Dean Karnazes is a legend. This book is meant as a companion piece to “Ultra Marathon Man” which helped me fall in love with long-distance running … and its just as good. What stood out to me when reading it is just how much Karnazes loves running. His love for running is obvious as he shares his unique running adventures culminating in his last Western States run. You can’t help but root for him as he describes what it’s like to run Western States as an older, more seasoned runner. It’s incredible read. It’s almost as if you are running Western States with him. I will never accomplish even a tenth of the running feats Karnazes has experienced, but reading this book makes me want to run more. It reminded me that running is not about speed or being the best on the course … but about the adventure.
For the past 12 weeks, I have been training for today. The Germantown 50k Trail Run. Four, torturous loops through the Germantown MetroPark expertly ran by the Ohio River Road Runners Club. Why? Well, I happen to love running — especially trail running. Also, I firmly believe God put this specific distance on my heart, which is odd considering I’m not an especially gifted runner. I’m slow and not built like a runner at all. But running has become an avenue for prayer and contemplation. My best conversations with God tend to happen when I’m alone on a run. So I didn’t argue or complain that God put the 50k (31 miles) on my heart.
I gave Germantown my best. My biggest fear was missing the time cut off after the third loop and not being allowed to start loop four. To qualify, I had to finish the third loop by 2:45 pm. A generous time allotment, but as I mentioned, I’m slow. Out of fear, I ran more and walked less than I had planned on the first two loops. According to plan, Stefanie joined me on loop three to pace me. It was slow going to say the least. I was experiencing severe stomach distress that wasn’t allowing me to take in much nutrition. What nutrition I did take in was a struggle to keep down. Basically, I was a train wreck. Dizziness, cramps, stomach cramps … the works. But I finished the third loop before the cutoff with about 20 minutes to spare. Mission accomplished. The problem? I didn’t have a fourth loop left in me. After loop three, I dropped.
The dreaded DNF (Did Not Finish). I managed to cover 22.83 miles with 2467 feet of elevation. But ultimately, I didn’t finish. Which made me mad at first. Specifically, I was a little mad at God. Why would He put the 50k on my heart only to allow me to DNF? I didn’t understand … and, if I’m being honest, I’m still struggling. But I have realized something in the last few hours.
The God of Victories is also the God of DNFs.
Perhaps there was and is something God wants me to learn amid this DNF. We Christians talk a lot about living the victorious Christian life. But God’s Word is clear, we claim an ultimate victory that was won by Jesus on the cross. In life, however, God often uses failure to grow and mature us. The Apostle Paul understood this. That’s why he wrote, “And we know that for those that love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). Paul praised God though victories and imprisonment. Following his example, I will praise God in my DNF.
I have yet to decipher what God is trying to teach me. Perhaps I need to rely more on Him and less on me to finish a 50k. Perhaps, He is simply teaching me to wait on His timing. Whatever the lesson, today wasn’t the day. But I will keep plugging away. As Stefanie has reminded me, I need to focus on what I did achieve today. I did make the cutoff. I did complete 22.83 difficult trail miles (my longest yet) and almost 2500 feet of elevation. And I am praising the God who has blessed me by allowing me to do it.
I guess my first DNF isn’t that bad. It’s back to the drawing board. I’m now on the lookout for a 50k with a little less elevation!
Some people may make the case that a person must be mental to go running out in the middle of the woods, but that’s not actually what this post is about. Rather, I am simply making an argument that a successful trail run, especially a long trail run, is mostly about mental fortitude and attitude.
Case in point, I am currently training for my first ultra run; a 50k run in the Germantown Metro Park that will consist of four 7.75 mile loops around the park. Last week for my long run, I set out to do two loops in that park. Basically, I wanted to know what I was in store for. I’m not a big fan of surprises come race day. So, I set out and drove the hour and a half to see the park for myself. My first impression was that there were far more hills than I expected. About four miles into my first loop, the elevation started adding up. I instantly got down on myself and the negative talk began. Perhaps you’ve been there. “You can’t do this. You’ll never be able to complete four loops. You’re not a real runner. You have no business trying to do this.”
