Cross Training: A Lenten Reflection

I am a runner and, although I’m not going to win for speed any time soon, I am satisfied in my steadily-increasing pace. As odd as it sounds, I credit much of this consistency to my shoes. A devout patron of Brooks, I am more than a little happy with my pairs of their “Ghost” model, follow the Brooks hashtag #RunHappy, and always feel the itch to hit the track when I see their logo.

Of course, I was a runner before I converted to Brooks, but now I feel like part of a team. (Seriously, props to the Brooks PR folk for fostering such a remarkable community of runners.) The logo on my shoes not only inspires me to run, but almost convicts me. My shoes were a gift from my parents and Brooks are not cheap… When I look at them, I am motivated to run when I remember the cost as well as the benefit; I want to train so as to be justified in this gift, as well as to reap the joy that comes with finishing a race well.

Running in itself is a good thing and I desire to do it for my own health. However, a logo for a company I support and a community I am eager to be a member of are, on a low-motivation day, more compelling reasons to continue training.

Often when I run, the following passage comes to mind:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 12:1-2

Perhaps it’s corny to think of running the race of faith as I jog a few miles around the park, but I cannot ignore that the Christian faith is often expounded and experienced through physical representations of spiritual realities. Running around the park is not a race of cosmic endurance, but it can certainly be a reminder. Indeed, if we sharpen our perception, there is an edifying theology to be found in all things…but that is a much longer, later article.

As I ran today, I wrestled within myself— does that count as an extra workout? You see, yesterday, I provided music for my church’s Ash Wednesday service. Having grown up nondenominational, I never much considered the importance of Ash Wednesday or the church calendar aside from Christmas and Easter. However, as the pastor drew the sign of the cross on my forehead and said the following, something moved within my soul.

Ryanne, you are dust and to dust you will return.

I had heard the “dust to dust” phrase before, but when my name was added, I was convicted. Lent is not just a time of extra church services and trying (and failing) to give up chocolate or Netflix; Lent is a time to remember my identity as dust created and recreated in the likeness of my Savior.

But what was I to give up for Lent? The sign of the cross on my forehead was an emblem more powerful than any shoe logo. If I am encouraged to run because of the cost of my shoes and my desire to represent as a Brooks runner, how much more ought I to be compelled by the sign of the cross on my face and — when the ashes have faded — my heart? Did not that emblem come at a price much dearer than any other? Shouldn’t I constantly be considering how I am representing Christ’s name above all else?

As I lapped the park this morning, I was unsure what to do as I did not feel called to give up or change any one thing in particular for Lent. It feels trite to give up something as trivial as dessert and, admittedly, I doubt I have the self-control or will to do so. With each step, I debated what (if anything) I should do and, ultimately, realized that just as a strong runner will implement multiple training techniques to achieve holistic health, I ought to have a cruciform approach to Lent:

I need to Cross train.

The Christian faith is holistic and the cross itself demonstrates this as yet another physical representation of a spiritual reality. Consider its very shape: it stretches up to heaven and down to earth, across lands and tongues and tribes, back through generations and testaments, forward to modern believers and posterity. The cross, so often a focal point in our lives as Christians, reminds us that in our Savior’s death and resurrection, all things are reconciled and we are to seek him in every age, area, and activity:

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight, making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

Ephesians 1:7-10

Lent is a time of preparation and reorientation. I did not want to give something up during these forty days just for the sake of giving something up, for while my body might be grateful for a bit less sugar or my mind for a bit less television, these alone will not commend me to God, nor will they truly develop me as a person. When a runner is training, he or she must not focus just on good breath, stride, hydration, etc., although all of these are essential to a successful run. The difference between athlete and average is a holistic attitude.

Now, I do not pretend to be an athlete, but I aspire toward that mentality in my areas of calling. For instance, when I practice piano, I strive to consider technique, musicality, comprehension, and communication in equal temperament. A musician without imagination is a mechanic, but a musician without technique is a disaster; the whole person must be engaged to achieve a level of genuine artistry, just as the whole person must work to achieve true athleticism.

Christ, man and God, is the epitome of this completeness. In this season of Lent as I prepare my heart for Holy Week, I cannot in good conscience forsake a cruciform, comprehensive contemplation in favor of giving up something trivial. Just as in running, I desire that gradual, steady change of heart and health, both physically and spiritually.

But what does this look like practically?

Well, it is no accident that the sign of the cross in ashes is visible. Yes, it washed away with the aid of baptismal waters (and some makeup remover), but it still burns in my mind and heart. It reminds me of my membership in the church, the body of Christ, and influences even my tiniest decisions. This morning, I was tempted not to go for a run because it was oh-so-nice to sit on the couch with a second cup of coffee, but I purposely had left out my Brooks the night before, knowing that if I saw them, I would be reminded of the value of a good run.

In the same way, for Lent (and beyond), I am committed to keeping the sign of the cross ever before my conscience. In doing so, I am finding that those little things I might have given up (certain foods, TV shows, etc.) are no longer appealing. And those things I might have added (longer daily devotions, more prayer time, service for others), are more attractive than ever. When I opened my phone to find something to listen to on my run, I instinctively swiped to a pop workout playlist. But something gave me pause. Would listening to these songs honor the Lord who died for me? It would not necessarily be wrong, but would it be edifying?

