer. Last October at Soaring Wings was my first. I have to say, this is a far more rewarding than breaking two hours or even getting a PR. It's just a lot of fun running at a comfortable pace and helping others reach their goal. My co-pacer, Karen, was a fantastic partner and I'd be proud to pace any race with her in the future. Several of the runners who finished with us were extremely grateful, one even wanting a picture with us. :)

I want to thank God and Go! Running for the opportunity to do this, and to thank the folks who organized this race. It was a fabulous experience that I hope to repeat next year. (And next year, I'll know about that hill before I see it!)

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, April 20, 2014

Happy Easter Everyone!

Thank you Lord for this beautiful day and what it means! It's not a day about a magic rabbit, colored eggs, or even candy, but about a man who came to this Earth for one purpose -- to die so that we might all have a chance at eternal life.

So as you celebrate this day, remember why we celebrate -- because Jesus Christ conquered death, because He died and rose again on the third day, because HE LIVES! If you don't know Jesus as your Savior, click the Got Jesus page linked above and learn how to have the peace that only He provides today!

Happy Easter!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Race Recap: Chase Race 2014

After a long post-marathon week, that included three days out of school for snow and ice, we were blessed with absolutely perfect weather for the 2014 Chase Race in Conway, AR! This is a great little 2-mile race, part of the Arkansas RRCA Grand Prix Series, that benefits Arkansas Children's Hospital and the Friends of Conway Animal Shelter. The 2-mile race is followed by a 1-mile leashed pet race. We took two dogs from our pack, along with our granddaughter and ran both races.

After last weekend's weather for the Little Rock Marathon, almost anything would have been an improvement, but Saturday's conditions were close to Heavenly. After the cold wind and rain last Sunday, and weather that kept us out of school for three days this week, we were ready for some nice weather and we were blessed with it Saturday morning.

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. ~ James 1:12

Since I didn't run Monday after the marathon, I needed a few more miles than the three I'd get at Saturday's race, so I put in nine before we left. Starting a 4 AM, I did three miles by myself, then met a friend for six more at 4:30. I had nine in so far, and that's all I had time for. Then it was back to the house to clean up and change, pick up Janice and Zoey and the dogs, and head out for Conway.

When we arrived, the temperature was in the mid-30s, but the sun was shining and it promised to warm up. By the 8:00 AM start of the 2-mile race, it was 370. I really had no idea how I was going to do. The early miles and the fact that I haven't done any speed work to mention for at least a couple of months, left me unsure how fast I could run a short race. So I was a little surprised when I looked at my watch after the first quarter mile and saw I was holding barely slower than a 7-minute pace. At the first mile marker, I'd been running for 7:08, maybe the fastest mile I've run since I left the Marine Corps.

I knew I couldn't hold that pace for the next mile though, and backed down. I decided to stay with an 8 minute pace for a half mile, then try to pick it back up. But when I got there, I decided to hold the current pace for another quarter of a mile. At that point, I could see the finish and picked it back up. I crossed the finish line in 14:56.70, only 0.29 seconds of my 2-mile PR. It was only by the grace of God, because I certainly hadn't been training for a 2-mile race.

Now it was time for the next adventure...the dog race. We'd brought our pack of dogs to the Chase Race several times in the past, all five of them. But I'd never tried to race with any of them. Always before, we just took the whole pack and walked with them, usually coming in close to last because they stopped to sniff, scratch, and harass the other 4-legged creatures on the course.

But this time we decided to just take two of our herd, Sandy and Sissy. Sandy was Amanda's dog. She's about four years old, about 30 pounds, and built like she could run. I'd never run with her before, but decided to see what she could do in a mile race.

She was a little nervous at the start, not quite sure why we were lined up without Janice, Zoey, and Sissy. When the airhorn sounded to start the race, the excitement startled her or confused her or did something to keep her from understanding that we were here to run! We were up close to the front and I was literally dragging her for the first few yards.

