There is magic today.

image1

Sometimes running can only be described as magical.

Moments like the one pictured above – when I’m on top of a mountain with other mountains, the big blue sky, and big fluffy clouds all around. But, I can also feel the magic when I’m climbing that mountain in the rain with more mountains and miles ahead of me.

IMG_20150428_175736538

The mountains don’t even have to be there. I feel the magic when I’m deep in the dark green woods, following the dusty singletrack for miles and miles.

I live for this magic. The moments that last in my mind forever.

While running in the mountains and forests are the most fulfilling for me, I begin the majority of my runs by going out my front door and turning either left or right – and I don’t live near mountains or in the forest. When I’m grinding out the miles on the roads around my neighborhood during the week, it can be difficult to find the magic.

And, if I’m being perfectly honest, those weekday miles can really be a drag.

But, while they may not always be magical, those weekday runs are probably the most important. Without solid weekday miles, the long runs on the weekends and the adventure runs in the mountains would not be possible. It’s a simple equation. Much like I work during the day at my job so I can afford to do the things I love, I run during the week to have the ability to go on the adventures I love.

Just because my weekday runs don’t have the obvious makings of a magical adventure, that doesn’t mean that they don’t hold some type of magic of their own.

So, starting today, I’ve committed to finding the magic in every run.

I’m not going to force it, but I’m going to look for it. There is magic today; I just need to be open to it.

I’ll share my experiences on Instagram – so if you don’t already follow me there, you should! I’ll post a picture from every one of my runs that shows some of the beautiful places I get to run in town and in the woods.

I also want to challenge you to look for the magic in your own life. You’re in your life’s adventure today. Some day you’ll think back to now and say “Remember when…?” Make sure you appreciate it while you’re living it.

Save

Why Ultra?: Art Loeb Edition

Ever since I started running ultra distances, I’ve been asked a lot of the same questions. The first and most common is: “Why?”

It’s oddly one of the more difficult questions to answer; maybe because I think too hard about it. I try to look into my psyche and find the real thing – the deep answer about what makes me want to run farther and farther.

But, really – I don’t have to dig deep to find the true answer.


Loeb1

Several years ago, I embarked on a backpacking trip with a group of students from the university where I work. This was going to be my longest backpacking trip, and we were going to the mountains of Pisgah National Forest to hike the 30-mile Art Loeb Trail. This was before I ever dreamed of running, let alone trail running.

To make a long story incredibly short, things didn’t go super well that week. The entire trip was a lot harder than anyone anticipated. To top it all off, we finished on the wrong side of the mountain.

While things didn’t go terribly smoothly, the trip did leave me with the desire to go back and get it right.


Loeb2

One year later, I went back. This time, it was with Ashley and a friend. We caught a ride from someone to take us to the trailhead. While we were in the car, that person told us about a “group of crazy people” that comes out to the Art Loeb every December and runs the entire length of it in a single day.

“What? How is that even possible? How do they carry food, water…how do they make it up the mountains….etc., etc.”

I had just run my first half marathon a few weeks earlier, so the idea of going 30 miles in the mountains in one go was unfathomable. And, as as we tried to figure out the logistics of such an undertaking, it just became more difficult to wrap my head around it. But at the same time…something stirred inside me.

I want to run the Art Loeb Trail.


March 2017

For several years, I’ve had that trail in the back of my mind with every ultra I run. Every time I finish a 50k, I try to imagine what it would have been like to cover that distance on the switchbacks up Pilot Mountain, climbing up to Black Balsam Knob and Tennent Mountain, and traversing the Shining Rock Wilderness and the Narrows – all major points along the Art Loeb, if you haven’t guessed that already.

So imagine how it felt when earlier this year, I learned that my running coach (Doug Hay) was planning to run the Loeb in March 2017. Imagine again how it felt when he asked “Want to join?”

On Saturday, Doug and I ran the Art Loeb Trail – an actual dream come true for me. I’ll write a post about the trip and the conditions and challenges we met with along the way later. But first, I want this sentiment to stand alone:

I run ultras because it feels so good to follow a dream from its infancy to its completion. It feels so good to say “yes” to the adventures that at first seem impossible or crazy. It really seems crazy and impossible are the most appealing to me.

