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the fertile paradox Posts

make haste slowly… plantar fasciitis recovery!

Source: The Mind Body Whisperer

This week was These past two weeks were tough and called into question whether I am even going to attempt this marathon. I’m dealing with plantar fasciitis, and now am looking at a lengthy layoff of at least 2-3 weeks one month [the Dr. said “be good”, and I figure if all I have to give up is one month for pain free running, I can do it, hard as it will be]. Because it is very early in the cycle, there is a chance I can recover early enough to start a buildup. [The good thing about writing out, by hand, a calendar through race day is that you have a tangible picture of exactly how long there is between now and race day.]

It is crucial at this point to make haste slowly. On the one hand, I had to research what the injury meant, what types of exercises rehabbed the injury, and a recovery timetable. I had to make doctor’s appointments, research and purchase footwear and inserts, do x-rays, all with 2 and 5 year-old in tow.

I wish this injury was just like a muscle strain. Rest a couple days, take it easy a couple more, in a week back good as new. Unfortunately, recovery times from plantar fasciitis seem to be all over the map. Some recover quickly and don’t miss any time, while others take quite a bit longer. Hence, one must be deliberate about the subsequent buildup to fitness, and be thoughtful about everything related to fitness, including thinking about how to develop aerobic fitness while not running.

It is tempting to give the whole race up and say this is all too hard. One might even say that running a marathon is altogether stupid. But I’m not willing to give it up just yet. I believe my foot will be healed, and that I will recover. I believe God will bring me through this.

At the same time, my body is getting used to working out 6 days per week. I have been doing more general strength and conditioning, and swimming for some moderate cardio. The pattern is helpful in establishing some initial level of acclimatization to the fatigue running training will entail. And, my weight is somewhat stable, and will probably start dropping more once I’m regularly running.

One thing I may consider doing is writing about my personal struggle with plantar fasciitis, and treat this as a narrative case study. I read quite a lot of information online, especially about shoes and the standard fasciitis/fasciosis blather, but very little from an actual runner’s perspective. [One very helpful post was The Running Man’s “How to Beat Plantar Fasciitis”, though. I was trying to avoid the long layoff, but that’s precisely what’s been prescribed.] The information about shoes was especially terrible. To make matters worse, it seems it is very individualistic, so what I say may not matter much. Nonetheless, I will try and share my experiences so that others can be helped by a real, no-ads, no-ambassador, no-fluff, amateur athlete perspective when researching their own situation. No promises on schedule or regularity of posting, but I’ll do my best.

Here’s looking to what this month will bring in terms of recovery and perseverance.

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run the race to win

What does it mean to “run in such a way as to get the prize”? (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

Whatever it means, it is not just talking about the race. While the race is the focus and the ultimate goal of one’s training and attention, the race is simply the part of the athlete’s life that is seen by all. The race is much more about the preparation coming beforehand.

Ever since I’ve started taking up distance running as an amateur pursuit, and not just as an accessory to basketball and soccer training, I’ve been struck by how much my race times are predictable once I take a look back at my training log. There is so much truth to this that if I’d truly understood this in high school, I’d have been a much different–and much better–track and field athlete. (I would have been an excellent 300m/400m hurdler, or a decent 200m sprinter). This is because I’d have taken much more care to steward my training and my body very carefully. The goal would be the peak at the conference and regional championships (as a sophomore or junior) or regional and state championships (as a junior or senior). Every moment before then would be taken in light of the ultimate goal of winning one of these races.

In the middle distance events, I found that there is still much more variability than in distances exceeding 10k. Between 1500 to 10,000m, there is a delicate balance between tactics and talent that reveals what is in the heart of the most talented runners. If you are one who is head and shoulders above the rest of the field–and believe that is true–then you can run a fast, honest pace from the gun. This reminds me of Genzebe Dibaba and Sifan Hassan racing to break the world record at 5000m. They knew the race was among only two runners, and from the gun ran with such confident assurance. However, when the best racers equivocate, it leaves room for the less talented runners to steal a victory. As much as I love Leo Manzano, he has no business with an Olympic bronze medal at 1500m. In this case, the less talented runners race with grit and faith, while the more talented runners race with doubt and fear. At its essence, this is what makes a tactical race fun to watch–despite the often pedestrian paces.

