Dreaming Again

Yes, I will admit this right up front: I’m dreaming again. My new titanium knees have resurrected my hope of distance and adventure. Since July, I think of my life in two phases … BNK (before new knees) and ANK (after new knees). Not the handiest set of acronyms, I’ll admit, but the delineation is sure to loom large in my life.

Since I’m not supposed to run, at least not yet, I’ve been walking a lot. And I’ve been adding my walking mileage to my run log, the log I’ve kept since 1978. I write down the miles I walked in the same way I used to write down the miles I ran.

I don’t log all of my walking miles – as in, walking around the house or walking down the halls of my office, etc. – but I include miles I walk specifically for walking’s sake. It’s more about intention than frequency or pace.

In October, I walked 30 miles, at about 3 miles a pop, the most I’ve covered in one month since March 2013. In fact, of the 76 miles I’ve logged so far in 2015, 56 have happened in September and October.

This is representative of my new ANK life. I can cover ground again without little or no pain for the first time in about ten years. And even though I’m walking instead of running, my pace isn’t that much slower than my hobbling runs from just a few months ago

Why does this matter? Because it represents my return to dreaming - of long distances, marathons, epic hikes in the mountains, backpacking with my grandchildren, and covering significant ground with my feet. It represents the return of hope to my daily life.

I’ll log another 19 miles in the next couple of weeks, and when I do, it will put me over 37,000 lifetime running/walking miles. I doubt I’ll spend much time celebrating since it’s the sort of landmark that has little appeal to anyone other than the logger. Maybe I’ll have a milkshake.

mileage logHere’s the thing. I first started running in May 1978 to win the heart of a girl. I’d just completed my first senior year at the University of Oklahoma when I came home to Hobbs, New Mexico to work as a summer intern for Getty Oil Company. Within my first week home, I realized my well-thought plans for the summer were in trouble: the girl I’d dated the previous summer, who attended New Mexico Junior College in Hobbs, and whom I’d hoped to date again, had been seeing a track-and-field jock during the school year. He was a javelin thrower, of all things. How could I compete for her attention against a guy like that? I needed something besides good grades in college to win her back.

Once I understood my dilemma, I did something uncharacteristic for me - something that shaped the rest of my life. I decided to go for a run. If I had to compete with a jock for the affections of this girl it had to be something physical, and running seemed to be the easiest thing to take up. It was the first voluntary run of my life. In fact, other than an occasional touch football game or church softball game, it was my first voluntary attempt at any sport besides ping pong.

Never did I imagine that running would become instrumental in how I lived my life, how I planned my time, where I traveled for fun and leisure, how I met my friends, and how I ended up serving in local government. The daily dose of being alone on my feet became my best spiritual meditations. I didn’t intend for running to become such an integral part of my life. All I wanted to do on that fateful day in late May 1978, when I put on my shoes and stumbled through three miles, was to win back my girl.

And now, 37 years later, ANK, I’ve already planned a Guadalupe Peak hike in November and a 5K at Thanksgiving. Who knows where hope will take me next.


I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32

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Breaking Patterns

Wednesday I walked for two miles, my first time to walk that far since surgery. Not only that, but my average pace was about eighteen minutes per mile, which I would’ve once considered slow, but in my current rehab era seemed quick. By the time I got back to the gym I was already rethinking my plan to enter the Kick for Kenya 5K and ready to move up to the 10K. I was feeling full of my own, new, bad self. I finished the workout with my regular prayer: (1) Thanks for keeping me safe, (2) Thanks for giving me the desire to keep moving, and (3) Thanks for one more turn.

But later Wednesday afternoon as I walked down the basement hallway connecting the parking garage to office elevators I discovered I was now praying, “Thank you for this talk, you know, it really eased my mind.”

It occurred to me I was praying with song lyrics, from the Chicago V album, released in 1972.

I hope it’s OK to pray in those terms. David prayed with poetry, surely I can pray in song lyrics.

Hoka CliftonI was so encouraged by my two-mile walk I drove to Run This Way and bought a pair of Hoka Clifton running shoes, which are extremely cushioned, not because I’m ready to start running again, which is the most frequent question I’m asked, I promise not to consider a return for six to twelve months, giving my legs time to completely heal and rebuild strength, but to make walking softer and more fun. And, to signal that a new day has arrived.

