Monday, September 30, 2013

My Marathon Journey: #9 St. Louis 2010 - 2:58:15

1 Corinthians 9:24-26 - "Don't you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing."

St. Louis 2010 gave me a taste of 2 firsts in my post-collegiate running career, both equally awesome, but in very different ways. The first was that I earned myself a spot in the "Elite Starting Area" for the St. Louis Marathon. I was quite excited because we got a little special treatment and were guaranteed a spot at the front of the starting line of a race of over 17,000 competitors (only 3,000 in the marathon, the rest ran a half-marathon). Granted, a sub-3:00 marathon was all it took to get a spot, but when I picked up my race packet the day before and saw my BIB number was 10, it was exciting! I ran that race thinking to myself, "I'm one of the best runners in this race. WOW!"

The other was perhaps more significant in the grand scheme of things. I had decided to run for a charity organization for the first time. I was running for the Hall Steps Foundation, an organization started by elite American distance runners, Ryan and Sara Hall. They are setting the marathon goal of ending world-wide poverty one step at a time. I raised money prior to the race for their organization, and kept the kids and families that could be positively impacted by my fundraising on my mind and in my prayers all throughout the race that day.

With these two new things as a backdrop to this race, I did have one additional new experience in this dad would not be on the sidelines cheering me on for the first time. No doubt it was different not having him there, but I did have my soon-to-be-wife, Jen, and her mom with me on the trip, so I still had some familiar voices on the course cheering me on.

The race went by quickly, at least the first 17 miles did. Around that point, I started having some negative thoughts creep into my mind and some self-doubt surfacing about whether I could keep my fast pace going. For the first time ever in a race, I began audibly singing worship songs to get me going. The 2 songs I sang are at the bottom of this post, "Stronger" and "Mighty to Save." These songs spoke to God's mighty strength and power, something I truly needed to get me through the part of the race I was in at that moment. I was so glad I did that, because there was a boost of energy I got from that, something I'd never felt in a race like that before, at least not that late into a race.

I reached the finish line with a new P.R., something I hadn't done in almost 4 years, running 2:58:15, to finish 25th overall. I was extremely happy with my race and how I had made it through some tough spots along the way. My first phone call was to my parents after I got my bag back, and they were great voices to hear. They had said they were cheering from all the way back home in Minnesota, and it could be felt by me!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

My Marathon Journey: #8 Twin Cities 2009 - 3:06:56

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 - "Don't you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body."

2009 was the first time in my life where I really understood what it meant to honor God with everything, not just when you show up to church on the weekend. This included how I treated myself physically. I've always cared about my physical health, but this scripture really changed things. In all I do, I needed to honor God. I took this to heart in my training for Twin Cities 2009 and I saw the fruits of what I had been doing. My training was the best I'd ever had. I was completely healthy when I toed the starting line. The weather was literally PERFECT.

I ran a P.R. on the Twin Cities course in 2009, 3:06:56, something I plan to beat in less than a week. My one downfall on the Twin Cities course each time that I have run that marathon has been Summit Avenue. The hill that begins the final 5 miles of the course leads up to St. Thomas and onto Summit. Every year, my parents and my wife are cheering for me at the top of that hill. They get a pretty good indication of how I'm doing when I get to the top of that hill. In 2009, it was probably the best I'd ever looked and I ran 4 minutes faster than I had in the rain of 2008, but I was still hurting bad at that point. Now, typically at 21.5 miles of any marathon, you are typically hurting, but on Twin Cities, the challenge of the course is just beginning at that point. I had yet to figure out how to get to Summit Avenue in a position to finish strong. Despite my best TCM performance I still walked on Summit.

However, I made it through and I had an overwhelming sense of elation as I came down the final hill past the Cathedral to the Capitol, and I let it out! It was so much fun! I couldn't help it! I also couldn't have predicted how my next marathon journey could have gone. No doubt I was happy with Twin Cities 2009, but it was a mere stepping stone to what was to come in 2010.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

My Marathon Journey: #7 Fargo 2009 - 3:01:40

Being done with college and in the working world full-time truly allowed me to begin focusing my training solely to marathon training in 2009. Being completely healthy made that more doable as well. I lived on my own from 2008-2010, so my days were pretty simple...get up and go to school to teach, coach, workout and go to bed so I can do it all over again.

