Hevel during a Gran Fondo

King Solomon remains a famous figure in the world’s great religions and ancient history.  He ruled for 40 years over ancient Israel in the 9th century BC.    Of all the artifacts left behind by the man considered “the wisest man who ever lived,” are the three books of the bible that he authored.  His first book, Song of Solomon, was written when he was young and full of vigor.  He second writing, done when he was middle aged is perhaps his most famous book, the book of Proverbs.  Proverbs are, for a lack of a better word, a book of rules.  His last writing, done when he was an old man, is Ecclesiastes.  Ecclesiastes is a musing into the meaning of life and how we are to live.

It is said that Solomon had 700+ wives and uncountable concubines and blessings of wisdom and wealth from God.  In a single year of reign as king, the book of Kings reported that he collected 666 talents of Gold, or 39,960 lbs.  In 2018 dollars, that equates to more than $766M.  He had 39 additional years of wealth earning, before Solomon eventually died and his kingdom passed to his son and later collapsed.

With all this wealth in mind, very early in the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon throws the reader a curve-ball, as he starts the book with the conclusion.  He says that “all the actions of man are hevel.”  Unfortunately, the ancient Hebrew word hevel doesn’t translate clearly into English.  Many bible translations bring it over as having a meaning that parallels “vanity” or “futile.”  It also means “breath” and “vapor” and Hevel was the name given to one of Adam and Eve’s children (we mispronounce it “Able” today).  Other words we could use for hevel include foolishness, absurdity and nonsense.

All the actions of man amount to foolishness, nonsense and vapor.  Why, then is this message about hevel the only thing on my mind at the start of a bike race in the North Georgia mountains?

Sure, Shakespeare quoted Ecclesiastes.  Abe Lincoln used Ecclesiastes in presidential speeches.  Authors like George Bernard Shaw, Ray Bradbury and Earnest Hemingway all include characters and commentary directly from Ecclesiastes.   The contents of Ecclesiastes are a part of our culture.  The German philosopher Emmanuel Kant built a world view that altered the thinking of much of Europe based on the initial claims written in the first verses of Ecclesiastes.  Yet, why are these 3,000 year old words on the tip of my tongue when I am about to burn 2,500 calories an hour?

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Hevel at the start of the Georgia Gran Fondo.

I pause and look at the other riders also undertaking this event.  My son is sitting on his bike, right in front of me.  For a moment, I ponder the efforts of great athletes from other cultures, and I am struck by how unimportant all of us are and how much hevel applies to our efforts.  I couldn’t come up with the name of a single 19th century soccer star.  I couldn’t come up with the name a single swimming rock star who wasn’t also an Olympian.  With the Olympics happening only once every 4 years, many great athletes peak and miss the cycle to compete on that stage.  The efforts of athletes are forgotten, just the bumper crops of the ancient passed and the hurricanes of 100 years ago.

To get to the point, the work that I am about to do today, on my Cervelo P3 road bike, is hevel.  Sure, my cycling power is at an all-time high, but 100 years from now, I will be dead and the numbers and results I get today will be hevel.  Heck, they will be hevel within the first minute of my next training session.  So why am I even doing this?

Solomon ends his tales with a claim that the purpose of life is to learn to fear God and follow his commandments.  As I ponder this claim, a light goes on in my head.  I look at my son, sitting on his bike waiting for the race to start, and I see his scars.  I remember how he wrecked last month and how scared he is of a repeated wreck.  He is only scared because he knows what happens if he wrecks.  Without that knowledge, he has no reason to fear fast and windy descents.  Today, we will have strong cross winds, and I have told him how to handle them to prevent another episode of road rash.

I conclude that I need to tell my sons more stories of God, so they get to know who he is.  There is no chance that they can fear the Maker of the universe if they don’t know Him, just like Alex can’t fear the road without knowledge of what will happen if loses control.

I can’t tell him stories now, as the race is about to start in less than a minute.  I want to pull out my phone and record a memo.  Instead, I decide to dedicate part of the ride home to storytelling.  After all, we have a 4-hour drive once we finish this race to get home.

The pursuit of fitness has assuredly changed my life, by making me focus on improving and getting better, when others say that such things are no longer possible after reaching a certain age.  But I can conclude that my efforts are anything but hevel.  God teaches us to offer my body up as a living sacrifice, and he calls this sacrificial act our “true worship.”   Yes, it really hurts to get better and not just maintain.  But, who said pain is a justification not to get better.  Fearing the Lord includes more than just having a relationship with him.  It includes following his commandments…at least, that is the point that Solomon is making.