Then things opened up a bit and she was still a little disoriented. She did start to run at this point, but more in a back and forth, sort of weaving pattern than racing for the front of the pack. Then a woman tripped over her dog right in front of us, crashing to the ground face-first, phone flying, and her little dachshund-looking dog under her shins. As we passed, I asked if she was okay. She replied she was, so we continued on.

That fall seemed to be what Sandy needed, because she suddenly started acting like we were there to race. Now I was holding her back! It was still a little crowded at this point, so I was having to pull back on the retractable leash to keep her from wrapping around people and their pets as we passed them. By the half-mile mark, we were making up for lost time, with three pairs of owner-pets in front of us that we could see. These would be our competition for the rest of the race. The others were either long gone out front, or somewhere behind us.

Sandy seemed to have figured out how this whole race thing worked and was working hard to get in front of those other three. She was taking the inside track on corners, jockeying for position like a pro. At one turn, as she came alongside one of the other dogs we were passing, she snapped and barked ferociously. I tugged a little on the leash and told her we couldn't cheat to win and she settled down. This pair was the last we had to pass. We were in front of the other two and a quarter mile from the finish.

We stayed neck and neck for a couple hundred yards, only a block to the finish line now. But I was gassed. Sandy probably could have finished strong, but I had to back down. The pair we'd battled pulled ahead, and just as we approached the finish, the other two pairs passed us and crossed the mats too. I wondered how it would have ended if we'd have started like we finished, but I was proud of Amanda's little yellow dog.

I was really surprised when they handed me a trophy just across the finish line. We'd managed just under an 8-minute mile, but I wasn't expecting a trophy. But there it was...10th place male with leashed pet. Sandy, in her first race, had run well enough to win a trophy! I know Amanda had to be smiling down at us from Heaven.

If you've never run this race, you're missing out. It's a great race, put on by a great bunch of folks, for a great cause. There's plenty of fun and food for everyone! We didn't participate in it, but there's even a pet costume contest. There are door prizes and all sorts of stuff to enjoy. It's one that you really should put on your calendar for 2015.

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, March 3, 2014

Race Recap: Little Rock Marathon 2014

The 2014 Little Rock Marathon was an adventure to say the least. "Epic" turned out to be the most appropriate theme they could have chosen for this year's race. Two years ago, when I first ran this race, I was sapped in the last 5 miles from the heat. This year, the cold, wet rain had my teeth chattering and my fingers numb. But like we always say about Arkansas weather, "If you don't like it, stick around. It WILL change."

So where do I start with this race report? For me, the race was challenging, great, and complete. The threat of severe weather created mass confusion and many runners didn't finish the race. Volunteers and police officers warned runners of incoming weather, strongly suggesting (and some even ordering) us off the course. Many of us ignored the warnings and pressed on. Others acquiesced, obeying the orders and headed for a rendezvous point to be picked up by bus. Many are complaining about the way the race was handled, but I'm convinced the race directors made the best decision they could with the information available at the time.

Before I get into my recap, I'd like to shout out a big thank you to the race directors and staff, volunteers, and the police officers who braved the elements to make this race possible for all us runners. I can't imagine standing in one place in the cold, wind, and rain for that long. But they did! Even after we were told to quit, after we were told there would be no more support, after we were told to run at our own risk, there were many volunteers, policemen, and Tom & Hobbit out on the course to support us. I hope and pray that God blesses each and every one of you. You certainly blessed us out there yesterday!

Now to the recap!


2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. ~ James 1:2-3

We were warned about the incoming bad weather, well in advance. All week I'd been watching forecasts. Though many disagreed, taken together they all pointed toward a pretty high risk of unpleasant running conditions on race day. As each day passed, the forecasts came closer and closer together, zeroing in on rain and cold. A big Arctic cold front was pushing down on us, threatening storms and cold on race day. Though we all hoped it would hold off until after the race, it would turn out just about exactly like they predicted before the race was over.

I had friends coming in to stay with us from out of state for the race. So on Saturday morning, we headed to the airport to pick them up. All made their flights, and all their flights were on time, so the weekend was starting off on the right foot. We left the airport for home so they could get settled in before heading out again for our pre-race dinner. After a good meal, we returned to the house to make final preparations for the race.

