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, February 21, 2016

Run the Line Half -- What an Adventure!

Well...a PR in the half marathon will have to wait for another day. This weekend turned into quite the adventure, but God allowed me a decent finish with a time of 1:58:51.

Last night a prior commitment meant leaving for Texarkana around 9 PM. That should have put me there about 11:30. My plan was to sleep in the back of the Blazer close to the start, so I wouldn't need to wake up until 6 or so. That would have made for a good night's sleep before the race this morning.

But, about 80 miles before I got there, I had the cruise control set on 70, humming down the freeway, with everything seeming fine. Suddenly, the vehicle jerked, started, jerked, then quit. I popped it into neutral and watched the tachometer drop to zero. I turned the key to try to restart it, but no go.

Thank God the next exit was right there. I mean RIGHT THERE. I steered down the ramp. The light was red, but nothing was coming. So I rolled through in a right turn. Another blessing was the Pilot Truck Stop right there beside the exit. I had enough speed to coast right into a parking spot.

I tried several more times to start the vehicle, to no avail. I popped the hood, but couldn't immediately identify the problem. I was a little over halfway to Texarkana at 10 PM on Saturday night, and I was stuck.

I called Janice and she asked if I wanted her to come get me. But I had a different idea, not such a bright idea in her mind. I told her I was going to try to hitch a ride with a trucker on to Texarkana so I could run this morning. She wasn't too keen on the idea, but didn't threaten to divorce me. So, I went to the fuel island and began hitting up drivers for a ride.

Several turned me down. One driver of a pickup with a horse trailer told me they would take me but they weren't leaving until the morning. Then, finally, an older fellow pulled up in a pickup pulling a camper trailer. I repeated my story, even offering to ride in the back of his truck if he gave me a ride. He looked at me with a measuring eye and said, "Sure, I'll take you." So, I ran back to the Blazer and gathered my gear.

He didn't make me ride in the back, and we ended up having some interesting conversation during the 80 mile drive to Texarkana. I even got to witness to him when religion came up. He told me about his kids, and heard about mine, including Amanda's story. All in all it was a pretty good trip.

He dropped me off at the exit ramp for State Line Ave right around 12:30 AM, about three miles from the race start. And I started walking, carrying my bag of clothes and my sleeping bag.

At first, the walk wasn't too worrisome, but three miles into the heart of Texarkana carried me through a variety of areas. The first half mile from the freeway was well-lit, with lots of hotels and restaurants. After that it turned a little more seedy, with car lots and pawn shops and other businesses that are closed that time of night. Then I passed by a smattering of bars and night clubs with plenty of patrons milling about. The last half mile or so was downtown, mostly deserted, but more populated with government buildings and law offices.

A couple of times I encountered other pedestrians, who fired my precautionary instincts. Once, a car load of late night adventures turned down a street behind me yelling something I couldn't quite make out. But again, my instincts were kindled and I was spying escape routes and looking for suitable battlefields to make a stand if the need arose.

But the need didn't arise. Upon reflection, I think carrying a sleeping bag that time of night probably made me look like a not-so-great target for robbery.

About a half mile from the race start was a small, ancient motel. I stopped and rang the bell beneath the neon "Open" sign. But nobody answered and no lights came on inside. So I decided to go the last little bit to the start area. I finally reached the start line of the race, where I took advantage of the port-a-potties to change clothes, then went about spying a place to sleep.

It just so happened the start line was right in front of the Bi-State Justice Building. I walked around behind the building and found a loading dock area with a corner protected by an overhang and out of sight from the road. It looked like as good a place as any to spend the night. It was after 2 AM at this point.

I woke about 5:40 and packed up. I couldn't carry everything when I left my Blazer behind, so I'd left my ice chest with my breakfast. There was a McDonald's about a half mile away, so I trekked there, stashing my gear in some bushes not far from the starting area.

When I got back, packet pickup was underway. A friend had already offered to give me a ride back after the race. So I stashed my gear in his car and mingled with the ever-growing crowd of friends who were there.

When the race started, I was actually feeling pretty good, in spite of the 62 degree temperature and 85% humidity. My goal was a 1:50 finish. I started the race running between 8:00 and 8:10, holding that for the first five miles. But, by the end of that five miles, it became obvious holding it was going to be tough.

The adventure and the weather were taking their toll. So I slowed down and began walking the hills. I was still hoping to get a PR at this point, but it by mile nine, it became clear that wasn't going to happen either. It then became a struggle to just finish under two hours.

I was able to pick up the pace after mile 11, and a two hour finish seemed more and more doable with each step. I was glad to cross that finish line, and even more glad we weren't running a full marathon today.