As the race starts, and we follow a police escort out of town, it hits me.  I more deeply understand that my results don’t matter, but my willingness to offer my body as a sacrifice, this day, as an act of worship is what I am here to do.  The act of pedaling with worshipofmy God in mind is not hevel.  The results of the event are hevel.

20180506_165439I won today.  The medal I received is hevel.   The lesson to fear God and follow his commandments is not hevel.

I heard that there are special needs organizations that accept people’s medal collections, and they use them to give to the kids for competing against each other in their own version of the Olympics.  If they can provide another person some hope and a smile, then they no longer are hevel.

I know where my medals are going one day.

And I know what I am talking about on the ride home.  Despite being a 3000-year-old message, for the first time in my life, I feel like I really get it.

What are you doing to come to terms with all of your hevel?

 

 

Failure en route to success

Nelson Mandela said, “there is no passion in playing small.”  His point was that you must take a trajectory that is outside of your current life to achieve greatness.  I committed to this behavior years ago, leaving home at an early age to go to places that no one in my family had ever been, and I traveled without even an acquaintance.  This blog is a continuation of that commitment to not playing small.

I feel a sincere drive to set the example for others to follow.  Yet, sometimes leading by example creates some intermediate failure. This story connects intermediate failure with the success that follows, if you stick it out.

20180331_090533A week before Duathlon Nationals, I signed my son and me up to compete in an organized bike ride in the foothills of the Smokies, about 2 hours from our home.  The weather was beautiful that day, and it represented our last real workout before tapering and leaving for Greenville, SC.  We were excited to get to travel to Nationals without a plane flight or a long car ride.  Greenville is about 2 hours from the house, and this bike race was the last “thing” we would do before finishing our packing and leaving a few days later.  Alex had just started his Spring Break, and he was looking forward to spending time with friends over his time off.

Alas, my son only completed 7 miles before crashing out.

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Alex Gaura, after his crash, being inspected by a paramedic for broken bones

How he crashed, I can only speculate.  I was in front, and I told him to follow me.  We both had some mechanical problems early on, so we had to stop and fix them before proceeding.  Even though we were in the back of the group for the first 10 minutes, we started passing people once we corrected our brakes/chains/power meter/heart rate monitor issues.  We did a couple of climbs with some shorter descents before entering a roadway that Alex will never forget.

A minute after reaching the bottom of the hill, I slowed down, thinking that Alex was coming any moment.  After a couple of minutes of soft pedaling, I pulled over and waited for him on a bridge over a small clear stream.  The views from the valley floor were gorgeous-trees were in full bloom, with new leaves forming on nearly all the hardwoods in the valley.  There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and the humidity was low.  I thought, “this is what parts of heaven must be like.”

Alex never showed.  I decided that I needed to pedal back to the bottom the hill that we had descended and look for him there.  Perhaps he pulled over with another mechanical problem?  He had already pulled over once today.  Who is to say he didn’t pull over again?

At the bottom of the hill, I saw no sign of him and knew that the next step was to climb back to the top of the hill and see if he stopped on the way down.  After getting more than halfway up, I saw a couple of bikes on the side of the road, with a woman standing over the top of someone, talking on her cell phone.  As I got closer, I saw that it was Alex who was on the ground, and he wasn’t moving.  As I walked up to him and saw that he was conscious and able to talk and move, I took a moment to breathe a sigh of relief.  For sure, his clothing was torn, and he had lots of road rash on his body.  His fingertips were torn up from sliding on the asphalt, and he tried to use his hands to break his slide.  The neighbors had come out to see what all the commotion was, and everyone slowed to ask if everything was OK.  One cyclist stopped only a minute after I arrived and announced that he was a medic.  He did a once over on Alex and felt confident that he had no broken bones and needed only to be treated for road burns.

Once the support vehicle showed up and Alex was taken back to the YMCA to shower and clean up, one of the riders who had done the short course arrived and told me that he was a local doctor.  He went into the shower where Alex was cleaning up and assessed Alex’s condition. He took out his phone and called the local pharmacy, calling in a prescription for burn cream.  He sent me to get it.  The pharmacist was expecting me when I walked in, and I was in and out in less than 5 minutes.  When I got back to the YMCA, Alex was out of the shower, the doc was ready to put the cream and bandages on his wounds.

