The Long Run

This is Part 3 in a series about me re-learning how to run, and what lessons I’ve learned from the process. Read Part 1 & Part 2.

After a month of running twice a week and being mindful of my gait even when I walked, I thought I had completed my transition to the new mechanics. But a re-evaluation told otherwise. I was getting better, but I wasn’t perfect yet. After another 2 sessions, I had finally improved enough to decide to end my physical therapy and formal training, but even now I’m still improving with every run on the road.

Because we want instant results, it’s hard not to rush through training. Whether it’s running or another discipline, it takes time to make a change in routine. That time requires patience.

Maybe when I started sharing about re-learning how to run, you chose an old habit to break and/or a new habit to start. If you’ve been doing it for 2 weeks, it’s probably getting easier. But you have to keep at it, or you will revert back to the old way.

Recently, I went for a run after almost a week of not running. When I started, it felt awkward. After a minute or two, I found the new stride and form, but that first ¼ mile or so had me fighting my old habits. After all, they were habits built up over 20 years. It’s going to take a long time to get rid of them completely. I suppose I’ll always be a work in progress.

So keep working at those new spiritual habits you’re forming! And let me know how you’re doing. I’ll see you out on the course!

Mindfulness

by Pastor Erik

This is Part 2 in a series about me re-learning how to run, and what lessons I’ve learned from the process. Click here to read Part 1.

Lesson 2: Every Step You Take (I’ll Be Watching You)

After a few weeks of training to run with a different gait, I was exhausted. There was physical exhaustion, because with different mechanics I was using muscles that I wasn’t using before, and I was also out of shape from not running all summer. But that was nothing compared to the mental exhaustion.

You see, when you’re training to run in a new way, you have to consciously think about every step you take. As I started paying attention, I realized I was an over-strider in walking too. So, I literally thought about every step I took for about a month. While it’s true we can do 2 things at the same time, we can only focus on one thing at a time. And I was intensely focused on every step I took.

This took all the fun out of running. Part of what I love about running is being able to turn off my over-active mind and let it wander. I could even zone out sometimes and think about nothing, and it was everything I ever thought it could be. But this was the opposite, and I hated it.

Recently, someone shared with me this video:

They compared my change in running mechanics to this guy who taught himself to ride a bike differently. Like him, I’ve been “re-wiring” my brain! I’m still not done, but the new way has become more habitual than the old way. Yet, I still have to be mindful of what I am doing.

Think of how much we do and say without even thinking about it. What has become habitual for you that needs to be changed? Being impatient with your spouse? Joining in the criticism of that weird co-worker? Checking email or Twitter on your phone as soon as you wake up? Eating unhealthy food or too much of it? We all have habits that need to be changed, but the definition of habit is something we do almost without being conscious of it.

Commit this week to changing one bad habit. Focus on being mindful of the ways this habit is ingrained on a subconscious level. And re-wire your brain to do things differently, one step at a time.

That’s One Small Step!

by Pastor Erik

I started running competitively at age 13. As a teenager I competed in 7 years of middle school and high school cross country, plus Junior Olympics competition. As an adult, I have completed a triathlon, 5 half marathons, and one marathon, and numerous 5Ks and 10Ks. But recently, I learned that I’ve been doing it all wrong!

Let me explain. All year, I have been dealing with tendinitis in my right ankle. Because it’s the 2nd time in my life I’ve had this problem, my doctor suggested I meet with someone to do a running gait analysis. So in early August, I met with Brittany Patterson Lynch at the UPMC Center for Sports Medicine on the South Side. She recorded me running on a treadmill, and analyzed my running form. After identifying the ways my running was problematic, she developed a plan to re-train me to run in a way that would keep me healthier. In the ensuing 5 weeks, Brittany taught me how to run in a completely new and unfamiliar way. Now, I’m healthy and slowly working my way back into regular running, only this time I’m running differently than I’ve ever run before.

This experience provided many lessons for the spiritual life. It reminded me that transformation is always possible, but changing habits takes time and hard work. And the longer we’ve taken to form the habit, the longer it will take to change. Over the next several weeks, I’ll share the lessons I learned as I changed how I run.

Lesson 1: Take Small Steps

I had a few small problems with my running form, but the glaring issue was my stride. I was over-striding by a lot, which was stressing my joints and creating the potential for injury. My cadence was low, meaning I was taking fewer steps than I should have been. The solution was to run on a treadmill with a metronome, and every beat I would have to take a step. Initially it felt strange to shorten my stride and take many smaller steps, but over time it became easier.

I’ve been joking with my taller friends that my over-striding and subsequent tendinitis is all their fault. Years of having to keep up walking and running next to them as a shorter person made me take longer strides. But in addition to this being an unhealthy way to walk and run, it also turns out to be very inefficient. I was wasting a lot of energy with my long strides, which means I was putting in more effort and not going any faster. Actually, I may have been going slower.

When we set out to make changes, sometimes we attempt giant leaps. We know where we are, where we want to go, and want to get there as quickly as possible. But I learned that the healthiest and most efficient thing to do is not to make large strides, but to take more small steps.

With running, taking more small steps literally means less energy wasted, less stress, and a better chance at staying healthy. In the church, I most often see people trying to “leap” into more disciplined spiritual habits. Usually, after a few weeks of trying desperately to make a giant stride, they wear out and give up. Those who stick with new spiritual habits are the ones who take several small steps toward the goal rather than one giant one.

What new habits are you trying to form? What steps do you wish to take? As you go, make sure not to over-stride!