Remember back in 2016 when people were posting adorable couples’ photos on facebook every day for 7 days for the “Love Your Spouse Challenge”? And when silly vacation selfies were suddenly supposed to represent the sacredness of the institution of marriage?
Don’t get me wrong, I think those posts are as darling as you do.
But Frieda over at @frieda.people has reworked the challenge into the singles-friendly version.
Calls it the “Love Yourself Challenge.”
You’re supposed to share 7 days’ worth of photos and memories of the best moments of being single, using the hashtag #LoveYourselfChallenge. Because, as she says, “Singleness is extra special, so let’s celebrate it!” (But I think she may be taking her cues from some of our married friends.)
(Be sure to read the hashtags.)
and then these hashtags…
Frieda, let’s be frieeeeends!
Please teach me thy Instagrammy ways.
First, because you surely do not mean everything. What you mean to say is, “bad things happen for a reason.”
For example, when I ace an interview and get the job that I hoped for, no one shrugs and sighs, “Well, everything happens for a reason.” On bubblegum days, when I get up early, sail through easy traffic, find a great parking space, and rock an especially good hair day, no one pats my back and smiles glumly, “Just so you know, everything happens for a reason.”
The truth is that “everything happens for a reason” is never used in the context of good fortune! Instead, we cry, “Congratulations! Felicitations!” “Well done!” “Right ho!” “Lucky you!” “Bless your heart!” or “Praise the Lord!”
So if instead of “everything happens for a reason” we rather mean “bad things happen for a reason,” is that clarification good enough? Is that statement true?
No, it’s not, if only for the reason that it’s non-specific. (For example, what kind of bad things? Do you mean all bad things?)
I’m aware that people of different religious traditions may hold this view, but it always surprises me when I hear Christians saying it. I would like to point out how this idea does not flow from the Scriptural sources that many believe it does.
The poor Christian expositors among us will point us to a verse generally taken out of context, Romans 8:28, to support the popular saying: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” Poorly-read Christian expositors will use this verse to mean that any sort of inconvenience is God-ordained, imbued with some sort of Magic, a promise that your stubbed toe really did mean something, that Martha snubbing you actually has cosmic significance, that your nasty paper cut has particular meaning. (For example, perhaps the paper cut caused you to pause in the hallway, and had you been further along in the hallway [not thinking about your paper cut] you would have been run over in an untimely accident by the copier repairman who was wheeling out a 10-year-old 500 pound copier. I think. Is how the story normally goes.)
But is that what Romans 8:28 actually means? No, it doesn’t, and an elementary reading of that verse in context teaches us that “all things” surely does not mean “inconvenient body pain” or botched copier machine accidents, but rather the “things” referenced earlier in the chapter—that is, the multiple ways in which the Holy Spirit works to free us from the corruption of sin. “Sufferings” surely are mentioned, but they are specific sufferings, the sufferings that the whole creation experiences, that is, the “bondage of corruption.” Paul spends nearly thirty verses carefully teaching about the bondage of living “to the flesh” and about how the Holy Spirit is the one who helps us in our weakness (“weakness” being that which God calls sin). Readers of Romans chapter 8 learn that:
God sent Jesus to condemn sin in the flesh and to allow us to break free from fleshly living in order to live by the Spirit (“He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” 8:3-4)
We live in the Spirit by setting our minds on the things of the Spirit (“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.” 8:5)
Doing so brings life and peace (“For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” 8:6)
If the Spirit is in us, God will give life to our mortal bodies (“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” 8:11)
It is by the Spirit of God that we put to death the misdeeds (or sins) of the body (that suffering that Romans 8 talks about) (“For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” 8:13)
Those led by the Spirit are sons of God, adopted into His family, and we get to have such a close relationship that we can actually call God “Daddy” (the Greek actually says this!) (“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 8:14-15)
Our suffering of putting to death the misdeeds (or the sin) of the body is a suffering that we share with Christ. We are called co-sons of God with Christ. (How in the world we’re so near to the same level with Jesus is beyond me!) (“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” 8:16-17)
Our sufferings against the deathly deeds inside of us are NOTHING compared to the glory that God plans to put into us through His Spirit. (Good. I could do with a little more Christian character!) (“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” 8:18)
We are weak when it comes to living according to God’s Spirit, but the Spirit of God actually searches our hearts and prays (or intercedes) to God for us. (“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” 8:26-27)
It is this context when we get the verse “all things work together for good.” Readers who treat Scripture authentically must recognize that the context is that the Spirit plans to put God’s glory in us while He also rids us of sin.