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Alex Gaura with Road Rash and a not-so-happy face

Alex walked out of the Y, got in the truck and took a serious nap to address the shock that he had been through.  Over the next couple of days, my wife and I changed his bandages and watched him begin the healing.  Thank goodness that there was no school, as he was too immobile to attend school.

He had band-aids of many of his fingertips, and his hip and knee required the biggest size non-stick pads we could find, as he slid on the asphalt until he stopped.  When he returned to school a week later, he was still wearing lots of bandages and had limited mobility.  Yet, as soon as he could, he got back on the bike and kept up his training regimen with his Coach, Glen Thompson.  He returned to swimming in the pool, and within 2 weeks, he was able to “jog” up and down the driveway.

By the end of week 3, Alex was ready to compete with his not-quite-healed body.  He competed in the White Lake Sprint Triathlon, his first open water triathlon, wearing a wet suit over some serious scabs. He had a long first transition, yanking the wetsuit off over those wounds, yet he got on the bike and covered 14 miles without any pain.  A week later, he did the Cary Duathlon Classic, a race that is harder and longer than the upcoming World Championship.  In both these races, he won his age group, handily.  No “just squeaking it out” sort of wins but he won by several minutes each time.  Tonight, he does his first-time trial of the season, yet another cycling event.  I suspect that he will break his personal record tonight, even though 4 weeks ago, he was lying in bed, nearly motionless.

As I watched Alex step up to the podium to be recognized as the winner in each event, he had a traditional smile of pride on his face that any kid would wear when he gets positive recognition.  Yet I questioned how much he “changed” from his accident.  For sure, when a person, teenager or adult, experiences a grand failure that they knew was their misdoing, the temptation is to overreact, or perhaps go so far as to quit the sport in its entirety.  I am blessed to have a son tough enough to keep fighting.

20180422_102637Last night, he told me that he feared the upcoming series of Gran Fondo bike races this weekend.  I was proud of him for confessing that he knows that his bike handling skills are not good.  That fear should help him put out extra effort to remain in control as we descend though the mountains in and around Chattanooga, TN, on Saturday and North Georgia, on Sunday.  That said, I won’t be shocked for a heart beat if he comes home with some more hardware and cool Instagram photos from success.

Or he might come home with some more scabs.  Either way, it’s all good.  Failure is a part of our trajectory.  In fact, it is the act of failing that represents the litmus test as to whether or not you are even ON a trajectory or just trying to maintain.  Trying to maintain inspires no one.  Trying to overcome adversity…now that is the stuff that stories are made.

What adversity are you trying to overcome?

 

 

Serious as a heart attack

As an athlete, I feel that I am on a journey to find ways to get better and more efficient in my training and my racing.  A clean eating and structured exercise regimen have afforded me a life where I am faster and leaner since turning 50 than I thought possible.  I feel that the mandate to “live long as prosper” from Mr. Spock of Star Trek fame has come true for me.  The onus is on me to maintain and pass along what I learn along this path.

I get and keep confidence to continue progressing by reviewing the positive aspects that science and experience teaches:  lean endurance athletes are at a reduced risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, etc.  Yet, like a normal person, I know that there are some documented risks and side effects and consequences with my regimen.  Until this weekend, those risks got nearly none of my attention.

This weekend was the National Championships in Duathlon, in Greenville, SC.  I will soon forget the competition, but I won’t forget my friend Ed’s heart attack on race day.

One of my sons watching the race noticed Ed holding his chest on run 1 on Saturday morning.  When I passed Ed on run 2, he looked like he was in bad shape, as his eyes were rolling in his head.  After the race was over and I was talking with friends and family during recovering, my cell phone rang.  Megan from medical at USA Triathlon told me that after Ed crossed the finish line, he had been taken by ambulance to the hospital and he had told her to contact me as his emergency contact.  I met up with Megan, gathered his stuff, and created a plan to go to the hospital to see him.  I spoke with his wife on the phone, assuring her that he was in good hands.  She was in TX, and we were in SC, so she started making plans to get to here as soon as she could.

When I reached the hospital, Ed looked like a Christmas tree, with tubes, screens and lights surrounding him.  Ed had a heart attack during the race but pushed through to the finish line, as he really wanted to wear the TeamUSA logo and compete internationally next year.  Indeed, within a few minutes of arriving, he asked if I knew his time and I he made the cut.  The doctors put a stint in his heart to release the blockage via an artery in his groin immediately upon arrival in the hospital, and the darn thing wasn’t even a few hours old when I walked in.  Didn’t matter to him.  “Was I fast enough to make it?” was all that he wanted to share.

