Category Archives: Training

Posts that relate primarily to endurance training.

On Your Mark!

The Starting Line is one of the many reasons I enjoy race days! Its a visual, visceral reminder that a new beginning is about to take place. Take the 3M Half-Marathon start line in the photo below. I snapped this shot just before being pushed under the arch by the 6700 runners behind

3M Half-Marathon Starting Line

me eager to get underway back in January! The light that dapples the sign isn’t from the sunrise. Rather its from the flood lights set up to illuminate the starting corrals. You can see the amount of daylight by taking a close look at the top right corner of the image. See that steel blue poking color through the tree branches? Yep, it was barely dawn. A new day. A new adventure. A new start. And before the sun was even up!


When you go through significant loss, it can feel like life grinds to a halt. When Kristi died, I wondered how I’d be able to keep going. There were days where I just felt like I was turning in circles. Fear about the future can freeze you into inaction and/or open the door to depression. But life doesn’t stand still and you need to keep up with it, especially if you have children, processing and dealing with your grief along the way. Enter the starting line!


The Starting Line demands you deal with life in the present tense, the here and now. It calls you to focus on the immediate task at hand. When the horn sounds and the race starts, your

world collapses down to monitoring your physical performance. This monitoring is both mentally and emotionally taxing. When the body is fresh, you have to govern your effort and keep the throttle under control. As the race wears on you transition into mental pep talks and bracing against physical, emotional, and mental collapse as fatigue sets in.


Racing is provides wonderful discipline and training of the mind, body and spirit. But the start line is a demarcation that lets you know in a very simple way that you are moving forward. You are not stuck. Life is progressing, at least on some level. In fact, to get to the starting line required a decision and at least some training on your part.


Moving forward in life requires a similar decision. Its your choice as to whether you are going to tow the line each day or if you’re going to check out and stay lost and listless. Find a starting line near you and get signed up. You’ll be amazed at how good just crossing that starting line feels.


Always Learning

If there’s one thing I’ve discovered in the last two and a half years of triathlon training, its this: You never know everything about your sport. Being a complete newbie to not only triathlon, but any sort of endurance sports training when I started, I asked a lot of questions and have done a lot of watching. You see some smart stuff and some practices I’m pretty sure I’ll never adopt.

Learning keeps me from growing stagnant in both sport and life. When you find yourself a widower, its mighty tempting to just pull everything close and quit moving forward in life. It feels like moving forward will bring further separation from your wife. She won’t be there to experience this new aspect of your life. Its weird. It hurts. Its scary. Its no wonder we shy away from forward momentum with all those negative connotations tied to it. But when we stop moving, we get stuck in an inward focused grief-spiral.

Training was an exception to the forward movement paralysis though. It seemed like an accessory to my life, not my main life, and it was an accessory I was OK with exploring. As I moved deeper into training for triathlon, I found I was learning and life was indeed moving forward and I was learning to be OK with it. Training moved me past the fear of new experiences without Kristi to share them. Training opened the door to a new life.

Sign-Up to Show Up!

Why train? I’ll put it simply: to compete. I was inspired to enter my first triathlon in October of 2012 while Kristi was going through chemo. I used it as a fundraising event to help offset the cost of her cancer care. I thought it would be one and done, an item to check off the bucket list. I had never ever competed in any type of endurance swimming or running event. I had done precisely one, endurance bike ride for a fund-raiser back in 1993.

But once I signed up for the triathlon, I didn’t want to barely finish, I wanted to be able to give it a solid effort. When I paid cash on the barrel head and my registration was confirmed, I was determined to show up and compete. Suddenly I found motivation to get out and ride, to run and keep running, and even to go to the rec center and swim.

And in the swimming, biking and running I found solace…a release from the stress of being a care-giver. I found space to process the grief that was already part of my life as cancer warped our experience. I found energy to handle the increased responsibilities.

