Tagged: gratitude

Off the running track, but on the right track…

This post was inspired by my friend Shaun Johnson, who is creator and admin of the Facebook group A Running Cause. He created this group as a way for runners to connect with others who share passionate reasons for why we run. Each week, Shaun invites group members to send in photos, comments, or links to blog posts on specific topics; previous themes include the view out the door when we start a run; our favorite “urban jungle” to run in; and even the classic “How many pairs of shoes do you own?” This week’s challenge posed the question, “When you aren’t running, what ARE you doing?”; my answer: sometimes I go to prison!

I have written before about my faith; simply put, I follow the calling to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, and to do His work on earth as I await His return. There are many ways which this work manifests itself; the fundraising I do for Living Water International is one of them; bringing the hope represented by the Gospel into dark and dangerous places is another. For several years now, I have been involved with a wonderful group of men and women who serve with the Kairos Prison Ministry, specifically at the Eastham Unit in Lovelady, Texas…a maximum security facility in Central Texas which was once featured on the cover of Newsweek Magazine:

time cover

The link above gives much greater detail regarding the history of this prison and the work of Kairos in general, including ways to volunteer or provide financial support, and I encourage you to spend a few minutes browsing there; but in a nutshell, the mission of Kairos is to present an ecumenical “short course” in Christianity to a hand-picked group of inmates over a 3-1/2 day weekend. We do a series of informative talks, on topics such as the need for personal accountability with decision-making; the essential character of Jesus; the nature of God’s love; and the true function  of the invisible church. Our goal is to help plant the seeds which will lead these men to accept the grace and forgiveness that God provides, and to join with others within the institution in forming a community of faith to support them as they finish serving out their sentences and hopefully return to society as better people – the goal of “rehabilitation”, after all (which the prison system itself is sadly incapable of .)

One of the key elements of the ministry is the effort we make to inform these men that they are loved…both by God and by people on the outside. Many of the inmates have been written off by their families, and turn to gangs, drugs, or other distractions to fill the void in their lives…we offer them a better option: the knowledge that there are people who view them not as failures or enemies, but as fellow humans who have made some terrible choices about the direction of their lives. They can be forgiven, they can be restored, they can find peace…this is what we tell them; and we bring proof to demonstrate what we are saying: there are people on the outside who sincerely care about them, and who pray for them to realize that this forgiveness and unconditional love – agape love, as the Bible puts it – are both real and available. This proof takes many forms, but by far the most impactful is the one I want to invite you, dear readers, to participate in: the Prayer Chain.

For several weeks leading up to the Weekend (as it is known), team volunteers solicit people who will commit to be in prayer for at least some part of the time we are with our Participants. This commitment is represented by a small slip of paper, bearing the first name, last initial, and city of residence of the person who is praying for an anonymous “man in white”, that he will be receptive to the moving of the Holy Spirit, in the way he most needs to receive it. These slips of paper are joined into interlocking links of a chain, which is brought into the room during a talk titled “You Are Not Alone”; there are typically a couple of thousand links, and the men are shocked to know that there are that many people, folks who they will never meet, who care enough to devote a few minutes’ thought and prayer to them…tears flow freely during this time, and hearts are softened, if not broken outright.

We circulate sign-up sheets in our churches and small groups, among co-workers, friends and acquaintances…anywhere and everywhere that we connect to other people…and these days, that also includes on a blog or other social media! So I am asking: Will you step up and be a partner in this effort? Would you be willing to commit a few minutes, sometime between Thursday April 3 and Sunday April 6, to say a quiet prayer that the participants of Eastham Kairos #27 would be open to the grace of God…that He will touch their hearts,and they will know that they are loved? If you will, please respond to me – in any format you wish, whether by commenting  here or on my Facebook page, or by tweet or DM, or directly to my email (stridingtowardslife@gmail.com) – with your first name, last initial, and city and country of residence, and I will fill out a slip and place you into the chain…I will be posting a simple reminder the day I leave home to travel to the prison, that the weekend has come; and you will have a opportunity to share in the work of Jesus:

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of Mine, you did for Me.’


