Mini Book Review of Puke & Rally: It’s not about the Setback, It’s about the Comeback by Dr. Rob Bell

This book is about recovering from failure … which literally means at time you have to rally after you puke. I expected a practical guide on how to remain mentally strong after the going gets tough. I was hoping it would have tips I could apply to my future long run attempts. What I got was more of a series of anecdotes about people who have overcome serious setbacks. It was still a beneficial read even if it wasn’t what I was expecting, however, as inspiring as some of the stories were I am not entirely sure how and if they are applicable to my own story. If I understand correctly, this short read is a companion piece to Dr. Rob Bell’s book ‘The Hinge’ which I’ll probably check out in the future. For what it is, Puke & Rally serves its purpose well.

Mini Book Review of A Runner’s High: My Life in Motion by Dean Karnazes

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.

Trail Running is 90% Mental

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.

Mini Book Reviews of ‘Into the Furnace: How a 135-Mile Run Across Death Valley Set My Soul on Fire’ and ‘Stronger Than the Dark: Exploring the Intimate Relationship Between Running and Depression’ by Cory Reese

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.

Mini Book Review of “The Ultramarathon Guide: A Simple Approach to Running Your First Ultramarathon” by Michael D’Aulerio

I grabbed this book off of Amazon because I am a runner with budding aspirations to complete an ultramarathon. This book by Michael D’Aulerio is a great primer for such events. It is separated into chapters with each containing practical and useful information. D’Aulerio offers tips on topics such as what to bring to an ultra, how to stay motivated, and how to fuel and hydrate. It is a helpful read that I can see referring to from time to time as I continue to grow as a runner. I highly recommend it for any novice runner who is contemplating an ultra.

Mini Book Review of “Running to Leadville” by Brian Burk.

This book is very similar to author Brian Burk’s other book ‘Unfinished’. Like its counterpart, there are many grammatical errors. So much so that I felt I should lead with that in this review as it could deter some people. I will say this, however, it is a good book. Burk’s very strong at describing the ultra runs that are featured in his stories. In this case, that’s the Leadville 100. If you are even mildly interested in long distance trail runs, you’ll enjoy this book. Like ‘Unfinished’, there is a huge plot development, however, it occurs earlier in the story and doesn’t come off as an interruption to the plot. If you are choosing between the two titles, pick this one.

Mind, Spirit, and Body

23 Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” 1 Thessalonians 5:23, NASB.

In his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul prays his readers may be made entirely complete, in body and in spirit and in soul. I emphasize the last two because they seem to me the most ignored in our current day and age. Let’s face it; we understand all too well that our bodies are important. We live in a world that glorifies appearance. Spend a few minutes scrolling Instagram or watching TV and you’ll quickly understand what I mean. The health and wellness machine is all about appearance. The truth is, however, our appearance is the most superficial level of our existence; and when we overemphasize the superficial, we are neglecting what’s really important.

Perhaps you’ve heard it said that we are not a body with a soul, but a soul with a body. In terms of Scripture, this is an accurate statement. the Bible teaches that when we die, we’ll be absent from the body and present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8) and that at some point in God’s plan, we’ll receive new imperishable bodies (1 Corinthians 15:43). In fact, our mortal bodies can’t even inherit the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 15:50). This begs the question, Why do we focus all of our time and attention on the one aspect of our being that matters the least?

It seems to me, that when it comes to health and fitness, we better work on our mind, spirit, and soul, before we worry about our body.

I have a long history of weight loss and, unfortunately, weight gain. Over the past 34 years or so, I have lost a great deal of weight at least 4 times … probably 5 now that I think about it. I have spent a great deal of time counting calories, counting reps, and mastering various programs. I have agonized over various workout routines and driven myself nuts over the tedious little details. But what I’ve never done, is focus on my soul and spirit first.

The truth is, you can do everything right physically and maybe even lose weight; but still be a very unhealthy person. I’m not just talking about those skinny fat people we’ve all heard about, you know, their BMI and weight is under control and they’re considered beautiful by the world’s standards, yet their cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure is a mess. More importantly, I am referring to people who focus all their attention on the physical yet sacrifice the spiritual and the eternal aspects of their existence.