By the spring of 2009, this was quite literally how I lived during the work week. It was great but it got to be a bit boring all on my own. When I decided to run the Fargo Marathon that May, I wanted to be able to share it with people I cared a lot about. It would give what I was doing meaning and significance. I was able to get my dad to join me on the trip as well as my girlfriend, Jen (now my wife!), and her mom even decided to run a marathon again (first time in about 20 years for her).

Knowing all these people were going to be a part of this kept me motivated to train throughout the winter, so I could have a great race. My training was more focused and I was learning what my body responded well to and what didn't necessarily work as well for me. My most memorable training run came in February. The school closed early that day because of an impending snowstorm, so we all got home before the snow started to fall hard. I decided I had to get my workout in, so I stepped outside after I got home and went out on the Dakota Trail (a paved trail from Wayzata to St. Bonifacius). I ran to St. Bonifacius from my apartment in Mound and back, which was about 12 miles round trip. Within about 4 miles the snow was falling pretty heavily and I couldn't look up easily because the flakes would hit me in the eyes. I remember when I got back looking in the mirror and seeing the icicles off my eyelashes like I had never seen them before. Admittedly, it was one of those moments as a runner where you look at yourself and say, "Yeah, I'm a beast and I'm pretty tough!"

The marathon itself went fairly well. I ran what was my second fastest time of 3:01:40 and I finished 31st out of over 1,500 runners. I was 14th at the halfway point and then had a hamstring issue flare up which slowed me considerably on the final 10 miles. What I'll remember about this race are some of the conversations I had with my dad and Jen at their spectating spots. It was a 2 loop course so they got to see me many times. The pictures in this post say it all. I went out a little quick in the first few miles and let them know with a signal with my hand and a slight grimace on my face. I also had some energy gel issues later in the race as evidenced by a sticky jersey and a sticky BIB number (still sticky to this day 4 years later!).

Romans 8:28 says, "And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them." Living on my own doing what God gifted me to do (teach, coach and impact students in a positive way) and being able to use my passion and joy of running to worship God was almost more than I could have asked for at that point in my life. It wouldn't be long before God blessed me beyond measure even more...

Friday, September 27, 2013

My Marathon Journey: #6 Twin Cities 2008 - 3:10:52


These 3 words have entered into my mind so many times in my life as a runner, I've lost count. This was my high school coach's favorite saying. Don Timm has now coached at Coon Rapids High School for 40 years and I was fortunate enough to be around to learn from him for 4 years. This saying was simple but said what kind of mentality we should have as doesn't matter what the weather is like, today is a perfect day to run.

From Grandma's 2007 when the heat took me down to Twin Cities 2008 when I thought I was going to freeze to death from the cold driving rain and wind, what a difference a new mental focus can bring. I was easily beaten by the heat in 2007, but in 2008, the rain did not stop me.

Leading up to the race in October 2008, I had been preparing for quite some time. I spent 10 months just getting healthy and pain-free after the debacle in Duluth, dealing with hamstring and back issues. I was finally healthy and had a great summer of training and had even gotten my first teaching job straight out of college. The Twin Cities Marathon came a mere one month into my career as a teacher. It had been a stressful final month since I was so new to where I was living and working, but I came into the race knowing I was ready, and I came in with a mentality that I wasn't going to let any little things prevent me from giving my all.

The race began like most Twin Cities Marathons do, nice and cool, a lot of energy at the start. About 3 miles in though, the rains came. And shortly after the wind picked up. It never let up until well after I had crossed the finish line. Most of this race is a blur to me, but I do remember the constant sound of my shoes slapping the soaking wet pavement under my feet, step after step, for nearly 3 hours.

I came across the line exhausted in 3:10:52, requalifying for the Boston Marathon, and only 5 seconds off of my best time on the TCM course. The exhaustion soon turned to literal sickness. About 3 days later, I became very sick, something I dealt with for well over a week after the race.