To use Romans 8:28 to say that “bad things happen for a reason” is simply bad scholarship. Romans chapter 8 gives us rich teachings about suffering, but it is about a particular kind of suffering, the kind of suffering that happens when I feel the tension between my fleshly self and that which God wants (sin versus the Spirit).
But let’s get back to “bad things happen for a reason.” If we can’t use Romans 8:28 to support this idea Biblically, can we use any other Scripture to support this view? Perhaps some Christians will point to other passages from Paul. I suppose if you must use the writings of Paul for support, then you might have better luck using the book of James: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (1:2-4). I would be interested in hearing what kind of “trials,” though, readers perceive these trials “of various kinds” to be. I imagine, still, for it to be something larger than Paper Cut of Apocalypsia, based on the fact that these trials test your faith. Inconveniences such as stubbed toes do not “test one’s faith,” as it were. (I suppose they could “tempt” me to participate in the sins of bitterness, though, or of using foul language, dadblamit.) However, it seems that the trials that Paul speaks of are earth-shattering enough to “test” your faith in God. And these trials are the sort of thing that either make you or break you, in a spiritual sense. Will you steadfastly trust God through this trial? Or will you break faith with Him? If you stand fast, then you will have formed spiritual muscle through perseverance.
But we don’t need to guess, because the later in the passage, the trials are defined for us! Trials are… temptation! And it is the temptation of our own fleshly desires to sin, so clearly stated in verse 14. Fleshly desires multiply like rabbits, the Bible says, and the bastard children of these fleshly desires are sins. Their grandchild? Death and hell.
I think the clearer, more specific cliché that we want to say when we say “everything happens for a reason” (and a more honest and truer restating of God’s Word, a Christian theology) would say, “Trials that test your faith in God are the trials of temptation, and overcoming temptation has a specific purpose, and that purpose is to, by the Spirit, put to death the sins of the body, resulting in God’s glorious character reigning in us.”
Or, the short version, “Trials which tempt you toward sin develop the character of God in you.”
Say that to your friend the next time he responds in anger at a smashed finger or complains in untrusting disbelief because he didn’t get the call back.
But maybe you won’t.
Because we don’t want clichés to be about us and our imperfections being sawed off by a really decent carpenter. We’d rather a distant cosmos to be kind-of-ish ruling in our favor. We rather like the lack of clarity of theology like “everything happens for a reason.”
If I take a month-long break from blogging, you know two things happened:
Life got insanely busy, and
I spent important time fixing life.
I’m done now!
In the last month, I’ve:
Had my car in and out of the shop
Suffered an Achilles strain after working to improve my average mile time
Been teaching Pride & Prejudice, Macbeth, like a gazillion Spanish verbs, Thomas Paine, Creveceour, and a little bit of Poe just for funsies
Wrote a syllabus (from scratch) for the AP Rhetoric and Argumentation class that I teach in order to send it to the College Board for approval (oh, hello, American rhetoric, speech, and Transcendentalists)
Rehearsed music to record for Blue Sky Music last weekend (check out my composer friend Lyle Stutzman’s new website: https://blueskymusic.net/)
Took a much-needed travel break to Virginia with dear friends in which I took in a livestreamed Gospel Identity Conference by Tim Keller and saw a show at the American Shakespeare Center’s Blackfriars playhouse, the world’s only recreation of the original indoor Blackfriars Theatre in London circa 1655! (We saw The Fall of King Henry; it was tragic.)
Practiced problem-solving. Back story: you know how the world’s funniest blogging teacher, “Love, Teach” has coined the term DEVOLSON to describe the Dark Evil Vortex of Late September, October, and November? To be honest, I’ve actually never really understood the term because for me the Vortex (that is, the most deplorable winter blues) doesn’t come until January, February, and March. (You’ll remember last year’s tearful post about the drudgery of winter weight sessions.) Friends, DEVOLSON has arrived! October was brutal! And November’s evil time change? What in the samhill is a 4:30 sunset? #extremelygrouchyrunner. In the midst of all childish whining, I stumbled upon two fantastic articles about mental and emotional health (which, if you are wondering if you have, means you might have some adjustments to make). I discovered I have room to improve when it comes to managing stress because, in fact, more often than not, I *don’t* manage stress. I just complain about it. (Not exactly the most emotionally healthy thing to do.) I’m learning that it’s necessary to *deal* with stress and work to remove it. This requires grit, determination, and flexibility.