Genesis 1:26 says that all mankind is made in the image of God. He created us with physical attributes, yet He also created us with immaterial attributes; “soul, spirit, intellect, will, conscience, mind, and emotions”1. I’ve lost and gained weight so many times in my life because my emotions, mind, and will were suspect. I could get healthy physically, but never mentally or emotionally. That’s why I would so often turn to food when my life got flipped upside down. That’s why I embraced every emotion I experience with food! Sad – get ice cream, mad – order a pizza, happy – go out to a restaurant and celebrate! Whatever happened in my life, good or bad, caused me to turn to the sin of gluttony for satisfaction. This isn’t a physical problem … it’s a spiritual matter.

Perhaps you’re there. If I’m being honest, there is still a part of me that is. That’s why the plan I’m embracing now involves the mind and spirit and not just the body. This may seem out of order to you, but when it comes to weight loss, I’ve learned that the body is the least important aspect of my being. I’m learning that meditation, prayer, Bible Study, and the formation of good, healthy habits should come first. The body will follow my mind and spirit’s lead. A healthy mind equals a healthy body and a sick mind equals a sick body.

Whatever plan you’re following, learn from my mistakes. Do not ignore your mind and spirit in favor of your body. Any success you achieve following such a plan will be an illusion.

Proverbs 4:23 instructs us “Above all else, guard our hearts, for everything you do flows from it” and truer words have never been spoken.

If you’re interested in learning more about the plan I’m on, leave me a comment. I can give you more information and introduce you to a health coach that can help you get your priorities straight. I can even help introduce you to the Savior who can heal your mind, body, and spirit.

Mini Book Review of “Reborn on the Run” by Catra Corbett

Reborn on the Run by Catra Corbett

This book depicts the incredible journey of a meth addict turned ultra runner. The feats that author Catra Corbett accomplishes on the trail, are incredible. Reading her story helped encourage me that I can recover from my days as a Type 2 diabetic. In comparison, my mountains aren’t nearly as big as hers. Unfortunately, there are enough typos and errors in this book that it detracted, at least for me, from the amazing story. I’m glad I read it, however, and I am now a fan of Cards Corbett.

Mini Book Review of ‘Can’t Hurt Me’ by David Goggins

CantHurtMeDuring a conversation about ultra running, a friend asked me  if I had ever heard of David Goggins. He billed Goggins as the most inspirational man he had ever heard of and pointed out the author and ultra runner was a former Navy Seal. I was immediately interested because I am huge fan of the Seals. They are  the closest thing to actual, real-life super heroes I know of, so I immediately looked Goggins up and bought his book, Can’t Hurt Me. 

I don’t want to steal any of his thunder, but I will say that Goggins is, indeed, incredible. The things he has overcome and accomplished is beyond amazing. His life history is remarkable … but I wouldn’t necessarily say he is inspirational. I feel inspired when I read a book that encourages me to go out and reach beyond myself, and Goggins certainly attempts to do that, but he is so practically inhuman in the things he has accomplished that I can’t really relate. For instance, Goggins wanted to be a Navy Seal so he lost 100 pounds in a very short time frame and went out and did it. Likewise, he wanted to be an ultra runner, so he went out and completed a hundred mile event with no runs leading up to it. Who does that? He did, but can anyone else? I certainly can’t. I’m at the other end of the spectrum having just completed my first sub forty minute 5k. It took me two years to run a full half marathon. I want to be an ultra runner, but I’m no where near ready and I know it. As such, there’s really nothing from this book that I can take away and apply to my own life.

Goggins is incredible. He is other worldly. He is a hero, and I am now a fan, however, he is not inspiring. Physically and mentally, Goggins is a spectacle. He refers to himself as the hardest man alive and he may just be. I enjoyed his book and will be on the lookout for him on podcasts and such, but while he amazes me, he does not necessarily inspire me.

If want to be amazed, buy this book. Be forewarned, however – Goggins is a former Navy Seal and uses language you would expect a Navy Seal to use. If you are easily offended by four letters words, avoid this one.