For the longer distances, however, it is very much like the sprints. Everyone knows the one or two individuals who will have a real shot at winning. This is because there is very, very little room for error. While these races are given somewhat to tactics, they are principally determined by the condition of the physiological systems of the racers. Therefore, the training is an accurate indicator of the fitness and race capability of the racers. For sprints and distance events exceeding 10 miles, there is very little left to chance barring injury or other accident.

This is where we return to the statement above: “run in such a way as to get the prize.” You cannot run to get the price starting with the gun. The racing begins in the training so that the athlete is transformed into one who is able to get the prize. Your physiological systems must be different when the gun goes off than they were when you started training towards the event. World class athletes know this, and approach their training with the same methodical precision as a world class researcher. While the effort is not the same in each session, every session has a purpose. Each moment has a place in the athlete’s teleological transformation. This is how our lives with God should be viewed. Each moment is not the same. However, we must approach each of our days with God intending to be transformed into one who thinks His thoughts and knows His ways. We do not run the race once we enter His presence, because that is the end, the peak, not the race itself. The race is to be transformed into Christ’s likeness by having our minds renewed daily through interaction with Him, His Word, and His people.

We must run the race so as to win the prize. How will you run your race for the glory of God today?

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What’s behind the door?

Imagine that you were standing in front of a door that had everything you have ever desired or wanted behind it. If you were told you could have everything behind the door, would you be able to open it?

This is one of the illustrations James K.A. Smith uses when he tries to convince us that we are fundamentally lovers, not thinkers. In his lecture “You Are What You Love,” he makes a compelling case that we are creatures of desire. The narratives that arouse the most desire in us are the ones that direct our thoughts and actions. These desires are so deep that we are not always aware of them. So, while we know what we should say when someone asks us what we should desire, chances are that we love something altogether different. For most people, this should be a harrowing idea.

I’m not sure I would have the courage to open the door. 

I know what I should say when someone asks me what I love. I love the Lord Jesus Christ and want to see Him glorified. I love my wife and my kids and want to give selflessly to them. I love other people and want to see their lives improved. But when I actually reflect on what my actions say about who I love, I love myself. I want to be king over my life, unconditionally. I want my kids to do what I say as soon as I say it. I want my wife to do what I want. I want to be served and not to serve anyone else.

In light of Christ’s commands, I don’t want to open that door. Especially not in front of Him.

I know that my inner life needs to be renovated and re-created. I want my desires to truly be re-made before I come to see Him. If I can be honest, the thought of divine judgment is terrifying because I know that I would hesitate to open that door.

It’s a good thing that God knows we would hesitate. James K.A. Smith paraphrases an important Biblical command by saying “The beginning of all wisdom is to know we don’t desire God.” At this point, it is clear to us that we cannot do this on our own–we need the Holy Sprit’s intervention. We need Him to help us imitate the desires of Christ. Ultimately, this is the goal of Christian discipleship, that our desires would be the same as those of the Lord Jesus Christ. The loves that drive us would be the same as His loves. Our deepest unconscious desires would glorify Him by second-nature.

While I would be absolutely terrified to open the door today, the song “Just Want You” by Travis Greene is my prayer today. Would you make it yours?

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mind matters

Physical training consumes the body but principally reveals what is in your mind. It doesn’t matter what type of physical training, all of them teach you about what is in your mind.

In fact, the lessons are all the same, but only the medium or emphasis is different. Have you learned how to listen to what your body is saying? Can you be consistently committed? Can you effectively envision the accomplishment of a challenging goal well before it happens? Can you plan for that vision? Can you keep the big picture in mind? Can you keep from being distracted from the vision when things are not going well?

This week, dealing with plantar fasciitis has challenged me to revisit all of this. Not because it is so bad that I have to stop training. No, but I was feeling down towards the end of this week because I realized that I have to lose some weight to accomplish my goals and help to address the plantar fasciitis. Why does losing weight challenge what is in your mind? Because you have enough to make substantial life changes over a long period of time to be successful.

In the short term, I think about how hard this will be. How hungry you always get when training. How inconvenient it is to manage what goes into your mouth when you just want to stop being hungry. But the next day, I was reminded of the challenges and opportunities. First, if I am able to make the weight loss goal I want, I will be able to be much more confident in setting and achieving my goal time. Second, I got a body fat reading at the gym, and it was much higher than I expected. So if I can meet my goal, I can get closer to my target body fat measurement as well. Third, I’m not sure it’s good to have a high BMI, even if one is muscular or functionally fit. Your heart can’t tell the difference, and it would still be stressed. So, if I meet my goal I’d be lowering a long term health risk factor for several chronic diseases.