I knew I needed to jump-start this next phase of life. I’m certainly guilty of what Patricia Ryan Madison wrote, that “age produces an increased tendency to rely on known patterns, if not all-out petrifaction.” Buying those Hokas was a departure from my known patterns.

Sometimes incremental change, the very sort of change I’m most likely to make, doesn’t really change anything. We end up pushing things around, re-arranging furniture, making small tweaks, living our lives in the way. Sometime we need bold changes.

I’m using my summer of new knees as a launching pad for the next phase, or next remake, or next reboot, of life. After all, I’m firmly on the eve of my 6th decade and I don’t want to waste the opportunity to make the most of it. I don’t know how many more major fresh starts I have left.

I told my friend Rabon, in our conversation about the possibility of jazz lessons, that I wasn’t doing anything scary nowadays, and that scared me a little. I have a great tendency to settle into the things I do well, the things I like, and put off the things that scare me, the risky things. And I don’t mean risky, as in rock climbing or hang gliding – those are nothing. I mean the risky things that I might fail at and damage people’s impression of me and then I’m stuck living with that. How can I be brave if I don’t do scary things?

So besides jazz, the scary things I’m beginning to think about again are half-marathons or marathons, and long-distance backpacking. And finishing my next book, the one I’ve been massaging and manipulating for over a year. I have to stop worrying whether anyone will think it’s good writing, or a worthy topic, and write what’s on my heart. I need to let it go, to quote my granddaughters.

Sakyong Mipham wrote, “Movement is good for the body, and still is good for the mind. To lead a balanced life, we need to engage and be active, and to deepen and rest.” (Running With The Mind of Meditation) What Mipham didn’t say was that both movement and rest speak to our souls, and amplify our spiritual journey toward God.

St. Augustine wrote, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you." I expect to find continued rest in God as I find ways to break my known patterns. Who knows where this journey will lead.


“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32

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Walking Distance

I saw this quote from comedian Stephen Wright: “Everywhere is within walking distance if you have the time,” and so to prove the point I asked the mapping app on my phone to give me a route for walking from our house in Midland, Texas, to our daughter’s house in Mansfield, Texas, 319 miles. The app said it would take 4 days and 13 hours to walk. I assume that does not include rest breaks, eating, or sleeping. Like the man said, everywhere is within walking distance. Which reminded me of one of our great family stories, a vacation to Washington DC in 2002. In order to save money I found a hotel outside the actual city and planned for all of us to ride the subway, the Met, from our hotel to the center of DC. When I phoned to make the reservations I asked, “How far is your hotel from the nearest Met station?” The young man answered confidently and convincingly, “It’s within walking distance.”

But our first morning we discovered our hotel was a solid thirty-minute drive from the station. And most of the road had no shoulder or sidewalk, so walking alongside was dangerous if not impossible. Hardly what a reasonable person would call “walking distance.”

The other part of the story, and an added observation that might explain the “walking distance” misunderstanding, was the gentleman who checked us into the hotel when we first arrived. He was the slowest person any of us had ever seen.

I don’t mean slow in the sense of dim-witted, although we had our suspicions. I mean slow in that every single one of his actions, like typing on his keyboard, moving his hand from keyboard to mouse, reading data from his computer screen, was so slow it was all we could do to keep from laughing. It was all we could do to keep our balance and not fall to the floor. He was so slow he was even slower than that. I don’t think anyone could be that slow on purpose, even if he was being forced to give us the room he’d hoped to keep for his fiancé when she arrived from France and it was the only room left and if he didn’t have a room for her she would fly back home and the wedding would be off. He was slower than that.

It occurred to us that maybe he was the one who told me over the phone that the Met station was within walking distance. Maybe he lived in a wrinkle of space-time so that normal distance and normal pace were different for him than for everyone else in the world.

I’vewalking been thinking about walking a lot, lately, being between knee preplacement No. 1 (right) and knee replacement No. 2 (left). One of the reasons I opted for this procedure was so that I could enjoy walking again. And today, three weeks after No. 1, I’m already walking even better than I expected. Better, in fact, than before surgery, which I suppose, was the point of replacement.

I recently finished a book by Jim Forest titled, The Road to Emmaus: Pilgrimage as a Way of Life, and he wrote: “Walking is a physical activity that is meant to have spiritual significance.”