The scripture I had kept in my mind leading up to this race and throughout the race itself was Philippians 4:13, which says, "I can do all things through Christ, who gives me strength." If I am committed to God and trust Him with everything I do, the same power that raised Christ from the dead, dwells inside of me...that's pretty powerful stuff if you ask me. I worked hard during this time in my life, not just for this marathon, but to finish college, to get a teaching job, etc. Putting my full trust in God led me to this point, and I was so thankful.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

My Marathon Journey: #5 Grandma's 2007 - 3:48:57

After the success of the 2006 Grandma's Marathon, I was very optimistic about the upcoming year of cross country and track. The 2006-07 school year was my last full year of NCAA competition as I finished classes after the following fall semester. It ended up being a great year of running and being a part of a team of great guys. My best friend and fellow marathoner, Justin, decided to run Grandma's at the end of the school year, much like I had done the year before.

I approached the race much the same way as I had done in 2006 at the end of the track season. All seemed to be going well until about a week before the race when the heel of my foot began to flare up with a lot of pain. It ended being the beginning stages of plantar fasciitis, an injury I would later deal with 2 other times. I caught it very early and took the entire final week before the marathon off of running. It relieved the pain and I was feeling pretty good going into the marathon.

The morning of the race arrived, and the weather was not cooperating like it had the year before. It was hot, humid and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. This proved to be my downfall on this day. Justin, his brother, and I began the race together but the heat split us apart very quickly. Justin responded well to the heat and had a great race. The heat destroyed me and I ran my second slowest marathon of my life. It was a frustrating day knowing the weather was out of your control and you were in great shape to run a great race. Perhaps the hardest part was knowing how well I had done on the same course a year earlier and that being in as good of shape (or better) and I performed so much worse.

Having a horrible race can feel like the end of the world (at least in the moment) and I know a few years earlier this is exactly how I would have felt. Having a better, more mature understanding of the important things in life, I took a different perspective after this race. Certainly, I was very disappointed, but a lot of what went wrong was out of my control. I looked at what had come from that race: I got an opportunity to test myself on one of the greatest physical challenges someone can put themselves through and I got to share it with a great friend on the course, and my entire family cheering me along even though they knew it wasn't what I had hoped for. I no longer would allow a single race to define me as a person, good or bad.

Romans 8 is a phenomenal chapter in the Bible that so clearly defines this. Some of my favorite Bible verses come directly from this single chapter, but one that seemed very fitting to me after this race was Romans 8:38 which says, "And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love."

Paul (the author of Romans) is saying here that once we are alive in Christ by accepting Him as our Savior, nothing can ever separate us from that identity. We are identified by God as one of His adopted children. If we have a bad day, get angry with someone, stress out about a big test or meeting or presentation or race, these things ultimately do not define us. We are His sons and daughters and nothing can ever change that. That is where I found comfort in that understanding that I belong to God and a bad day on a race course in Duluth, Minnesota would do nothing to change that.

What I didn't yet understand was the challenging time ahead of me over the next 16 months before I would be healthy enough to run another marathon.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

My Marathon Journey: #4 Grandma's 2006 - 2:59:01

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take." - Proverbs 3:5-6

After finding joy in simply running healthy in 2005, I turned my focus towards some different goals in 2006. I joined the UW-River Falls track team that winter and ran the 5K and 10K throughout the indoor and outdoor seasons. It was fun being around teammates and friends each day as opposed to running tons of miles solo. However, the itch to do a marathon was still inside of me, so I signed up for Grandma's Marathon in Duluth, MN that season and prepared for it at the end of the track season since the race wasn't until June.

I found that my long distance training for track actually suited me well in preparing for this marathon. The only piece I had to add myself were a couple of longer 18-20 mile runs in the final month and a half of training once track ended. I was in the best shape of my life, having run P.R.'s in the 5K and 10K during the track seasons and ran a half marathon P.R. 2 weeks prior to Grandma's. I was feeling prepared and confident that I could also get a new marathon P.R.

Grandma's Marathon is a great race...if the weather cooperates. I had spectated up there many times before and had seen what a June heat could do to a person's race. I came in prepared for heat and I lucked out by having a cool, cloudy day. It was still very humid, but the cloud cover kept me from getting too warm during the race.

I took a patient approach in this race and started out conservatively. I want to be able to do this every time I race, but it's really hard! My patience paid off this time as I ran the most evenly paced marathon I have ever run! One of the best moments came at mile 25 when I ran by my parents. They had been waiting there all morning (it's a point to point course, so a little challenging to spectate in many places) and as I went by I flashed a big thumbs-up, and they knew I was flying that day.

As I rolled into the final stretch in Canal Park, the crowds were huge, but they weren't very loud (not many runners had come through at that point) so I did something I had never done...I started raising my arms encouraging them to cheer louder! They responded and I flew over the final couple hundred meters to a new P.R. of 2:59:01. It placed me in the top 130 out of over 6,000 runners. I was completely and utterly exhausted at the end, so much so that both of my legs cramped up so badly that I fell over shortly after crossing the finish line. My mom actually found me laying on the ground with a complete stranger holding my legs up for me! I'm sure to the outsider it looked really sad, but I knew that I had given it my all, I had prepared, and I had accomplished something special.

As I continued to learn more and more about the marathon, I knew I was getting stronger and smarter, but I now know I still had a long way to go. God showed me through Grandma's 2006 that if I truly prepared myself as best as I possibly could, I could accomplish great things. God will guide you where he wants you to go if you put your full trust in Him and prepare yourself to be open to wherever he may be leading you.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

My Marathon Journey: #3 Twin Cities 2005 - 3:15:06

John 10:10 - "The thief's purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life."

From the end of the 2005 Boston Marathon until the Twin Cities Marathon in October 2005, a lot changed in my life, good and bad. First, the bad. I was so motivated to redeem myself from the debacle that Boston had been that I signed up for Twin Cities right away and started training hard. I began training so hard that I developed a stress fracture in my shin (2nd time I've done this). It set me back a lot and I had to stop running for over a month in the heart of marathon training. I knew that if I was going to be able to race in October that I would not be setting a P.R. Accepting that fact was probably a blessing in disguise.

The good that happened goes back almost a year to my first marathon. I had begun to really explore who God is and in July 2005 I accepted Christ into my life. This was a huge shift in my life. It didn't change overnight, but pretty soon I was changing my priorities and a lot of my decisions were affected by this (in a positive way). It led me to a new church that to this day has truly allowed me to grow in my faith, and I have found so many of my best friends through this church. It's also a place that my entire family has come to find God and develop a relationship with Him. I could never have dreamed of all of this. Honestly, I don't know if it would have happened if I had spent the entire summer of 2005 singularly focused on my marathon training. If you've trained for a marathon before, you know how easily it can consume you...your time, your thoughts, everything. Without that injury, I don't know if I would have been able to turn my focus to other things like God. Today, I'm able to use my marathon training as a way to worship God (more on that in my future marathon posts).

Twin Cities 2005 was truly a moment of running with true joy. I knew I wasn't going to run a super fast time (relatively speaking, I know) but I was going to enjoy the race on the greatest marathon course. I truly did enjoy it. I felt God's presence throughout the race. Coming across the finish line in 3:15:06 was exhilarating, knowing how much I had gone through just to get healthy again.

Monday, September 23, 2013

My Marathon Journey: #2 Boston 2005 - 4:00:08

After the qualifying success of my first marathon, I quickly made the decision to experience the grandaddy of all marathons, the Boston Marathon. Qualifying on my first attempt was exciting and encouraging to me and I knew I could do much better. I figured what better place to race better than Boston. I signed up right away and began my training shortly after my recovery from Twin Cities had concluded.

Being a marathon runner in college was very strange because I was surrounded by my friends running cross country and track at UW-River Falls. The challenge of the marathon was just so significant for me that it overshadowed my desire to race at these shorter distances. A year after running Boston, I would change my mind and take advantage of my opportunity to run at the collegiate level, but I was still glad I took the winter and early spring of 2005 to go after the Boston Marathon.

The training was tough. I had never trained for a marathon in adverse weather conditions before, and the winter training was tough. I hate treadmills. I hate indoor tracks. Given the choice, I will run outside every time. I would rather run when it's -10 degrees and a -20 wind chill outside than be stuck inside staring at the same walls for an hour or more on a treadmill or going in circles in an enclosed space.

When the Boston Marathon weekend finally came, I felt as ready as I could be. It was a great weekend even though the race didn't go according to plan. My dad flew out with me and it was a guys weekend. One of the best parts about the Boston Marathon is how the city truly welcomes all of the runners into their city. You are treated like royalty that weekend. My dad watched the entire race from the finish line and the local fans took great care of him and showed (as so many of us have now seen in light of the 2013 marathon bombings) how amazing Bostonians truly are.

