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Monday, March 14, 2011

Is there anything enjoyable about training for a marathon?


What’s the best part of running?

Yeah, I know… that’s a loaded question. I bet most people, upon reading that will answer the same way I did for so many years: nothing – or perhaps you like the hours of boredom spent putting one foot in front of the other.

I’m kidding of course. I actually really enjoy running these days. Admittedly, I don’t think I ever thought I would write that sentence. However, over the last few months while training for a marathon, I have found there is an odd peace that comes with the rhythm of stepping along down the road with only you and your thoughts to keep you occupied. In this same way, one of the best parts of having this opportunity to train has been listening to the radio.

I’m not talking about # # . # FM or some other music station; I’m talking about radio programs that are specifically produced for the listener’s education and/or entertainment.

Now, I know what you are thinking – the concept of listening to those kinds of radio programs went out of style somewhere around the age of the hippies – probably about the same time TV was developed. I’ll concede that point, yet over this time period I have found there are a few things you just can’t get from TV that oddly enough, these radio programs provide.

Podcasts are where it’s at. These things are so available these days, you can literally download a piece on nearly anything you can imagine. I have listened to a 2 minute parody on Charlie Sheen’s latest antics to 20 minutes on the folly of the BCS to 60 minutes on why cats are such intriguing animals.

Part of the beauty – there are no commercials, it is just listening and thinking from start to finish.

This kind of sheds light on one of the other things that annoys me about TV – you have to sit and watch, w/out the availability to do much else. Sure, people are walking on treadmills at the gym watching TV these days, but you have to be inside a gym and walking on a treadmill.

Lame-oh.

With the radio/mp3 player, it is so easily portable. You can accomplish so much while learning something – you can run outside or do laundry inside, or really whatever it is you do.

However, the most enjoyable aspect of this medium of information versus TV has been the engaging nature of the radio. It’s the same reason that we get so much more out of “reading a book over merely watching the movie.”

I know in my mind that I am not really having a 2-person conversation while listening to these podcasts, but the nature of not being able to see the presenter – only listen – invites one to use their imagination to construct that scenario in your mind.

I can’t really remember that last time I left the couch after watching something on TV where I actually felt like that really had an impact on me – it seems that since with TV you aren’t required to use your imagination at all, you just don’t remember things nearly as well. I feel like I can remember nearly everything I have listened to over this training period, and with minimal effort.

I no longer dread the 3+ hour long runs which are required during the training regimen that I dreaded before I started this program. Crazily, they are almost enjoyable now…

Relax, I said almost.

Thanks for reading J

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

What is the deal with Ash Wednesday?


As most of you know by now by getting “ashed” or seeing a bunch of folks walking around with black marks on their heads, today was Ash Wednesday. I’m certain that this tradition goes back thousands of years, yet it seems that many of those who participate and then also many of those who don’t seem to misunderstand the purpose of the day and the tradition itself. As one of those who were “ashed,” I had a few questions (and puzzled looks thrown my way) today at the hospital. In honor of those questions, I thought I’d write a quick reflection on my understanding of the tradition and why I choose to be a part of the celebration.

The questions were:

- Why do you feel like you have to demonstrate a “holier than thou” sign all day?

- Who needs those ashes or Ash Wednesday anyway?

I assure you, over the many years of participating in this tradition and then also quite a few of not; I have often thought of these same questions myself. Yet today, I am excited about this season of Lent.

First of all, I will admit - there is a certain comfort I feel when I see others with the same sign on their heads. However, this comfort is largely outweighed the simple fact I don’t put ashes on my head so others can be comforted or so I can demonstrate that I am a Christian.

In fact, I celebrate Ash Wednesday because of what it does for me.

Wearing the ashes gives me an opportunity to admit to all of those around me that I am a sinner – or if discussion of sin is foreign to you – that I am not perfect and I am not special. This is difficult to admit over and over throughout the day, but at the same time, it is incredibly liberating and humbling. I am making an outward sign that I commit myself to as much reflection/prayer/repentance in the next 40 days as I can handle.

I am excited for Lent because this yearly season gives me an incredible opportunity to reflect on life as an ongoing conversion – that I must continue to evaluate myself and my actions if I truly wish to model myself after the person I claim to model myself after.

We are constantly bombarded with messages these days that encourage us to seek titles and degrees and money, we have all the bells and whistles to achieve our wildest hopes and dreams. These are all good things. However, I wish to not lose site of the fact that no matter what I achieve in this lifetime, I am ultimately a natural being – and one day my body will be lying in a casket – and return to dust or ash.

That is an overwhelmingly sobering thought; I better not get wrapped up in myself.

Thus I accept to have this mark placed right on my head, coincidentally the same location where the thoughts that spawn good and even bad develop. I believe that if I commit myself to construct these thoughts after the person represented by this cross, I can’t go wrong.

Thus, in response to the second question of who needs Ash Wednesday or even Lent for that matter – the answer is simple…

I do J