Wouldn’t you think that after a run with God, life would just get all easy and stuff?
Well, you can stop wondering.
I’ll just tell you flat-out: it doesn’t.
At least it didn’t for me. Which kind of stinks, because I was really looking forward to living to a ripe old age, breezing through life and then falling into God’s arms at the end of it going, “Wow. That was pretty cool!”
Well, after last week, I know the former and the latter are still possibilities, but the middle part? It’s definitely out.
And of course I have a story about it.
But before I begin there are a few critical background elements you need to know:
1. When I began the Couch to 5K program (aka “C25K” ) for the second time (I quit in the third week my first time) my concern had nothing to do with how fast I was running, or how far. Only how long. I figured if my body could convince my mind that it could run for 30 straight minutes at the end of 8 weeks, then the rest would fall into place. (Plus–and this is an even bigger factor– the app I was using didn’t measure distance or pace, only total time).
2. At the start of the school year we’d convinced our oldest son to join the cross-country team at his school. He’s 12 and had not conditioned all summer. The team ran between 2.5 – 3 miles on their first day of practice. Suddenly working up to this distance over 8 weeks didn’t seem like such a big deal. My son was experiencing more of a “go hard or go home” kind of training, and he was doing just fine. This was a bit humbling, but he’s 12. I’m almost 40. So I’m OK with that.
3. I know for a fact I can walk at least a 15 minute per mile clip or better. It’s been timed.
4. In addition to the C25K program, for the past 6 months I’ve also been working out 4-5 times each week doing a 30- minute workout DVD (mostly Jillian Michaels), and I also walk the dog at least a mile a day (usually more), every day. So, you see, I wasn’t really starting from the couch.
5. Finally, I’m going to be using the whole “elephant” (heart) and “rider”(mind) imagery again that I introduced in my last post, so if you want to get up to speed with where I came up with that, you can read my last post here.
OK, I think those are all the essentials. Let’s see if I can fill in the details…
After my great running experience at the end of week 5, I only had three more weeks to go and I would be running a 5K. Of course, that’s assuming I was running a full 5K (3.1 miles) at about 10 minutes a mile. I didn’t go so far as to think I was quite that fast, but considering I could walk a 5K at at 15 minute per mile clip, I figured I was probably running at about a 12 minute clip.
That’s kind of where the story begins. Because sometimes the things I assume to be true can get mixed up with a moderately important thing called reality. And sometimes they meet in a head-on collision. This little story falls into the latter. So sit yourself down and get comfortable as I unfold the train wreck of my experience for you, best I know how…
It just so happened our oldest son was wrapping up his first week of cross-country the same weekend I was expecting to finish my C25K. I’d been running as long as 28 minutes 3x/week at that point, and was sure there would be no problem adding another 2 minutes to get to the 30 minute mark. I was ready to put a big ‘ol check mark by this sucker and my plans were then to try to stay running for 30 minutes a day two – three times a week moving forward.
So when my oldest son came home from school before Labor Day weekend and said he needed to run at least two miles per day on two days over the long weekend , I offered to run with him. After all, I reasoned, I’m ready for this! I’ve been training for SEVEN WEEKS! Plus, as a result of running with my son, I’d actually be finishing the whole C25K a few days early. Bonus!
Then Husband came home from work and offered to run with Son and I, too! Awww. Poor Husband, I thought, this is going to be a tough little run-in with reality for him. He hasn’t run at all since last year. And because I’m so thoughtful, I decided I would try to go easy on him. And Son. No need to embarrass them, you know. My elephant (heart) was happy with the idea that I now had two running partners for the weekend, and my rider (mind ) was feeling particularly positive about these last few runs, so, unlike the last time he was more than welcome to come along for this adventure.
We all laced up on Saturday morning and began the run. Within the first two minutes Husband and Son were a half-block ahead of me. Ha! said my rider (mind) to me and my elephant (heart). Amateurs. They’re going to be walking pretty soon because they aren’t pacing themselves (at my [assumed] 12-minute pace). Oh well. They gotta learn somehow.
Except they didn’t.
If anything, the gap was only increasing. I was falling further and further behind!
This was NOT how this was supposed to go!!!