IMG_6961
On top of Pilot Mountain (thanks to Doug for the picture!)

Save

Streak DONE.

streak

Today I completed my final run of 2016. It was my 369th day in a row, which included the last three days of 2015 and all 366 days of 2016. Achievement unlocked!

My last run was a 17.46-mile run on some of my favorite trails at Lincoln State Park. These miles brought me to 100 for December, which was sort of important to me. Just by chance, I ran at least 100 miles every month in 2016. I like that kind of consistency.

While, as I mentioned before, it may be true that the run streak didn’t really make me a stronger runner and didn’t really add any huge benefits to my running capabilities, I did learn a few things throughout the year.

I can run today.
The day after 32.7 miles at Yamacraw, I ran a mile. The day after 50.15 miles at Tunnel Hill, I ran a mile. All week on vacation in Colorado, at a hotel in Utah after being up since 2:00 a.m. In the rain, over ice, through snow, and while being sick – I’ve run miles. Every day. Without fail. I can run today. Even if it’s only one mile.

There were a few days I didn’t get to it until it was really late. Sometimes that happened because I was too busy. Other times, I didn’t lace up until late because I really just didn’t want to do it. I was tired from a long run the day before – or the weather was crap. But in the end, I did it. 369 times in a row.

Merely running does not a strong, efficient runner make.
Aside from forcing an excellent level of consistency to my running routine, there really wasn’t much in the way of measurable benefits. The “streaker keeper” days when I would just go out and run one mile were really more of a nuisance than anything.

Consistency is key.
I’ve heard over and over that consistency in routine is more important than any single workout. Maybe that’s why I have had one of the most successful years in terms of injury. My IT band hasn’t flared up at all this year, despite running 400 miles further than ever before, and never taking a single full rest day.

This consistency is more important than the streak itself, and I don’t want to let go of that. So, in 2017, I’m going to try a different kind of streak. A workout streak.

Instead of running every day, I’m going to do a low-impact, 10-minute workout every day. Arms, legs, and core in a circuit for 10 minutes. I expect the results from this streak will be far more noticeable than the results from the run streak.

Rules.

  1. Every day. I’ll work through a 10-minute circuit every day. Here is an example: 10 pushups, 10 dips, 10 squats, 10 lunges, 10 V-ups, 10 bicycle crunches. Repeat until the timer beeps.

That’s it! Barring serious injury or other unforeseen circumstances, this will be it for the year!

So long, 2016!

This was a great year in many respects, and I’m looking forward to making 2017 even better. Here’s to another trip around the sun!

2017: The year of…

img_20161209_171020891

I hope next year is epic. I’m already  planning for it to be. I have an A race in mind, and it’s like nothing I’ve ever attempted. But, it won’t be the farthest I’ve run. It’s “only” a marathon. It’s a marathon that one guy described as “a pissed off 50k.” It’s the marathon Trail Runner magazine calls “The toughest marathon you’ve never heard of.”

I call it my A race – for 2018.

I like planning. I like big goals. This race will require big goals, strategic planning, hard work, and dedication. It like the perfect puzzle piece in my lifestyle.

It’s the Athens Big Fork Trail Marathon. The course follows a 100-year-old horse postal trail through the mountains. It’s an out-and-back trail that goes up and over eight mountains – then back over those eight mountains, finishing right where it started after 9200 feet of mountain running.

Ever since I heard about it, I’ve been wanting to do it. The one thing that has been holding me back is that I don’t think I’m ready for that. That race is too hard, too much.

But then I realized that too hard and too much has never stopped me before.

Getting ready.

The running.

In order to run a race like the Big Fork, I’ll need to be really ready. There are cutoff times to think about, so I’m not going to be able to just meander the mountains hoping for the best. As a result, I’m treating all of 2017 as training for BF.