“Ed, you just hard a heart attack!  Let’s see you on the path to recovery, first!” was what came out of my mouth.  What I wanted to say was something like, “are you flipping serious?  Like, serious as a heart attack?  You could have died, Dude!”  In this one rare instance, going way out of character, I chose not to speak what was on my mind.

As an endurance athlete, I “know” just like everyone else “knows” that there is some peer reviewed research and anecdotal evidence out there that conclude excessive endurance exercise can be bad.  In one peer reviewed paper, the effects of long term endurance exercise cause a, “pathologic structural remodeling of the heart and large arteries.”  Indeed, the story of the first marathon ends with the original runner, Pheidippides, dying upon completion of the event.  The author of the book, “The Complete Book of Running,” died of a heart attack while running at age 52, and a 55-year-old mountain biker died 1 mile from the finish line of a race that he had already completed 18 times.  Until this weekend, I glazed over those events, dwelling on it long enough only to say, “not me.”  Ed was the same way.

I met Ed racing at Powerman Zofingen years ago.  Ed is short and stocky, but he has a motor that never stops.  He was always quick to say, “go USA,” when we passed each other during the race, and he is known by many for saying encouraging words to those whom he competes with, regardless of their citizenship.  He is a consummate sportsman.  He is one of those guys whom I nearly always beat but feel no shame in losing to.  Ed and his wife support my school building efforts via The Nepal Project, and they are “givers” down to their cores.  I was fearful that he was about to give his life.

I had a lot of reasons to complain about my National Championship.  Since February, I have been fighting a strain in my quads that has made it difficult to push at either the intensity or the duration I needed to reach to be competitive.  During the first race, I lost one of my cycling shoes in transition, and it took assistance from two of the refs before I found it.  My chain came off as soon as I finally got on my bike, and my rear brake rubbed throughout.  Yet, compared to Ed, I had an uneventful race.

God uses catastrophic events like this to get our attention.  When I arrived in the hospital room Ed quickly became teary eyed, as I was the first person from his previous life to see and talk to him since his life changing event.  I tried to joke with him, telling him that this was most certainly a consequence of voting for Trump.  His chuckle and subsequent cough brought a smile to both of our faces.  The world will only see the bad and perceive that events like heart attacks are random acts we can’t yet fully predict, like Earthquakes and girls and guys who break up with each other over text message.

We know that mortality catches all of us and it is highly unlikely that anyone racing this weekend will be remembered for their athletic prowess 50 years from now.  Yet, it is the power of our relationships that evoke change.  I held Ed’s hand and told him that good would come of this, I sensed a connection that would outlast this moment, in this place, surrounded by the power of science that often isolates us from our Creator.

The next day, I decided not to compete.  I told everyone that I had an achy knee (true) and that I can’t stand riding at 20+ mph in the cold (also true).  The missing part of my story was the impact that spending time Ed had on my psyche.  I did not fear a heart attack.  It was my lack of drive to compete that kept me on the sidelines. Instead, I stood on the run section of the course with my sons, cheering on my friends and encouraging them…for Ed.  That is what he would have done, had he been allowed to leave the hospital.  I watched Marcus, Rob, Randy, Mike L, Kristen and bunch of folks whom I normally compete against give it their best when their best mattered.  Yes, it was cold and I wished I was racing, but I knew I did the right thing.

When we got back home Sunday afternoon, we unpacked our gear and put everything away.  I repaired a piece of power equipment and raked our long gravel driveway, to get the pot holes out of it, and reviewed the final numbers on this year’s tax return.   After dinner, I sat on the couch and watched TV, when I got a long text from Ed.  He was beside himself with joy.  His son who had had been estranged from him for years gave him a call.  He son felt something on his heart, and he decided to call his dad and talk.  The two of them spoke on the phone, and Ed was overjoyed to tears.  Oddly enough, on Day 2, Ed was already grateful for his heart attack.

It is with both joy and satisfaction that I am passing on my TeamUSA status for 2019 and letting my slot on the team hopefully roll down to Ed.  For any of you ahead of Ed in the 50 to 54-year-old age category who considering passing on competing in Spain next year, the one who will be getting your slot will make you proud.  He will make us all proud.