Over half-way through, Husband and Son had doubled their distance between us. I yelled out to Son who was the only one wearing a watch. “TIME?” I yelled. “WHAT’S THE TIME??” (I didn’t really like how panicked I sounded). Son stopped moving, but kept running in place, turned around to face me, and cupped his hand to his ear in a I-can’t-hear-you motion. Great. Somehow I’d fallen so far back I was out of earshot. And trust me, my voice travels! This was not a good sign. “Eight minutes left!” he shouted. Well, that stinks, I thought. Especially considering I thought he was going to say, “two.”
Near the end (I was guessing, because the guys had turned around towards home), I was so mad and irritated that they (non-training Husband in particular) were not only able to finish, but also finish faster than me, that I turned down a different block than them so I would no longer have to stare at their bodies growing smaller and smaller on the horizon as I dragged myself along.
Finally, sweaty and winded, I walked up the drive.
“Wow! That felt good, didn’t it?” Husband said as I dragged myself up the driveway. I noticed he and Son both had water bottles in hand fresh from the fridge and were stretching. Oh, goody. I’d fallen so far behind they had time to refresh themselves while I was finishing my “run.” (I had to use the term loosely– in quotes– now, because compared to them, I was no longer sure exactly if what I’d been doing could even count as running.)
“Should we drive the course to see how far we ran?” Husband asked. “Sure,” I brightened. Aha! This was going to be my reward! I was sure of it. This would be where we’d drive around and I’d find out that even though they were faster, we’d certainly run farther than I usually ran. So we climbed into the car and began the trek. Down the farm road and back? 1 mile. Good. Around this block and that one. Add another .5 mile. Uh-oh. Was that all? My insides stiffened. My elephant was numb. This wasn’t looking good. I hadn’t run but a bit further than this, total. “Where did you stop running?” Husband asked. “There” I whispered. I couldn’t even look. “Good job, Hon!” said (frustratingly positive, optimistic) Husband. “1.75 miles for you and that makes…(as we pulled up to his and Son’s end point) 2.25 miles for us.”
In 28 minutes.
I couldn’t decide whether to scream or cry. I just blinked.
“Not bad for a first day!” said Husband with a smile. FIRST DAY??? I wanted to shout. Instead I just asked, needing to know the WHOLE. UGLY. TRUTH. even though I feared the answer,”What’s that put my pace at?” (On a good day my math is choppy at best. Right now, I was far too distraught to even attempt it). I braced for the answer.
“Uh…let’s see. How far did we say you went again?” (Seriously, did he have to rub it in?)
“1.75,” I said.
“That puts you at about a 16 minute mile.”
16 minutes per mile!?!? I could walk faster than that! My elephant (heart) was so wounded, he just hung his head and turned his back to me. But my rider (mind) came to the rescue! “Beginner’s luck for them and a bad day for you,” he told me. “We’ll show ’em what we’re really made of tomorrow!” Yeah. That sounded right. Beginner’s luck. Tomorrow is another day. Tomorrow will be MY DAY to shine!
The next day was muggier and more overcast than the previous one. I’d not had a great night’s sleep, but it was certainly better than the night before. Mentally, I was more ready than ever to show Husband just who the Workout Warrior was in this family.
We headed out to the park with the dog in tow. This time I downloaded a new app that measured it all…time, distance, pace, etc. Heh, heh! There will be no denying this, I thought to myself as we pulled in to the park.
We hopped out, stretched a bit and, trying to stay humble, I turned to Husband and Son and made a sweeping gesture towards the trail, “You go ahead and start since you’re faster. The dog and I will stay back here.” I said. And we’ll be passing you soon enough, I thought.
So they started. And the dog and I followed. Hmmm. They’re moving at a pretty good clip again today, I thought. Well, when they hit that first hill they’re going to slow down a bit. But it was harder than I thought. I looked up the hill in time to see the tops of their heads as they cleared the hill barely breaking stride. So, I kicked it into gear as best I could to get to the top of the hill…only to see them already around the next curve. The dog obviously saw them, too, as he began pulling me ( remember him? my reluctant running partner? ) around the curve to catch them. “Traitor!” I hissed at the dog. He clearly wanted to run faster. With the guys. He pulled and pulled. I kept shtsss’ing and tugging like the Dog Whisperer to know avail. We got to the top of the second hill and I could see them turning the corner into their final stretch of their first lap.
There was no catching them, now.
And at that moment, my giant elephant heart broke in two.
This was not how this was supposed to go.