I hate to admit this, but the negative voice I hear in my head at times is my own. I have a tendency to focus on the negative when it comes to myself. Perhaps it comes from years of fighting obesity, but I am able to quickly forget how far I’ve come. I forget that I am not the man I used to be. I can do it quite easily. Long story short – I did not complete two loops during my first encounter with Germantown. I hit my limit after just one loop.
I walked away feeling defeated, discouraged, and embarrassed.
Today was a different story. I completed two loops in their entirety. Yeah, it was tough. I even got attacked by a swarm of bees at one point. But I overcame the bees and the hills. What had changed in a week? I’m still basically the same runner I was last week. The handful of training runs I competed over the last seven days didn’t make me twice as capable as I was. I’m still not fast or naturally gifted. The one thing that did change, however, was my mental state.
I went into today’s run accepting that it was going to be tough. I began the run in prayer. I asked God to give me strength, to protect myself and my companions from injury, and to protect me from myself. My negative self talk has the potential to cause some damage and I had no desire to go down that road today. I confessed that to God, asked for His forgiveness, and put my trust in Him.
I then spent the entire first loop focusing on staying positive. It helped that my wife stayed positive as well. Despite some aches and pains from a foot surgery she is recovering from, she stayed more or less in a good mood. That helped – a lot. I am convinced that surrounding yourself with positive people is the most basic way to stay positive yourself. Basically, I just tried to enjoy that first loop. I focused on the blessing of being on a trail with my wife and our son. I slammed my Tailwind to stay hydrated and walked the big hills with no apologies – I had bigger fish to fry.
The second loop started after a changed shirt and a PB&J sandwich – calm down, it was was sugar free jelly, natural peanut butter, and low carb wheat bread! Both Stef and Zach opted out of this loop, which left me on my own. The aftershokz went on and my running playlist was engaged. My running music is comprised of loads of positive, upbeat praise and worship music. Casting Crowns, P.O.D., Skillet, and Toby Mac. Before long, I found myself singing out loud; much to the chagrin of the various hikers I passed. I find it impossible to focus on negative things when I’m praising God.
This strategy worked well. The second loop seemed to be flying by. That is until mile 11. As a rounded a corner I saw a dog harness, cell phone, and various articles of clothing strewn about the trail, which is weird, but my brain didn’t even get a chance to process it before I was attacked by a swarm of bees. Before I knew what was happening, I had probably been stung about a dozen times. Eventually, I realized all the stuff on the trail belonged to another runner and his dog who had been attacked as well. The dog had accidentally stumbled into a hive and upset the bees. This was at about the same point the hills began.
Everything post bee attack was tough. Real tough.
My heart rate skyrocketed and I had some breathing issues. Fortunately, the inhaler I carry on my trail runs helped some. The hills were made tougher with the pain of the stings, but I had to take moment and thank God it hadn’t been worse. I also prayed for the dog, because she seemed to take more stings than the rest of us. The bee incident did manage to shorten my planned 19 mile run to just under 15, but on a positive note, I managed to complete two full loops.
The only change was my mindset an my attitude.
God’s Word tells us to to think about “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable … excellent or praiseworthy” Philippians 4:8. I’ve learned the mind is the most powerful weapon a trail runner has. Sure … it would be nice to have the endurance and lungs of Jim Walmsley, but let’s face it, that’s never going to happen. Through dedication and hard work, I may be able to slightly improve my running performance … but nothing will have a more dramatic impact on my running than an improved attitude!
My advice for trail runners, regardless of their skill level?
1. Stay positive! Don’t allow negative thoughts to get a foothold.
2. Focus on those things lovely about being on a trail! There are plenty of people who wish they could enjoy a train run, but for whatever reasons can’t. You are blessed!
3. Begin each run in prayer and praise God frequently throughout your run. You are never alone in the woods!
4. Finally, prepare yourself mentally before the trail gets tough. Spend time in God’s Word and in prayer during the week before your long run. Don’t wait for hills to talk with God … know that the hills are coming, and talk to Him in preparation!