My friends, Ashley and Roger, were taking advantage of the early start, so we headed to Little Rock to get them off at 6 AM. The weather was great for the early start, mid 50s temperatures and no rain yet. My other friend, Rrrick Karampatsos, who stayed with us this weekend, and I wandered around a little to kill the next couple of hours before it was our turn to start.

Rrrick is the author of Heading Toward the Final Finish Line, a book filled with stories of his journey as a runner and Christian, especially how those two roles have worked together in his life. Many of his adventures during his pursuit to run a marathon in all 50 states are documented, revealing how Christ turned him from a cripple to a marathoner, and then used his running to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Rrrick and I had corresponded for quite some time, but we never met until this weekend. His book was a gift from my friend, Jesse, after Amanda died. Reading of his running ministry helped me with ideas to start Running with Amanda. We'd talked of running a marathon together for quite some time, and now we finally had the opportunity.

The Race

Around 7:30, we made our way to the start corrals and found several other friends I'd planned to run with. Rick (not Rrrick), Debbie, and Isabel were there, all of whom I regularly run with during training. I don't know how often I've said this before, but it's always nice to run with folks you know in a race. The weather was still pretty nice when we joined up, but soon a little drizzle began. Finally, the clock ticked until my watch read 8:00. It was time to start. (Or so we thought.)

All three times I've run at Little Rock before, it didn't take long to reach the start line and be underway. But this year, they were doing things differently. We started in corral H, a pretty good way from the front. Instead of moving forward after the 8 AM start, like we'd always done in the past, we continued to stand where we were. Several minutes passed, and we heard the announcer give the 10 second countdown to start a couple more times. It became clear they were only releasing one corral at a time.

That seemed okay at first, but it took us 35 minutes before we were underway. It was 8:35 when we crossed the start line. If there's anything about this race that I'd like to see changed next year, it's this one. I understand why they want to do the wave start, but it seems like they were letting more time lapse between starts than was necessary. Those runners in the corrals near the back probably didn't get to start until close to 9:00. For a race this size, I just don't see the need for that long of a delay.

But that's my only criticism, and we were finally off and racing! By the time we started though, the rain had begun to fall. The temperature had fallen to 46 from the mid 50s earlier that morning. I wasn't worried though. I'd resolved myself that we'd be running in bad weather before the race ever started. Though we were getting wet, the temps were pretty mild and, even wet, I was pretty comfortable.

The wave start did relieve some of the usual congestion in the first mile and a half. It didn't seem like I had to do as much bobbing and weaving among slower runners to maintain a decent pace. Our little group latched onto the 4:40 pace group and hung with them through this part of the race. We finished the first mile and made the turn heading across the river. As we stepped off the bridge on the North Little Rock side, just a little before mile 2, we went by the pace group, but were still holding on to a pace between 10:00 and 10:30. I felt great with that.

The good thing was that the rain had stopped at this point. Between miles 3 and 4, we ran past a bank sign that claimed the temperature was 380 and I remember thinking it had to be wrong. There was no way that could be accurate because it wasn't that cold outside. We were rocking through here and everything was great. Just before mile 4, I had the pleasure of catching up with a pair of my favorite people on the course -- one of my favorite former students and one of my colleagues running together. I just love seeing people I know out there, so this boosted my already mile high spirits!

We reached the 5 mile marker crossing the Broadway Bridge and it dawned on me this will probably be the last time I run across this bridge. If things go as planned, they'll tear it down later this year to replace it. If that turns out to be true, next year's marathon course will have to be adjusted to accommodate it. Not sure how they'll change it, but I bet they have a plan. Still, a little sentimental crossing that old bridge for what may be the last time.

The weather was still great as we came back into Little Rock. We made the left turn headed for the 10K timing mat. We covered the first 6.2 miles in 1:05:41. (The clock read 1:40:29, but remember we crossed the starting line 35 minutes after the timer started.) On track for a decent time, still feeling great. As we wove our way through Little Rock, crossing I-630 once, twice, and for the third time, the biggest challenge was the wind, funneled down the streets by the buildings on each side.