Looking back, Striding forward…and helping others

Happy New Year everyone, and happy anniversary to this blog! We’ve come a long way together…me, my writing, and most of all YOU, my faithful friends and followers. I wasn’t sure about doing a recap – everyone does that, and I hate to be boring – but at last I decided to jump on the bandwagon and post my “year-in-review”, along with a look ahead at what I hope 2014 has in store; perhaps it will inspire another person to take a leap of faith, and that would make this entirely worth the effort! So grab yourself a fresh cup of coffee, tea, or even a bit of that hair-o’ the-dog, if it suits you, and let’s get all reminiscent, shall we?

2013 was my first year as a runner; I officially began on New Year’s Eve 2012, just to kick-start my resolve. I had little more than a vague series of goals in mind: quit smoking cigarettes; train for a year;  run a marathon…not exactly the most detailed agenda! I didn’t really ask for any advice, choosing to do my own research online. I had been blogging for a few months, on another site, but had not made the connections with others that I cherish now, so I read everything I could find about how to get started. I had not run – or even walked for exercise – since I was a teenager, and that was many, many years and packs of cigarettes ago; so I started off slow, with the Couch-to-5K app on my phone; a handful of favorite songs on a playlist, and a brand new pair of running shoes – bought on closeout at a big box store, but at least I did some reading and knew what I was buying and why 🙂 Using the app as my coach made it easy – no pressure to meet a certain pace, just go run until time ran out, and then go do it again a few days later…and then go do it again. Persistence was the greatest lesson there!


It was the first race that changed me forever – one innocent little 5K, the end-goal of the training app: “Find a race, sign up for it, and complete it – that’s all you have to do!” So I found a local 5K/10K (the 5K is an untimed “fun run”, the 10K is the serious race) and I ran my heart out – and got a sub-30 minute finish! That is when I began to dream of competitive running, and setting records, and all that jazz…surely I am not the only one! That first race led to another, a 10K; that led to a half-marathon (and my first serious injury…one that I still have trouble with); it was about then that I signed up for my first marathon, and made the lottery on my first try! The six-month lead time gave me ample opportunity to make all the mistakes I possibly could…and believe me, I have made excellent use of it! I ran 600 miles on the same pair of shoes –

worn outOK, not quite this bad, but still…

I ran at noon in Houston in August with no water –


  I got attacked by giant dogs, medium dogs, even a herd of Chihuahua once –

attackI may be small, Señor…but I can still kill you!

– you name it, it happened. And still I ran…

I ran…and I learned. I learned to listen to my body more than to a training plan; I learned to take the headphones off sometimes and just enjoy the run; I learned that the world will not end if my pace is a little – or even a lot – slower than it “should” be; I learned that there is value to being with other, experienced runners in a club or two; most of all, I learned that I have a lot more to learn!

2014 promises to be quite instructive…I am doing more new things in my life than I ever have before! I will be running that first marathon in 18 days; one week before that, I am running my first trail race, a 25K in the Texas hill country. I will run my first ultra – a 50K – in April; my first obstacle races in May – Spartan races, at that! I am participating in several running challenges: running 14 races in 2014; earning Half-Maniac status; earning a Spartan Race Trifecta; and I am taking one challenge I am currently participating in (the Runner’s World Holiday Run Streak) and making it personal: The “nickycanrun streak challenge”- you can follow my progress as I attempt to run at least one mile every day for a year, by following the hashtag #ncrstreak on Twitter.

The one thing I am most excited about is a way to make my running count for something lasting, something more important than “me”. 2013 was a very selfish year for me, in too many ways – I became very enamored of my own successes, and obsessed with my own agenda. And then my wife and I found a new church to be a part of, and something changed…I remembered that I am called to be in this world, but not of this world; and I think I have figured out a way to do just that. This church has partnered with many existing groups to make a lasting difference, both locally and globally, and one of them called out to me in particular…for a long time now, I have been reading and hearing about the fantastic work being done by Living Water International; this organization has a simple, yet profound mission – I will let this quote from their website explain it:

For Living Water it’s all about Jesus. It’s about demonstrating God’s love, announcing his kingdom, seeing Jesus in the least of our brothers and sisters, offering a cup of water in Jesus’ name and proclaiming his gospel, the living water.