So in the interest of knocking DEVOLSON in the teeth, I’m developing all kinds of goals for January, February, and March in order to practice the emotionally healthy habits I’ve learned about, including but not limited to:
finding balance between work, rest, and activity by increasing daily prayer and Bible reading, and by exchanging empty activity for more restful, renewing activities like reading (lots of great titles on my Christmas list and current bookshelf)
continued problem solving around large and little daily stresses
minding physical health by developing a winter workout regimen (which I created while eating a giant piece of chocolate cake from my friend). Ugh. Guys. This year’s Thanksgiving morning run was a fantastic, sun-lit jaunt over flat Mid-western plains (oh, how I’ve missed you, Ohio!), and the joy I experienced during that run reminded me why activities of discipline are so important for my life. Anyway, winter running goals for me include (guess what) more problem solving! Particularly around Achilles injuries and what to wear on windy winter runs. I think eccentric single-leg calf exercises and Black Friday deals will do the trick for me!
practicing thankfulness in order to be more positive (which actually brings health benefits!) Today’s thankful list:
my car is out of the shop,
what Achilles pain?
my syllabus is on its way to the College Board,
a brand new Tim Keller book for the mornings and Psalms for the evenings,
the poem I saw on Sunday, driving home from our concert after recording, during the most storybook of purple dusks in Lancaster County, as two dark, slow cyclists crested a hill, and I wound through quiet farmland, past farm ponds still as glass, lavender mirrors, with carols ringing in my head, and bare scrags and gray trees silhouette against the good, good sky.
Since many of you enjoy reading my annual forays into That Remote World of Actually Cooking, I thought I would share with you this year’s Food I Made in the Kitchen.
This year I baked Christmas Morning scones. In October. Because I’m really bad (LIKE REALLY BAD) at occasions and birthdays and all that, so I normally plan celebrations way in advance. The more frequent tendency, though, is to pretend to mindlessly float past friends’ birthdays, anniversaries, and baby showers, when in reality I’m nearly choking on poison guilt (much like the time I accidentally bought pumpkin gnocchi instead of regular, and cooked it with a red sauce anyway, and tried to eat it). The simple truth: if I don’t plan for a holiday three months ahead of time, Christmas and birthdays more often than not come out looking a little like this:
I found the recipe for Christmas Morning scones from anediblemosaic.com and was simply captivated, despite the fact that nearly all the ingredients were things I do NOT have in my cupboards. (Don’t you hate that?) Things like flour, sugar, and baking powder. Anyway, I bit the bullet and bought the ingredients.
Actually, the only ingredient that was a splurge to buy was fresh rosemary. Wal-Mart only had organic, so I picked some up and then lingered over the gluten-free brown rice flower but finally put it back because I wanted to make something where I actually follow the recipe for once.
Was really confused that the recipe said to preheat the oven to 450 and to use parchment paper, since parchment paper ACCORDING TO THE BOX is only safe to 420.
Aaaaaaanyway, I prepared the dough, a most amusing experience, since I’ve never worked with dough as an adult, and was a little confused when the “dough” I made had the irregular consistency of old makeup, like really powdery Play-doh, with globs of dry flour on top. Instead of whisking it more, I got out a hand-mixer, but nothing I did really made the dough come together as such, so I just balled it all up into a sort of big Play-doh ball and shoved it in the freezer, before and after which I furiously googled and image-searched “scone dough consistency” to no avail. I was really giggling at this point. But maybe that was because of the fumes. Chopping up so many bits of rosemary, leaves quite the trance-inducing aroma.
When I removed the chilled dough from the freezer, I discovered that I own no rolling pin, so I decided to mash my Play-doh ball into a round disk with my hands. I cut the circle into eight pie-shaped pieces and plopped them on the parchment paper. I turned down my oven because ACCORDING TO THE BOX parchment paper is only safe to 420!