Here are the key races I’m planning to run:

  • Yamacraw 50k (April)
  • Gnaw Bone 50 mile (May)
  • Shawnee Hills 50k (August)
  • Rough Trails Ultra 50k (November)

Training for four ultramarathons will help give me a massive endurance base. Plus all four of those races are pretty hilly, so I’ll build climbing legs and develop more efficiency on the hills, which will be so important for Big Fork.

The working out.

But, as I know for a fact, and as I am not good at compensating for, merely running does not a good runner make. In 2016, I did a run streak: I ran at least one mile every day for the entire year – but what I’ve learned (and I’ll get into more in a different post) is that a run streak really doesn’t have a ton of actual benefits – aside from forcing very consistent running routine, of course. I definitely didn’t become a stronger runner because of it.

But, I did really like the consistency it brought to my training, and that got me thinking. I could do a different daily challenge that would bring more benefits to my running and goals. So, in 2017, I’ll be doing a core workout challenge. Every day, I’ll do a 10-minute workout including leg, arms, and core strengthening exercises. This will go a lot further toward making me a stronger, leaner runner. Which should get me up and over eight mountains – twice.

No excuses.

2016 was my year of discipline. Even with each day anchored by a run, I’m still not quite sure I really achieved the level of discipline I wanted to achieve. It’s illusive and it’s hard to say exactly what I’m looking for, but know that I’m not quite there.

One of my weaknesses is that I give in to my excuses too often. While I do get my runs done, I don’t do them when I really want to (i.e., in the morning), and I don’t get my cross training done as consistently as I should.

So, in 2017, I’m going to dive into all the clichés. No excuses. Just do it. The daily workout challenge is going to be a big part of that. It’s going to have a big, positive effect, but I know it’s going to be a challenge to  do it every day without fail.

But I suppose that’s what makes it appealing.

What are your 2017 goals?

 

 

A true and deep test.

My first 50-miler was everything I wanted it to be. It was everything I dreamed of when I registered, my new belt buckle already glinting in my eyes.

Total distance: 50.15 miles
Total elevation gain: 757 feet
Official time: 10:27:20


img_20161112_072000330
Merging with the crowd at the start line.

The morning.

The race was going to kick off at 7:30 on Saturday morning, and we were fortunate enough to be able to camp (for free!) at the starting line. No 3:30 a.m. wake-up call! The morning went by really quickly from the minute I woke up to when I was suddenly standing in a huge crowd of runners who were going to run either  100 miles or 50.

I heard the race director faintly over the din of the other runners, but I didn’t hear the countdown or really even the “Go!” before suddenly everyone was surging forward to run a loop around the campground/parking area before getting on the Tunnel Hill State Trail for the rest of the day.

Nothing unusual happened for a while. The Tunnel Hill course goes along what was once a railroad track, so there aren’t any sharp turns or steep climbs ever. It’s so unremarkable of a course, generally, that I was surprised to see on my GPS that there was a little bit of an S-bend on the trail because it was so gentle of a curve.

We ran south for a little more than 13 miles before turning back to go north for about 25 miles. Then we turned around and went back to the middle to finish.

While the course may seem unremarkable, it’s really quite pretty. There are bridges that go over rivers and valleys, a few small towns, beautiful farmland, and plenty of animals. I saw a lot of cows and dogs.

My crew.

Ashley was waiting for me at mile 16, 26, and 40 – and a surprise visit at probably mile 21. She was there to help me replenish my nutrition and to help keep my spirits up. Several days before the race, we talked about what would be most helpful for me at those aid stations. I had told her to not engage in any negativity I brought with me – and to make me smile and say nice things. This might seem silly, but a positive mindset, even if it’s forced, is imperative for something like this. Being able to see Ashley was always something to look forward to.

The run.

The unusual thing that happened was that I started fading fast really early in the race. My legs got achy too early, and my mind started to drift into negative territory long before that should have happened. When I first saw Ashley at mile 16, I was pretty out of it. I was starting to get crabby.

I tried not to let it get me down, as I ate some of my sweet potatoes and drank Tailwind, just as I had planned. But it wasn’t working. I still felt energy leaving, and nothing I was doing was bringing it back.