Helping communities create sustainable water, sanitation, hygiene, and Christian witness programs in partnership with local churches is just the best way we’ve found to do that. Why? Because the water crisis affects poverty, women, health and education—and for us it’s a spiritual issue.

783 million people lack access to an improved source of drinking water—that’s 1 in 9 of us. In the places we work, it’s more like 1 in 2 . Great progress is being made globally, but whole people groups are being overlooked—it’s the poorest people with the least political power that continue to suffer, and these are the people we are called to serve.

Serving others is one of my core values…it is the distinguishing mark of those who claim to follow Jesus – a claim I make openly. Even the Endorphin Warrior wristband I wear proclaims my faith: it reads, “Believe,” which reminds me of Jesus’ words in John 14:12 –

“I tell you the truth: whoever believes in Me will be able to do what I have done, but they will do even greater things, because I will return to be with the Father.”

I believe in Him, and so I can do the things He did; one thing is to give a drink of water to the thirsty. It would be possible for me to simply go around and hand out bottles of water to people – and indeed, I have done that. But to provide water wells in places where they can change the course of people’s lives – that is a far greater undertaking. So, I have begun, in my own small way, and here is where I need you to help me. I have set up a fundraising page on LWI’s website, and I am asking for people – I’m asking you – to make a pledge to donate, based on the number of miles I run – whether it is by the week, the month or the year, that is up to you. I am committing to run at least 100 miles per month, and asking for pledges of any amount – $10, $1, ten cents, even a penny per mile, if that suits your situation – that is also up to you. I am in the process of setting up links for my sidebar and my Facebook page, but until then, you can click the link above to make a donation. I will receive nothing from this – it’s not a sponsorship deal, nobody is paying for my races or anything – 100% of the money donated goes directly to whichever focus area I select (currently it’s India, but I will rotate among the various projects around the world.) You can inform me of your pledge, if you wish – by commenting below, or sending me a Twitter DM, or Facebook message, or email – and I will keep you notified of my accumulated miles on a weekly and/or monthly basis; but beyond that, your own conscience will have to be your guide…I will not directly solicit donations from anyone, or sell or give out any contact info I may receive; this is between you, me and Jesus, and I will keep it that way, I promise. You can also track my mileage by simply reading my weekly recaps, or following me on Nike+ or dailymile (search for me by my full name, you’ll find me), and donate as you see fit, leaving me out of it entirely – I am completely OK with that…it’s not about me, it’s about what I can do for those who can’t do for themselves.

The New Year holds opportunities for everyone, and I intend to seize this one and RUN with it as far as I can…why not join me?

I’ve been “Featured” !

I was pleased and honored to be selected by Kristy as the subject for this week’s “Runners Spotlight” on her blog Runaway Bridal Planner.

Here’s the link, if you would like to visit…be sure to check out some of the other great blogs and runners she has highlighted in the past – and then keep going back, there will be more!

Thanks, Kristy – keep up the great work!

CHM Training update: T-9 weeks – No, Make That 8

This is the shortest weekly summary I have ever written as a runner:

Total for this week: 0 runs, 0 miles, 0 XT

Total for November: 6 runs, 40 miles

Today marks 56 days until the Chevron Houston Marathon (boy is that getting close!) so I am revising my numbering system to reflect the day I post rather than the week that has just passed – sorry if this confuses anyone, but it will make more sense as we draw closer to THE DAY.

This week continues my layoff from running, and in fact from nearly ALL training; I had been hoping that the break would give me some relief from the nagging ankle pain I have been experiencing – which is the whole reason I decided to stop training – but so far this has not been the case. It’s not debilitating pain, but it’s always there…which is not doing any good for my confidence level, as you might imagine. I believe that much of it stems from my work boots, so I will be experimenting with different insoles to see if I can find the proper cushioning and support. I have also not yet made an appointment with a sports-med doctor, but plan to once the financial wolves quit baying at the door; one good paycheck is hardly sufficient for that, but more are on the way, and we have worked out a payment schedule that gets us there soon enough.