Training and managing my diet will test me. But, at least I’ve got an even bigger picture in mind. Thoughts or suggestions, anyone?

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Would you hire an ex-offender? #infrastructure of #love has published a very interesting article detailing the compelling benefits of hiring ex-offenders

My first thought was, would you do this? Well, employers that have done so have reaped considerable benefit from the practice. Employees with criminal records are less likely to quit, reducing turnover costs. They have fewer disciplinary problems, reducing disciplinary costs. They are less likely to cheat their employers. They can be more reliable than employees who do not have records. Employing ex-offenders also saves society vast sums of money in the form of reduced correctional costs [although some might argue that this is a zero-sum game since private prisons may lose out]. There are very strong reasons for developing ways to re-integrate ex-offenders into employment, despite this person’s objection:

So, the question is, why don’t we do it? I know I myself would hesitate, if I’m being honest. How can we overcome the poorly informed stereotypes of ex-offenders that leave them unemployed in the cycle of recidivism?

Instead of answering this question, I just want to posit that it requires us to construct an infrastructure of love that would help ex-offenders make the transition. It is an infrastructure because it would involve the construction or reconfiguration of several institutions and non-governmental organizations to help these men and women make the transition. And it requires love because it requires all of us to set aside stereotypes and other heuristics that convince us of acting in our [mis-informed] self interest in order to put the interests of these men and women ahead of our own.

If you know of good examples of folks, institutions, or groups that do this work, would you please share about them?

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the will transforms the desire into an intention

When I first started distance running, I was in the middle of a cluster headache episode while teaching my first class at GW. I had stopped working out and was struggling, inefficiently, through teaching my course. I knew something had to change because the quality of my teaching and the quality of my life was suffering. The most obvious thing I could change and see results right away was re-starting my workout habit.

So I chose to train for a 10-miler.

Well, it wasn’t that I just chose to train for a 10-miler out of the blue, but I knew that whatever workout program I chose, it had to be something I could do alone, with minimal equipment, at work or at home or anywhere in the world I happened to be traveling. This ruled out any sort of team sport, weightlifting, and just about all other exercise except walking. I already had a love of running, so I just decided to push beyond what were mental limits. I had never run further than 5 miles, and I only ran that far because when I was in high school I learned that soccer players averaged about 5 miles distance during a 90-minute match.

When I first started distance running, I was intrigued by the unpredictability. For example, since I didn’t have any regular training routes at the time, almost every time I went out for a run I had to make changes to the amount of time I expected to run due to obstructions or things I couldn’t visualize from looking at a map. This unpredictability added between 30%-100% distance to my runs and made me think of my life as a professor. Whenever I started a paper, proposal, or project, I had no idea what roadblocks or obstacles lay around the corner. They added substantial amounts of time to the tasks, if the problems could be solved at all. I loved the parallel unpredictability of running and research, and was amazed by how they paralleled each other.

Now, however, I run to strengthen my will. Not that health doesn’t still motivate me. I get insight from my runs too. God still speaks to me on the run, and every time I lace up my sneakers during daytime hours–especially when leaving and returning to my office–I remember how Daniel Kahneman describes in Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow his walks with Amos Tversky being the most important ingredients in their Nobel Prize winning collaborations.  Running is still unpredictable, even when the unpredictability deals with much more than physical obstacles on the route. All of these things still motivate me, but I now run primarily to strengthen the will.

I am reading Hannah Arendt’s The Life of the Mind, and while slogging through the chapter on “Thinking: Invisibility and Withdrawal,” I came across this quote–The will anticipates what the future may bring but is not yet.

In fact, she adds the following:

The will transforms the desire into an intention.

I find these statements together uniquely compelling. I am at a time in my professional career where the strength of my will is the most important factor. Desire is not enough. At the same time, I’m finding that my workouts are increasingly more difficult to complete without considering modifying or giving up the planned workout. Desire for a certain goal time or lifting target is not enough. I need to develop the will; as Arendt says, the ability to “anticipate what the future may bring but is not yet.”

One may read this and not appreciate the strength of this statement, but I suppose that is because one is not familiar with the context of the statement. At this point in the book, Arendt is discussing the necessity of withdrawal in order to engage in thinking. She notes that

Every mental act rests on the mind’s faculty of having present to itself what is absent from the senses.

To cut a very long discussion short, the will makes real to the subject what has not yet happened [as opposed to memory, which makes real to the subject what has already happened]. In other words, the reality of the future thing that is envisioned enables one to project from the present into that reality. The strength of that reality is what enables me to bring it into existence to others.

When I find myself languishing in the library while trying to refine a research topic, it is my will which enables me to find the clarity I need to press forward.

When I am confused about a model I’m trying to build, it is the will which presents the insight I believe the model will provide.

When I don’t quite believe I’ve got one more set at the specified weight and rep target, the will projects the reality of the accomplished lift.

When I’m not sure I can finish the run, the will projects the reality of the achieved goal time.

The question I need to address is: how strong is my will?

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Why is it so hard to find a church? The old wine is good…

christmas holly decoration

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing, but expecting different results. Jesus puts it this way:

Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment,for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed.But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.” [Matthew 9:14-17, ESV]

Some may read this passage and say that it clearly addresses fasting. Fair enough. But I think it is a very clear statement that it would be insane for followers of Jesus to expect him to fit into their established traditions. Perhaps one might see this a bit more clearly in his words here:

He also told them a parable: “No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old garment. If he does, he will tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’” [Luke 5:36-39, ESV]

Do you see that statement at the end? “And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.'”

I think this statement explains why we see so much division in conservative, Evangelical Christian churches in the United States. We have spent so much time drinking old wine–familiarity with our socio-economic classes, familiarity with our racial communities, familiarity with styles of preaching and teaching, familiarity with culture–that most of us will not even attempt to taste the new wine.

For those of us who do, the answer is often “The old is good.”

I feel these words viscerally because I have been searching for a church for a bit over a year now. It has been the hardest and most frustrating experience of my life. It has gotten to a point where I am very seriously considering not attending church services on Sundays at all, but just reading my Bible through the week and meeting my men’s Bible study on Saturdays.

Slowing down to think about it, I think that my frustration is caused by my insanity. Consider this. I was looking at the website of a local church that is a 20 minute casual walk from my house, and on their blog is a post titled “A Small Church.” In that post I could not believe what I found. Some advice on finding a church from Eugene Peterson.

Go to the closest church where you live and the smallest. After six months, if it isn’t working, go find the next smallest church.

Now, I live in between three neighborhoods in Baltimore City called Roland Park, Guilford, and Homeland. I grew up in the Black Baptist Church. I believe it is very likely that I will not find this experience at the church who posted this blog, because not only is it a different denomination, but it is rooted in the community where I live. So, by Christ’s definition, I am completely unwilling to consider it because it doesn’t match the traditions and culture I have become comfortable with.

On the one hand, I could justify myself in all of this by explaining race issues in the church, explaining how I want my children to grow up and experience what I experienced, how there are relatively few places where I don’t have to apologize for being myself. On the other hand, could God be calling me and my family to taste new wine?

In my mind, I have this idea that most people used to attend neighborhood churches. There wasn’t much thought put into selecting a church because you went to the closest church that spoke your language and fit your denomination. It seems to me that there were several practical limitations that made this an accurate description of most Christians’ church communities until relatively recently. A number of technical advances have made the dilemma I am facing somewhat new.

If I can describe my challenge in two words, consumer Christianity, then I’ll say that my own consumer Christianity is only possible because of technology. I can Google churches on the internet and listen to sermons or look at pictures of the congregation. I can look at maps to see the locations. I have a car that allows me to drive a relatively great distance in a relatively short period of time. I can read reviews of the church before I attend. And, unique to the American/Western context, I am not constrained by the traditions of any denomination. All of these factors have made the church, in my opinion and experience, radically pluralistic. It’s as if Romans 1 has become true for us in our church experience. God has given us over to consumer Christianity.

All of this to say, I’m afraid of trying something new. I’m afraid of going to the church that is in the community where I live. I’m afraid of losing my identity by attending that church. I’m also afraid of preventing my children from developing an African American community. I’ve tasted the old wine, and it is good.

Am I willing to taste His wine?

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Make haste slowly. 146 days until we #RunRichmond

146 days out from the Richmond Marathon, what is this marathon training cycle teaching me? To slow down. Not just my training paces, but in thinking about my preparations for the marathon I need to slow down.

I have to slow down to think carefully about what I want to accomplish.

I have to slow down to think carefully about what my plan will be to accomplish my goal.

I have to slow down to think carefully about what kind of transformation I want to undergo to achieve that transformation.