Suddenly I was overcome with emotion. There I was in the middle of the park with Son and Husband barely in sight, a dog who wanted to be anywhere but with my slow, sorry self and the clouds that– though I was praying would strike lightning so we could all go home and forget this day ever happened– refused to do anything more than squeeze the air out of my lungs.
Tears welled in my eyes. I pulled on my sunglasses (because of the glaring clouds, of course) and stopped running. Why bother, I thought. I took a shortcut across the trail so I would meet up with Husband and Son to hand over the dog. (They still beat me there). I dropped the dog’s leash and–adding a final insult to my already injured (elephant) heart– the dog took off in a full-out run to be with the big boys. Husband and Son turned to greet the dog, (barely winded) and smiled and waved at me as I stared long and hard at the backs of their heads as they disappeared down the trail.
Inside my elephant (heart) was so sad and broken, and my rider (mind) was so stunned, I just stood there fighting back the big, choking sobs that threatened to break loose.
Once we get home, and I shower, I thought, I’ll feel better.
Turns out a shower wasn’t enough to wash away the pain of my very wounded ego. I was in no mood to look for any positives to this whole humiliating experience. Instead, I just crawled up on top of a big ‘ol Pity Pot and let the s#*t pile high. That’s an ugly sentiment, I know. But it’s true. Brooding, moping, pouting…it was all there. I searched my rider hoping he might have something positive to say here. Or at least some explanation for how things had gone so wrong. But he was no help. No help at all. And my elephant? Well, he just had the saddest little look about him. Like baby Dumbo with those big teary eyes. And he turned his back on me and walked away.
So where was God now? And what had happened to that soul of mine? I searched all around, but there was no sign of either one now. No “house of goodness,” no feelings of the Spirit of God and his eternal love. Just… darkness. Dark as a tomb.
I went through the motions of the day OK (well, at least I think I did…you should probably ask Husband to define “OK”, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t much fun to live with). Everything felt a bit heavier. At first I was pleased to see my rider come back, but he started in with some pretty worrisome thoughts: This whole time I’d thought I was running a 12 minute mile when I was actually “running” slower than I can walk? What did the neighbors think when they saw me “running”? Did I even look like I was moving? And the dog! This whole time I’d thought he was having a hard time keeping up, but after today’s events it was evident, he clearly thought I wasn’t running at all. In fact, he probably lagged behind because he figured if I was going that slow he could at least get some good sniffing in.
Then I groaned. The girls in my Facebook group. Ugh. I’d made a big ‘ol announcement that I’d be wrapping up my final week of C25K this weekend, and they’d probably be waiting to hear that I’d finished. I couldn’t bear to post it. Not because I feared them mocking me. In fact, I’d probably prefer it. Instead I knew they’d either try to cheer me up with those encouraging verses like “well, you’re lapping everyone still on the couch!” or some such thing (And as I already pointed out I hadn’t really started on the couch). Or worse, they’d feel sorry for me. (I like my pity parties to be a Party of One, thank you very much). What if they’d say something like, “Awww, that’s OK!” or “Keep trying!” Double ugh. It was NOT OK, and now I wasn’t sure I’d ever try again. So, unless someone else had had to work themselves up to a 17 minute mile, I really didn’t want to hear from them. So I stayed away from the page. I just couldn’t bear it.
Later that evening, I wondered again: Where is God in all of this? Is this some kind of punishment for my pride? A joke? And what came to my mind then was an image of Mother Teresa and a saying of hers that I love:
“We are called to be faithful. Not successful.”
Which is true enough. But puh-lease. Not right now. I’m too busy having this pity party. I rolled my eyes, grumbled to myself, “Shut it, Sister!,” slammed the door on that thought, and climbed back up onto my Pity Pot.
Day 2 was a little better. I mean it was what it was, right? I had to face the facts. After eight weeks of training, it turns out I “run” a 16 minute mile. I thought some more about Mother Teresa’s words from the day before and thought that maybe she had a point. I had been faithful to the plan. Maybe I could at least find hope in that. I HAD run 3 times each week for the length of time I was supposed to (except when I was on vacation) and so what if I wasn’t exercising a “run” properly? I was at least exercising some discipline. (It was little consolation, but afterwards I’ll admit my heart felt a little better. A bit more open to the possibility that perhaps I wouldn’t need to brood about this forever).