Ed shared last night that his heart scans showed no damage to the heart muscle.  Ed’s wife called me.  She said he wanted to go out for a run.

When I was creating my training schedule months ago, I had put in a week off as a transition cycle before I begin building for Worlds in Denmark this July.  Before this weekend, I hesitated thinking if that was a good idea or not.  No doubt, I will take this week off from running and cycling and be grateful that I am doing so by choice and not by mandate.

Cheers to Ed and all the good that comes from a heart attack.

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Thoughts from a friend

At the core of goal setting is a deep dive into your definition of what it means to make an impact with your time and resources while you are on the Earth.  Yet, goals are viewed as an end, not a means.  Too bad that isn’t true.

To many, the goal is the end.  Google “goal setting,” and it is likely that you end up on a page that lists out specific goals, with lots of stories about the people and how they achieved them.  You’ve seen the lists.  They include items like:

  • Achieve a physical milestone-lift such and such a weight, run a distance, etc.
  • Go to the Super Bowl/World Series/Master’s, etc.
  • Have a certain number of people follow you/like you/provide dopamine hits to your brain to justify the effort put into your social presence
  • Be a guest star on Oprah (yes, I read online that someone really has that as their goal)

It takes no effort at all to realize that the act of stating your goals exposes how shallow and self-centered we humans are when it comes to defining the value of goals.

After all, the true definition of the value of a human is the impact that they make in the lives of others, one decision at a time.

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Moments before puking

One of my best friends recently resigned from a job to take a new, lesser paying job, so he would have time to execute on what he thinks is his life purpose.  My friend is an engaging teacher, who loves to share his understanding of Biblical passages and blend them with anecdotal stories from the real world.

My friend’s tools include his understanding of ancient Greek and a cumulative total of the all the mornings he has spent listening to and reading the Bible.  My friend also adds to his exposure on the topic by listening to podcasts, both related and unrelated, while working out.  He immerses himself in scripture, as a discipline, like I do with running, cycling and strength training.

But there are literally tens of millions of people with the focus and dedication of my friend.  Those efforts don’t separate him from people like you and me.  But his life experiences do.

You see, his wife left him 7 years ago, using only a hand-written note to announce her departure.  Then, she convinced their two children to have nothing to do with him.  He has been intentionally separated from his children, grandchildren and their livelihood, based only on the words of a single, mentally ill woman.  He is recently recovering from a heart attack that he knows, deep down, was preventable.  My friend was given a 3rd chance.

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My friend, at Tengboche, on the way to Everest Base Camp

When I think about what persecution means, the visualization I get includes my friend.

Yet, with all that noise, the inner voice telling him, “you need to teach,” has been loud and is only getting louder.  His choice to take less money to have more time shows his courage to follow his heart and his intuition.  Best of all, My friend remarried, and his new wife supports him completely.    My friend had to experience pain and manage it, in ways that I can only imagine.

No pain, no gain.  You have heard that before.  What is missing in that phrase is whose pain and whose gain are we talking about.   My friend has taken his personal pain and is making it into our gain.  I look forward to hearing his latest teachings.

Sharing what you have learned from your pain is, after all, how you make an impact on humanity.

What pain have you experienced that you can share?

We are all listening.

Race reports and Waffle House

This entire blog was a discovery and a commitment that the things that pass through my mind as I train for and reflect upon big-deal events shouldn’t be kept to myself and the family and friends close enough to hear my stories.  Sharing here refines me as a person as I transcribe them, and it keeps me humble.

The concept of a race report has evolved.  If you google “triathlon race reports,” you can find lots of places where folks dump their “Here is what I did.  Here is what happened.  Here is what I learned.” commentary.  These writings now are a mini-part of history, and based on feedback I have received over the years, they make a difference to you.

Alex Gaura at the end of a 50K Ultra marathon
Father and Son at the finish line of a 50K race

Media tries to pull competition reports out of athletes during post event interviews, often before the athlete has processed what happened.  When the camera is running, the athlete defaults to a script of, “we played a great team today,” or “We were able to maintain our focus,” comments, knowing good and well that whatever they say would be held against them.  Truth be told, the athletes themselves have yet to formulate a coherent thought about what just happened.  How can they?  They haven’t debriefed in a safe environment with their peers and coaches.