I packed 12 dates and four roasted sweet potatoes (in wedge form). I had eaten two dates, and hated both of them. They tasted normal, but I didn’t want them. The sweet potatoes tasted fine, and were enjoyable enough, but they just weren’t doing anything for me. After a while, they would just sit in my stomach like a lump, and I started feeling pretty crummy and a little light-headed.

This was going to be a long day if I couldn’t figure this out. I ran a quick diagnostic. I felt like I was crashing, and my negative attitude was a good sign I was low on electrolytes. It didn’t make sense because I was eating and drinking plenty – but “sense” don’t mean nothing. My mind was telling me one thing, but my body was telling me something totally different: I was fading, light-headed, and crabby. Something needed to change, and quickly.

Luckily, I packed a Huma gel in my hydration pack, and one extra gel in one of my drop bags. I packed them in case I needed a “shot in the arm” later on in the day. This was not part of my nutrition plan, and I have never really practiced running with gels as nutrition. But I brought them anyway “just in case.”

It took me a while to both remember that I had the Huma gel and to move past the safety of my nutrition plan. I had spent a lot of time figuring out what works best for me and doesn’t hurt my stomach – and I was certain I had figured it out. I just need to eat more taters…I just need to drink more Tailwind…but, for whatever reason, it just wasn’t working on Saturday.

I don’t remember exactly when it was that I ate the first gel. I think it was after 25 miles, but I don’t quite remember – but I had a pretty good feeling about it right away because that thing tasted freaking amazing. It was strawberry lemonade flavored, and it blew my mind.

Before long, I was coming out on the other side of some really hard hours, and I started feeling really good. My legs and feet were sore, of course, but nothing was getting me down. The rest of my day, I ate primarily gels and drank Tailwind, and my energy leveled out, and I felt great for the rest of the day. I had a few peanut butter pretzels and some grapes at the aid stations, but I was being really cautious about what I ate.

Strategy.

While by now in my running “career,” I’m pretty familiar with running on tired, sore legs, it can still be difficult. It gets more difficult when you know you’ll be running nearly 20 miles longer than you’ve ever run before. So, when the going got tough, I came up with a plan that kept me moving forward. I would run 1 mile and then allow a .25-mile walk. This was important because running a mile when you’ve already run 30+ miles can seem insurmountable at times. Forcing myself to run a mile in exchange for a .25-mile walk seemed like a sweet deal. It also gave me something to think about besides simply “run,” and it gave me a strategy and took away the option to just stop running willy-nilly. I had to wait until I had gone at least a mile.

Finish strong.

img_20161112_175719284
Finisher photo. (Sadie yanked Ashley’s arm)

I strapped on my headlamp some time after mile 40 shortly before the sun set and the trail went dark. I ran for a little while with only my headlamp lighting the way, calling out encouragement to the other bouncing headlamps and various lights that I passed. I counted the bridges I crossed and noted the mile markers left over from the railroad. I was getting so close. My watch informed me that I passed 50 miles shortly before I exited the woods.

When I crossed the finish line, I was elated. It’s one of the most incredible things I’ve ever done – it’s still hard to believe that I just ran 50 miles just a few weeks ago. Even with multi-day backpacking trips in the mountains, I’ve never covered 50 miles on my feet before Tunnel Hill, and I just did it all at once. I’ve built myself into the runner that five years ago I thought I could never be.

Recovery and run streak.

After finishing, we decided to go home. It was very cold, and we had unfortunately set up our camp under a really bright light, which made it really hard to sleep. So, Ashley tore down our campsite while I sat in the car and warmed up. On the way home, we got fries and onion rings. #treatyoself

On Sunday, we sat on the sofa basically the entire day – except of course for a one-mile run in a park. Another thing I told Ashley was that I really wanted to keep my run streak going, and that she might have to do some convincing to get me out the door on Sunday. But it really wasn’t that bad. We walked a little to warm up, then ran a slow, no-pressure mile, and walked back to the car. On Monday, I ran another slow, no-pressure mile. I’m now 336+ days in a row of running at least one mile a day.