Then we headed up the hill toward the Governor's Mansion, made the right turn and passed mile 10. The temperature was dropping by now, but we were still rain-free. It wasn't too cold yet, and it actually felt good as we split off from the Half Marathoners for the first time and headed toward Central High School. (Forgive the blurry pics please. I had my phone in a plastic bag while taking them.) Then it was a nice downhill stretch, with the half marathoners rejoining us for a short stretch before we separated again.

We crossed I-630 again, for the last time in the race. It was along here we felt the first raindrops since early in the race. Nothing major, but the beginning of a storm that would later cause us a lot of discomfort and others their entire race. We marched on, headed for the State Capitol and the halfway point in the race. At 2:17:43, we crossed the mat in front of the Capitol. I was trying to post a picture to Facebook and heard my name called. It was my friend Nathan, spending his day out in the rain trying to catch pictures of Cabot Country Cruisers (our local running club) passing by the Capitol.

The first half was done, but we began to slow down here. The worst of the hills were just ahead, miles 14 through 16. We walked some and ran some as we made both climbs. The first hill in front of the School for the Deaf punishes you with the climb, but rewards you immediately with a nice downhill. Then it's two miles up on Kavanaugh, the longest climb of the course. It's tough because it's long, but not too steep. About halfway up it levels off for just a bit and makes you think it's over. One guy asked us at this point, "Was that the hill?" We just smiled and said, "Oh no." There was still a mile long climb just ahead.

We reached the top and started to make the turn onto Lookout. Here's where things started to turn for the worse. As we made the turn, a police officer at the intersection warned us of approaching storms and told us we'd be diverted at the bottom of the hill. Our spirits sank a little, but we kept going. Halfway down the hill, Rick asked another policeman if they were going to take us off the course. "Yes," was the reply.

It was raining pretty good by now, but we still hadn't seen lightening or heard thunder. We reached the bottom of the hill and were still being directed along the course. Nobody asked anything now and none of the police suggested anything was wrong. We kept going. Over the overpass and approaching Riverfront Drive. A left turn would take us out on the always dreaded out-and-back portion of the course, a right toward the finish line. We passed an intersection before Riverfront where a policeman told us to turn right, go to Walmart, and buses would come and pick us up. But this time, he added something we hadn't heard before.

"The course is closed. If you choose to go on, use the sidewalks and proceed at your own risk," were the words I heard. I told my friends, "I'm going on." We'd already come 18 miles, with only 8 more to finish. We hadn't yet heard the first clap of thunder. We were wet, but we expected that from the start. We came here to run 26.2 miles and, if they weren't going to arrest me for going on, I decided I was going on. They all agreed and we turned left, headed for that mentally draining, always the most challenging part of this course.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. ~ Jeremiah 29:11

We were running and walking now, pretty convinced of what we'd heard, that the race was cancelled. We were going on to do what we'd set out to do, not for a medal, not for a time, but just to get in the mileage and run what we came to run. I told myself and my friends, "If God doesn't want us to finish this race, we won't be able to." I knew there were pavilions and shelter if it got too bad on the out-and-back where we could take cover if it got bad.

So off we went. We couldn't see many ahead of us, but a few behind us turned our way. It looked like most followed the suggestions of police and turned back. There were many, many runners on the way back in. At that time, I assumed they'd all made it to the turnaround and would finish their race. Some I knew, and would later learn they'd been turned around before reaching the end of the out-and-back. A lot of them wouldn't complete a full 26.2 miles this day.

We trudged on, intent on finishing what we started.

As we passed aid stations, we were told over and over again the race was canceled. A police car passed by, telling us over his PA system to cross the road and head back. We passed one aid station and the volunteers told us again, "The race is canceled. Turn back. It's not safe." I replied, "I know, but I'm crazy." She just shook her head as we passed her heading west.

We passed the 19 mile marker and a little while later could make out the gate that marked 20 miles on the course. We'd been told so many times now the event was canceled, I didn't expect to see it still set up, but there it was. When we reached it, I was even more surprised. The timing mats were still in place and the clock was still running! At 3:37:40, we'd run 20 miles and were still going. It wasn't far now to the official turnaround point. Then we'd have a little more than 5 miles to the finish!

