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


Transforming Moments

So Monday morning I watched the live internet feed from the Boston Marathon on my computer. It was fun. I could feel myself swaying in my chair, trying to run with the leaders. In my head I was running the Newton Hills smoothly and quickly just like those tiny Kenyans. It was amazing. More than that, it was inspiring. I wanted to change into my New Balances right then and hit the road.

So I went home for lunch pumped full of adrenaline. I didn’t have time to run, but squeezed in a 13-bike ride. It was windy of course, especially riding west on Mockingbird, but fighting the headwind felt like solidarity with those runners on Heartbreak Hill. Even on my bike I was one of us.

It wasn’t until after lunch that people in my office started asking me about the bombs. I had no idea. I had to catch up on the news. And then, staring at the videos on my computer, I sat stunned, awash in my own vulnerability. These were my people. They were where I wished I were. They were winning their day. They were finishing a year-long, life-long goal. They could have been me. If my knees didn’t hurt, if I could run faster, they would have been me. I could hardly breathe.

Over the course of the afternoon, I was surprised how many phone calls, texts, and emails I received about the marathon tragedy. Friends wanted to know if I’d heard about it, if I knew anyone running, and even if Cyndi and I were running the race this year. The entire incident felt more personal than I’d expected. It felt like my own tribe was under attack.

I wasn’t alone in feeling that way. Blogger Peter Larson wrote, “In talking with other runners over the past 24 hours, the common thing we all feel is that our family has been attacked. It’s a family that includes not only those of us who run, but also those who gather to watch us achieve our goals.”

My daughter, Katie, texted: “It’s a sad day when the most passive athletes are targeted.”

She got that exactly right. Marathon runners don’t hit people, they don’t try to knock the ball out of your hands or steal it from you, and they don’t yell at line judges or referees. They’re self-contained, often introverted people willing to put in long training hours on the road. The only person they hurt is themselves.

I’ve been around a lot of marathon finish lines, either because I was running myself or because I was waiting for someone I love to finish. My first finish was in 1983 at the Golden Yucca Marathon in Hobbs, NM. It was raining when I crossed the finish line, and the entire area was deserted. A man and woman jumped out of their Airstream trailer, scribbled my name and race number and finish time on their clipboard, scrambled back inside out of the rain, leaving me standing alone in the rain, so proud of myself I couldn’t stop crying. I would have pounded my chest and howled at the sky but I was too exhausted to lift my arms.

I knew I was a different man from that moment forward. I was transformed into a marathon runner, and I could claim that privilege for the rest of my life. I knew my future would be different than predicted. I knew I was amazing.

All marathon finishes are like that. Even crossing my most recent finish line at the Crossroads Marathon, October 2010, was transformational. Once again, it changed my image of what was possible. It opened my heart and expanded my vision. Even exhausted, I knew I could do anything. I was indestructible. I was a mighty warrior who could not be stopped.

That is what marathon finish lines are like. They are joyful. They are emotional thin places. They are transformational. They are magic.

But Monday, in Boston, the finish line turned tragic.

The first thing I wanted to do after seeing the bombing video was to find Cyndi and hold on to her. I was soft and hungry for her touch all afternoon. I needed physical confirmation that we were OK.

John Bingham posted on Tuesday: “What we learned from the New York City Marathon is that runners are not immune to the power of the universe. Hurricanes don’t care how long you’ve trained. They don’t care that running a marathon is a life-list dream. They don’t care that you are a runner.

Yesterday we learned that we, elite runners, charity runners, young, old, male, female, runners are not protected from the dangers, the horrors, and the hatred that are in the world. We aren’t. If we thought we were yesterday morning, THIS morning we know we’re not.”

Through the years, Cyndi and I have run so many races together, running and love and longevity have intertwined through the years. It was my love for Cyndi and my desire to snatch her back from her track & field boyfriend that started me running back in 1978. But Monday morning my favorite sport reminded me that even something as benign as running comes with risk to the one I love most.

You can’t love someone without accepting the risk of losing them. Sometimes the threat of loss is only tangential, as in my fear of losing Cyndi because of Boston. We were both in Midland and far from danger.

But it felt more real than that. It was a reminder that the commitment to love someone is risky and can end badly. Tragedy can strike anytime, even in the middle of life’s best moments.

But to be transformed by love, you have to accept the risk and love deeply anyway. You have to cannonball in with all you have. You have to love with all of you, all day, all the time, right now.

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

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



For the past evenings I’ve been reading Natalie Goldberg, and she always starts me thinking about how I spend my days. I’m especially drawn to her use of the word “practice;” how her life centers on writing practice and spiritual practice. Her daily practices influence everything she does and writes. I’m talking about practice in the sense of daily regular activities done for the purpose of doing them. Not out of rote or mechanical repetition, but knowing there is benefit. For example, maybe you start off practicing piano every day to become a better player, but eventually it becomes part of your identity. You keep practicing because it is who you are.

This makes me ask, “What are my own practices?”

My longest running practice (sorry about the pun) is running.

Friends often ask why I’m determined to keep running on sore knees when there are other exercise choices. I don’t usually have a good answer. It feels pretentious to say running has become a spiritual practice for me, so I keep that answer to myself. Still, it’s true.

I don’t expect other people to get the same benefit from running that I get, and I don’t think badly about them if they don’t become life-long runners. We’re each drawn to different activities, and I don’t expect anyone to be drawn to mine.

Still, I’ve had people tell me they were inspired to run after reading something I wrote. But then they tried it for a while and gave up because it was too hard. I can’t blame them. It is hard.