I’m pretty much sold now on the restorative benefits of active recovery of even just one-mile runs. My legs were sore for a few days (I ran 50 miles.), but the soreness faded fast. By Wednesday, I was pretty much good to go, except for a little soreness on the bottoms of my feet, which also went away pretty quickly.

What next?

I’ll have some more detail about what’s in store for 2017 in a later post. For now, I’m going to run without a plan for a little while. I’ve run 1,600+ (injury-free) miles so far this year, and I’ll probably end up close to 1,800 for the year. Stay tuned for a list of goals and races for 2017!

th

Save

Fiddy.

tunnel
Not mine yet – but soon!

My goal for 2016 was to cultivate discipline. That has proven to be as difficult as I expected.

When I was 20 miles into my 30-mile run a few weeks ago, things started to get difficult. Of course, putting one foot in front of the other is not a difficult process – but it becomes difficult when those feet are sore, and there’s really no reason to think they won’t be sore anymore. Also, knowing that I’ve run such a long way, but still have a considerable distance to cover is not easy. The only thing I had was what I had all day: Water, Tailwind, sweet potatoes, and dates. No magic pill, no rocket-powered scooter.

I felt myself sinking into that familiar dark place where pain is hard to ignore and running isn’t fun anymore. Trees, birds, rivers, big bridges over a dizzying expanse…none of it was doing anything for me.

But, I knew this was what I was looking for. I knew that this is why I train. Sure, I need a strong body and heart to be able to run ultramarathons, but perhaps more importantly, I need a strong mind. What can I do to keep myself from focusing on everything that’s bad and everything that’s left?

I suddenly thought to myself: Don’t think about what’s in front of you. Think about what’s behind you. The miles of this run that are over and done with… The miles (1,500+) of training I’ve done to prepare for this day… The hours spent in the gym – or perhaps more accurately in the grass outside of the gym… The support of my wife. I have so much more behind me – pushing me forward – than I do in front of me.

So, that’s my plan for Saturday. When the going gets tough, I’ll avoid thinking about what I have in front of me. There’s so much more behind me, and the miles to come will be a part of that soon enough.


In a few short days, I will no longer be a person who has never run 50 miles, and I’m incredibly excited about that. Many hours of hard work has gone into preparing for this, and I am ready to cross that finish line.

But first – the start line. See you on the other side!

Living la vida ultra

img_20161022_095143544_hdr

On November 12, I’ll be running my first 50-mile ultramarathon. I’m excited and nervous, but mostly excited. I’ve been training since May for a 50-mile race, and I’m ready to get this thing done.

Since I haven’t updated in a long time, I thought it would be nice to answer some FAQs regarding ultrarunning, and in particular my 50-mile race and the way I will be running it.

Most of the people in my various social circles know that I run, and that I run a lot. So, one of the common questions I get is: “When is your next race?” or something along those lines. Here are the answers!

1. When is your next race?

Tunnel Hill 100/50. I’ll run the 50-mile race!

The Tunnel Hill course is a crushed-limestone multi-use trail in Vienna, Illinois. It’s part of the rails-to-trails conservancy project. The trail was built on an old railroad bed. They took out the tracks and threw down some crushed limestone. It has virtually no hills, lots of bridges, and a notable 543-foot long tunnel. Through a hill.

2. 50 miles????

Yep!

3. How long will that take you? Is it all in one day?

I’m estimating it will take me between 10 and 12 hours. My goal is to finish in 10. Yes, it’s all in one day, technically. All runners (of both the 100 and 50-mile races) have to finish in 30 hours.

4. What will you eat?

Throughout this summer, I’ve been working on perfecting my nutrition plan for this race, and I’ve gotten it down pretty well now.

  • Roasted sweet potato wedges
  • Medjool dates
  • Tailwind

So it goes like this: I eat throughout the whole race beginning at 45 minutes to an hour in. It’s super important to keep fueling the whole time, not just when I get hungry or when I crash. It’s really hard to bounce back after totally depleting resources.

