In my brief running journey, I've tackled some big challenges. Most recently, I ran for 12.5 hours to complete a rain and wind swept 37 miles in a Kentucky forest. That was my second ultra marathon. I've also completed 4 marathons and 15 half marathons. And yet, this past April, in tackling a distance much shorter than any of those feats, I may have completed my toughest running challenge yet.
I took up running when I turned 50. Every year since I've attempted a big running challenge around my birthday. This year I decided to use the birthday challenge to bring awareness to my new venture, Running4Soles (www.running4soles.com). Like many of these challenges, this one popped into my head while I was running. I knew I was turning 55, so I guess the idea of running 55 5Ks was born simply because 5K sounded sort of poetic when I said it after 55.
I confess, sometimes running poeticness gets me in trouble. When it sounds beautiful I sometimes read the poem to the world before I fully interpret its meaning. And in the case of running 55 5Ks, I knew the moment I was done reading it this one was going to be much easier read than done.
In my mind I knew the math: at least two 5Ks every day. Two is a harmless enough number. But in the end, it's a number that became more daunting than 37 or 26.2 or any other running number I've had to face.
Before this challenge, I'd only attempted more than one run in a day a few times. That's because some days there's only one thing harder for me than running, and that's talking myself into running. In taking on 55 5Ks in one month, there was rarely time to embrace the sense of accomplishment I feel at the end of each and every run. I was always in the mindset of preparing for the next one.
That's why the first thing I learned this month is:
Running is at least 51% mental.
You have know idea how much I wanted to throw some hyperbole in there and say running is ALL mental. But it's not. That 37 mile Kentucky run isn't far enough behind me to forget the physical pain and exhaustion I experienced to call running a 100% mental game.
But I know this. There were plenty of times running those 55 5Ks this month that I wondered if I'd get out there, if I could even get the motor started. Not once, however, after I got out there, after the motor was running, did I doubt I'd finish.
Getting started is the hardest part. That's when excuses swing their might sword. I've found you can't out run excuses, but you can out think them.
In running, and in life, momentum means everything.
Last year, when I ran the Marine Corps Marathon with my friend Tracey Outlaw, he encouraged me with this notion "if you'll just pick up your pace a little bit your body will follow." He said this at mile 18 when I was exhausted and a wee bit cranky and I didn't respond as lovingly as I should have. But I thought of his words often this month. "If I can just get myself out the door, that 5k will follow."
I think we all need to keep that in mind. Running and life are about momentum. We're all toting around a lot of good and healthy ideas. I wonder if what holds us back from seeing them through is we don't believe strongly enough in momentum. We don't trust that if I just take a step into that idea, the results will eventually catch up.
Something I have to do eventually turns into something I do.
I remember the first week of doing 2 or 3 5Ks a day. It messed with my routine. My mornings are reserved for reading and writing and prayer and reflection. Squeezing a 5K in there meant I had to do something else instead of what I preferred doing with my mornings. That first week I thought a lot about what I wasn't doing instead of what I was doing.
By the second week, however, a 5K in the morning became part of my routine. I had a new habit. Running a 5K became something I was doing instead of something I had to do. When running or any activity becomes something you do without thinking about the sacrifice you're making to do it, you are gifted with the full value of your effort.
Just like my reading and writing time became more valuable to me when I no longer considered I could be sleeping instead, running those 5Ks became more meaningful to me when I quit wanting that time to be about reading and writing.
How much further do we have to go?
When taking long drives with our boys, they often ask, "how much further do we have to go?" Their minds are clearly interested in getting beyond the "we are going" and getting on with whatever happens at "we are here."
Much of my running lately has been about going further. I just have more curiosity around how far this old body can go than I do around how fast I can somehow beg it to move on along. As a result, though, I've spent a lot of time running recently looking at my watch, wondering inside, and even on a rare occasion screaming out loud - "how much further do I have to go?"
With these 5K runs, I always knew I was only going to be out there 35-40 minutes. I don't remember one time wondering how much further. When you're not focused on how much further you have to go, you're likely to spend more time focused on where you are.