So much slowing down, but I don’t have time. We are approximately 20 weeks out from the marathon, and so I must get started. There is little time to waste, and I have to start locking in my workout patterns. A little wasted time here, a missed week there, an overuse injury because I waited too long to get started, and my goals could be shot. Even though there seems to be a lot of time until we #RunRichmond, decisive action must be taken now.

This all reminds me of something I read when I first became a professor: you must make haste slowly

I was reading a book called What the Best Professors Do, and that book described little things that fast starters did which differentiated them from slow starters. When you start out on the tenure track, you have the whole tenure clock ahead of you. However, you must make decisive choices in the small things that add up over time. A few missed writing sessions here, too many missed grant windows there, too many negative student evaluations late in the clock, and your professorial goals could be in jeapordy. As a professor starting on the tenure track, it is critical to take a lot of small steps urgently early on, while at the same time slowing down to deliberately consider your overall plan and the bigger picture of your work. You must make haste to publish your work and engage in your professional community, but you must do so slowly and deliberately.

While I was thinking of all of this today, I reflected on how much I was yelling at my kids or treating my wife with contempt. I realized that I have automatic reflexes towards them that are not loving, but controlling. I thought a bit more about it and realized that although I am not satisfied with the ways I speak to them and interact with them, I never slow down long enough to consider the reasons why I am about to respond the way I do. Sometimes, time is of the essence. This is usually why the automatic reflexes take over. But almost all situations can benefit from an extra moment of reflection. I have to make haste slowly when loving and living with my family.

146 days out from the marathon, this is the most important thing training is teaching me. Make haste slowly when responding to my wife in the moment. Make haste slowly when addressing my kids. Make haste slowly when doing something that needs to be done around the house. Take decisive action in the moment, but in that same moment be deliberate and thoughtful.

I hope you will remember to make haste slowly with whomever or whatever is important to you.

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Why am I afraid to #RunRichmond?… I’m afraid of the process #RealLifeRealFit

The hardest thing about the marathon is that it is so difficult to know what went wrong last time…

I will start training to get #RichmondReady next week. This weekend, I’ll be preparing my training plan and looking over my calendar for the next three months or so to identify the problematic spots of the training cycle. I’m ready to #RunRichmond, but I have to get over my fear of failure before I’ll be willing to set a goal.

On my birthday last week, I was reflecting on the fact that I’ve never stuck with an athletic training plan all the way through. Last week, however, I was writing a note of encouragement to myself in my training journal because I have been able to stick with the Armstrong Pullup Program for 10 weeks now! My goal is to make it to 20 dead-hang pullups, and the fact that I’ve been able to stay consistent with this program all the way through is such a blessing. I am now up to a max set of 13, so I’d say I’ve got probably a couple months minimum to meet my objective. Although I started out able to do a set of 13, I had an injury and had to start back at 8. Over the last 5 weeks, I’ve made it all the way back to 13, and my upper body physique has been completely transformed. I haven’t missed a workout, and I’ve been able to stick with it.

Now, compared with a marathon training cycle, the pullup training program is a baby’s first step. Not because the pullup plan is easy–it is very difficult. I often feel tired and sluggish because the back is such a large muscle group. However, training for a marathon time goal doesn’t quite have a weight room analogy, in my opinion. Nonetheless, as I said, I’ve never followed through on a workout program so success here has been an unexpected pleasure. I believe that faithfulness in keeping the pullup program will help to transfer discipline over to the marathon. I’m hoping it will, because my biggest fear of the marathon is that I won’t be able to complete the training. I’m afraid of being too tired to do my job, or being too tired to put one foot in front of the other on those midweek runs. I’m afraid of being too tired to wake up and do my weekend early morning long runs. Since my last marathon flamed out in cramps at mile 15, leading to 11 miles of pain, I’m truly afraid of not preparing well enough to meet my time goal, again.

I’m afraid of the lifestyle changes I’ll have to make. I’ll have to lose some weight before the marathon specific phase starts since I’ve been weightlifting, and changing my diet to lose the weight will be demanding. I’m afraid that I don’t have the discipline and perseverance to lose the weight.

I think most of all, I’m afraid of picking a goal and failing to meet that goal. On the last two marathons I ran, I feel like I failed to meet attainable, realistic goals I set for myself and I’m afraid to miss the mark again. While the marathon hurts physically, a lot, I have to find the mental strength to set another goal and put in the work.

Have you ever set goals but failed to meet them? How did you bounce back? What helped you move past the disappointment of failing to achieve a goal you had set?

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