Hitting the “This Sucks” Barrier of Half Marathon Training

Just in case I’ve scammed anyone into thinking I’m superhuman, I’d like to confess that I’ve had a series of lousy runs. Two bad runs this week (and one bad session of cross training and weight training). My seven-miler the weekend before I left for Mexico was good, but before that my runs were marked by general lack of pep. Today my legs were like lead for the entirety of my four-miler. Four miles isn’t supposed to be intimidating, but I was really hoping to set a challenging pace. No dice. I was just happy to finish.

Post-run, not looking good!
Post-run, not looking good!

Though, for what it’s worth, I ran Abe’s Hill (our local sledding hill) three times.

This may be perfectly normal, but I have no way of knowing because I’m a first-time half-marathoner. I’m guessing I’ve just plain pushed too hard. Why else would I, usually healthy as the proverbial horse, come down with cramps or headaches or colds every second week? Right now I’m kind of scared that I’m going to get to the half marathon and choke about half way through. How many bad weeks of training can I afford to have?

I’m going to have to research this one.

Meanwhile, full of fear and discouragement, it’s a challenge to pack the gym bag or look ahead to the next day’s run. You know, I have as my blog tagline “Life is a great adventure, or nothing.” In most of the great adventure stories I’ve read or watched on the movie screen, there is a low point, or a progressive downturn before the climax and the triumph.

For instance, today I was listening to leadership author and speaker Chris Brady tell the story of Sir Sidney Smith. Smith was a sea captain and a British spy during the Napoleonic wars. Imprisoned in the Temple Prison in Paris, in danger of being executed as a spy, Smith carved into the wooden ceiling of the cell these words (quoted here as best as i can remember):

“Fortune’s wheel makes strange revolutions, it must be confessed. But for the turn ‘revolution’ to be applicable, the turn of the wheel must be complete. You [speaking to Napoleon here] are as high as you can be. Very well, I envy not your good fortune for mine is greater still. I am now as low in the career of ambition as a man can very well descend. But let this capricious dame Fortune turn her wheel ever so little, and I must necessarily mount for the same reason as you must descend.”

Not much later, Smith escaped from prison. He was given a couple of ships and commissioned to sail to Constantinople. While en route, he stopped over in Acre, Turkey, and found the citizens about to be besieged by Napoleon himself. Smith had about 5000 men, once he’d recruited local Turks and fortified the tiny town of Acre. But with a load of daring an initiative (and apparently the ability to be almost everywhere simultaneously) Smith and his men repelled Napoleons army of 10,000 eleven times and eventually forced them to retreat. Smith got his revenge on Napoleon in grand style, and effectively ended Napoleons plans to capture the east for his own new empire.

It seems a little ridiculous to equate this with my own little journey toward running my first half-marathon. But it illustrates that for one, when you are at your lowest you can’t see what your high point will look like, and second, that an ordinary person (Smith was not technically an officer when he took command of his ships, and then the battle of Acre) can with courage and daring, do great things.

It’s been my prayer that if I’m going to pour all this time and energy into training, that my first half marathon wouldn’t be just about me. It would be a way to empower others and bring glory to God. And some way or another, that is going to happen. Right now, with my feet up and aching muscles, I can’t see it. I can’t see the finish line.

But I think… I think it will be worth it.

Hope for Those of Us Without a Degree

If you’re like me and never finished–or never started–your degree, and now feel like you missed the bus, I’d like to encourage you with this quote by business leader and author, Chris Brady:

“Those who deliberate, dilly-dally, hesitate, ponder, get bogged down in analysis, or have to be sure everything is perfect before taking action might do a very good job at what they do; they just don’t get much of it accomplished… It is almost always the go-getters who become the biggest leaders. To lead implies action, and leaders are people of action. There are usually people who have more talent, more time, more connections, more means, and more information than the leader, but the leader emerges to influence events because he or she takes action while others hesitate,” –Chris Brady, Leadership Lessons from the Age of Fighting Sail. 

I spent four months working with a gentleman with a masters degree in physics. His wife has her masters in mathematics. They are immigrants, and in the courageous way of immigrants, they took the jobs they could find so that they could begin a new life. So he is now a pharmaceutical coating operator like me.

But I do feel woefully undereducated, with my two-year diploma in Biblical Studies, when I compare myself to him. I’d love to have a degree–heck, in almost anything. In fact, I’d be a student for life it just paid better. But circumstances don’t allow that right now. Sometimes I get an inferiority complex because I don’t have the education, it seems, to do anything other than manual labour.

But there is something I do have: initiative. According to Mr. Brady, that’s a big part of being a leader. Initiative: something that doesn’t require a student loan, four years of school, or a certificate from the government. It just takes courage and action.

In a caveat, Brady says, “This is not to imply that all leaders are reckless or reactive–though some may be–but rather that leaders err on the side of decisiveness. Over time, the tendency toward action builds ability, so deficiencies of talent or means are eventually overcome.”

Or deficiencies of age, as I continually remind myself.