I’m a work in progress, but this lesson is going to stick with me.
Is the COVID vaccine the mark of the beast? Should it be associated with the mark of the beast in any way? I’ve been asked this question enough times that I thought it was time to look at it in light of Scripture. Especially considering some political pundits continue to make the assertion that they are one in the same. I’ve even seen some Preachers equate the two.
Why is the vaccine associated with the mark of the beast? I suppose it is because, on the surface, there seems to be a similarity. The line of reasoning is typically that the mark is supposed to be on, or under, the skin and a person will not be able to buy and sell unless they have received it. The vaccine is administered under the skin and marketplaces were largely shut down due to COVID. Plus, there is a big push by our government for everyone to be vaccinated. The fear some people have arrived at is that by receiving the vaccine, they will be inadvertently taking the mark of the beast.
Is this a valid concern? Quite simply, it is not. Take a look at what we know about the mark of the beast from God’s Word:
Revelation 13:15-18 “15 The second beast was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that the image could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed. 16 It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, 17 so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name. 18 This calls for wisdom. Let the person who has insight calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. That number is 666.”
Most of what we know about the mark of the beast comes from this passage in Revelation. We know that this mark acts as a seal for followers of the Antichrist and the False Prophet. There are two other passages that designate these followers as “worshipers”:
Revelation 14:9 “9 And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand,”
Revelation 14:11 “11 And the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever. There will be no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image, or for anyone who receives the mark of its name.”
Expositors differ on the exact nature of the mark and even on the meaning of the number 666, however, one thing is clear, the mark is reserved for those who worship the antichrist.
I’m going to offer three reasons why you do not have to fear “accidentally” receiving the mark of the beast either in the form of a vaccine or by any other means:
1. The mark is reserved for this who worship the beast. We know from God’s Word that He is a just and fair God (Psalm 89:14). Righteousness is simply part of God’s character. He isn’t capable of being unjust. Would a just God allow someone to accidentally accept the mark of the beast? Those who receive the mark are referred as worshipers because they will willfully and consciously worship the antichrist. They won’t have to be tricked into it. I would argue they will receive it with glee. The mark of the beast is a poor imitation of the Holy Spirit which seals believers as belonging to Christ (Ephesians 1:13-14). Just as one can’t accidentally receive the Holy Spirit, you will not accidentally receive the mark of the beast.
2. The mark doesn’t exist yet. I encourage you to check out my post on the Seventy Weeks of Daniel. Currently, we are positioned on the timeline as waiting for the final week of years to begin. This final week is known as The Tribulation and it will be heralded in by the antichrist rising to power through a coalition of ten nations and a peace treaty with Israel (Revelation 17:7, Daniel 9). While Geopolitically speaking, this seems likely to happen sometime soon, it hasn’t happened yet … and the mark won’t happen until all of this has taken place.
3. The Church hasn’t been raptured yet. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 makes it clear the Church will be raptured and spared from The Tribulation. The mark doesn’t come I until after this rapture occurs. While the Church will be raptured, those who remain will have to make a choice; Jesus or the antichrist. Those who choose unwisely will receive the mark of the beast. Those who choose Christ will likely be persecuted and martyred.
To sum this all up, God’s Word, when taken in context, prescribe a timeline of events. A coalition of ten nations will join together under the rule of the antichrist. Peace will be brokered with the nation of Israel. The Church will be raptured and the Tribulation period will be ushered in. Those who will remain will then need to make a choice. Christ or antichrist. Those who choose unwisely will be marked as belonging to the antichrist. A proper understanding of this should alleviate any fears that a person May accidentally take the mark of the beast by receiving a COVID vaccine (or by any other means for that matter).
Believers should have no fear of the mark. Unbelievers should choose Jesus as their Lord and Savior today to alleviate their fears. God will take care of the rest.