I want to say a special thank you to my friend, David Edwards, for driving me back, going well out of his way to do so. And, of course, thank you Jesus for keeping me going through a race after so many challenges.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Valentine's Day 5K 2016

Today was my first 5K since last March, and the Good Lord blessed me.

It was a clear morning, cold with a stiff wind. The course was two loops around the campus of Arkansas Tech University in Russellville, AR. My previous PR for a 5K was 24:24, set two or three years ago. My goal today was a PR, but I was also hoping to break 23 minutes, believing it was possible because I've been running pretty strong lately.

Several friends had asked what I was shooting for. Mostly I just said, "Close to 23." But my friend Greg lined up with me at the start and asked what I had planned. I told him I wanted to start out at a 7:30 pace and see how it felt.

The race started and we were off. Before we'd gone a half mile, my watch was telling me we were going at a 7:00 pace. I knew I had to back down. But, as usually happens, I couldn't seem to quite slow down to my target pace. When I reached the first mile marker, my watch showed 7:10 had passed since the start.

Surprisingly, the pace wasn't killing me, so I decided to press on and try to hold it. We completed the first lap, passing the start and finish lines, and pressed on to make the final loop around the campus. The second mile passed in 2:11, according to my watch, but I was feeling it now. There were still 1.1 miles to go.

I decided to try and hold the pace, but it was starting to get difficult now. I made it down the long backstretch and started up the little uphill with about a half mile to go. Another left turn with a short stretch to the only right turn on the course. By the time I made that right turn, I was struggling. That's when I did back down a little. I realized I had a PR unless things went totally bad in the last quarter, so I felt okay to back out a little.

I crossed the finish line mats with a time of 22:46, a minute and 38 seconds faster than my previous 5K PR.

I am truly blessed with great running friends who push me beyond my comfort zone. And I am definitely blessed by Jesus Christ, who died so that we might live, and who permits me to run and improve as a runner.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Trust Jesus, and LIVE!

But if a wicked person turns away from all the sins they have committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, that person will surely live; they will not die. ~ Ezekiel 18:21

Regardless how far you've fallen, how terrible you've been, what awful things you've done, repent and trust Christ and you become righteous in God's eyes. He promises to forget ALL the evil you did, and welcome you into His kingdom!

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Let us not become weary of doing good..

It's a crazy world we live in, with Satan working hard to rob us of the saving grace that God made ours for the taking through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ.

for, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." ~ Romans 10:13

Salvation, eternal life, eternity in Heaven with Jesus Christ is available to every single one of us, if we just reach out and ask him to save us. It has been said there's a God-shaped hole in each of us, that can only be filled with him. But we, in our human rebellion against the Almighty, seek all sorts of other things to fill that hole.

Two of those things are alcohol and other mind altering drugs. A young person I've talked to a long time, trying to convince her to stop using drugs and alcohol, recently told me she did it because it is fun. What it is though, is actually an escape, an escape from the Hellish reality that resulted from her bad choices.

Since Amanda was killed, I've tried hard to reach as many kids as I can, to get them to recognize and avoid the dangers of substance abuse. Recently, I was really struggling because it seemed I just wasn't getting through to the kids I was talking to. I began to doubt if I'm in the right place, doing what I'm supposed to be doing. I wondered if I'd lost the ability to connect with kids, to reach them, to convince them.

Satan works that way though, working to convince you that the task God assigned you is impossible, or that you're not up to the task. And I'm convinced it's been the devil in recent months that caused me to wonder if there is even any point in trying to convince kids these days.

But God promises to be beside us, whenever we struggle.

"No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it." ~ 1 Corinthians 10:13

And...just like He promised...God showed up for me when I was ready to throw in the towel.

On Friday, one of my students told me that he has never drank or taken drugs, but that he did go to parties...until he heard the story of Amanda's death. I tell that story to all my classes, at the beginning of every semester, hoping they'll hear it and understand just how dangerous this way too typical teen behavior is. He told me that he went to the parties...until he heard that story.

So, on Friday, when I had nearly reached the point of believing that  nobody was listening, nobody was learning from Amanda's death anymore, God sent this kid to let me know that's not the case. Though many may not have ears to hear, at least one did.

And I've often said, that if even one hears and changes to avoid those dangers, that something good has come from the horrible tragedy of Amanda's death.

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

That's another of God's promises, that He can make something good come from anything, even the most evil of things we see on this earth.

So, thank you, God, for always fulfilling your promises! And thank you to those who hear Amanda's story, recognize the dangers, and turn from abusing alcohol and drugs, and especially to those who hear the warning and avoid putting themselves in dangerous situations where others are impaired by mind-altering substances.

If not for God's promises and those kids who do hear and learn, it would be nearly impossible to keep going.