Knowing I might not run as fast, I chose to listen to a sermon instead, only to find that I ran farther and better than I expected. This is not because the sermon had a catchy beat, but because it engaged my soul and I felt the reality of this spiritual race as I set forth on an earthly one. I found that even in this simple choice, I was practicing “laying aside every weight” so that I might “run with endurance.”

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.

Hebrews 12:3

The reasons I’ve never stuck to Lenten resolutions is because they did not genuinely force me to consider Christ crucified. This year, I am actively considering “him who endured” that I might endure and grow. This is not a burden, believers! This is a resolution we might count all joy, for it is training us as active followers of Christ as we “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14).

As a runner, sometimes what keeps me moving is keeping the end goal in sight. Let us in this season of Lent keep our most glorious End ever before us, that we might rightly sing:

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light

Irish tune and text

Toasty Summer

Ah, summer… when this Scottish gal turns a bit less pasty, nothing feels better than reading in the pool, and the beach hair makes its comeback…

But this summer has turned toasty in more ways than one! As a runner, I’ve been waking up early to beat the relentless Arizona heat. I love my morning runs, but am miserable if I don’t remember to refuel properly. Without a healthy balance of rich carbohydrates, my head feels all swimmy (and not a good kind of swimming!) and without protein and healthy fats I cannot power through a run or recover afterwards. And trust me, running during the Arizona summer- even in the wee hours- takes a lot out of you!

Honestly, even just existing in the Arizona summer can be draining. But a simple solution to the fatigue of toasty weather is to- well- make more toast!

Avocado toast is a huge hit nowadays, but unlike La Croix (which to me just tastes like the fizzling memory of lemonade), this is a fad I can get behind! Today, I got creative with this simple and versatile snack/meal, creating what might be the ideal avocado toast to power through whatever your summer might bring:

Ingredients: 

  • One avocado
  • Goat cheese
  • One tomato
  • Vinegar (I used a lime-flavored one)
  • Olive Oil (I opted for bacon-flavored, courtesy of the Olive Mill in Queen Creek, AZ)
  • Hearty bread (Dave’s Killer Bread is excellent)

Directions: 

  1. Toast bread (Who’d have ever thought?!)
  2. Peel and pit avocado,
  3. Mash avocado in a small bowl with a drizzle of oil and vinegar (to taste- I probably used half a tablespoon of each), mash until mostly smooth with smaller chunks
  4. Spread avocado mash on toast (should have enough for four small slices of bread)
  5. Sprinkle toast with goat cheese
  6. Top each piece with a slice of tomato
  7. Sprinkle black seed on top (or salt/pepper) to add a little zing of flavor
  8. Enjoy and feel like a health-conscious millennial, ready to take on whatever the day may bring you (which might just be another helping of toast)

 

Running for Perspective

I love to run, but unless I have a really good soundtrack or running buddy, abhor running on treadmills or tracks because I do not run merely for exercise, I run for perspective.

This is why I cannot run on a track only. After a while, I get bored watching the same people play the same sports on the field as I listen to the same playlists and circle the same route. I’m bored just typing this.

But if I run elsewhere… oh the perspective it brings! I might not get the maximum speed I could on a track, but I gain something infinitely greater: reflection, restoration, reminders…pretty much any nice word that starts with “r.”

Tonight I had an especially good run, following my usual route off of my college campus through several tunnels, past a lovely neighborhood, to a park with green hills, a creek, huge trees, and all variety of life.

As soon as I pass through the first tunnel, I feel a weight lift from my shoulders, as if I am shedding the pressures of college life. In leaving campus and feeling the powerful movement of my body in running, I remember there is more to life than the stress of a student.

As I pass the neighborhoods, I am comforted to look at homes. Actual homes with families and tacky Thanksgiving decorations. Homes where parents are returning from work and cooking dinner and children are shouting in play. It’s so peace-giving to see homes instead of dorms. One represents stability and comfort whereas the latter, though nice, is temporary and functional.

And then I reach the park. Its green fields open up before me like the pages of a well-loved book; Celtic music sings in my earbuds and I rejoice as if I am once more running along the Caledonian Canal in Scotland. An autumn breeze makes the boughs of a willow tree dance and the hanging leaves of another catches in my curly hair, ruffling it like a teasing brother. Birds sing in choruses on either side of the creek and dogs pant with the joy of a walk with their humans. The sky, a burnished orange, reminds me of home; Arizona’s sunsets always will be the most beautiful…

My heart is refreshed by nature. Perhaps I am reading too much Wordsworth (kidding- no such thing!), but as I drink in the evening air, I exhale poetry in gasping breaths. A thousand verses all bloom in my mind and I feel the rush of creative power in my muscles as I press onward.