At about 45 minutes in, I’ll eat my first date. Then a little later, I’ll have some Tailwind. Then a little later, I’ll have some potato wedges. Repeat for the rest of the day. This is my main source of fuel.

I also like to have some Chex Mix (salty, crunchy, lovely), and it’s really nice to have a soda in those later miles. Occasional Gin-Gins to help settle a crazy stomach.

And of course I’ll drink plenty of water.

Why would you do this to yourself?

I love the challenge. It feels so good to set a crazy goal, work really hard, and eventually achieve that goal. There’s nothing like it. I know that no matter what happens in other areas of my life, running is a constant. And if I work super hard, no one can take away the progress I make, and no one can tell me that I can’t finish my ultramarathon. It’s all up to me.

But what about…

Do you have any questions about trail and ultra running that I didn’t answer? Feel free to leave me a comment below, and I’ll answer it!

Shoot for the moon!

If you’ve been around the Internet these last few years, you’ve likely noticed the following inspirational quote:

shoot_for_the_moon

I suppose this could put you on some type of trajectory. But, really, how terrifying would it be to completely miss your target of the moon, and just end up somehow floating “among the stars,” which are unfathomably and increasingly distant from one another?

I will never be content simply landing near my target.

I plan a lot and work hard to make my dreams come true, whether running or otherwise. I won’t throw my rocket toward the moon without knowing exactly how much power it will take to get there. If I fire one and miss the moon – then I’m coming back and trying again. I want that moon, dammit.

I’m currently 500 miles into training to “shoot the moon” in the form of a 50 mile trail run. It’s a big, hairy, audacious goal. I’m trying to work as hard as I can to make sure that when that rocket launches on November 12, I’ll hit the moon right where I’m aiming.

So, I say – don’t be content with missing your target. If you miss, then it means get back to the drawing board. It means the challenge of trying to achieve your dreams isn’t over. It doesn’t mean you’re not strong enough or good enough. I means you’re going to be stronger and better soon.

DCIM102GOPRO
My dog is the most inspirational dog.

What do you do?

IMG_20160729_200947974

My last post was quite a while ago, and it oddly enough foretold a lot of what I was about to experience. Sorry in advance, this one’s not going to be much about running or fitness.

Four months in a nutshell!

Several months ago, I applied for a job that, if I’m honest, was the absolute dream job. I’m not currently looking for a new job, but when I became aware of this one, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. I sent in my resume and got a phone interview, which was thrilling enough. After the interview, I took a copy writing test so they could gauge my writing voice and see if I could fit with what they were looking for. Then two weeks went by. Those two weeks were torture. I couldn’t stop thinking about the job and whether they had moved on or just hadn’t gotten to me yet. Then, I went for a run in the woods and the whole idea of following pink flags and searching for my direction (that I wrote about last time) opened up in my head. I slowly accepted that this job was not for me. It was a trail that I wasn’t supposed to go down. I had told a few people about the situation, so I updated them saying that it was a no-go, and I would likely not hear anything again. Ashley and I planned a vacation to Colorado to head off to the mountains and renew.

Then I got the phone call, “You’ve been selected for an in-person interview…” Ooookay. Suddenly everything was moving really quickly. I was going to fly to Utah (!) at the end of the week, have lunch and a half-day interview with a bunch of different people, then fly back home the next day. I bought a new suit.

Then came three more torturous weeks while I waited to hear back from them. Then, finally: “You were a great candidate, but…” Darn, darn, darn, darny, darn!

At first, I was fine. And generally I’m okay with it. But every once in a while, I get really sad. I thought this was a done deal, and we were ready to pick up and move into the mountains of Utah. Now I’m readjusting to staying in the flat, humid, wet Southern Indiana. What I thought was going to be my dream job in a dream location turned out to be just a ruse.

So, for a few months, I was running along a trail that had both pink and blue flags. The pink ones turned left and went up a hill, and the blue ones went right and stayed flat. I really wanted to turn right, but my course is marked out with pink flags. I’ll follow them, but I’m not super thrilled to be climbing this hill right now.

