Running thoughts

“Whoever has ears, let them hear.” – Revelation 13:9 (NIV)


I ran a 10K this past weekend on a beautiful day that promised of early Fall. The race is well-organized every year, which means that, among other things, traffic control is well-done and volunteers are out at all turns where runners need directions about which way to go.

The course contains a lollipop section: an out-and-back part (you run the same road going and coming back, which makes the lollipop stick) with a loop at one end. From overhead, the course looks like a lollipop, hence the name.

The “circle” part of the lollipop for this particular race started near the 4-mile mark, where there was also a water stop. There were volunteers handing out water, and another volunteer whose sole job it was to point runners in the correct direction. Runners turned left to start the circle of the lollipop by running down a lovely hill. To leave the circle part, runners came down a gentle hill and turned left again, putting them back on the “stick” part of the course.

I was running back toward the end of the lollipop’s circle, ready to turn left onto the “stick” part of the course. And that’s when all the yelling started.

A runner approaching the water stop for the first time took a cup of water and then turned right instead of left. This put her running against the stream of runners coming back through the turn and meant she was off-course and heading into a needless uphill grind.

The volunteer was yelling to her to turn around. The runners coming toward her yelled to her to turn around. There was yelling and pointing and dodging as she continued heading the wrong way. Finally, she got the most puzzled look on her face when she looked directly into my eyes. I pointed the other direction and yelled again, “That way!”

She wasn’t dazed. She wasn’t delirious. She wasn’t near collapse. No. She was wearing earbuds.

“I know it’s fun, but you have to be able to hear!” That’s what the volunteer called out to her as she ran back by him. Who knows whether she heard or heeded his words.

Until the past few years, races’ insurance could be in jeopardy if competitors wore earbuds or headphones, and some race directors went so far as to say they would disqualify runners caught wearing them. But this rule has relaxed recently, and more and more runners wear earbuds during races.

The increased use of earbuds during races is a detriment to our sport, and I wish races would go back to encouraging runners to race without them.

Missing a race’s camaraderie
One of the reasons I love racing is the camaraderie that comes from pounding out mile after mile with other runners. I don’t like to chat while I run, but I do enjoy an occasional pleasantry with another runner, maybe a bit of encouragement after a tough hill or a “You can do it” when my energy flags. With more runners wearing earbuds, the sense of communal effort and support is beginning to dissipate, and I miss it.

Another reason I wish we could go earbud-free at races is for the spectators. I don’t need a group of cheerleaders on my daily runs, but at races, especially long ones or particularly hard ones, it’s nice to have folks cheering on the side of the road and ringing cowbells or whatever other noisemakers are in vogue. (I vote for a cowbell over a vuvuzela any day. Just my two cents’ worth.)

This past spring, my husband pointed out how much less fun it is to cheer for runner after runner who can’t hear the cheers because of earbuds. In the last few races I’ve watched, I’ve noticed this growing phenomenon, too. It discourages me as a spectator. I mean, I could have slept in and could be enjoying coffee and a good book on the porch swing. But I’m trying to support the runners out there. It’s a whole lot more fun when runners come by and acknowledge spectators’ presence with a smile, a wave or a even a call for “More cowbell!”

Many runners who like to wear earbuds and belt out tunes as they run should also know that just because they were born to run doesn’t mean they can (or should try to) sing it like the Boss. Though sometimes being near someone belting out an off-key song does spur me to run faster to get away sooner.

The safety in our hearing
Our sense of hearing is one of the best ways we runners can protect ourselves out on the roads, too, and it’s the safety issue that makes me also long for earbud-free races.

The truth is we are more vulnerable as runners than we like to admit, and being able to hear what’s coming up near us (car, bicycle, angry dog) is one of our best protections. Three years ago, a runner wearing an iPod died after a plane making an emergency landing hit him. I wonder if he could have lived if he had been running without the iPod.

Car back!
It’s common to hear “Car back!” or “Car up!” among runners and cyclists out together on the roadside. It’s a way of helping protect each other.

As I mentioned, the race this past weekend always has great traffic control, but it’s not perfect, and there are cars that end up driving alongside runners at certain points, especially some of the more residential sections of the race. Earlier in the race Saturday, I watched as a runner ahead of me did a 360-degree spin to avoid getting hit by a driver determined not to wait for runners to pass by before pulling into her driveway. What if the runner had been wearing earbuds and not heard the car or the runners near her yelling “Car back!”?

It all makes me think of the verse in Revelation (yes, I know this is wildly out of context). But I say to those of you who run, “Whoever has ears, let them hear.” Hear the cars coming. Hear the volunteers directing you. Hear the spectators cheering for you. Hear the beautiful rhythm of all those feet heading together for the same finish.

This sign sat near the start of the course Saturday. I think another good one might be: “You can run with an iPod tomorrow, when no one is cheering.” But please, leave at least one earbud out.


You can run slow tomorrow when no one is watching … I know, Mom, it should say “slowly.”

I add this second sign just for fun and conversation. A little encouragement goes a long way, and most runners I know appreciate fun signs along the course. I admit that this one puzzled me a bit, though:


My first thought when I saw this one: Makes it seem longer in a good way? Or in a bad way?

So I have a few questions for you runners out there. Does running make life seem longer to you? In a good way, I hope? Do you run with earbuds when you’re racing?