One thing I now wish I would have done differently was to get more rest prior to the race. We did a lot of walking around the city the day before the marathon...DON'T DO THIS!!! Granted, it's a great city to walk and see, but not the day before the biggest race of your life.

The race finally came, and it was a hot day. I don't react well to heat, and it affected me very early on. I entered this race thinking it would go just like Twin Cities had gone 6 months earlier...get out to good start and roll through my pace. If I hit a rhythm my body could keep going. That was not the case on this day. Blisters developed 10 miles in and progressively got worse. Diarhhea came at mile 18. The finish line arrived 4 hours after the start, and I was so glad to be done.

As I look back on it now, I was entering this race with a certain level of expectation that because it went well in my first marathon, that all of my marathons would go this way. I firmly believe that God allowed this to happen to allow me to see that I can't just take things like this for granted. As our pastor at Eagle Brook Church, Bob Merritt has said, "Promises are no substitute for preparation." I felt I was prepared for this race because of my prior experience. I was not prepared in the way I needed to be and I was humbled by the Boston Marathon course, as so many before me have. I knew right away I would get back to Boston again, but I was going to do it differently the next time around.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

My Marathon Journey: #1 Twin Cities 2004 - 3:10:47

As I look back at all of my marathons over the next 2 weeks leading up to my 14th marathon, I have realized just how much the marathon has made me into who I am today. Even more importantly as I look back, I have seen how God has used the marathon to grow me physically, mentally and most importantly, spiritually. Each day over the next 2 weeks, I will share the story of one of my previous 13 marathons and how each of these have led me to where I am today.

My decision to run my first marathon came out of a very difficult first year at college. I spent the year injured and unable to compete in cross country and track, and academically, I was struggling for the first time in my life. I was questioning my major and ultimately, in the spring of 2004 I decided to change majors and to change schools. I wanted a clean slate and the same went for my running as well. A high school teammate of mine encouraged me to sign up for the Twin Cities Marathon in October and he and I could train together over the summer. It sounded like a great idea, so I jumped at it.

Having no idea how to train for a marathon, I sought out advice from anyone who had run one before and tried many things I hadn't done in my running before. Some worked, some didn't. Eventually, the taper period came and I was really getting excited. However, a week before the marathon, some of the worst news I have ever received came to me...a high school teammate of mine had passed away very suddenly. I was in shock. I couldn't believe it. The next morning I skipped classes and just went for a long run (probably too long for it being 6 days before the marathon, but I needed it emotionally) to clear my head and let some of my frustration out. I was mad. Specifically, I was mad at God for taking my friend away like this. However, that run sparked an idea in my head of how I could still run this marathon.

I made the decision to sow a patch onto my jersey in honor of my late teammate and I wrote his name on my shoes. Every step I took would be in his honor. The day before the marathon, we laid him to rest, and I began to turn all of my thoughts to the marathon.

The next morning when I arrived at the Metrodome, I was nervous and didn't really know what to do. It was such a different atmosphere (in a good way!) from any other race I had been a part of. I took the advice I had been given and got into the starting area with a good chunk of time to spare and waited for the gun to go off. Just before the start, I did something I hadn't done on my own in quite some time...I prayed. The 26.2 mile journey I was about to embark on would ultimately set off a greater journey that brought me back to God and back into a relationship with Jesus Christ, something I had never truly had before that.

The race itself was a bit of a footnote after all that had transpired but a moment I'll never forget came at mile 17 on West River Road, I yelled out to my parents that I wanted to go to Boston. I knew I was running well and was on pace to qualify for the Boston Marathon on my first attempt, something not many people are able to do. Perhaps I spoke a little too soon, because the run on Summit Avenue was brutal. However, I reached the finish line in 3:10:47, a time that qualified me for Boston by a mere 12 seconds!! As I crossed that finish line, I threw my hands into the air and I cried. The tears were more about the emotional journey I had been on over the past week than it was about the race, but it all culminated in what is now one of my favorite places in the entire world, the Twin Cities Marathon finish line.