I’ve long pondered that Twitter is little more than a cesspool of depravity. There seems to be something intrinsic to this particular social media platform that brings out the fringe and extremists on any particular issue. Why is this the case? Perhaps it’s all in the pursuit of adding followers. Perhaps, people are simply bolder on the internet than in person. Whatever the reason, it sometimes gets hard for me to stomach. For example, I recently clicked on a thread started by an atheist account which seemed to be blaming Evangelical Christians on increasing COVID cases due to their reluctance to get vaccinated. I clicked, because I am an Evangelical Christian who is vaccinated and I honestly wondered if Christians are getting vaccinated at a slower rate than the rest of Americans; but what really caught my eye was some of the hateful comments that the post attracted. One presumed atheist commented that the world would be a better place if COVID killed off all the Evangelical Christians. I won’t link to the actual tweet because I don’t want to bring attention to the moron that posted it, but needless to say, the tweet caused me some consternation. Why? It wasn’t because I’m soft or it hurt my feelings. In fact, if anything, I was simply mad. But as I pondered the comment for awhile, I actually found myself feeling bad for someone who could be that consumed with hatred.
So there I was reading that tweet and finding myself geng angry. But God’s Word reminds me to hate the tweet and evil sentiment it communicated, but to love the person that tweeted it. In fact, Jesus Himself said to “Love your enemies and pray for those that persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). So that’s what I found myself doing. I know nothing about that person … but I prayed for them. And I feel like God thought me something in that moment.
Think about this for a bit. How much would you have to hate a person, or group of people, to not only wish them death, but to put it on the internet for all to see. It stunned me that someone could be so callous. It is in this example, however, that I was reminded of the all-consuming power of hate. Everyday Health compares hate to a “… mental venom [that] can pollute your spirit, poison your soul and seep into all of the relationships that surround you.”1 Could there be anything more damaging and unhealthy for your spirit than hate?
God’s Word calls on us to hate evil, hypocrisy, and godlessness; however, it is also very clear that if we hate our brothers and sisters we live in darkness (1 John 2:9). The Bible commands Christians to get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger (Ephesians 4:31). Why? Because it stirs up conflict (Proverbs 10:12). When hate begins to occupy your mind and heart there is always the danger it will consume you.
You can hate something for all the right reasons … and still be consumed by that hatred to the point that it is unhealthy. Reader, when you find yourself feeling hatred toward another person, you are on dangerous ground. Don’t believe me? Notice that God’s Word likens “hate” with “murder” (1 John 3:15).
Hate your political opponents? Hate those who disagree with you? Hate Democrats? Hate Republicans? Do so at your own peril. The Everyday Health article I quoted earlier quotes Siddhartha Buddha as saying, “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”
Want to live a happy and healthy life? Learn how to let go of your hate. God bless.
On this episode of Dying 2 Self, I tackle the difficult subject of Depression. In a sermon I recently preached, I talk about what we can learn about depression from the Book of Job.
A few times in my life I’ve enjoyed a book so much I immediately pick up something else by the same author. It almost never works out for me. Perhaps it’s because of my high expectations or maybe it’s the mathematical improbability of one writer making magic twice in a single lifetime, whatever it is, I am almost always disappointed the second time around. I recently took a chance on ultra runner and author Cory Reese by reading two of his books back to back. I really enjoyed Into the Furnace and then took a chance on Stronger Than the Dark. Oh my, I was not disappointed! What follows are mini reviews of both titles.
Into the Furnace: How a 135 Mile Run Across Death Valley Set My Soul on Fire: On the surface, this is a book about Badwater, but in reality, it is about so much more! Funny, heart wrenching, and honest. As a 50 year old wanna be ultra runner, I’ll never run through Death Valley, but there are some philosophical gems in the pages of this book I can apply to my life. Such a good read!