For you nonrunners out there, are there times and places where you get so caught up in your own electronic world that you miss the cheerleaders’ encouragement or the cars whizzing by? Are you willing to unplug to hear what you might be missing?

Runners’ resilience

Before yesterday, I hadn’t planned to write about the Boston Marathon, despite its importance in our house. Some years, my husband arranges to be off the day of the marathon so we can watch coverage of it, but yesterday, he had to go in to work.

Instead of writing about Boston, I had been planning to write tomorrow about an inspiring couple who just completed the same 100-mile race as my husband two weekends ago. I still might write about them tomorrow, or I might wait until next week. I’m not sure yet, because I want their story to count, and I don’t want it to get lost in the tragic events of this week.

You see, my family of runners came under attack yesterday, and I’m hurt and angry and confused and grief-stricken. The sick-stomach feeling hasn’t left me since I heard the news yesterday afternoon. And I know I have to write about it here before I can move on to happier topics.

I’m not going to take time to photograph anything for today’s post. There’s nothing I could include here that could add anything meaningful to what I need to say about yesterday – not the medals or jackets my husband has earned in Boston, not the framed Boston Marathon posters that grace our walls, not even the books on our shelves that tell the many stories of this great event.

If you’re not a runner, you may not quite understand the nature of runners that makes us all feel part of a community, part of a large, slightly crazy family. If you are a runner, you know what I mean. And Boston? Well, Boston is the most prestigious family party we have in the United States every year (dare I name it the best in the world?). We all want to be invited, and many of us work for years to qualify for the opportunity to go. Some of us know we will never go as anything other than spectators. When we meet other runners, and the conversation turns to Boston, we know what comes next: “Have you run it?” The simple one-word answer to that question is telling for everyone who has ever run a marathon and knows what sets Boston apart. You have to run for real to get to Boston.

Let me share this poem with you that will give you some idea of what it means to be part of the running family. The poem is John Donne’s (most?) famous one, and I have no idea if Donne ever loved running, but, wow: He got it right, this idea of family and community and a bond that stretches across nations:

No man is an island
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

Before two bombs changed everything yesterday afternoon, I watched Kara Goucher come across the finish line. Her first words after she finished were about her teammate and training partner Shalane Flanagan. “How’d Shalane do? How’d Shalane do?” That answer was more important to Goucher than anything else in that moment, more important than how she felt and more important than her impressive 6th place finish. She wanted to know how her “sister” had fared in the event. Goucher knows: we runners are stronger together, more resilient when we cheer each other’s accomplishments and not just our own.

I spent much of the later part of the afternoon praying, watching my Twitter feed for news, and answering phone calls, texts and Facebook inquiries from friends who wanted to know if we were in Boston (we had not traveled to Boston); whether we knew anyone running yesterday (several friends of friends and also some of my husband’s colleagues); and whether we were okay ourselves (shaken, angry, confused). Friends of my parents called them to make sure Chris and I were okay, and I called my mother-in-law so she would hear the news from me before any friends had a chance to call her with their own questions of concern.

I didn’t watch much coverage of the aftermath (see There but for the grace of God), but I did spend time looking for people’s names on the Boston Marathon runner tracker page, trying to assume that those who had an official finish time were most likely safe. Some were the friends of friends I mentioned, but others were complete strangers, like the two sweet women who were running Boston yesterday to raise money for friends’ medical expenses. I didn’t even know their story until yesterday, and yet I found myself searching for word that they were okay, safe, whole.

I did watch the nations’ flags flutter and a few fall in the aftermath. This was an attack on U.S. soil, but it was also an attack on all of us. As Donne says, “No man is an island.” Flags fly at half staff in my own city today, a show of solidarity, an announcement that we are with Boston and with those who face unimaginable injury and unimaginable loss of life. And we will lend our best to help make the Boston marathon even stronger next year.

There’s an 8-year-old boy among the dead. And I think I won’t be able to push him out of my thoughts as I head off for the last coaching session with my own team of 8-year-old and older girls. Because I know that we are a running family, and his death and the terror of yesterday diminished us all in some way.

But I also know that runners are resilient. We wouldn’t be able to accomplish great distances without that toughness. And we will band together. And we will be stronger than terror wants us to be. And we will be loving in a way that terror can never understand. And we will care about those whom terror has killed or injured. And we will triumph. And we will raise the flags along Boylston Street again. And we will run.

True love and running

One of my favorite stories from the Bible is the account of Elijah running through the desert for a whole day before collapsing under a juniper tree and asking God to please let him die. God didn’t let him die, but instead sent an angel to care for and nourish Elijah so he could continue on his journey to Mt. Horeb, the mountain of God. (To read more about why he was on the run, and what he experienced when he got to Mt. Horeb, check out 1 Kings 18-19).

My husband admires Elijah mostly for his great faith, but he also admires his running skills and likes to refer to Elijah as the original ultramarathoner. This past weekend, my husband joined the ranks of Elijah and other ultramarathoners who have run for a full day.

Yep, my own true love spent a little more than 21 hours running in the woods to complete a 100-mile race. It was dark when he started out and dark when he finished, but there was a whole day’s worth of light in between.

My true love on one of his laps of the 100-mile race

My true love on one of his laps of the 100-mile race

One of the things you’ll quickly learn about my husband is how important running is to him. It was his first true love, a love he found before he gave his life to Christ and an integral part of his life by the time he met me. Even when we first met, I had no idea how much running would weave itself into our marriage.

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