So, if you’re undereducated like me, take heart because, “There are usually people who have more talent, more time, more connections, more means, and more information than the leader, but the leader emerges to influence events because he or she takes action while others hesitate.”

By the way, can I just say that if you can get your hands on a copy of Leadership Lessons from the Age of Fighting Sail, do it! Anything by Chris Brady is worth reading, and this latest release is a thrilling way to learn leadership principles. If you are a history buff, you’ll love it. Find it at his blog, here.

Three Reasons Why You Should Study History

I’ve loved history as long as I can remember, so I can’t really understand this: “History is boring”, or “History is irrelevant” or “Studying history is so hard—I can’t remember the dates.”

Actually, I can’t remember the dates either, but anyway…

It seems that history is taught as an esoteric list of dates and names of dead people, battles, kings and other irrelevant things. That’s a shame. Chris Brady said that this is like “giving you an ice cream sandwich that you spit out because you don’t like the taste of the paper. If no one unwrapped it properly for you, or taught you to do it for yourself, you might be stuck your whole life thinking ice cream sandwiches taste like paper”.

And many people I know were handed wrapped ice cream sandwiches. They left it wrapped, set it on the shelf, or took a bite and threw it out. And once you’ve tossed it or shelved it, why would you pick it up again?

But I’m telling you, if you threw out history the moment you left high school, you’ve severely short-changed yourself. Lemme ‘splain.

1. History shows us why we think what we think.

My ethnic background, as many Canadians, is a blending of two heritages. On one side I am Dutch, the child of a 1st generation Canadian. My grandparents emigrated just over 50 years ago, bringing with them a ‘time capsule’ of Dutch language, customs and thinking. That’s why at family gatherings we greet each other and bid each other goodbye with kisses on the cheek. That’s why we eat speculaas, olie ballen, slaatje and other things most people haven’t heard of.

There’s also still fall-out from World War II in my family. My grandparents were very young when Holland was occupied by Germany, still in their formative years. Many of the health issues my grandmother has now are related to malnutrition when she was young, growing up in wartime Holland.

On the other side, I am Mennonite. A hundred and fifty years ago my ancestors emigrated from Russia in order to find religious freedom. They brought with them a conservative, peaceful, separatist worldview. All these years later I live in one of the original towns they planted, a town that still retains much of its conservative, rural mindset.

I get the bulk of my belief system from the Mennonites, and the more I study my history, the more I believe in what they believed. But the blending of cultures in my family has softened the Mennonite conservatism and given me a broader look at life.

You look at life through the lenses of your heritage. You interpret events the way you were taught to interpret (however deliberate that teaching was). Thus, if you want to understand why you do what you do, you should study your history. And also, you must keep in mind that others have their own unique history that makes them see life very differently.

2. History shows us why others thought what they thought.

As an amateur Bible scholar, I’ve been studying the book of 1 Peter for almost two months. 1 Peter is a letter, written by the Apostle Peter, to the Christians of Asia Minor. At this time the Christians were a socially marginalized group, either because of their faith or because they were aliens, scattered in foreign nations. This was also during the reign of Nero, a time in which Christians were persecuted throughout the Roman Empire. Given this social and historical context, the book means something rather different than if it were written to middle class, Canadian, Evangelical Christians. As a Christian my beliefs are considered old-fashioned and intellectually inferior, but they don’t affect my ability to get a job, support myself or remain safe on a daily basis. When Peter talks about ‘suffering’ he doesn’t mean going without air conditioning for a week.

When we read or learn about historical events, it is crucial to understand the context. If we project our 21st century, North American worldview on everything, our interpretations will be sorely misguided.

3. History helps us see where we’re going.

It’s an axiom that history repeats itself. Much of what we’re doing now has already been tried. We can consult history to see how previous attempts have concluded.

For instance, Canada, the United States and many other countries are on a paper, fiat money system, not tied to any real backing. What is the likely result of this? Well, we can read the example of John Law and France in the early 1700’s. Fiat money flooded the economy, creating a boom. Orrin Woodward said “Since France was printing inherently worthless fiat money with both hands, the prices of everything in France were rising dramatically… the timeless axiom that bad money drives good money out of circulation, came into full effect. Gold coins were hoarded and smuggled out of France, and paper fiat currency was spent as rapidly as it was received.” This could not be sustained forever. The bubble popped, and for many years there was widespread economic chaos.

And that’s not the only example. You could read about Germany post World War 1, or about Argentina in more recent times.

So why did our governments instate a fiat money system? Well, it’s a democracy. We let them. Did we not know any better?

In recap, you should study history to understand yourself, understand others, and understand where the world is going. These are three of life’s huge questions and they all find their answers in history.

So what should we do about it?

Why don’t you start with your own history? You can read books about your town, country or region. You can visit museums. But the most interesting way of studying your history is by talking to your parents and grandparents, if you are lucky enough to still have them.

Please comment. What has your relationship with history been? What parts of history interest you?

For further reading, see excellent examples of lessons learned from history at Chris Brady’s blog at http://chrisbrady.typepad.com/
and Orrin Woodward’s Blog at http://orrinwoodwardblog.com/