I have tried to remain optimistic during this layoff, but after becoming accustomed to running, I find that not running absolutely sucks. I fill up the time doing stretches and strengthening exercises, and reading an endless amount of articles online, and trying to reconcile the goals I had set previously with the body I apparently have now…the process has been good for me, because I am forced to examine my motivations and expectations in the harsh light of reality. Here is some of what I have decided:

  • I will continue running, at whatever level I can maintain, until and unless I physically can no longer do it – even if I manage no more than a brisk walk, I will be doing it!
  • There is nothing wrong with having time-based goals, or the pursuit of new PR’s, but that is not the entire reason I run, it is only one aspect of it.
  • I am not dropping down from the full marathon to the half, because that choice comes with more regret than I am willing to accept. This may be the only marathon I ever run, but I have not worked and planned this long to lose hope now.
  • That being said, I am no longer committed to a sub-4:00:00 race…finishing 26.2 miles under my own power, doing the best I can, will be enough.
  • Ditto the sub-25 5K…some day that may happen, but if achieving it on the day before CHM compromises the marathon, it’s not worth it. I will run both races, and get my triple medals, and be satisfied with that.

My other 2014 goals – Half-Fanatic and Spartan Trifecta – remain unchanged; in fact I have received some great news about one of these! I have been talking with the people over at Inov-8, and they have agreed to sponsor me for at least one, possibly all three, of the Texas Spartan races this year – I will be the Masked Mudder this May 17-18, at the Spartan Super; the Sprint is tentatively scheduled for the following weekend (!); and then the Beast is in December. Inov-8 had offered to sponsor me for this year’s Beast, which is coming up in a few weeks, but when I explained that a 12-mile obstacle race was not a part of my marathon training plan, they agreed to defer until next year 🙂 As a bonus, I will be receiving a pair of Inov-8 Mudclaw 300 trail shoes in the very near future – I will be reviewing those once I get some miles on them; I know these are not a “new” shoe, and there are plenty of other reviews online, but they will be new to me, and maybe some of you, Constant Readers, would be curious to hear my opinions.

To make sure I get some muddy miles, I took a leap and signed up for my first ever trail race, two weeks from now: a local event sponsored by the Houston Area Trail Runners (which I just joined), the Ho Chi Minh 6-Hour Race – beginning at 6am, run as many laps as you can on a marked 5-mile course through the hike-and-bike trails of Houston’s Memorial Park (known locally as the Ho Chi Minh trails, hence the name) within a six hour time limit, with prizes for most laps and fastest lap. (I won’t be winning any prizes, I’m going for the experience.)  I ran these trails a few times back in the spring, and they vary in difficulty from fairly easy to fairly challenging; add in the cold weather and frequent rains we’ve been having, and this should be…interesting! Plus I get to make friends with another group of local runners, and that is always a bonus.

I will be starting back to serious running right after Thanksgiving…I plan to eat enough to NEED some running afterwards 🙂 Between now and then, I will be hitting the gym to log some hours on the elliptical and weight machines – finally putting the cross-training plan into motion! I have been researching CrossFit boxes, and once we get some of the financial issues around here under control, I will be signing up for the Intro and Basic courses, to get my foot in the door; we will see how it goes after that. I think that I may be seeing the light at the end of this (brief) tunnel, and I am pleased that it does not come with the sound of an oncoming train!

See you next week, good running to all, and have a Happy Thanksgiving, whatever your plans may involve!



CHM Training update: T-10 weeks – Giving up a little to gain a lot

I started this week with high hopes; the thinking was that some positive changes outside of running would inevitably lead to some positive changes in running…but something different happened, instead – let’s take a look at how it went.

Sunday 11-10: Long run – 130-140 min @ 9:18/mi, 14-15 mi // Rest  I woke up feeling awful – stuffy head, full body aches, maybe even a low fever, I didn’t check…so I took some aspirin, ate something, and crawled back into bed; must have been the right answer, because I slept until noon, but felt tons better. Spent the remainder of the day in fellowship: went to the Houston Half Marathon’s Volunteer Appreciation luncheon (totally gorged on fajitas!) and then visited at a church my wife and I are considering joining – overall, a great day, even without a run!

Monday 11-11: Rest day //  Rest  First day back at my “real” job, after nearly two months…climbing ladders, walking up and down five flights of stairs, nearly a half-mile from the parking lot to the jobsite…great to be back to normal! Nice change in work hours, too – 6:30-3:00, instead of 7:30-7:00; now I can actually count on getting my workouts done!