I placed third in my age group that day (that’s a picture at the awards ceremony, above) and was hooked. Not just for the race, but the help that the regular training was providing. I wanted to keep training through the winter so I found and signed up for another, longer triathlon in April of 2013. Again, once I was committed for that race, the motivation to train was easy to find.

I know it can help you too. It can help you handle everything that being a widower throws at you. Here’s what I want you to do between now and New Year’s: decide what type of event you’d like to do and sign up for it.

Were you on swim team as a kid? There are Master’s swimming programs everywhere. It’ll come right back to you. Like to mountain bike? Look up a cyclocross race or mtn bike ride. Obstacle races like Tough Mudder and Spartan series are hugely popular. Biker? Find a group ride or local shop ride and go! And running…well running events are everywhere, all year round, even in winter. Search for a local 5K and I bet you’ll find one close by. Even if its not until April when the weather starts to improve, sign up now. The price will be cheaper and you’ll find motivation to start training for it.

Me? I’ve already signed up for my big event in 2015. I’m focused toward my first full Ironman race at the Ironman Chattanooga on Sept 27th. But my immediate goal is my second go at the 3M Half-Marathon next month in Austin. Tomorrow morning I’ll be out on the roads for 15-18 miles. Why? Because I want to show up next month and beat my time from last year. And because I’ll feel awesome after I’ve bagged that run tomorrow.

Take the first step toward training…sign up for an event!


They say the half-way mark in a marathon is somewhere between mile 20 and 22. I believe it. The morning dawned grey and misty, the skyscrapers of downtown Austin hidden behind the damp curtain. With the humidity at 88% and the temperature hovering in the mid-60’s it was going to prove challenging to stay cool and hydrated.

My goal was to break four hours. But as I turned south on Duval St for the final four miles, I was gassed. I had consumed all 42 ounces of electroyte in my bottles and doused myself with water at every aid station. But those four miles seemed like thirteen. I had fallen far off pace and was struggling to simply keep moving.

My legs were so dead it felt like I was running on tree stumps. The tops of my feet hurt and my thighs felt swollen. Fortunately those last miles are mostly downhill, until mile 25.5 that is. One of the steepest hills on the course is just 800 meters from the finish.

I was on the cusp of missing my time when two teammates fell in beside me as I gritted my way up the hill. They had finished the half marathon earlier and were now on a mission to get us over the hump. They were loud, in my face and I would have slugged them if I had the energy. Instead I just kept digging.

Finally at 26 miles I crested the final hill and with the last shot of adrenaline I kicked for the line. Then I was across in 3:58:58! I’ve never been so physically spent. The floodgates opened and I wept in the arms of the aid worker who guided me out of the finish chute. A finisher’s medal swinging from my neck, I reunited with the rest of my team as I exited the recovery area and the tears flowed again.

26.2 miles done. Tears of relief, tears of joy, tears of sadness… all at the same time. Kristi would have been proud of me today. We used to talk about me doing a marathon some day. Today was someday. I miss her dearly.

Marathon, Not a Sprint

“It’s a marathon, not a sprint, Kristi.” We must have heard that advice 30 times in the first months after Kristi’s diagnosis. I hated it. I didn’t want it to be true. It didn’t feel like a marathon. Several of my posts likened it to running the 400 meters, a brutally taxing sprint. Well meaning friends were telling us to pace ourselves. But that didn’t seem possible at the time.

Now that I’m familiar with running, I can say that her fifteen month battle was a sprint. Sprint’s demand all your energy from the opening gun to the finish line. I finished my second official 5K race two weeks ago. It is the sprint event of distance running. By the end of the first mile my lungs were screaming, by the time the finish line came into view at 3.1 miles I was spent.

Tomorrow morning I will toe the start line of the Austin Marathon. Its my first race at that distance. By mile 1 I will barely be warmed up. I expect to be fully loose and hitting my stride about mile 3. Miles 3-8 promise to be relatively easy. Then comes four to six miles of uphill that will put teeth into the course. At mile 14 the course flattens out and meanders to the 20 mile mark. That’s as far as I’ve run in training…and it hurt.

I managed to run 2-3 days per week on our trip, and let me tell you that was grand. Whether running the rolling hills outside Sydney, along the beaches of the Coral Sea, cruising the Southern Alps or busting through the native bush around Rotorua, I soaked up the atmosphere and reveled in the views. However I wasn’t able to get in as many long runs as I hoped and that hurt my preparation for tomorrow. Once I cross the 20.3 mile threshold I’ll be in virgin territory for a single run. I know getting to the finish will require grit and fortitude similar to the half-ironman triathlon race last October.

But you see the difference don’t you? The marathon eases you in, warms you up and then drops the hammer at the end. The sprint comes at you hard from the get go and never lets up. That’s what Kristi and I faced.

Nine hours from now I’ll finally get to experience what a full marathon is like. Look for an after action report. In the mean time your prayers for safety are appreciated. It’ll just be me, several friends from the Georgetown Triathletes club and 19,999 others moving through the streets of Austin.

Oh, and if you know someone going through cancer, keep your mouth shut about it being a marathon. Know that its requiring everything they’ve got to make it through each day. They’re in a sprint, no matter how long the battle. Take care of them accordingly.

18 + 480 Mountain High

As my body eased into Donner Lake on Wednesday afternoon all my skin attempted to crawl up on top of my head to avoid the frigid chill of the clear mountain waters. But I would not be denied the shock of the cold and plunged beneath the surface and pulled hard to make the raft floating on the surface of the sapphire colored lake perched 6,000 ft up in the Sierras.

The boys had preceded me in the aquatic frolic and lay sunning themselves on the dock. Swimming in a mountain lake without a wetsuit is an exercise in controlled shivering. As I climbed up the ladder to the dock I made sure to shower them with some liquid refrigeration eliciting the expected howls of protest from sun-warmed bodies.

While the girls were happily ensconced on the sandy beach we all felt ourselves begin to get into the rythym of the mountains and let the therapeutic beauty saturate our souls.

As we prepared to leave the lake and head to our friends’ house for dinner my buddy suggested we rent a bike for me and I could take a ride with his wife (who likes to ride but doesn’t often get the chance) while he watched their two young children and our four helped with dinner. We snagged the last bike that was my size and before I knew it she and I were pedaling along through pine-studded meadows, climbing up granite mountain grades and racing down the backsides. What a bonus! I got a bike training ride in with a great friend in one of the prettiest places around. Talk about a mountain high!

Dinner was filled with nostalgic visiting and reminiscing about Kristi and what she meant to this young couple. All too soon we had to take our leave and drive to another friend’s house for the night and to grab some quick winks for a very busy Thursday.

The flood-gates of emotion opened as I began to spread Kristi’s ashes around the perimeter of the mountain-top dance floor. I proposed to her on this very spot, twenty summers ago and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to find the hand-built site. But after casting around for the trail, I finally spied it and we plunged under the forest canopy. Ten minutes later the children and I popped out on the rocky knoll overlooking the great central valley of California.

Like the lake plunge the afternoon before, I knew this moment would require my determination to forge ahead in spite what would follow. We all embraced and shared several moments of tearful grief before the children took their own turns with mommy’s ashes. Each spread them in their own way and while full of sorrow it was a sweet time.

What started with a nervous question and exultant response that night under the stars so many years ago has now brought forth four fabulous children and matured a young man into one with some gray wisps of experience on his temples.

After a prayer, a camp song (I Like Bananas) and some laughter, we sat down to a picnic and I shared all about how I built the floor with friends and surprised Kristi there on that evening. We all picked stickers out of our socks while we ate and I told them that was the ruse I used to kneel down and keep Kristi unsuspecting while I fished the ring box out of my boot.