I started running in June 1978 in order to win the heart of a girl, to lose weight, and get fitter. It was hard work all summer long. In fact, I ran miles and miles, maybe a year to two, before I found any benefit. Certainly before it became fun. I had to push through discomfort and stress in order to find mental release on the other side. It wasn’t quick, it wasn’t easy, but it was worth it.

My second-longest practice is reading from my Daily Bible.

I have read through the same copy of The Daily Bible in Chronological Order year after year, almost every day, since 1993. I started because, as a Bible teacher, I wanted to learn more things about God. However, after I few passes through the book my motives evolved - I wanted to change who I was and how I lived so I could love God more.

It became a daily practice for me, a spiritual thin place. It grounds me, brings me back home to my base relationship with God, settles my wandering mind, and keeps me from rambling too far from truth. Just the physical act of doing it is peaceful. In fact, a day feels strange and empty until I have my reading.

The thing about spiritual practices is they’re not easy or fun every single time you do them. Some days are hard and cranky and I have to remind myself there is real value in continuing.

Last week I posted, “Is a hard cranky run when I’m struggling with every step better than no run at all?”

Yes, it is, but it isn’t obvious. Even a bad run slows down my day and anchors me to the present. Nothing settles my brain floaters better.

Practice means going out anyway, whether hot or rainy or cold or snowy or early or late. The regular repetition is as important as each actual mile.

Practice means digging my Daily Bible out of my backpack and squeezing today’s reading into a busy day even when the passage is nothing but a long genealogical list of unpronounceable names. Putting my attention to God’s Word centers me.

So why bother? Surely we have enough on or schedule already without adding more things to do.

Because our heart, soul, and mind are influenced by what we hear, read, and do. If we don’t have daily practices that intentionally bring us toward God, the Enemy will pull us away from God. Over the course of our lifetime, it is our practices that make us who we are.

What are your practices? Sharing them may help someone else who needs grounding in their own spiritual life.


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


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

Life-Changing Moments

“Before I could convince myself otherwise, I paid the entry fee and changed my life.” - Martin Dugard Martin Dugard, author of To Be A Runner, wrote that about entering his first race, the opening move in a life of running.

My guess is that Dugard had no idea how important that first entry fee was when he paid it. Most life-changing moments are subtle when they happen. In fact, if we knew they would change how we were going to live we would probably get scared and back slowly away. It is usually better NOT to know the future.

One of my life-changing moments happened when I first started running, in the summer of 1978, between my first and second senior year of college. At the time, I could never have imagined how many years I would keep doing it, or how it would change my life. I had no idea of the greater running community or the existence of races or training or anything like that. All I knew was that I needed to do something physical to lose some weight and win back the affection of a girl who’d left me for a track-and-field jock. It was the first time in my life to do anything physical on my own initiative.

Those first few miles in Stan Smith Adidas tennis shoes and Levi cut-offs were the beginning of a practice that has lasted 34 years and covered over 36,000 miles. Who could have anticipated that?

Somewhere along the way, I picked up a Runner’s World magazine and caught a glimpse of the bigger running community. I saw photos of people in races who looked like me, and that planted a seed that I could do it what they were doing.

I entered my first race in the summer of 1980. A Lubbock radio station was pitching the Cap’n D’s five-mile and ten-mile race as a (joking) alternative to the Moscow Summer Olympics, which President Jimmie Carter boycotted due to the Russian invasion of Afghanistan.

The racecourse consisted of two five-mile loops. I entered the ten-mile race, having run nine miles a couple of times in Brownfield, thinking I was ready for the big time. However, it was a mistake to try to run so far. I knew nothing about racing and I lined up at the front of the pack, oblivious to the differences between my body shape and the bodies of the other guys who belonged on the front. Caught up in the adrenaline of the moment, and being stupid, I ran too fast the first lap. I had to pull up and finish after only five miles. I felt miserable, I almost threw up, but I was so happy I couldn’t stop telling my story to Cyndi. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was a changed man.

Not long after that first race, I discovered running writer, George Sheehan. I bought his first book, Dr. Sheehan on Running, at a grocery store in Duncan, Oklahoma, while at a two-week oilfield school, in the fall of 1980. Every evening I read a few pages from the book and then went outside to go out running. I noticed that it was possible to write about life and spirituality around the framework of running. It was a seed planted.

Running races led to new friends, and those friends led to my twenty-year involvement in the running club in Midland, Texas. I eventually served a couple of terms as club president, but more importantly, I served for several years as newsletter editor. And it was with that newsletter I started writing stories about running and life. Many of those stories ended up in my first book, Running With God, published twenty-five years later.

The thing is, I wonder what would have taken over my life if I hadn’t started running back in 1978. Would I be a writer if not for that newsletter? Who knows. It’s impossible to know such things.

But those first few miles down Sanger Street in Hobbs, New Mexico changed my life. And those miles are still changing me - I’ve run three times this week, and here I am writing about it, again.

So many things happen to us in the course of our life and we can never know in the moment how important they will become. Usually, we are just happy to have lived through it and survived. It is only when looking back that we see how our life was changed.

I have been reading the story of Abraham these past few days, and few of the events of  his life pointed toward the great man he would become. What seems to be random and unfocused action on his part was used by God over the course of Abraham’s life to turn him into the father of a nation.

I believe God works that same way in our own lives. It’s hard to see the importance as we live through the moment, but later we see how his grace turned us into different people. Life-changing moments are a gift.


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


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