So…what…

Well now I just dig back into life as I know it. We have some projects we’re working on at our house, and there is the ever-present training. I’ve been training for a while to run my first 50-miler at an event in my town, but now that event has been postponed. It’s not the end of the world – just kinda like gearing up for a big sneeze only to have it disappear. I’ll just readjust and get ready for the next sneeze, which is going to happen in November. I’ll tell everyone all about it soon! I am excited for it.

tunnel
You heard it here first, folks: Running 50 miles is just like sneezing!

The intersection of trails and faith.

IMG_20150428_174847364

Most of the time, I run on trails I’m very familiar with. Within an hour of my house, there are four trail systems that I have spent a lot of time learning. During the week, I run at either Audubon or Angel Mounds. For longer runs on the weekends, I run Harmonie and Lincoln State Park. No matter the distance, I know what to expect when I get out there.

Knowing the trails and what to expect makes trail running a lot easier and makes me feel a lot more confident when I hit the trails for a training run.

But every once in a while, I toe the starting line for a trail race that winds through woods and trails that I’ve never seen . I might turn a corner at some point and fly down a hill that I’ve never gone down before. It would make sense in this case to slow down, maybe even hike down that hill to avoid a misstep on unfamiliar terrain – but I don’t. I live for those downhills during a race. I’m not nervous because I’ve spent many days and hours running as fast as I can down hills back home. Training my mind to look a few steps ahead, training my feet to know how to land or jump over roots or fallen trees at a moment’s notice without even thinking twice.

This starts to feel like my life as a Christian – and how I have to practice faith to have stronger faith.

I’m very comfortable running on trails, especially when they’re my home trails – and that makes sense. But sometimes, running on trails gets really…special.

When I head into the woods for 31 miles in unfamiliar territory, I can’t depend on my knowledge to keep me from getting lost. I have to look for signs to guide me in the right direction. The night and weeks before the start of a race, the director and volunteers have gone through the course and marked everything with colored flags or big signs to help the runners know which way to go. For Gnaw Bone, I followed little pink flags. There were also blue, red, and white out there. Sometimes they were on my course, but I only had eyes for the pink ones because they were for me. If I followed the blue flags, I’d probably finish sooner, but it wouldn’t be my race that I finished. Sometimes the pink flags went up a hill, which didn’t seem like much fun – but that’s the hill I came to run, so I went with the pink flags.

Sometimes, life takes me down a path I’m not familiar with. When I head that direction, I do so knowing God has laid out a path for me to walk, and only He knows where it goes. I’m only there to run the race. Sometimes I’d prefer to run flat instead of up a hill, but the pink flags He set out for me go up the hill. If I go on the flat trail, I’ll get lost. If I follow the pink flags, I’ll get to the finish line. Sometimes the other trail looks like more fun, but that’s someone else’s path to run.

Even though I don’t know the woods I’ll be running in for my race, I’m not completely unprepared when I get there. For many races, there have been people who have run it before – and we runners like to brag. I can find course descriptions and race reports for nearly every run I’ve done. If those aren’t available, I can usually read about the trails in the area or a course description from the race website. I’ll have a pretty good, if a little vague, idea of what to expect when I start the race. Of course my experience will be unique to me, but there are a few things I know for sure. There will be hills – and they’ll likely be harder than I expect. There will be other runners to share my time with. There will be a finish line.

The Bible is a pretty valuable resource. While the stories in it are old, the Bible’s advice on learning to trust God and seek His will is timeless. The world is also filled with people who have had experiences similar to mine. With their help, advice, and support, I’ll feel a tiny bit more confident when I start down an unfamiliar path.

I used to think life is a race. You come speeding through the start line and don’t stop until you cross the finish line. But life isn’t a race – because life isn’t always hard. Life is more like a series of races. You train for the races, line up when it’s your turn, and do your absolute best no matter which way the pink flags go. When they go up a hill and the blue flags go left and finish, follow the pink ones because that’s your race. Sometimes your race really sucks, and you’d really prefer to be anywhere else, and that’s okay. Eventually, this race will be over, and it’ll be time to rest and get ready for the next one.

IMG_20150428_175736538