Walking is so simple and common, and one of the earliest things we learn how to do as human beings. We learn to walk long before we learn to talk, or go to the potty, or find our own food.

For me, walking includes running and hiking … at least, the spiritual significance of it. Some of my richest spiritual conversations with God have come while walking, hiking, or running on a dirt trail.

Forest wrote, “Unimpeded walking is one of life’s most ordinary, least expensive, and deeply rewarding pleasures … Putting one foot in front of the other and going forward can provide a foretaste of heaven.”

Well, walking didn’t feel like heaven a few weeks ago when we spent seven hours on the medieval stone streets of Florence. It was fun, and I wouldn’t have it any other way, but it felt far from heaven.

However, I can already see a brighter and deeper future ahead of me. I am glad to be walking again. Ready to converse with God again on the trails.


“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32

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A High Tolerance

“The good news is, you obviously have a high tolerance for pain,” said the orthopedic surgeon last Friday. I was happy he said it in front of my wife, Cyndi; anything that makes me look strong and manly in her eyes is a winner. He said it while analyzing my X-rays and calculating the angles of displacement in my knees. “The bad news is, also, that you have a high tolerance for pain. You’ve let this go on long enough.”

“Your left knee needs replacing; your right knee needed replacing now, as soon as possible, before the angle worsens and the ligament is stretched beyond easy repair.”

It’s comforting, actually, to get an authentic diagnosis from a professional based on real data, even when the result is surgery. It answers the questions in my head: Am I making this up? Do everyone’s knees feel like this and I’m just being a wuss about it?

The doctor gave his practiced speech with all the reasons why I should consider total knee replacement until he figured out I was already on board. In fact, I wouldn’t have been in his office if I hadn’t already committed to that plan. My worst case scenario heading into Friday was that he would send me home to come back next year.

We set an appointment for right knee replacement on June 24, and left knee replacement on July 22. Before then I have to see a physical therapist for a couple of times, and also get a CT scan so they can build a custom 3-D printed knee. How cool is that!

knees 3Needless to say, I won’t be riding the MS150 this summer. I don’t know about cycling in Ft. Davis for Cyclefest. I have no idea how quickly I can be back on my bike or putting in real miles.

However, don’t take that as a complaint. I’m ready for this next phase of life (knowing full well none of us are ever as ready as we think). I’m ready to discard what isn’t working and replace with something new. Living life means constantly shedding what we don’t need and accumulating what’s next. We learn new things and unlearn old things, embrace ideas for the future and shed artifacts from the past. We are constantly churning, usually ideas and practices, but occasionally body parts.

Here’s the thing: What haunted me after the doctor visit actually had nothing to do with knees. I wondered how often my “high tolerance for pain” caused problems. Maybe when I pretend to be tolerating pain I am simply avoiding confrontation, or glossing over serious problems. How often do I wait too long to fix something, hoping it will get better on its own?

There is more to tolerating than I first thought. At least I’ll have several weeks of recovering from surgery to think more about it.


“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32

I need your help. If you enjoyed reading this, please share with your friends. You can find more of my writing on my weekly blog, read insights on Tumblr, and follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

What Stories Do You Choose?

Last week I rode my bike on the White Rock Creek Trail located northeast of downtown Dallas, Texas. It was my first time to ride this entire trail, and my first time to circle the lake on a bike rather than on foot. After lunch on Friday I parked in the parking lot of Anderson Bonner Park, just south of 635, the northern trailhead, and changed into my cycling kit in the backseat of my Toyota Tacoma. Changing clothes in the car is something of a family identifier for us. Cyndi and I have changed into running gear in the parking lots of some very classy places. However, I must add, changing into cycling bibs and jersey was much harder than running shorts and T-shirt. There were several moments when I could have been arrested had anyone cared to look inside the tinted window.

white rock creek trailMy usual purpose for squeezing a run (or a ride) into a busy day is to reinforce an old memory. Memory is so fragile, and it changes over time in ways we aren’t aware, so I like to retrace old routes to reestablish the details.

It’s like rebuilding rock cairns on a mountain trail. They deteriorate over time, victims of weather, gravity, and animals, and they must be maintained to remain effective and mark the trail. It is the same with deep personal spiritual experiences. We have to reinforce them, remind ourselves they were real and not our imagination. If we don’t, they will deteriorate just like the rock cairns, victims of time, memory, and spiritual attack.