I didn’t know how the event would come off, and tried not to have expectations. I knew I’d be crying and I know its hard for children to express themselves. But I think it was a good time for everyone, there on that mountain top and Kristi will always be a part of that place now.

The balance of the afternoon and evening were a blur of touring the camp where she and I lived and ministered for 10 years and where Katie, Megan and Luke joined our family. Then we visited the ministry where my parents lived and worked and where I grew up from ages 10-18. Finally we celebrated with several former colleagues and friends in a mini-reunion of sorts at an ice cream and candy store. That was literally and emotionally a sweet time. Dinner was hamburgers cooked over the open fire on a mountainside with friends.

Today, Friday was a chance to catch our breath after the day of flying on Tuesday, the trip to the high sierra on Wednesday and the whirlwind of Thursday. We slept in (for Texas time) and then shared a relaxed lunch with yet more friends (my apologies that we haven’t been able to see everyone who asked) before ambling back to Kristi’s parents house this afternoon.

Kristi’s sister Kim is here tonight with her children and we are all, John and Bev included, heading down to Mt Hermon tomorrow which is where Kristi grew up going to camp and where she and I met. But that’s a story that has yet to be told and I need some sleep.

Suffice it to say that the weekend will be equally as emotional as the preceding two days, but my heavenly Father reminded me once again on top of that mountain that I’m loved, that my children are loved and that we are tenderly yet firmly held in the center of his loving affection in the middle of this journey. That brings peace and comfort that no mountain high can match.

B-Gone, B-9, B-Healed!

18 + 467 A Good Day

Phew, this week is almost behind us. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were flat out hard. I found myself in my room with tears streaming down my face several times. But Thursday and Friday were MUCH better. Today even counts as a good day!

Even the head cold / mold allergies I’m dealing with haven’t dampened my spirits. I still bump up against Kristi’s absence a thousand times a day but it hasn’t derailed me the past three days. Progress is good.

This morning started with a 45 mile bike ride with friends from the triathlon club. I changed the route at the end and instead of riding home I went to my parent’s house because my dad picked up the children and mom had beignets and bacon ready for consumption. After burning 3000 calories on the ride I was ready to refuel!

With a face covered in powdered sugar and four happy children we came home to do a little cleaning and then head over to a friends house for lunch and swimming. Tonight is a Phil Keaggy concert here in Georgetown. Indeed it’s shaping up to be a fine day.

Yesterday morning’s family worship time was helpful too. I played the guitar, we all sang and then I read Psalm 93. It references the Israelites not trusting God and not entering His planned rest for them in the promise land. Then I flipped over to Hebrews chapter 4 where the writer picks up that same theme, quoting Psalm 95 and says, today we still have the opportunity to enter his rest through Jesus. And then I kept reading…

At the end of the chapter is the verse that says Jesus is our high priest but one who sympathizes with us in our times of weakness and did so without sin. It came to me at that moment as I sat there with the children looking at me, that Jesus had to deal with the loss of a parent. Joseph is not in the picture by the time Jesus begins his ministry. I shared with the children that they can talk to Jesus about what it feels like to lose a parent. But as I shared this encouragement with them I was thinking, “yeah, but he never lost a spouse. Doesn’t know what I’ve feeling.”

Then the calm voice of the Spirit said, “His bride rejected him. He came to the Jews, but they killed him. They wouldn’t listen to him. His heart and body were broken by his first love.” Whoa! I wasn’t ready for that. Then I heard further…”that’s why he loves the church…his people are his bride and we’ve been lovingly grafted into his family tree. We are the restoration of his bride.”

I shared that word immediately with the children and they liked it too. God is good. He has walked our path before and he is walking it with us now. He is present, he hears, he sees and there will be restoration. “We will work together with him to bring about every good thing.” (Rom 8:28 paraphrased)

Indeed, today is a good day!

B-Gone, B-9, B-Healed