Tuesday 11-12: TM “big workout” – 1.5 easy run warm up (9:45/mi); 2x [0.75 mi @ 7:54/mi, 1:30 recovery]; 30 min @ 9:18/mi; 2x [0.75 mi @ 7:54/mi, 1:30 recovery]; 1.5 mi easy run cool down  //  1:04:26, 6.6 mi My normal pace workout, with a big steady run chunk added into the middle – nice, if you can do it…and today, I couldn’t. The first pace set went well, I wasn’t too terribly stressed by either the speed or duration. About halfway into the steady run, I began to feel my knee stiffening up, and my ankles were getting sore, so I stopped to do some quick stretches, which helped. But by the time I made it another 15 minutes, I was hurting a lot more; so another, longer pause to stretch and walk a bit…not much improvement. Less than 30 seconds into the second pace set, I knew it was time to quit. I spent 20 minutes or so on the foam roller, and doing some serious stretching with a yoga strap, but I was still limping a little as I left the gym.

Wednesday 11-13: Cross training  //  Rest

Thursday 11-14: Maintenance – 25-30 min @ 9:18/mi, 3 mi //  Rest

Friday 11-15: Maintenance – 25-30 min @ 9:18/mi, 3 mi //  Rest 

Saturday 11-16: Cross training  //  Rest  

Total for this week: 1 runs, 6.6 miles, 0 XT

Total for November: 6 runs, 40 miles

As I wrote earlier this week, I am taking a brief hiatus from running – in fact, from nearly all training activity that causes pain – to allow my body some time to heal, and to keep from further aggravating my injuries. I will be searching out a sports medicine doctor this week, to schedule an appointment; I will also begin the quest for the best price on some top tier running shoes – I have some good leads already, through my relationship with OptimalRun.com and kindrunner.com, plus several local running stores that are affiliated with my running club – networking pays off ;).
Mostly I am reviewing what I have done, right and wrong, and trying to draw the correct lessons from my experiences; keep the good, change the bad, and accept that this is a normal part of the learning curve for a new runner. I am not thinking too far ahead, until I have more information…that would be a waste of time and energy that could better be spent living in this moment…

See? I can be taught! Stay with me, folks, I will update you as new developments occur.

CHM Training update: T-11 weeks – A tale of two shoes

“It was the best of weeks, it was the worst of weeks, it was the week of wisdom, it was the week of foolishness…” Wait, is that right? Well, it’s close enough, and certainly accurate, in my case – Let’s review the week as it was:

Sunday 11-3: Long run – 150-160 min @ 9:18/mi, 16-17 mi // 2:43:21 @ 10:53/mi, 15.01 mi  This makes my longest distance to date! I was thrilled when I heard Nike+ announce “13.5 miles”, knowing that every step carried me further into uncharted territory. However. it was also the most painful run I have ever endured; I blame this entirely on two factors – one, I have been shorting blowing off my cross-training throughout this entire training cycle; and two, I have far and long exceeded the effective life of my shoes – 600 miles is simply ridiculous, and I deserved every bit of the sore knees and aching back I was left with by the time I finally decided to stop.

Monday 11-4: Rest day //  19:56 @ 9:47/mi, 2 miles Work was slow, so I had a day off – WHEW! I took advantage of the break to go shopping, and hunted down some new running shoes! I wanted another pair of the Ride 4’s I have been running in, since I can’t afford any of my dream shoes right now; but apparently I waited just a bit too long…they were a clearance item, and got pulled off the shelf over the weekend 😦 So I did some real quick research (gosh, I love smart phones!) and selected the most suitable alternative that fit my budget: the Saucony Cohesion 6 (I secretly wanted these in neon yellow, but my wife threatened to spray-paint them black if I bought them…she keeps asking why running shoes must be so – in her words –  ugly!)

new shoe(source)

I took them out for a quick shake-out run (as today’s entry in Solana’s #beaststreak) and so far, so good – we shall see how they hold up after a week or so, or at least through next week’s long run, another 15-miler 🙂

Tuesday 11-5: TM paces – 1.75 easy run warm up (10:00/mi); 4x [0.25 mi @ 7:20/mi, 1:30 recovery]; 1.5 mi easy run cool down  //  54:36, 5.15 mi (cut the cool down off at 0.5 mi) I look forward to this workout every week now, because it makes me smile when I get through it…I remember the first few times I did these, when I would be dying by the 2nd or 3rd repeat,  and now I can burn through all 8 sets – clear evidence that persistence pays off! Also another winning showing for new shoes – I think that many of my aches and pains are going to be behind me, at least as long as I don’t try to “cheap” my way through training any more – they call it “wisdom” because it’s what you learn AFTER you do it wrong the first time!

