1 Starting

Training For (Paul and Tim)

Tim looked at his watch. He was running the same trail he had taken Wednesday, at the same time. He was hoping that the old guy he chatted with would show up again.

He’d been thinking about the old guy’s question: “What are you training for?” Because Tim wasn’t training for anything. He was just running because it would help him lose some weight and because it was exercise and because he liked having done it.

“So, do you have an answer?” The old guy startled him.

“I thought you weren’t going to show up,” Tim said. “I was just about to quit for the day.”

“Why quit? How did you know you were done?”

Tim shook his head.  “I run til I feel like stopping. Today I kept going a little longer because you said something about seeing me.”

The old man smiled. “If I quit each time I felt like stopping, I’d only run a half mile at a time. That first part of the run is always awkward. I can’t find my stride for a couple miles.”

Tim laughed. “That’s my problem. I never run more than a couple miles.”

“So let’s go back to my question,” the man said. “What are you training for?”

“Why does that matter so much to you?” Tim asked.

“It’s the only thing that keeps me moving past my feelings. When I remember that I’m training and then remember why I’m training, I can keep running on any given day, and even every given day.”

“So how is that related to being godly?” Tim asked. “You tossed that out as you ran away the other day.”

“I regretted that statement as soon as I said it.” The old man smiled apologetically. “I should have said that running was part of becoming godly.”

“What’s the difference?” Tim said.

“Being godly suggests a condition you have. Becoming godly suggests that there is a process, that you can learn or train for it.” The old man paused. “And that’s why I’m running with you. I want to help you learn about training. In running and godliness.”

The old man started to speed up.

“What’s your name?” Tim gasped, struggling to catch up. “I’m Tim.”

The man slowed. “And you can call me Paul,” he said. “See you Monday.”

Couch to 5K in seven years

I ran my first 5K race on August 9, 2014. Our son Andrew ran the same race. He finished ten minutes before I did, so I can’t say that we ran together. But he drove 2.5 hours to run the race, so that counts as together. Nancy came and cheered for both of us.

The last time I tried to run for fitness was the summer of 2011. I decided to run a little bit. After a couple days of half-running, half-walking for a mile or less, my knee felt like the dull side of a knife was sawing. I went to the doctor. He said to stop the high impact of running.

“We could do a scan,” he said. “But it would tell me that there is a little tear. And you need to let it heal.”

“But what about exercise?” I said. Try something like riding. No impact. So I did.

I eventually lost about 40 pounds with changing how I lived and changing how I ate. I understood that I needed to change my habits, to learn how to live healthy.

From time to time, Nancy would talk about running. Finally, one evening in July 2014, Nancy decided that she wanted to try running. About a quarter of a mile together. And we didn’t pass out. We tried it again the next night. And then she went out of town for a few days.

For some reason, I decided to run while she was gone. A little at a time. My knees didn’t hurt. I didn’t pass out. And a quarter became a half became a mile. Four times around our little block. And then I tried running without a safety net. Around the big block in our neighborhood. A mile and a bit more. If I got to the far side, I’d have to get home.

By July 18, I ran more than three miles. Not fast, but not stopping. And so I set my sights on a 10K by the end of September and a 5K on August 9. It looks like I went from not running to a 5K in about 6 weeks.

But there is a much longer story here. In December 2006, Nancy said to me and I said to Nancy, “Should we go walk at the mall?”  We weren’t exercisers. But we both knew that we needed to do something and that we needed some time talking.

I think we walked a mile that first time. We talked the whole time. And we’ve been walking and talking since then. Up to four miles a day. We’ve walked through several major job changes, the death of a parent, the ongoing illness of three more parents. We’ve walked through more than forty pounds of weight-loss for me, one high school graduation, two college graduations, one wedding, and many other events.

That’s a lot of time walking. That’s a lot of time talking. It laid the foundation for a 5K in August 2014, and a marriage relationship that has strength and endurance.

I understand the eight-week fitness plans. I’m using one now to get ready for the 10K. But long slow simple routines can bring about significant strength when we just keep talking. And walking.

Frustrated by my own goals.

Nancy and I each received a Fitbit Flex for Christmas. I wear it on my non-dominant wrist. It senses movement, which means that it guesses really accurately about steps and sleep. When used with a smartphone app, you get approximations of distance, calorie burn, and sleep. If you enter additional data and what you eat and what you weigh, you end up with a fitness profile.

I’m a fan. But I’m also a victim. Of myself.

The default goal for steps is 10,000 per day. This is one of those arbitrary cultural goals designed to get us to move. Because movement is healthier than non-movement.

After a week, I discovered that I was passing the 10,000 steps goal every day. It’s the advantage of making a commitment to running every day, and a commitment to walking with Nancy as often as possible.

So I increased the goal to 15,000 steps. I’ve reached that goal twice in two weeks. And for the first few days, I felt like a failure.

I mean, I had been feeling this little buzz on my wrist when I passed the goal. I had been getting a star on my app. My Fitbit, and apparently the whole Fitbit nation and the American Heart Association were all cheering for me when I reached 10,000 steps. But now, when I was striving for more, I felt like less.

It’s the difference between about five miles and about seven miles. It’s the difference between the recommendation and my own aspiration. It’s the difference between what I impose on myself and what’s healthy.

It’s silly, right? My inability to recognize that my own goals are what is causing my frustration?

I’m glad you see that. Because at this time of year, there are many of my friends who set goals to read the Bible through in the year, or to do one Good Samaritan act a day, or to spend 30 minutes a day praying. And they are incredibly frustrated. Because they missed a day of Bible reading because they were helping out a neighbor who was in the hospital, and as a result, their praying was only “God, could you please save his life?”

And I wouldn’t want you to be frustrated because your goals are getting in the way of being grateful for your growth.

The wisdom of listening and doing.

My legs hurt. It’s a natural reaction to the workout they received. They will recover.

They would recover more quickly if I were to follow the counsel of my running medical friend. “Ice is your friend,” he says. “Compression will help,” he says.

And everyone who knows running and muscle soreness agrees. I even agree.

So why do I continue to be forced to walk slowly by the pain in my quads?

I could blame others. “Why don’t you tell me how much ice?” “How long exactly should I hold it on?” “How slowly should I use the foam roller?” “And how do I find the time for all that stuff?”

But I don’t even ask those questions. I know I would get the answers. And then I would have no excuse for not following the counsel that will make me better.

And I need excuses. Because the pain in my legs does not exceed the perceived pain of inconvenience. The desire to take the steps that would make me better is less than the desire to sit passively.

When Jesus got to the end of his Kingdom-living manifesto, he could have said, “Jon, if you listen to those words from Richard about your legs and don’t put them into practice, you are like a man who builds a house literally on a beach instead of laying a foundation that will give the house long-term stability.” But he didn’t say that. Because leg muscles that are sore but not wounded will recover on their own.

Jesus reserved his metaphor for lives that are wounded and cannot heal on their own. They need – I need – to do the inconvenient but healing work of obeying all the things Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount.

Wise living is listening and doing.


Not Sprinting Copyright © by Jon Swanson. All Rights Reserved.

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