When I watch my TV interview after my first World Championships, I see that I had no idea what I was saying.  The only thing I remember was committing to return one day, with my wife in tow, as I know she would love Portugal and Spain.  Hopefully, I will be able to honor that promise in 2019.

 

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Being Silly at the start of the National Championship

My race reports started when I got to participate on stages that I never dreamed of being allowed to stand on.  The primary reason I put them to pen was to address the fact that I was telling different parts of the same story to many different people.  And, my propensity to let my 2-foot-long fish to grow into a 3-foot-long fish by the end of the story’s third telling gets royally squashed when I put the details to pen.

A short and sweet race report often happens to my wife via text message after the event.  “Race is over.  Alex and/or I won our age groups.  Going to Waffle house.”  Sometimes, it takes the social form of a post on FB or Instagram.  I like stupid poses the best-reflects my own blend of silliness and discipline.  See above.

And yes, we really like Waffle House.  And yes, we know that you just fired us.

However, it is over that meal at Waffle House when we discover what happened and what we can perhaps do differently next time, to get better.  Amazing thing how such low-quality food cooked behind the counter can really change our thinking.  I’ll take another hot tea, please.

Why I do this?

I get asked, just like you do, ¨what did you do last weekend?”

As an endurance athlete at heart, my one sentence answers of distances traveled on bike and on foot can be viewed as prideful boasting or attempts to make a point.  Indeed, many people don’t know what to do with my answers and often respond with something that parallels, “that sounds uncomfortable,” or “why would anyone ever do that?”  Since I have had a couple of those responses in the last few months, I am writing this blog.  You see, my answers are a part of my faith.

At the core of the question, “what did you do with your free time?” lies the fundamental assumption that we all are striving for either more comfort or to maintain the joy that which we have found.  When they hear 100 miles of cycling or 50 miles of running, there is an unspoken conclusion that these events were NOT comfortable.  Some normal people  conclude that these events are a form of lunacy and create an outcome opposite of what would have happened if I had stayed with family at home.  Dead wrong.

I have not built my definition of comfort on those worldly premises.  Comfort is not a big house or an ever growing 401(k).  Comfort is not safe physical spaces filled with people you love and wholove you back.  As a Christian, I have a promise that following Christ will not be “comfortable” in the world’s definition.  Indeed, Christ tells us that the act of following him will result in suffering, and sacrifice is an inseparable part of Christian identity.

I find “comfort” when I am stripped down to raw emotion, unfettered with my thoughts or current events.  When my spirit and emotions are rubbed down to their barest of levels, I get insight into my own identity that doesn’t happen if I am going out to eat with family or working on yard projects.  In my Christianity, this is called faith “like a child,” because it is unencumbered by the world’s opinion.  I intentionally push myself to places that require heroic effort to reach.  Women with children understand this journey.  Women are quick and confident when they share how becoming a mother changed them more than any other life event.  I have spoken to female endurance athletes who say the act of childbirth has much in common with endurance racing.   The act of completing these tasks is cleansing and full of renewal.  Unfortunately, more people see endurance racing like going to funeral rather than childbirth.

Like all endurance athletes, though, there is baggage associated with these extremes.  There always is a “what’s next,” side to conversation with family, friends and peers, and it is nearly always assumed that there is a next one on the list. My wife is sure that I will never have enough of a challenge.  She hears me say, ¨”I will NEVER run the Badwater 135,” and hears, “maybe he will one day.”  It disturbs her.  She gets upset that I will get hurt.  She fears having a disabled husband who could have prevented the entire incident if he had just a bit more self-control.

Like most wives, she is right.  But there is more to it.

For those of you who seek traditionally defined comfort, you are normal.  But, do you really think that leaving behind an untested, well-preserved body is how God made you, or were his parables in the bible attempts at humor?

God tells a story in the book of Matthew called the parable of the talents.  In this story, talents are coins, but meant to serve as an analogy for God given gifts. In the story, a master entrusts each of three different servants with a fixed amount of coins.  Two of the servants invest their talents and yield a return.  When the master returns and seeks accountability for the gifts, they show what they did with their talents.  They are well received and respected by their master.  However, one servant fears failure and the risk associated with a bad outcome. He chooses not to use his talent but instead hides them awaiting his master’s return.

These talents are symbolic of the gifts that God gives us, and our bodies are one of them.  Using your body as God intended includes sacrifice and risking the unknown.  The obesity rate in our country shows how far Christian sacrifice has been replaced with Worldly comfort for modern Christians.  Using your body as it is intended to be used means that you must risk the unknown, and sometimes, that includes suffering.  In addition to the childbirth analogy, the adage quoted in nearly every gym of “no pain, no gain,” is an indication that in the world of fitness, suffering is a pre-requisite to achieving growth.