Wednesday 11-6: Cross training  //  Rest  Even though I got through the pace workout without any problems, I woke up feeling very sore in the knees again, so I decided to err on the side of caution and let more healing happen; I did have another serious session with the foam roller – my dog just sits and watches me while I’m rolling, like she is trying to figure out if I need to be defended from this object that appears to be causing my so much pain! Just to be safe, I don’t leave it out when I’m done, she can be destructive when she sets her mind to it 🙂 Unfortunately, this means I have broken the #beaststreak less than one week into it, and I am disapointed in myself for that…but I won’t be running at all if I don’t listen to my body and let it rebuild when it needs it, that is just a fact.

Thursday 11-7: Maintenance – 65-70 min @ 9:18/mi, 7.5 mi //  Hills repeats: 0.5 mi warm-up, 5 sets of over-the-hill-and back @ 1 km each, 0.5 mil cool down; 4.8 mi, 49:57  As I have said before, I really like this particular workout, because I KNOW that hill training builds endurance and speed, and both of these things work toward my goals. The drawback is how hard the incline is on knees and ankles, which are my chronic problems. I intended to to 10 sets, but by the fifth I knew that would be pushing too far – I would rather quit strong than finish crippled. It was also very windy, and once it got dark my hands started going numb; I will be so glad when I get my winter gear in order – no more excuses!

Friday 11-8: TM threshold – 1.75 mi warm up; 2x [2 mi @ 8:13/mi, 2:00 recover]; 1.5 mi cool down // Rest  I got off work early enough, even had my gear packed in the truck to go straight to the gym…and then last thing, as we were unloading the moving dollies and dumping trash at the end of the day, one of the other guys lost control of the cart he was handling and it rolled down the ramp and smashed into the back of my ankle – OH MY GOODNESS were not the actual words I used, but this is a family-friendly blog (most of the time) so that’s what we’re going with…needless to say, that took the wind out of  a workout, so I limped home and iced the injury. It doesn’t appear any more serious that a good bruise, VERY thankful for that.

Saturday 11-9: Cross-training //  Spartan beginner challenge WOD: warm-up – 3 min jump rope; 3 sets [10 burpees, 10 crunches, 30-sec plank, 2 min jump rope, 2 min recover]; stretching cool-down  I subscribe to the Spartan WOD emails, and this was posted on Monday as an introduction for beginner racers, and since I have been doing almost nothing for cross-training, I thought this would be a good place to start. I will be doing this 1-3 times a week for now and see how I do – and yes, burpees suck challenge me!

Total for this week: 3 runs, 26.9 miles, 1 day XT

Total for November: 5 runs, 33.4 miles

There were two other non-running developments this week. The first was that I met with my dentist on Wednesday and did the final fitting and selection of teeth for my dentures; they are off to the lab to be made! Because of a backlog, they will not be ready until the first week of December, so I will be making “modifications” on Thanksgiving dinner, but look out Christmas!

Pictured: MY serving!Pictured: MY serving!

The other big news for the week is that I am done with furniture – I have completed all the requirements of my suspension and I am returning to my regular job (and regular income!) as of Monday!! This means that my schedule will normalize to consistent hours, I will get off early enough to get my workouts done without sacrificing the rest of my life, and I will be able to afford all the stuff I need to perform well: warm workout clothes, proper nutrition, better quality shoes when I need them – a huge burden of doubt has been lifted off my shoulders, and so my heart is filled with gratitude and thanksgiving, right when I most needed the boost; isn’t it awesome how God works to provide exactly the right thing at exactly the right time?

How do you deal with lingering injuries, without losing heart?

Have you ever had doubts that resolved themselves at the last minute?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments!