In late January or early February (can't remember), I decided to try an actual training plan- an 8 week plan for strength and endurance for beginner to intermediate runners. It had me do crazy things like run hard for one minute then easy for a minute for twenty minutes. Or run up a hill for 15 seconds, turn around and then do that again six times. Some days it was just an easy run- 20 minutes easy- that's it. Or stay within a low heart rate zone for thirty minutes. I did this almost every day for 8 weeks, with a few days scheduled off.
Here's what I thought about...
At first it was really hard to stay within the right heart rate zone. (You take a test, do some calculations and then get your zones from that.) I had a problem with being slow enough. In the first weeks, I told Bill I felt like I had to walk to keep within my zone. I'm that way in life, too. Too fast. I treat life like a 100 meter dash. It's not. Eric Orton, the trainer who's plans I've been using, says most people run their slows too fast and their fasts too slow- we sort of flat-line and don't really gain the speed and endurance we are hoping for. So, the right kind of slowing down has been the biggest learning curve for me.
The first time I ran a hill set, I thought it might be the hardest day of the training plan. It was still cold out, a bit of snow on the sides of the trail but the trail itself tacky muddy. I might have had to do six 15 or 30 second climbs, I can't remember. But I do remember that I lost count pretty quickly and starting poking sticks in the mud at the bottom of the hill to help me keep count. On my last one, I just ran up but didn't push myself, just got it over with. I wasn't prepared for the amount of regret I felt as I ran back home. I left a little bit back, not giving it my all. I realized that day I had made a mental switch in my running. I didn't want to leave a little bit back anymore. Hills became a favorite work-out because I thought them more conquerable (and I kept track with sticks and rocks and flowers, like in the Roy Rogers books I read growing up). I want to live my life that way- not leaving anything back- not wanting to look back with regrets because of this or that or whatever. I'm not un-saying what I just said about slowing down. It's more of a "right here, right now, be". But in life, those things are not ticked off with broken off twigs at the bottom of a hill; they aren't countable. Also, my rest interval (RI), which was going back down the hill, was consumed with evaluating how I would traverse the next climb. There will be another hill in life and I don't know how long it will be, but go at it strong and steady.
Then I got to running, day after day. Whatever weather (except extreme cold and lightning). A rest week. A re-testing of my heart rate. I had gotten a bit faster, a bit stronger. Not a lot, but a little. I was disappointed. I expected my zones to dramatically change. They didn't. I needed reminding that little by little I was indeed, getting stronger, better. So now, raise your hand if you'd like to leap and bound to some fabulous goal- weight loss, better health, solid relationships, deeper faith, etc. Sister, brother, I see your hand. See mine? We can all say that really, we know it is little by little that all that stuff comes to fruition. But if we are deep down honest, we still want to skip right to the end. We want the "fast track", the shortcut to the end. And our culture thrives on such- every single aspect is not left un-touched. Oh, I could go on and on about specific things! There is no fast track, friends. It is a day in, day out kind of running, living. The training I do today may not amount to anything significant at the end of the day, other than some weariness and some blisters, but over time it does add up.
Like I described, my work-outs varied. And they got harder, especially after I signed up for a 12 week plan, as in, increased significantly. Longer long runs, longer hill runs, faster fast runs- pushing me. Ladies and gentlemen, so many of us are still in the 6/8 week plans of our faith. While those are actually great for a time, they will never really get you to that next level. When we get to a hill, we say too hard, I'll skip that day. When we have a long run, we complain. So we get to a re-testing of our heart rate and find it's still the same, we cry out to God to change us, make us new, give us something. He's not un-compassionate and doesn't sit in heaven, shaking his head saying tsk, tsk, but He does want us to see He is in the hard moments as well as the easy.
James 1 says "Consider it pure joy my friends, when you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish it's work so that you may become mature and complete, not lacking anything."So, now I don't want to write this next part because it sounds like an out, but I have to... Not every thing and not every day is a full on training day. Truly! I don't actually believe God gives you a full day off- we are always to live our lives, working out His word in our life with His Power. A whole lot of the time He wants you to discover a hidden sunflower field, spy a new bird and watch a sunrise and revel in Him.
But a whole lot of the time we've got it wrong- our slow is the wrong slow, our fast the wrong fast. We want to do something that can be counted here on earth with a little pile of rocks rather than add jewels to our heavenly crowns that we will humbly lay before His feet. And we want it all with little to no effort "Help me to love the poor, needy, broken, homeless, fatherless, just don't let me get dirty. Help me to forgive and love those who hurt me, just don't make me wade through a lifetime of scarring and deal with my own stuff first. Help me to love you and follow you with everything, just don't make me give up my time, my money, my family, my to-do list, my vacation, my..."
My running has reflected my real life. This year, more than any other year or time in my life, has been those things above. I've got the dirt on my hands, the once scabbed over now healing from the inside out scars and the muscles that perseverance produces that I didn't have before. Not for my own glory, oh no, who would want to do such things? But for Him!
If you're willing, tie on your shoes and put one foot in front of the other.