There are certain trails that I visit again and again, simply to rebuild the memories of a significant insight I had years ago. There are crossroads where I always stop and breathe the air and take in the view simply because God once spoke to me in that exact spot. There is even one trail in Prospect Park in Wheat Ridge Colorado where I once ran to reinforce my understanding of a friend; in this case, it was his spiritual encounter on the trial I was working on, not my own.

Penelope Lively wrote, “The memory that we live with is the moth-eaten version of our own past that each of us carries around, depends on. It is our ID; this is how we know who we are and where we have been.”

As a writer and as a teacher I often worry that I fall back on the same old stores time and time again. Surely I must be boring people in my repetition. Even worse, I find myself telling the same old stores to Cyndi, most often stores of our early days when we first fell in love with each other. And when I read back through old journals I am surprised how often I write about running at White Rock Lake or Lady Bird Trail, or about trips up the same old trails in the Guadalupe Mountains, or even the same stores from my Daily Bible. And, well, here I am, writing about those same things, again.

In his book, What Matters Most, Leonard Sweet wrote, “Just as the kinds of friends we choose decide the kind of person we become and the direction life takes, the stores we relate to most closely structure our identities. Some of the most important choices we make are our companion stories – the stories we choose to live with. It takes only a few basic stories, or what scholars call “deep structures,’ to organize human experiences.”

I suppose that’s why I love to write family stories. The more time I spend in them the more I see God at work in our lives. Each time I forage around in my old stories I reinforce the memory that God has been rescuing us all along.

What about you? What stories have you chosen to live with?


“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32

I need your help. If you enjoyed reading this, please share with your friends. You can find more of my writing on my weekly blog, read insights on Tumblr, and follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

Finding Community on the Trail

Here it is: I’ve wasted a trip to Austin if I don’t find time to run around Lady Bird Johnson Lake at least once. It’s one of the best urban trails in the world and I love to run there. Moving down that trail makes my heart thump with joy. It isn’t just the dirt trail or the beautiful trees and water that make this particular place so much fun. It’s the hundreds of other people circling the same route: some going clockwise and others counterclockwise, some very fast and others very slow, some with dogs and some with baby strollers, some wearing ancient ragged race T-shirts and some wearing the latest neon-colored outfit, some running in large groups a-buzz with friendly banter and some alone like me, some teenagers and some in their 70s.

Austin trail runningBeing on the trail with all those like-minded people is energizing. I can run better and further and faster because of them. There are things we can understand about each other, even as total strangers, which would never make sense to our longtime personal friends who don’t run. We are a community even though we’ve never met.

The funny thing is, if I lived in Austin and ran this trail every day, I’d never actually meet most of these people. I’d still run mostly by myself. Yet being around them adds energy to my life because it reminds me I’m not alone in this world. I like knowing there are similar people who have unexplainable goals and weird habits and funny smelly clothes and big stopwatches and GPS mapping aps. Knowing I’m not alone is powerful, comforting, and energizing.

So as I ran, my thoughts were on my next book, the one I’m wrangling with right now. I’m still in the process where I keep rearranging big ideas looking for a pattern. I’ve been intrigued with the phases of or lives – not necessarily phases that philosophers or anthropologists assign to all of us, but the personal phases that show up when we tell our life story. Me, I see three major spiritual phases in my own life.

Phase one, from birth to university, when my faith was actually my parent’s faith. I saw the Gospel through the lens of family.

Phase two lasted from university to about 2004, and it’s centered on spiritual disciplines and structured learning. I understood and interpreted the Gospel through the lens of spiritual practices.

I’m just beginning to understand my third phase, and since it’s ongoing even today, I may learn more in the future and change my interpretation completely. But I call this my community phase, and it begins when I started leading the Iron Men group and I realized how much I needed community in my life.

I thought my most significant contributions would come from what I said or wrote, not from who I was, how I lived, or who I knew. I provided data, not relationships. And I totally underestimated the power of community.

(I have a lot more to write about this phase of life, but I need more time on the trail to work it all out.)

And so, back in Austin, as I finished up my run on the LBJ Trail and hobbled back to my car which I’d parked under the Mopac Bridge, I considered two major dilemmas.

While I love solitude (It’s where I draw energy and where I’m most creative) I also love being with my people (That’s where I grow strong, tell stories, and see God). How do I aim my life at both?

And the second dilemma; while running makes my knees sore and stiff for hours afterward, it also makes my heart happy and feeds my brain. I have to put up with one, to have the other.

To tell the truth, I like dilemmas like those. I hope there are a lot more; that’s where the energy of life is born.

And I hope I have three or four more major phases of life. I can’t wait to see what comes next.


“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32

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Charting the Path Ahead

What made me angry Monday evening was that after I pressed the “start button” on the Strava app on my phone, put the phone in my pocket, and began my run, the app apparently started asking more questions about whether I would like to add some features. As a result, it never started timing. I didn’t know that until I got back from running and there were the silly questions. Which means, I had to get my reading glasses from inside the house to see what the app was asking so I could say “No” again.

So I asked my Facebook friends for recommendations for a different app. What I want is something simple that plots the route on a map (with elevation), records my time, calculates average pace, and then stops. That’s all I want. I would buy the premium version of an app like that if it promised never ask me to upgrade or chose more add-ons. There should be a “Pay $10 to leave me alone” option.

Run Log GraphI’ll confess I like to know how far I run. In the old days I measured all my routes with my car odometer, which meant I had to do some creative driving to measure routes down alleys and through parks and drainage ditches.

Through the years I’ve run with two early iterations of GPS watches. The first had a small satellite receiver that I wore on my arm, which was more of a fashion commitment than I cared for. The second looked like an over-sized running wrist watch and worked well except the rechargeable battery often quit before I finished my long slow lumbering runs. And uploading the data to my computer was confusing and unreliable.

I know there are better GPS watches nowadays and they’re easier to use and I would probably be happy with any of them (and I am open to suggestions, by the way), but it’s so easy to carry my phone in my pocket (now that all my running shorts have pockets) and I have the added benefit of having my phone with me in case I need to call Cyndi so she can rescue me from a pack of wolves or an angry hail storm.

One of my longtime friends, Jeff Blackwell, responded to my Facebook question with this: “Go old school..... run to enjoy it...use your muscle memory to set your pace. Electronics (especially cellphones) have ruined the reasons we ran to begin with....to relax and get more in tune with our thoughts and nature. Maybe that is just me.”

Jeff makes great sense, and I can’t argue with his passionate plea. A lot of runners don’t have to record the time and distance of every run (I’m married to a runner who doesn’t), but for me, keeping that log is one of my favorite things about running.

More to the point, charting and graphing is one of my favorite things about life. It’s how I recognize trends and patterns, how I understand numbers, and more importantly, how I interpret the world. I have a notebook in my library full of run logs listing every mile I’ve run since 1978. They include more than numbers. They tell stories of vacations and business trips, races and marathons, and adventure runs in exotic locations. They describe training programs full of optimism and hope.

One of the things I like about myself is that I know I’ve run 36,874 miles as of Wednesday, October 29, 2014. I’m not the only one who knows, either. Psalm 139:3 says God charts the path ahead of me and tells me where to stop and rest. Every moment God knows where I am.

This is great comfort to me because of what it says about the nature and character of God. He cares enough about the details of our lives to chart our paths, and He knows enough about our individual energy levels and recharge demands to know where we should stop and rest. A God who uses charts and maps can be relied upon, it seems to me.

Well, I’m sorry to go on and on about my GPS problems, and some readers are already typing “That’s a first-world problem” into the comment section. But for those who appreciate the granularity of life, details like time and route hint to the bigger story, and log books indicate the future direction of life. Keeping track, charting and graphing, is how I pay attention and I’m not yet ready to give it up.

How about you? What details of life do you track?


“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32

I need your help. If you enjoyed reading this, please share with your friends. You can find more of my writing on my weekly blog, read insights on Tumblr, and follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

Walk This Way

Tuesday morning I read a tweet from someone I don’t remember who, about people making fun of the way she walked, and I thought, “Well, that’s my life. Every day.” And then I forgot about it. Until later, during the night, when my brain camped out on that thought. Finally, at 3:30 AM, I got out of bed, dug out some 3x5 cards, and wrote it down. I knew the only way I’d get back to sleep that night was to write it all down right then.

What wouldn’t let me sleep was the idea that how we walk says so much about us. You can infer a person’s outlook on life by the way they walk. You can judge their degree of self-discipline, their confidence, even their sense of mindfulness. You may decide not to engage with someone merely because the way they walk marks them as a whiner.

I crawled out of bed early Wednesday morning with this verse on my mind: “Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him,” (Colossians 2:6) In this case, our walk, or better said, our pattern of living, reveal our commitment to Jesus.

People don’t actually make fun of the way I walk, but they always ask about it. As in, “Are you OK? You seem to be limping.”

It’s because I have arthritis in both knees, just like my mom did. In the past three or four years it has begun to degrade my forward motion.

The problem with a condition like arthritis is I don’t have a great story to go along with it like I would if I had a catastrophic injury. As in, I was defending my granddaughters from a wolverine by lunging at his neck with my really cool bone-handled KA-BAR Iron Men pocket knife, and as I fell off the wood pile where we’d taken refuge I injured both knees, leaving me with a permanent limp that I don’t mind since all I have to do is look at photos of Madden and Landry and know it was worth it.

Not only would that be an epic story about my knees, but also about living up to my knife, a KA-BAR (Hardcore Lives, Hardcore Knives).

But I don’t have a story like that.

My story is more like this: I used to be a slow runner and now I am an extremely slow runner, often slower than 16:00 pace. They say, “Didn’t I see you out powerwalking yesterday?”

Most people assume I finally wore my knees out after 36,844 miles of running. It only makes intuitive sense.

But it doesn’t make scientific sense. The research overwhelmingly says running doesn’t encourage the onset of arthritis, but rather continual use tends to prolong the function of joints. With knees, like your heart, it’s “use ‘em or lose ‘em.”

In fact, just last weekend I heard an NPR Science Friday interview with two researchers (Greg Whyte and Tamara Hew-Butler), who said linear exercise (running, walking, cycling) extends the working life of joints and doesn’t wear them out.

Still, I limp, even during linear use. It reminds me of a quote by ultra-marathoner, Dean Karnezes, “Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you DSC06778must; just never give up.”

Thinking about walking all night when I should have been sleeping gave me another verse: “Therefore, my dear friends, … continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” (Philippians 2:12)

Except that I want the Bible to say “WALK out your salvation,” instead of “WORK out,” since how I walk is evident to everyone, more than how I work. I want my salvation story to be obvious to all observers even on those days I think I am doing a better job of hiding it.

Don’t misunderstand my intent when I write about bum knees. I am grateful for knees that work at all, and for every mile they take me.

George Sheehan once asked, "Have you ever felt worse after a run?" And the answer for me, since 1978, is, no. I am always glad I went.

“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32

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One of Us

You shouldn’t let interesting weather go unexperienced, and in western Texas that includes those rare cold, harsh days. We have too few of them to miss, so when my Yahoo Weather App said 27*F and sleet, I knew I had to drive home for a quick 3-mile noontime run. Who wouldn’t? It was only my second run since I hurt myself again a few weeks ago (because I tried to come back from injury too quickly (according to Cyndi)). I’m trying to learn from previous mistakes and slip slowly back into my old routines, so I’ve been taking it very easy.

I’ve been cycling some, but when the temperature gets below about 45, and especially if it is windy, well, I just don’t own enough clothing to stay warm … not even warm, I don’t own enough to not be miserable.

But running works in the cold. Just pile on enough layers and you can be warm as toast.

So I ran the dirt roads near my house on the theory that the rough surface would be less likely to ice-over. And I was right. The ground was dusted with snow, but traction wasn’t a problem.

So on the return leg of my out-and-back route, as I passed the pasture with polo horses, they started moving toward the fence to get closer to me. They had insulating blankets strapped to their backs, a bit like me in my long pants and jacket with gloves and ear muffs. All of us had a little bit of ice hanging from our gear.

So I stopped for a short bit while they came right up to the fence where I was standing. I’ve run past this pasture many times, and probably run past these same horses many times, but this was the first time they acknowledged my presence, much less walked to the fence to check on me.

Maybe it was a statement of solidarity on their part; as in, all running beasts outside on a cold windy day should stick together. I hope that’s what it was. I appreciated their attention.

I took a few minutes to stand against the fence, took off my glove and held out my hand so they could smell me. I’m sure they would’ve been even friendlier if I’d brought horse snacks, but I didn’t. It’s hard to remember everything.

Still, it felt like a brief moment of bonding. It felt like I was One Of Us. I was outside running in the cold, just like they were, and it felt like they were saying “well done.”