Later that day, when I wondered Where is God in all of this? again, more words came to me. They were Richard Rohr’s words this time reminding me,
“If we don’t transform our sins, we are bound to transmit them.”
Thanks, Richard, I thought, sarcastically. Was it a sin to run badly? Of course not. But I knew he wasn’t talking about the running. He was talking about the condition of my heart. (Resentful. Closed off. Hard.) And the condition of my mood. (Bitter. Angry. Self-loathing). Hmm…he might have a point, but I was perfectly content being angry and bitter and full of self-loathing right now. Giving any more thought to that would have to wait. *Door slam* I was done thinking about it.
Then came Day 3. I woke up thinking maybe today I would spill it to the girls on Facebook. I might be able to face their sympathy or encouraging words now. But, I wondered again, Where is God in all of this? And then in my mind flashed the image again of Husband and Son and Dog cresting the hill and disappearing. UGH! I thought, growing angry all over again. Why were they so much better than me when I’d been the one working SO hard? Clearly, I still was not ready.
Then, that morning I cracked open my devotional reading titled “Holy Reversals” by Patti Gallagher Mansfield and couldn’t believe what I was reading. The words jumped off the page as though they’d been written just for me
“… the Lord showed [me] that this very disappointment, difficulty and disillusionment with others could be
a tombstone or a stepping stone
for [me], depending on [my] response to the offense.”
Well, now. Those were some words worth thinking about.
Suddenly, it was all pretty clear. This whole experience could either be a story about the day I stopped running (“running”) or it could be…something else. But what? Again, the image of Husband, Son and Dog flashed in my mind. This time, though, my breath caught. In all my anger do you know what I’d missed? I’d missed being witness to a beautiful moment between a father and his son, and their dog. My husband. Our son. Our dog. I’d missed the beauty and the miracle of the fact that my son was willing enough and courageous enough to take the time to get stronger and better when he’d suffered a pretty difficult first week of training. I missed the willingness of a father to run with his son even though he’d not run in a year. I’d missed the ability to just get out there and do the best I could and enjoy the day for what it was: a day of courage and willing spirits all the way around.
I’d missed it because I had not been willing. I’d been plotting.
Plotting how to win.
How to be better.
How to show everyone how it was done.
And I’d failed.
Now was my chance to make this a stepping stone, instead of a tombstone. Now was the chance to seize the opportunity to be humble. To realize I had done the best I could, but that others have done much better. An opportunity to realize that if I felt good doing something that was good for me, it was OK even if it hadn’t turned out the way I’d thought it would.
And then I realized something else. If I’d been faster that day? If I’d been where I wanted to be beside (or preferably in front) of Husband and Son and dog? Well, then I would have missed the image of the three of them running together, wouldn’t I? And right then and there I took a mental snapshot of the three of them. And I tucked it right back into my –now healing– elephant (heart).
By day 4, I knew I was on the right track again. I decided to go for a run even if I was going to be slow, and even if I could walk faster than I could “run.” Maybe, I thought to myself, maybe I should’ve never called what I was doing “running” in the first place. Maybe I should have used the word “jogging.” At least it would have sounded like I could go faster, but I just chose not to. Or, my rider (mind) joked, maybe since you can walk faster than you jog you should call it “wogging.”
And I laughed out loud.
And that’s when I started moving my feet in the motion formerly known as running. And I recognized again the *I* that had emerged with the elephant and rider once before. The *I* that I call my soul. And as my legs moved (yes forward, you smart alecs!) my elephant and rider both welcomed her (my soul is a female!) back.
Well, my rider wondered, where have *you* been? Last time we looked for *you*, it was black as a tomb in there.
Tomb? said my soul.
Yes, rider and elephant both nodded.
Soul just laughed. That was not a tomb, she said. It was a womb. And from it came New Life. A life of joy and love and laughter that had been missing for a short time. Waiting until you were ready for it. But now it’s back.
Yes. Yes it was.
Thirty minutes later I walked back up the driveway, feeling more refreshed and renewed than I had in a long time.
I glanced down at my iPod to check my pace: a 15-minute mile. I sighed. Then I did a quick inventory. My elephant (heart) was content and rested. My rider (mind) was quiet and calm. My soul was happy and at peace.
Hmph, I smiled to myself, I guess numbers don’t matter all that much when you’re running at the speed of God.
And I opened the door and went inside.