I spent the next 14 minutes nervously dancing around the oven door opening, closing, and re-opening it multiple times (til it spoke to me, “Nevermore!”). The little bits of butter in the batter sizzled a bit. My parchment paper turned a little brown in spots and started to smell like almost-burnt popcorn. The scones didn’t hardly rise, but I was a little proud of the life-giving aroma (minus the hint of almost-burnt popcorn) coming forth from my oven and apartment, so that when I passed my neighbor in the hallway while taking out my trash, I smiled inwardly to myself at all the good I was unleashing on the world.
Moment of truth: pulling my scones out, I had no idea how to tell if they were done. A little jello-y in the middle, but are they supposed to be like chocolate chip cookies? The best chocolate chip cookies are a little moist in the middle when you pull them out of the oven, sort of underbaked. Is this how I should treat scones? I was a little disappointed to find that the flour I had sprinkled down before “rolling out” my scones caused the bottoms to burn. But I picked up a piping hot, slightly moist half-scone, tossing it back and forth like the hot potato is was, until I could hold it enough to taste the moist dough, where nutmeg, rosemary, and vanilla were all vying for my attention. The first taste confirmed it. THESE SCONES ARE MOST DELICIOUS.
The thing I like best about these savory and sweet scones is that the flavors are so present that a single scone is very satisfying. For example, I had just one scone after an 8 mile run on Satuday, and combined with two eggs soft-boiled to perfection (for a little protein), I felt perfectly full.
You guys will also appreciate these New Yorker cartoons:
aaaaaand one for the road:
Also, this is funny, even though it’s Miley Cyrus, simply because #millennials and #vocalfry. It’s basically the hopes and fears of an entire generation in an acai bowl.
Speaking of the opinion we have of ourselves, and what we want others to think about us (which Jane Austen’s Mary Bennet differentiates as vanity, for the latter, and pride, for the former PARDON THE OBLIGATORY NERDY TEACHER COMMENT), I recently read this great article in The New York Times “Modern Love” feature about how we think of ourselves through social media and how sometimes we (social media users, that is) change to become something that doesn’t reflect their very human “contradictions and desires.”
In a world of personal branding, is there any room for the human with all her normal inconsistencies, her contradictions, the thousand diversions and dozen strong passions that drive her? No, instead, we are only allowed to be one version of ourselves, a curated person that we build “without blueprints, not knowing that she would become a wall with no doors.”
In the essay, Clara Dollar cheapens our attempts at personal brands with her imagery that compares her Instagram account to a cardboard box: “And so it went, and I kept at the beautiful box I was crafting for myself. A shoe box covered in stickers and fake jewels. The kind you would make for a pet parakeet you have to bury…. In the morning I would post something silvery and eye catching. It was always just tinfoil, though, not truth. And I prayed no one would notice.”
Not wanting to offend my friends with successful personal brands (some of them authentic, quite un-annoying, actually), I suppose I should admit that the connection that I feel with Clara Dollar is as personal as this post.
What happens when Shasta’s Fog doesn’t reflect its author? What happens when, like Anne Bradstreet, an artist looks at her work, calling it a ruined child, an “ill-formed off-spring of my feeble brain”? What happens when she laments her “rambling brat (in print),” when she’d rather cast it “by as one unfit for light”? What happens when the shoe box is an auditorium too small, my mike is too loud, when I can’t say what wants to be said because it’s understood that Shasta’s Fog is smothered in “community” expectations? And what happens when I find that Shasta’s Fog’s silence may not be only a feature of a little blog, but a little closer to the quietness I’m told to curate because I live in a time and place where argument and discussion are not feminine, nor “Christian”?
Ah, well. Let me not finish something with something with a bit of “depth, romanticism, and pain.”
I’ll just end with something light-hearted and funny so people keep coming back for more.
…Except that, I can’t find a funny meme just now, and all I really want to say is in that last paragraph.
I arrived too early. Squatting for an hour in the dark under orange lights on a parking slab, staring at my shoes, and pondering the upcoming insanity was a little much. I couldn’t play calming music because my old ipod’s battery was barely going to last during the whole marathon. Also, I’m *shy* and private about my running, so talking to other runners wasn’t really a possibility. So I basically stood in the forever-long bathroom lines, twice. I finished dynamic stretching and then sucked down an espresso-flavored GU gel. I hopped the fence into my slow-poke corral and jammed my earbuds in, but the thumping starting line drowned out Newsboys from 2006.
I tried not to cry.