OK, I know I am making too much of this, but it was a cool moment and I need all the encouragement I can fabricate when it comes to running. I had my phone with me to log my distance, so I took a photo of my new friends.

horses at the fenceAs I ran on back toward home I remembered a similar experience one cold winter afternoon while running on the county road north of the Tramperous Ranch in northeast New Mexico, where we were visiting Cyndi’s grandparents for the holidays. The late winter afternoons were always my favorite time to run there because the low-angled light from the setting sun enlivened the gold and yellow in the winter grass and it was beautiful.

On that particular day, as I ran along down the road racing sundown, a chestnut mare trotted over to the fence to watch. Just as I pulled alongside her she took off, running down the fence line, parallel to the path I would be running if I could’ve run that fast. When she reached the corner of the pasture she turned to watch me catch up.

It was one of my best running moments. It felt like she was waiting for me to join her. Once again, I felt like One Of Us, a fellow running beast.

I’ll be the first to admit I know very little about horses. I especially want to point that out before all of Cyndi’s cousins read this and jump on my personifications of such cool animals. But anytime I discover I am One of Us, I can’t help but smile, and relish my position. I suppose I don’t want to be alone as much as I let on.


“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32

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A Destiny Reshaped

I recently finished Bill Rodgers’ book, Marathon Man, and in it he wrote, “Here is the power of running: With every mile you run, with every stride you take, you do more than reshape your body – you reshape your destiny.” That has certainly been true for me. In fact, my running habit has shaped my destiny far more than it shaped my body. For all the miles I’ve run I haven’t changed much in shape or volume, but I’ve changed significantly in heart and mind.

Dallas Turkey Trot 2009

I first took up running in late May 1978, at the beginning of the summer between my two senior years at the University of Oklahoma. I did it to win back the heart of a girl that I wanted to be my girlfriend but who spent the previous five months dating a track and field guy. For some reason I thought becoming an athlete myself might help. Of course, I never turned into an athlete, but I did become a life-long runner. I got hooked on spending time alone on my feet.

So even in the beginning, running reshaped my destiny. I’ve now been married to that same girl for over 34 years.

And the reshaping continued. Another way running changed my destiny was through Bible verses.

When I was in college I took on the practice of memorizing Bible verses. I did it by writing them on small cards, about 2”x3”, and carrying them in my pocket so I could pull them out and review them during the day.

When I started running longer miles I needed a mental distraction to keep my mind from convincing me to turn around and go back home, so I started carrying those verse cards with me. I would review and memorize while I ran. And that very practice became one of the most consistent meditative experiences of my life. I had nothing to do but think about the verses and all the possible meanings and applications, and after a few years of that, my mind was transformed. I became a different guy.

But maybe my biggest destiny reshaping from running happened in November 1983 when I finished my first marathon, the Golden Yucca Marathon in Hobbs, New Mexico.

For some reason I still can’t explain, I started dreaming about marathons from the very beginning. It was completely unexpected. Running was the first athletic thing of significance I ever did outside of PE class. Growing up, I did not participate in sports. I preferred being by myself and wandering around in the mesquite pasture near my house looking for adventure.

The Golden Yucca Marathon was my first, and it changed me completely in one stride.

Before I crossed the marathon finish line I was a smart, clever engineer with little promise as an athlete. After I stepped across the line, a true pound-the-chest howl-at-the-moon moment, in that one shuffling exhausted step, I became a man who could do anything. I was now invincible, brave, strong, focused, and successful.

In the moments before I crossed the marathon finish line, I was nothing but an exhausted, wet (it was raining), beat-up, plodding, back-of-the-pack runner, who was too tired to complete a coherent sentence. But as soon as I stepped across that line I became a certified marathon runner who would tell running stories for the rest of his life. I was forever changed, in that instant, and I knew it immediately. Running reshaped my destiny.

Well, to be honest, I often get embarrassed that I tell so many stories about myself. But those are the stories I know best so those are the ones I tell. If, when reading my stories, you think of your own, then I have succeeded as a writer.

So let me know. Tell me your big moments that shaped you. Bill Rodgers was right about running reshaping destiny, but running certainly isn’t the only activity that can do that. What were yours?

“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32


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Find me at www.berrysimpson.com, or www.twitter.com/berrysimpson, or http://www.facebook.com/berry.simpson