This revelation doesn't leave me longing to run shorter distances. But it is a reminder the next time I'm out there wondering how much further I have to go, to reflect back on these 5Ks and remember the beauty found in where I am.
No matter how far it is, we only get there one step at a time.
When I began this 55 5K journey on April 1st - 55 seemed like a giant number. Sometimes the sum of all the parts is intimidating. Which is why sometimes it's hepful to thing about the parts more than the sum.
I remember that first week of running, after I'd finished 16 of the 55 runs, and it was suddenly a 39 5K journey. Still a big number. But not AS big. I remember thinking - I'm not so sure I can run 55 of them this month, but I think I can do 39.
I think that trips us all up sometimes. We get big dreams, get big life challenges dropped in our laps, have days that get filled with unexpected complications. Whatever it is, it can initially feel overwhelming.
For years I supervised college aged counselors working with at-risk teenagers. They often told me they felt overwhelmed. I used to tell them I have good news and bad news. The bad news is you'll probably always feel overwhelmed to a degree. The good news is, no matter how overwhelmed you are, you can only tackle one thing at a time. So pick the one thing you think will help the most.
The 55 5K journey got overwhelming at times. The helpful thing was, every day, no matter how overwhelming, the only strategy available to me was to tackle one 5K at a time.
Why take a step?
Why am I getting out of bed?
Each day, the more clearly I've defined that answer, the easier it is for me to get out of bed.
Chances are, if you have no idea why you're getting out of bed, the snooze button is your best friend. If you know the answer well, if you know your why, maybe you don't even know what a snooze button is.
Each 5K I did was hard. Every one of them. I'm not great at getting excited to run. But not one 5K was about excitement or fun or even being healthy. They were about bringing awareness to a cause that's bigger than me, one infinitely more important than me.
I recently developed an affection for the nonprofit Soles4Souls. I not only appreciate their mission to create jobs and bring relief by distributing shoes and clothes around the world, but I've had the chance to meet many of the folks in the organization. Their hearts are perfectly aligned with the work they do. I also believe the running community is primed to advance the Soles4Souls mission, and that God has put me in a position to be someone who can lead them.
That's where Running4Soles comes in. That's where running 55 5Ks in April came in. And that is why the reason I run has always been the real power behind my ability to defeat the mind games. I believe behind every victorious mind is a heart on fire with purpose.
In fact, I think it's the only way you win the mind games.
When God whispers, he probably wants us to shout.
Running is where God whispers to me. Over the last several years, he's put some crazy ideas on my heart. More often than not, I pursue them. In doing so I've discovered this. God whispers to me so I can shout for him.
I believe God could scream some sense into a crazy world. Sometimes I wonder why he doesn't. My guess is it's because God feels more joy in hearing me scream about his ideas than he'd get screaming about them.
How cool must it be for God to whisper, "hey, why don't you run 55 5Ks this month," and then sit back and watch me do it. Not only do it, but hear me shout to the world with each run that I believe poverty has a finsh line.
Maybe God whispers ideas because he believes in what I have to shout about them. Maybe he finds more joy from us screaming ideas together than he gets from screaming solo ideas at us. When I started this journey, I had no idea that my friends Nicole and Katie would run 55 5Ks with me, and that they would collect over 300 pairs of shoes this month. I had no idea God's whisper to me would become their shouts.
Maybe God whispers to me because he doesn't want everyone else to hear him. Maybe He wants them to hear me. And maybe when you hear whispers, or crazy ideas, it's because God wants to hear you shout too.
God isn't done whispering to me. He has placed a whisper on my heart to go to Honduras this August. To see for myself the work being done through Soles4Souls, to see for myself how shoes are carrying people to poverty's finish line, to equip me to shout even louder the stories He wants us to scream together. If you feel inclined to support this trip, you can do so below at my Soles4Souls Honduras trip fundraising page below.
All trip supporters are recognized on the Running4Soles Honduras webpage.
On the left, a pre-race shot at the Ashland Run the Rails 5K with race director Kristy Wright. On the right, a pre-race shot with friends and family before the Ashland Run the Rails 5K. I ran this race on my 55th birthday, April 27th. It was 5K number 55.
Life is like running.