At the turnaround, we were again told the race was canceled. They were closing down the aid station, but still encouraged us to take anything we wanted. Water, Gatorade, bananas, anything they had. The volunteers knew, maybe by the looks on our faces, or maybe just because we'd kept going this long, that we were going to keep running. And we did.

Now we were on the trail, but there was still a staggered stream of folks behind us making there way to where we just were. We weren't the last ones on the course, and we had a little over 5 miles to go. As we pushed on, the police cars rolled back and forth broadcasting the closure of the race, telling us to seek shelter. When we reached the aid station closest to the 22 mile marker, a volunteer held up a black sign proclaiming "event canceled." She barked out, "The finish line is closed!"

We shuffled past her, intent on reaching our goal. Now a police car was patrolling the road telling us, "If you want a ride to the buses, get in and I'll take you there." I guess they'd figured out that telling us the event was canceled wasn't going to get us to quit. Or maybe they thought the offer of a ride would entice us to quit. Up to now, we were basically told to run or walk to the buses, which were two or three miles down the same course were told was now closed. So even if we'd have quit, we'd have still been proceeding along the course at this point. But the offer of a ride, maybe they thought that would get us to quit.

It didn't. Along this part of the course, we came alongside another Marathon Maniac. She'd come to Little Rock from Las Vegas and didn't want to leave without this marathon counting toward her 50 States status. She was of the same mindset as us -- finish if at all possible. She refused the ride, and kept going too.

We finally reached the end of the River Trail and back onto the street. From everything we'd been told the past several miles, I fully expected to find the traffic control cones taken up, the cops and spectators and volunteers gone, and that we'd be utilizing the bike lanes to proceed. But no! All these were still in place. The cones were there. The police were still controlling traffic. There were still volunteers and even a few spectators along the course. And we were still running on the road.

We passed mile 23! Only a little over a 5K to go!

It was here I looked at my watch. We had 3.2 miles to go after 4 hours and 20 minutes. If we could cover that ground in 40 minutes, we could still finish under 5 hours. I couldn't believe that was still possible, but I told my friends. We kept going.

We reached the turnoff at the 24 mile marker. The policemen there did there obligatory duty telling us we could turn right and ride the bus in, but you could tell they knew that wasn't going to happen. They also offered us Mylar blankets, resigned to help us keep warm in the steadily deteriorating conditions. The wind was picking up. The rain was falling harder. And the temperature was dropping like a rock.

We turned onto the little trail, fully expecting the roads -- starting with the railroad overpass -- to have been opened to traffic. We were convinced that we'd leave the trail and be faced with the hazard of crossing that overpass trying to hug the rail on the few inches of shoulder available. We were convinced cars would be passing us by within inches. But no. The cones were still up. Traffic was still shut down. We were still using the travel lanes and safe from oncoming traffic.

We pressed on.

We walked up the overpass and ran down the other side. At the top, we decided to run to the bottom, then walk up Dillard's Hill. That's the 25 mile mark. When we hit the bottom and started to walk, we were only 1.2 miles from finishing! We'd been told for the past 9 miles that we'd be unable to finish. We kept going, convinced there would be no support, no medals, and no official time. We kept going, not for trinkets or cheers, but to simply accomplish what we'd set out that morning to accomplish. And now we were 1.2 miles from doing just that.

I started singing, "There ain't no stopping us now." One.Point.Two.Miles. That's how far we had left to go. We reached the top of the hill and began to run again, this time with a renewed strength at a faster pace. There were still policemen controlling traffic. There was still an aid station set up. The lipstick station near the 26 mile marker was still operating. As we approached the chute to the finish, we even saw Tom and Hobbitt on the course to cheer us in.

We turned into the chute, with a sub-5 finish still very possible. The clock was still running. We could hear the announcer still calling out names of finishers as they crossed. We stepped it up. At 4:59:28, I crossed the mat just behind my friends. It was finished.

Against all odds, we'd made it. We'd proceeded on faith and a feeling, a feeling that we were supposed to finish a marathon that day and the faith that God would get us through to the end. Right up to the end, we were convinced the accomplishment would be not for official stats, not for recognition, not for a medal, but simply to accomplish what we'd started that morning to accomplish, to run 26.2 miles.

In the end, we got the medal. We got the time. We got to count the marathon. But only because we proceeded on faith. Even when we thought there would be no reward, we kept going because we believed that's what we were supposed to do.

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

I kept going because I believed God sent me out there to run a marathon. I kept going because I knew if He wanted me to stop, He would stop me. I kept going because I believed that even when something appears impossible, that it's still possible with God, if it's according to His will.

I know the Little Rock Marathon folks made the best decision they could with the information they had at the time. I respect them and I appreciate them, for looking out for runners' safety, and for putting on such a great race. They couldn't control the weather, and they made the best of a tough situation. I am grateful for all the police and volunteers who stuck it out in some of the toughest conditions ever for a race. I was blessed to be a part of the 2014 Little Rock Marathon and look forward to 2015!

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.

Friday, February 28, 2014

It's Here! It's Here! Little Rock Marathon Weekend is Here!

Finally! It seems like forever since my last marathon -- Mississippi River Marathon three weeks ago. But it's Friday afternoon, I'm off work, and the weekend has begun! Little Rock Marathon weekend that is. But crazy as it seems, there's a lot of tension and fear and trepidation and nerves and sadness and worry because it might just rain on us Sunday. Last week I tried to convince everyone not to worry, but that post didn't seem to stop folks. So I'm trying again.

The other day I read what might have been the best advice ever for running in the rain. It was on the Conway Running Club's Facebook page when a runner asked for tips on surviving a rainy race day. The best I saw was from a long time runner who said, "Remember when you were a little kid who loved running in the rain, whose parents had to tell to get in out of the rain? Be that little kid!" Best advice ever. Heed it if we're wet on Sunday!

But just in case you don't find that as easy to do as I find it to tell you, here's another tip that came to mind. After checking the weather forecast when I got home and finding it unimproved from when I last checked it an hour ago, an old song came to mind, a song I remembered singing from my childhood. It seems to me this will be the perfect song to sing for 26.2 wet miles on Sunday if the forecasters actually do have it right. Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head, by BJ Thomas, with lyrics.

Listen to the words of the song..."There's one thing I know. The blues they send to greet me won't defeat me," and take them to heart! Keep them in your heart and pass them through your lips on Sunday if it rains on us. Regardless of the weather, this is going to be a great race. We're going to have a great time.

If you're going to run marathons, you're going to face all sorts of challenges. The weather is one of those, and it's one we can't control. But we don't have to let it control us either. We sign up for these races many months in advance, sometimes plan them for even longer than that. We train forever just to be ready on race day. There's no way we can predict the weather that far out.

So we choose the race. We pay our money. And we train. Always hoping for the best weather, the perfect conditions to run in. But there's just no way to guarantee we'll have even decent weather to run in. No guarantee at all. But we don't have to be miserable about it. Embrace it. Become that little kid again, if only for the few hours it takes to finish.

And remember the source of true happiness, the source of the strength it takes to get through tough situations...
12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength. ~ Philippians 4:12-13

We'll get through Sunday's Little Rock Marathon, rain or shine. We'll get through it because Jesus brought us to it, and He will bring us through it. It might not be your best finish time, but if you choose to make it so, it can be a fun time, regardless of the weather.

See you Sunday, with a smile on my face. And I just might be singing, "Raindrops are falling on my head..."

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, February 23, 2014

Don't worry. Be HAPPY! One week 'til Little Rock Marathon

One week from today we'll toe the line at the Little Rock Marathon, the starting line that is. Really we'll be loaded into corrals and shuffling toward the starting line, but you get the idea. It's only a week away. Today I've noticed numerous posts on Facebook talking about how nervous people are. I don't know if it will do any good, but I decided to take the opportunity to offer a little unsolicited advice to all the folks getting the jitters with seven days to go.


If you've come this far and are still planning to join us at the starting line, you've done the hardest part. You've spent months putting in 100's of miles. You've done the long runs, in my opinion the most important part of the marathon training regimen. You are physically ready! That's the hardest part. Now, all you have left are whatever miles you plan to run this week and then a 26.2 mile long run on Sunday.

Now that you're physically prepared, there are two classes of things that can go wrong enough to keep you from crossing the finish line -- those you can control and those you can't. Because the things you can control are 100% up to you, I can't see any reason to worry about them. Because you can't control the others, worrying over them does you absolutely no good. So I can't see why you'd waste time and energy worrying about them.

Let's talk about those things you can control first. This week's training. This week's eating. Logistics. Race day -- pace and nutrition.

First, how you train this week can impact your race day performance. My advice here is to just follow your training plan! You've spent months using this plan, but this last week can sometimes seem so light that it makes you feel like you're not doing enough. But more than likely, whoever developed your plan knows more about this than you do. If they didn't, you wouldn't have trusted them to start with. If it's worked for you this far, trust it to get you to the end.

The next thing you can control is how you eat this week. Just like the training plan, if you've been following a marathon nutrition plan, stick with it. If you haven't been following a strict plan, you have been experimenting throughout your training. You've likely had good long runs and bad long runs and part of what made them good or bad could have been your eating habits during the week before. Think back to what you did before those good long runs and have faith that if it worked then, it will work now. It's common to get nervous this week and start searching the internet for magic tips and pointers. They all sound good if they promise good results, especially for the first time marathoner. The last thing you need to do at this point is to make major changes to your diet, especially untested and untried changes. Just do what worked for you during training!

Logistics covers quite a lot, but nothing you can't handle. The key here is to get everything ready in advance. You know what gear you need, so don't leave it scattered around the house until marathon morning. Make a checklist and get it together now, in one bag, contained so you don't have to hunt for it last minute. Include clothes for any kind of weather so you'll be ready for whatever mother nature throws at you. Watch, water bottles, nutrition belts, sunscreen, chapstick, gels, or anything else that's worked for you during training should be in this bag, long before race day. If you do this, even if your schedule is disrupted the day before the race, you'll be ready with time to spare. Get ready now, and you'll be ready on race day!

The last thing you can control is your race, specifically your pace and nutrition. I'm nowhere near as experienced as a lot of marathon runners, but Little Rock this year will be my 12th marathon since I started in 2011, and I've made costly mistakes in more of them than I've run well. The easiest mistake to make, in my opinion, is to start too fast or to get overconfident early in the race and push the pace. Unless you're an elite runner, or good enough to win an award, (neither of which am I) your primary goal should be to finish. I'm not going to get too cliche and say you shouldn't even set a time goal. I've always had a finish time in mind at the start of every race, even though I've missed it more than I've met it. But your primary goal should be to finish! Unless you're one of those elites or award-winners mentioned above, your medal is going to look exactly like those who finish before you and those who finish after you. So wrap your mind around the fact that finishing is the primary goal, and do it now!

With that said, you're more than likely going to feel good at the start of the race. You WILL be tempted to pick up the pace, to get ahead of your target pace, and you might even reach a point where you're convinced you can finish significantly faster than your goal. Even though I know better, I still fall prey to these same temptations often. But I can promise you, more often than not, veering from your goal pace and pushing to finish faster will come back to haunt you late in the race. Discipline is the key to finishing well, and maybe to finishing at all. No matter how great you feel in the first few miles, stick with your target pace. If you do that, you're less likely to crash and burn and a lot more likely to finish and finish well.

Nutrition during the race. This is another thing you should have experimented with during your training. Think back to those good long runs and how you managed your nutrition before and during those runs. Stick with what worked during training! A lot of people may be offering you advice, usually what works best for them, that sounds really tempting to try. But this is not the time to try something new! Just because it worked well for a friend, doesn't mean it will work the same for you. I don't know anyone who manages nutrition intake like I do, but it works for me. Use what works for you and don't listen to all the news about great stuff that works for everyone else. If you want to experiment with something you here this week, wait until after the marathon.

That's it for my advice on the things you can control. Now let's move to the things you can't. And I'll go ahead and say it now, why are you worried about things you can't do anything about? Is your worrying now going to change anything? Is it going to change anything on race day? There is absolutely no good for your race that can come from worrying about things beyond your control. So just stop!

The weather is something I've seen several people worrying over. Why? I'm not sure. This has been the hardest winter training I've experienced since I started running, and especially since I started running marathons. I've run cold ones and hot ones and in between ones, but I've never been able to bend the weather to my will. Not one time. Especially not by worrying about it. Whatever weather God throws at us next Sunday, we'll deal with it and run. If it's cold or hot, raining or sunshine, snow or sleet or even hail, as long as they don't cancel the race, we're going to run. So stop worrying about it.

There are other things you might not be able to control that could arise as well. Illness is the main one that comes to mind. But again, if you can't control it, why worry over it. In fact, I'd hypothesize that you could actually INCREASE the chances of making yourself sick by worrying. If something happens and you do take ill on race day, this race isn't worth killing yourself over. If you get sick and can't run the race, or can't finish the race, they will hold it again in a year, and there will be lots of other marathons between now and then if you don't want to wait that long.

Anything else that could happen that's beyond your control isn't worth worrying over either, because worrying isn't going to stop it or help it or make it better. And even if something did happen, just getting to this point is an amazing accomplishment! You've already done more than most people ever will. You've run more miles, endured more pain and discomfort, pushed yourself harder and farther than maybe even you believed was possible. You are an athlete, and an amazing one at that.

Now, you didn't think you were going to get through one of my posts without a little preaching did you? Well, here it comes. Instead of worrying, pray. Pray for strength. Pray for peace. Pray for comfort. But most of all, pray that God will be glorified by all of our efforts next Sunday!

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. ~ Philippians 4:6

That's what the Bible tells us and I have to tell you it works for me. While every race hasn't been what I'd consider a good one, and I even DNF'd one, I honestly believe that God has been glorified in each and every one. And that's really what we should be pursuing in every aspect of our lives, even our running.

So this week, stop worrying and pray. You've done the hardest part. Keep your head, focus on remaining disciplined, and do what's worked through your training. And most importantly, do it for the glory of God. If you do that, whatever happens, however you run, however you finish, you're already amazing!

So good luck and God bless all running the Little Rock Marathon next week!

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.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Sweaty shoes and frozen hands

Our weather this week has ranged from warm and humid to freezing temps, but God has blessed me and kept me out on the roads. Yesterday it was 640 and humid at 5 AM when we ran. It was the first run of 2014 that made me sweat so much my shoes were soaked when I finished. This morning, same time and town, it was 320. For the first mile and change, my hands were freezing. With only 8 days left before the Little Rock Marathon, it really doesn't matter what the weather does, because who knows what it will be like on race day.

I just checked the extended weather forecast on Weatherbug,, and all three local TV stations. It seems like every one of them have a different forecast for the latter part of next week. So my conclusion is that nobody really knows what weather we'll face for this year's race. That's why, regardless whether it's hot or cold, raining for clear, windy or still, I'm going to hit the road for every planned training run.

It's often tempting to skip a run when the weather promises to make it uncomfortable. Some say it's too cold to run, or too hot, or too windy, or too humid, or too [fill in the blank here]. But if you're going to run road races, you've got to be willing to run in pretty much any conditions, because any of those could show up on race day. And if you run marathons, it's never good to have to deal with something you never faced before.

2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. ~ James 1:2-4

The same way that harsh (or sometimes just uncomfortable) conditions affect runners, tough times and bad things tend to discourage many in other aspects of life. So many people just fold when faced with bad situations. It's like they just quit trying in life.

But the same way running through those tough times makes us stronger and better prepared for race day, the trials of life strengthen us and prepare us to face uncertainties and unknown conditions ahead. So for much the same reasons we keep running when most others don't, keep going through the tough times.

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.