I cannot find comfort by hiding my gift under the rock of safety.  My faith calls me to find comfort in expanding my talents, and this necessarily includes using my body.

Risk aversion as a Christian is also problematic.  If we look at the servant who took no risk, the master responds to him, calling him, “lazy and evil.”  I have no interest in hearing that label applied to me on judgement day, considering who will be speaking it.  Just like sacrifice and suffering, help minimize the risk of heart disease and diabetes, I have the ability to control the outcome by saying, “yes,” when others say, “no,” and “no,” when others say, “yes.”

I want to die knowing I challenged the shallow definition of comfort and took my commitment to my faith as intended.  Last year, I feared both the Badwater Cape Fear and the Annapurna 100 Ultra Marathons.  This year, I am doing two World Championships with my son watching me.  Yes, I am scared, but that is a part of the reason I am doing it.

There is not enough space to write about the importance of asking what scares you and how it is impacting your choices to play it safe. The enemy wants you to play it safe.  The enemy is looking forward to you putting your “you” under a rock and awaiting Jesus to return in glory.  I, for one, am not going to listen to the enemy in this matter.

That is why I enjoy being an endurance athlete.

That is why I AM an endurance athlete.

 

Maybe

I can’t count the number of times I meet people in association with reading.  As a traveler, I am keen to see the differences of a changing geography as it passes in front of me: new mountains, beautiful blue rivers, new coastlines, etc.  Yet, a person reading a book in public seems to always get my attention.  Indeed, starting a safe conversation about the contents of a book leads me to accidental introductions.  Other readers whom I met unexpectedly often trigger my next reading project.

The unspoken story that is a part of seeing someone absorbed in a book, inspire me to do what I am doing, right now.  People love a story.  They love ideas to make them think, and they love the comfort of the idea be presented in the threat free environment of the book that they can set aside without offending anyone.

We live in a time when not offending people is perceived as nearly paramount.  It stinks that challenging people is now confused and even equated to offending them.  We are losing our culture.

Let me challenge you, though.

Maybe.

Just Maybe.

You feel an itch to write.  Yes, you love reading.  Yes, you love curling up with a book.  Yet, you KNOW that there are barriers to writing that you can’t wrap your head around.  The time required.  The focus.  The money.  Did I mention the time?

Yet, the desire, however muted, lingers.  Eines Tages.  That is a German phrase I learned in college and use when I travel in Europe.  It translates as “once upon a time,” or “maybe one of these days,” in colloquial English.  I use it when someone presents me with a call to action that currently no place in my life to fit without me changing how I spend my day.

Before I started to write, Eines Tages was my phrase to handle the thought that perhaps one day I would write, once I got around to it.   I would get around to writing that book..that blog…that story…that tale.  So I told myself.

Eines Tages.

I had an unexpected and unpredicted athletic occurrence that started this blog.  At first, writing was difficult, but I had a passion for it.  After 60+ blogs, that passion remains.  That, too, was an unexpected as the events that lead up to thoughts in training.

What do you have going on right now that has the ability to impact the future like a piece of your mind in the form of written words?  That question hit not just my heart, but it provoked action.  And you, my follower, are reading the result of that action.

Like all writers, I had to sacrifice to make writing a part of my lifestyle.  My choice isn´t for everyone.  I chose to work less.  I decided to take a smaller paycheck in order to free up the time needed to write.

As I ask the question, “What is it that I like about the writers whose work I appreciate?” Is it THEIR story, or is it how they tell it?  More often than not, I am drawn in by the story and not the words used.  Looking into a mirror, I see that with my own writing.  I like my stories more than the words I choose.   I seldom write to get out a esoteric thought.  I write to get out a story of a real event that impacted me.  My stories seems to include bikes and running shoes for odd reasons.

The ultimate “why write” resides in writer´s ability to pass meaning from our current culture to the next one.  I get a sense of responsibility when I see that my writings represent a part of our future’s history.  God knows I don’t want MSNBC or FOX News to be the main entities who detail what the next generation thinks happened in the world or what was of interest.

Go pass it on.  Go write something.  Use paper or a computer and get the idea out.  Even a rough draft can become a masterpiece.