"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

Saturday, February 6, 2016

River Trail 15K 2016

This the day that the Lord hath made; We will rejoice and be glad in it. ~ Psalm 118:24

Today certainly was!

This year my goal is to run fewer marathons, run more Arkansas RRCA Grand Prix races, and PR every distance. A couple of weeks ago, I ran the first Grand Prix race of the year, the One Hour Track Run, finishing 29 laps and an additional 600 ft on the track in exactly 60 minutes. That was a PR, because it was the first time I've raced a one hour track run.

But today was my first REAL PR, on where I beat my best time at a distance I'd raced before. The Good Lord gave us perfect weather for the River Trail 15K, and it certainly had the look of a great day to PR. But, if you're a runner, you never really know what's going to happen in a race until sometime between the starting gun firing and crossing the finish line.

But I lined up with a plan, a plan to start out running an 8:10 minute per mile pace. My previous PR at this distance (and at this race) was a 1:21:55 when I ran it two years ago. So today, I had in mind that beating 1:20 would make me happy.

I ran the first mile in 8 flat, and felt pretty good and at ease. The second mile went by in 7:59 and I still felt great. I was good and warmed up by now and there were a few overambitious folks falling off a bit. My pace picked up slightly on mile 3, covering that ground in 7:54.

I knew I was in better shape this year than I was when I ran this race two years ago, but I was still surprised at how comfortable the pace was feeling at this point in the race. When I looked at my watch and saw the time, I realized I was really close to a 5K PR too. But this was no 5K and there were still more than 6 miles to go.

What few inclines that count for hills on this course came in miles four and five.  I made it through those in 8:01 and 8:05, respectively. Now, I realized I was past the halfway point. I'd down salt, magnesium, and potassium, along with a Gu packet around the four and a half mile mark, and chased that with a swallow of water on the run.

It was decision time. My heart rate felt great, my breathing wasn't labored, and I still felt really good. There was a pack of men a short distance ahead of me. I didn't know them, and I couldn't tell if they were in my age group or not. So the question was, "Do I want to expend the energy to catch them and risk crashing and ruining a great race?" I decided to stick with the 8 minute pace that had carried me to this point and see how they held up over the next couple of miles.

For mile six I was back down to a 7:58 pace, and the pack ahead of me had started to stretch out. Only one was falling back though, while a few were starting to pick up the pace. I ended up catching the one just before the seventh mile marker, and set my sights on the next one. I finished that seventh mile in 8 minutes even.

The eighth mile of the mostly out-and-back course included those few hills again. But this time they slowed me down a little. I guess it slowed the guys in front of and behind me too though, because we didn't change positions. Mile eight went down in 8:10, which would be my slowest mile of the race. But after we passed that eighth mile marker, I think we all decided to pick things back up.

I was working to catch the guy in front of me, and the guy behind me was working to catch me. Now I'd reached the point where my breathing was labored and my heart rate was picking up. The thought crossed my mind to slow back to the 8:10 pace and just let the finish order sort itself out. But the competitor in me just couldn't do that, while the coach in me kept saying, "What would you tell your cross country kids to do at this point?"

So I pushed on. And the guy in front of me pushed on. And the guy behind me pushed on. We were all pushing hard through mile nine, covering it in 7:55. Now there were 0.3 miles to go. The finish was in sight. One more right turn, then a few hundred yards to the end. And none of us had any intention of getting passed on that last stretch. None of us did.

So the three of us finished in the exact same order we'd run the last 1.3 miles in. But we all gave it our all and congratulated each other at the finish. In that last stretch, I thought I might be able to break 1:15. When I got to where I could finally read the clock, it said 1:14:40. I had 20 seconds to get there before it turned to 1:15. But there just wasn't enough left in the tank.

I finally crossed the mat at 1:15:06, and put an end to a fantastic race on a beautiful morning!

It wasn't long ago when I recall just trying to break an hour in a 10K. I never thought I'd run this well again. But I serve an amazing God! He has blessed me with health, strength, discipline, a job, and friends that have allowed me to run farther and faster, even as I'm getting older.

Jesus put me in position to coach cross country, and running with those kids has definitely made me faster. He put me in contact with the Cabot Cruisers, the Conway Running Club, and Team Loco, all or whom have helped me run more and run faster, who have inspired me to push myself farther than I ever would have dared, and who have held me accountable. Jesus put me in the path of my Vilonia School District coworkers and parents I run with, and they push me and motivate me and hold me accountable too. And the countless friends I've met at races around the state and around the country, heck, even my online running friends.

Today was just another great stop along the way of a great running journey. Next stop, next week at the Valentine's Day 5K in Russellville. Hope to see you all there!