Next, we (10,000 other runners and I) jogged toward the start line, and were off. I forced myself to slow down because I had heard that the entire first mile was downhill, causing runners to go out too fast. A bobbing labyrinth of neon-colored, nylon-covered runners snaked out in front of me, the end disappearing where the periwinkle horizon met dark row-houses. The sun wasn’t even up yet.
We were breathing hard. It was only 60 degrees, but we were all drenched in sweat after the first two miles due to the 89% humidity. The sun played hide-and-seek behind white clapboard homes while we followed the Akron Marathon’s infamous blue line down streets of pot-holes and fresh black pavement.
The neighbors came. Little kids with grandmas, retirees in athletic wear, a confused-looking foreign family in dress clothes, cops and firemen, a woman leaning out her second-story window, someone’s grandmother dancing in her front yard with a tambourine, Neighbor Bob with a cardboard table full of vodka shots, and soccer moms with cow bells. Everyone was there.
I couldn’t wait for the first six miles to end. It was in these first few miles that I gave in to the heat and humidity. I desperately wanted to finish all 26.2 miles, so I made the most careful decision of my life. (Who am I kidding, all of my decisions are the most careful ones.) I majorly slowed down so that I wouldn’t overheat later, or develop cramps.
One of the most beautiful moments of the race was in this first six miles, when we crossed the All America Bridge for the second time. I had shaken out my nerves, I was nearing the end of my “easy” section, resigning myself to the idea of running for several more hours, and the sun was dancing through the trees below the bridge, music was pumping, and a crazy volunteer in an animal suit was cheering through a megaphone.
Taking my first on-the-road gel at mile 6 felt like a good milestone, and accomplishing another climb and downhill section around mile 9 felt good as well. I tried to ignore the fact that at mile 10 I started to feel it in my legs. It felt like I had already “worked,” as it were, which is sort of a problem since I usually try to conserve enough that I don’t feel like I’m working at least until the half-way point at mile 13. And I knew I had a big climb at mile 13.
And mile 13 couldn’t come fast enough. The race was CLOGGED for the first 13 miles. At 12.5, the half-marathoners turned left, and the 900 marathoners plus umpteenth relay-ers went right. (By the way, where were my marathon compadres? I felt totally alone in the second half, seemingly surrounded only by relay-ers in their fresh, non-sweaty pink spandex!) Sweet jazz band on Market Street, by the way.
By the time I conquered the hill at the half marathon mark and charged ahead a few more miles, I was on a roll. I *knew* I had it in the bag. Mile 16 thoughts: “Ten more miles? Easily done. Only two sets of five miles.”
My biggest complaint from this part of the marathon was that around mile 18, none of the fluid stations were cold anymore. It’s actually amusing how angry I got. I had nothing else to direct my emotions toward, so I sabotaged the dear race volunteers.
“You had one job. ONE. JOB!” I seethed, forcing down yet another swallow of warm Gatorade, as race volunteers cheered me on, next to stacks of pre-poured paper cups that were roasting in the 80 degree sun.
As far as hydration and fueling is concerned, I alternated between the provided Powerade and water, but I did wear my hydration belt because of the heat. A few of the fluid stations were spaced further apart than I was comfortable with for the weather, so I decided to play it safe and bring my own fluids just in case. I took gels at miles 6, 11, 17, and 22.
The heat was VERY noticeable during the last quarter of the race as we wound our way through shady neighborhoods, but the course spectators were amazing. Every year, practically the entire community tail-gates in their front yards, offering sweet snacks, icee pick-me-ups, marshmallows, and the occasional garden hose spray-down for heat-weary runners. I zig-zagged from side-to-side down these streets gliding under spritzing hoses.
Heading back into the downtown area, it felt strange to me that in miles 23-24, I really struggled to celebrate my accomplishment. It would have made sense to me if in that moment of the race I began to feel a rush of exhilaration, a rush of pride, but I didn’t. As I was finishing the last few miles of the race, I wrestled with why I wasn’t feeling joy. I thought it was strange, considering that I was about to complete a goal that had been 10 years in the making. (When I was a teenager, I was inspired to run a marathon upon hearing that a family friend of ours [one of the sweetest, most Godly, feminine, and soft-spoken young woman I had ever met] trained and ran a 26.2 mile race. “That’s… strong,” I thought.)
At that point, while I’d been avoiding non-race-official fluids and snack stands (at the advice of race directors), I threw all caution into the wind and started grabbing any-and-everything shoved in my face by cheerful spectators. I also demanded ice at official fluid station #17 as I jogged by.