Stronger Than the Dark: Exploring the Intimate Relationship Between Running and Depression: In his latest book, ultra runner Corey Reese takes a deep dive into the ocean that is his depression. He is powerfully, and somewhat painfully, transparent. He discusses the cause, symptoms, and side effects of his depression honestly. In doing so, he gives the reader permission to be honest about their own pain. Ultimately, Reese argues that running saved his life. But it’s not just the simple act of running long distances, that seems fo have saved him, rather, running is the vehicle used to transport him to a place where he could experience healing. This is an important book for anyone who has experienced depression. I honestly had difficulty putting it down.StrIn his latest book, ultra runner Corey Reese takes a deep dive into the ocean that is his depression. He is powerfully, and somewhat painfully, transparent. He discusses the cause, symptoms, and side effects of his depression honestly. In doing so, he gives the reader permission to be honest about their own pain. Ultimately, Reese argues that running saved his life. But it’s not just the simple act of running long distances, that seems fo have saved him, rather, running is the vehicle used to transport him to a place where he could experience healing. This is an important book for anyone who has experienced depression. I honestly had difficulty putting it down.
I highly recommend both of these titles for anyone interested in running or ultra running. Reese has a way of using running to address bigger, more important subjects. I hear he has a third book as well, and I can’t wait to read it.
When I first began running a few years age, I instantly fell in love with Hoka OneOne shoes. Hoka and I were a match made in heaven and it was love at first sight. I was heavier than most runners, pushing the scales at nearly 300 lbs at the time, and Hokas featured a thick, padded cushioning sole. It didn’t take long for my “shoe guy” to hook me up with some Hokas in an attempt to lesson the beating my knees and joints were taking. I loved them so much I named my German Shepherd Hoka. I still love them … but, alas, it was time for a change.
I was introduced to my new shoes when I had a gait analysis at my favorite running store. The salesmen recommended them because my analysis indicated I had an over pronation that “came and went”. The salesmen indicated that the Brooks Adrenaline had unique guide rails that would offer just the right amount of stability to help correct my over pronation. I was a little skeptical as the Brooks offered a greater slope than I was used to with my Hokas, but out of desperation, I bought them anyway.
Enter Brooks Adrenaline GTS 21.
Having lost a significant amount of weight since I took up running, my body composition has changed somewhat. I weigh under 200 lbs for the first time in 26 years or so and have more lean body mass. My running has changed as well. I’m only “pretty” slow as opposed to “really” slow. A twelve minute mile is cooking for me; and all that slow running is tough on the body. Recently, even with my beloved Hoka’s, I’ve developed a bit of an IT band issue. Searing pain that begins in my hip and radiates down to my knee on long runs. The pain normally doesn’t hit me until I’m ten miles or so into a long run, but when it hits, it hits hard. The pain is bad enough to degrade my already clumsy running gait and will hurt for a little while after the run is over. With a goal of working my way up to a 50k distance, this painful issue on long runs has become quite an obstacle.
I’ve got about 30 miles in the Brooks Adrenaline shoes so far and wanted to offer my initial thoughts. These shoes are great! While I would like to say they instantly cured my IT band issues, that isn’t the case. However, I have really enjoyed running in the Adrenalines so far. The Brooks Adrenaline GTS shoes offer a good mix of stability and feel. While my feet are supported and stable, I can still feel the terrain underfoot. This combination of stability and feel gives me a certain level of confidence when running. In my short time in the Brooks, I’ve tried them on the road and on the trail, and enjoyed each experience. These shoes are responsive and stable, which is an experience I didn’t get with my Hokas. Because of that responsiveness, I’m actually able to feel what my foot and toes are doing as I roll through my gait – and I think this may be key in making the necessary adjustments to correct my over pronation.
These shoes are excellent … just don’t expect me to change the name of my dog.
On this episode of Dying 2 Self, I talk more about the power of the BHAG and God as a necessary driver of transformation in your life. I also discuss Don Rose’s book ‘Average to Epic: A MId-Lifer’s Guide to Endurance Sports and Lifelong Fitness.” I would recommend this book to anyone who is a novice to endurance sports and is looking to learn more about it … especially those late bloomers like myself.
In the 5th installment of the D2S Podcast, I talk about creating a BHAG and the experience of failure. We also take a look at the Apostle Peter!