I pass a young family, the son grumpy in his dress clothes and the parents beaming as they take the photos that will announce the coming of their second child. Only a half mile later, I pass a proposal and, when the couple and their loved ones leave, I run on a trail of rose petals. And, between these two golden moments, I see older couples walking hand-in-hand and elementary children racing their scooters. I find here a perspective; life goes on and wondrous things lie ahead with lovely little things in between!

Oh, there is a wealth of love and poetry in the air tonight! More than my small heart and mind can absorb at once! And so my run turns to dance and a smile lifts my face toward the sun, which has flickered into street lamps as dusk falls.

Another mile. No, two more. Hmmm… another. It is a sorrow to leave this glimpse of paradise. I smile at every passerby and they smile back. It’s easy at a park full of families and puppies and sunshine to forget the hardships of life; everything is gold-tinged at sunset here.

I set my face toward school once more, but with a lightness to my step that I lacked when first setting out. The longer I run, it seems, the freer I fly. I barely feel my feet touch the uneven ground as I race myself back.

Then, naturally, the poetic spell was broken as I almost stepped on a hawk. (It could possibly have been a falcon.)

Yes, you read that correctly. As I sprinted the final stretch of nature before reaching the pavement of campus, I had the misfortune (or was it?) of stepping within two inches of the largest bird of prey I have every seen up close. It flew- annoyed, no doubt- up and away, leaving behind its mangled dinner.

Too surprised to stop and take a closer look, I ran on, laughing aloud with sheer wonder and a little fear (after all, Wordsworth would say beauty and fear are often realized in the same experience). I probably should not have been so surprised, as I have met this hawk before, though I had never presumed to interrupt his dinner!

Thrilling with poetry and humor (and endorphins), I sprinted the last few steps back and with a pulsing spirit set to recording my run in words rather than statistics.

Readers, I encourage you with all my heart: when life feels overwhelming, run to a park. The exercise and perspective will do wonders for your spirit and imagination.

But watch where you step. 😉

The Eroica 10k

Calling all runners and musicians!

Thanks to my music history class, I have of late become obsessed with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 in E-Flat Major, Op. 55, better known as the “Eroica Symphony.”

“Eroica” means “Heroic” in case you did not figure that out for yourself and this musical adventure is just that: heroic. It traces Beethoven’s personal development and victories over the trials of mortal life, as well as mirrors those of humanity as a whole. It might be considered a distilled version of the entire “triumph of the human spirit” genre…or perhaps even the epitome of this genre.

There are many ways to process a piece of art such as this: analyze it visually, internalize it through listening, taste it if you are brave and nobody is looking, etc. However, I firmly attest to the power of movement (no pun intended) when it comes to studying music. Often this leads me to dance around the practice room, but the incredible power and hero’s journey found in the Eroica is something beyond dancing awkwardly by myself.

It demands power. It demands perseverance. It demands running. 

Are you a runner? Are you a musician? If you answered yes to either of these questions, I (and possibly Beethoven) challenge you to take on the Eroica 10k. 

The Eroica 10k

(performed by Simon Rattle and the Vienna Philharmonic)

  1. Lace up your running shoes and turn up your music. As soon as the conductor’s baton strikes the first beat, you are off and away!
  2. The first movement is perfectly timed (about 16 minutes) so that you can complete two miles during it if you run at a steady 8 min/mile pace. This is fairly brisk, but it is possible if each step is in time with the beat! (Pro tip: Increase your stride length as the dynamics increase; this will add interval training and speed boosts.)
  3. The second movement is not as rapid; after all, it is more reminiscent of a funeral march. Slow your pace slightly and catch your breath, but continue to run in time and increase your stride during crescendos.
  4. The third movement provides a nice pick-me-up after the sombre second movement, during which I became oddly philosophical even whilst running. This movement, a “scherzo” (joke), is vibrant and quick. AND SO ARE YOU! Pick up speed, but allow your stride to stay short so that you do not overtax yourself.
  5. The fourth movement signals only about 2 miles left, depending on your average pace. You’re almost there and the humor of this opening is sure to put some bounce back into your step. Don’t fight this; instead, allow your stride to be more bouncy as it will actually help energize you through the remaining distance.
  6. Continue to increase your stride length as the music builds, returning to a comfortable pace as it settles down again.
  7. The ending of the symphony will surprise you with its drama and inspire you to finish strong. If you have the urge to conduct while you run, go right ahead. Who cares if the soccer players give you weird looks as you conduct dramatic cadences? You are a runner and a musician and you deserve to add a little flare to the end of your workout! Now sprint!
  8. As the symphony ends, check your distance. If you still have a lap or two to go, never fear! Turn on some light music and run in the spirit of Nike! (Not the shoes…the goddess of victory. But by all means, the shoes are wonderful too.)
  9. Congratulations! You ran an entire 10k and reached a deeper appreciation of Beethoven’s most renowned symphony within the same hour!

Do you feel heroic? You ought to! 6.213… miles (a 10k) is something to be proud of, especially at Beethoven’s relentless pace! Both this symphony and running are exercises in overcoming life’s obstacles, as well as celebrating personal victories; they are both heroic journeys.

I sincerely hope that you enjoy this experience as much as I did, for it served my development both as a musician and an athlete.

Nike!

-Ryanne