Endurance, Hope, and Running Intervals

jogger-jogging-sport-marathon.jpgOne of the best ways to increase your running economy is to run intervals.  This is where you run a short distance or time period at a fast-ish pace to stress your cardio-vascular system, recover by slowly jogging, and repeat.  Over time, your body becomes more efficient (economic) at taking oxygen in through the lungs, into the blood stream, and delivering it to the muscles where it is metabolized.  The more efficiently your body does this, the faster or farther you can run.

There is a clear parallel here with spiritual economy.  The cycle of stress and recovery through hope can produce greater spiritual economy, which allows us to run faster and farther in to God’s wild country.  It also gives us the ability to persevere through even greater challenges.

Looking back over the past two years I can see several of these stress-hope cycles: the discovery of Kathryn’s cancer-hope that it was just lymphoma, losing Isaac-hope for a lasting response to Crizotnib, a hysterectomy and tumor removal-hope for less pain and a normal summer, Kathryn almost bleeding to death-hope for Lorlatinib.  Although I think these cycles have produced some increased spiritual economy, I didn’t always look for what God might have been doing in that moment.  At times I was on auto-pilot as a coping method.  It was easier to fill my day with making meals, managing meds, trying to focus on work, driving kids here and there, instead of being present in the struggle and facing it head on.  Do I need a coach to give me the guidance and encouragement to push through the pain and also to let me know when it’s safe to hope again?

I have to admit, I have a horrible relationship with hope. It feels like the greater the hope, the greater the pain when that hope gets crushed. Why even allow hope to creep in when what is hoped for doesn’t happen?  I digress.

I’ve been training with a new app recently called My Run Plan.  It’s pretty cool.  You can enter some data about your running history and current level of fitness, plug in a goal race (I’ll tell you about mine at the end of this post), and it kicks out a training plan customized to you.  Beyond just a static plan, it will readjust the schedule if normal life happens and you miss a day of training, or several!  It’s adaptive just like a human coach would be.

Full disclosure: my old college roommate and cross-country/track team mate from the University of Wisconin-Superior, Renga Sreenivasan, wrote the algorithm the program is based on.  He’s a smart dude.

Another feature of the app I discovered recently is the “voice coach.” Monday’s run was a fartlek (I laugh every time I hear it or say it so feel free to do the same!) where I ran 5 minutes at 5K pace with 3 minutes of jogging in between.  From my phone, the voice coach audibly told me how fast I ran the last interval and when I needed to start the next one.  It also gave me a little verbal slap on the back if I ran at the correct pace.  “Great job.  You nailed that one!”

It was a tough workout but one that will yield greater running economy thanks to the voice coach in My Run Plan holding me accountable.

Writing this post I was reminded of this scripture:

Romans 5:3-6

“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners.”

I guess my reluctance to hope is similar to the challenge of getting yourself ready for the next interval on the trail or track. I know it’s going to hurt, but it’s the goal, the prize we seek, that gives us the perseverance to continue. What we hope for in this life may not come to pass, but perhaps the seduction of hope is what keeps us coming back to it even after feeling betrayed by it. The scripture in Romans talks about hope for what is beyond this life but I’m finding that type of hope difficult to reconcile with hope for earthly things, like the hope that my kids will be shielded from the shit that cancer throws our way.

Running has given me a way to cope with that dissonance: the pull between the eternal hope Paul writes about in Romans and the temporal hopes of this world.  In the end, there will be harmony-and I long for that already, oh how I long for that.  But until that day, I know its going to hurt.

“Endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment.”

I’ve signed up for my first ultra-trail marathon, the Chester Woods 50k.  A traditional marathon is about 42k, or 26.2 miles.  A 50k is about 31 miles.  Why would I ever want to do this?  I think I will need to leave that answer for another post; but to complete 31 miles of trail running, I will need physical interval training as well as spiritual and mental interval training.  They all seem feed the same thing the farther I run.

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