“There was some in the water,” a volunteer said, wringing her hands, “but it melted!”
You lie! I hissed to myself, as a bag of ice was shoved in my face. I dumped a fist-full of ice into the water, shook the water, grasped the cubes again, and started shoving them down my shirt. I gulped the ice-cold water.
I rounded another bend of orange cones, and I was greeted by the familiar downtown streets and lines of traffic as roads started opening up again. A Hispanic man sat by himself in a lawnchair, under a tiny city tree, the yellow sun boiling above his bucket hat. A small cooler of ice and Gatorade sat by hit feet.
“Ice,” I hoarsely croaked.
He pointed to the cooler, and I grabbed another fist-full to stuff down my clothes. SO. HOT.
I was starting my last mile when the leg cramps started. I knew if I didn’t start walking soon, I would go down on pavement. A tiny bottle of ice cold water was shoved in my face. I greedily took it, sipping a few drops and pouring the rest on my head.
I forced myself to start walking. Where’s the blind girl? I asked myself. Only a few paces back, I had passed a vision and hearing-impaired runner. I only knew she was so, due to the sign pinned to her back. She probably ended up beating me.
Up ahead, I saw the turn into the baseball stadium, and I noticed the official race photographers. Yikes, can’t be walking now! Quickly reverted to running form and formed the biggest cheesiest smile I could manage. (Not that I wasn’t happy. I was. But I also pose for cameras.)
Hundreds of runners lined the yellow finisher shoot as I ran toward the finish line. I leaned over it in my victory stance.
My papa yelled my name above the baseball stadium din and snapped some photos with his flip phone. (Dads are awesome.)
Jogging through the finisher festival to get my medal, I found an empty patch of grass for stretching. I lay on the field, in the green grass, the warm sun warming my tired body. It felt heavenly.
The biggest question that this marathon needed to answer for me was where I stand with running. I’ve heard it said that your first marathon is defining in that people finish and say either two things, “THAT WAS AWESOME! I can’t wait to do it again sometime!” or “Never. Again. In my life.”
Before the race, I was really worried how I would respond.
And now I know.
“That was awesome! I can’t wait to do it again sometime!”
Case in point? This morning, Saturday, I got up at 6:00 and ran four miles before meeting friends for a 9:00 a.m. brunch.
A smile spread across my face as I jogged out of my friend’s driveway, hitting pavement in the morning hush. The familiar running rhythms spread through my body. I lifted my eyes, surveying dewy cornfields spread for quiet miles. A pink, bouncy-ball sun peeked out above the tree-lined horizon. This is going to be a good run, I smiled, ignoring the fact that I had 18 miles staring me in the face.
Inhaling a prayer of gratefulness, I laughed out loud at the morning’s beauty. Last night’s thunderstorms left a cool breeze and some wisps for clouds. I begged God for more cloud cover as I rounded my first turn, heading west, and the sun rose higher.
A trip to Indiana for a friend’s wedding meant last week’s long run was a bit of a guilty pleasure—flat country roads are my familiar Midwestern playground. I scheduled three six-mile out-and-back loops, setting up a fueling station near my car. That morning, my sentimental gratefulness soon ground to a halt as dark, negative thoughts crowded out my mind’s sunny atmosphere.
This year’s marathon training has hit me pretty hard in the mental game area. Lacking the wisdom of Solomon, I signed up for Ohio’s hilliest marathon for my first 26.2 mile race. I reasoned that since I would be training on hills in Pennsylvania that a hilly race would be no big deal. Besides, several reviewers mentioned that the hills “aren’t so bad” and “break up the monotony.” Several first-timer marathoners also praised the race’s organization and experience, so I thought I was making a good choice. HOWEVER. Let me be the first to say that running/racing on hills definitely takes some practice. The hills I’m training on are destroying my times, not to mention my brain game.
Long runs on hills have been abominable. Besides applying laser-like focus to dynamic stretching, race nutrition, hydration, and negative splits, I’ve been working at developing hill techniques, which include adjusting my stride and ignoring my times (but not too much!) Erg. IT’S SO HARD.
Lacking success in most of these areas, I nearly accepted the mediocre non-progress I’d been making. I was so grateful to just finish 18 miles last weekend on flat roads just to remind myself that I can actually run that distance (on flat roads, that is).
But the mind games! I find it so strange that my body is stronger than my mind! I ALWAYS have more when I get to the end of a run. It’s my MIND that refuses to cooperate, offering these sort of passive/aggressive de-motivators:
“You’ve worked enough, maybe stop running for a bit.” “This isn’t that important of a run.” “In this humidity, it’s impossible to give more.” “If you give everything you’ve got, you’ll run out of steam.” “Careful, that’s too fast.” “See? There’s no way you can keep that pace.” “Hills? That’s for athletes, people who actually run.”
FOLKS, IT HAS BEEN ROUGH!
I’ve been aggressively googling “How to Improve Your Mental Game,” and finding glib little mantras to repeat to myself during my runs. Which, strangely, actually help. Things like,
“Be ‘now’ focused.”
“For hills, focus on effort output. Keep the effort the same as straight stretch running.”
“Being overtime is good, just pull back a bit. Being undertime is good, all you need is a little more. Turn BOTH statements into positive ones.”
“What you do in training, you will do on race day.”
“Run the race that you know you can.”
“Finish every run with a half-mile hard effort, no letup, not an inch short.”
Plus Christopher McDougall’s mantra from Born to Run, a la Tarahumara: “Think easy, light, smooth, and fast.”
Other bits of advice I’ve been clinging to are:
“Pessimism is a runner’s top mental roadblock.”
“Negativity, whether it’s worry or doubt, often leads to self-defeating behaviors including slowing down, cutting a workout short, or dropping out of a race.”
“Fatigue is simply a sign that you need to put your mind on something positive.”
“Determine what you want to accomplish the most, and make the necessary lifestyle changes to make that dream a reality.”
“If you take action, results follow. Do speedwork; get faster. Eat less; lose weight. Stop negative thinking; punch through pain.”
I’m a pretty cynical person. I’m not the type to draw strength from little mantras, quotes, or self-help. But it’s been so illuminating for me to notice how my thought patterns of negativity, pessimism, and cynicism have been affecting my running, effectively destroying my progress! (Not to mention the that I’m sure these thought patterns affect me in more than just running.)
I’m learning to silence the cynic by simply being more positive, celebrating the tiny wins, and, despite non-progress, continuing to make good self-care decisions.
For example, besides the syrup-slow adjustment to hill training, I’m focusing on sleep. Eight or nine hours is the goal at this training volume, but with school back in session (WELCOME BACK TO SCHOOL!), sometimes I’m doing well if I get six hours of sleep a night. In any case, I’m working on guarding my sleep like a dog and I’m honestly turning down social invitations in order to *not die* from sleep deprivation. #whateverittakes
Interestingly, after weeks of disappointing non-progress… after weeks of avoiding friends, fries, and ice cream… and after weeks of mediocre runs, unmet goals, and apathetic eating… I HAD THE MOST FANTASTIC TWELVE-MILE LONG RUN on Saturday!
Leading up to the run, I *ignored* the mediocre, flat 18-miler the week before, and instead carefully trained and hydrated, even skipping a run, choosing sleep over training. Throughout the week, I filled my crockpot with protein and healthy carbs. I bought gluten-free bread in hopes of it curing a fueling problem.
After a solid 9 hours of sleep Friday night, I trudged to my kitchen and calmly ate my peanut butter & honey (gluten-free) toast and sipped my earl gray. The temperature was barely above 60 as I strapped on my running belt full of water, Gatorade, and GU gels. Feebly trotting up the first hill, the dark thoughts returned with a vengeance and never left until mile 4. But by mile 4, I was running faster than goal pace, which I kept inching toward until mile 10, when I just let loose and ran like crazy! I seriously did not start “working” until mile 10. The gluten-free fueling, the perfect weather, the focused mind control, weeks of persistent training, and resolve to GIVE YOUR GIFT resulted in one of the strongest runs of my life. (Pennsylania motorists were probably more than a little curious at my silly grin which I could not wipe off my face.)
I keep forgetting how daily decisions are an investment in the future me. I’ve never been more surprised at digging deep and finding strength. But this week I was reminded how daily discipline is the key to lasting strength. This has spiritual meaning for me beyond running, so while I’m celebrating a somewhat frivolous “win,” I continue to ponder the possibilities of the future me, and how my daily decisions support (or don’t support) that person.
And I’ll work on ignoring that little Cynic on my shoulder.