Microadventure day 7: pushing boundaries

This is the seventh post in our microadventure during [Coronavirus] lockdown series. You can find the others here.


Murphy’s Law! It’s what we call it in Ireland when anything that could go wrong, does go wrong. Like when we are have to isolate indoors, and the weather blazes the best sunshine we’ve seen all year. Similar to exam season for children – when it occurs, and they must stay indoors revising, we suddenly get good weather too. And so it’s happened.

The weather that comes when one isn’t on holiday.

I’m a little hesitant about when I go out on such days. My local walking path (just 200m away) is sometimes teeming with people who’ve driven in from elsewhere, and so I try and go when the crowds die down.

But as I stepped out of my front door to stretch before my run, it wasn’t just the area that was teeming with people. The air was teeming too.

Midges.

The crafty little things that loitered in the shadows, stealing the cool, shady areas of my driveway, and popping out at the sight of human flesh, to take a nibble and enjoy the crazy attempts of a human trying to swat and clap and do ANYTHING to get rid of them. Entertainment at its finest, for a midge-sized-eye.

But I put up with them for a short while, knowing that I’d soon be out plodding the pavements, quicker than any of them could catch up with me, or so I thought.

Glendalough: probably one of the worst places for midges I have ever been

Pushing Boundaries

Today was the day I decided to go for a long run – to push the boundaries of what I’d been doing recently. I was used to doing ultra-runs over the past couple of years, but I was a little out of shape this winter, given how much I tend to consider myself a fair weather runner. Today, for our microadventure, would you join me?

Why running?

For many reasons.

For one, it gives the day shape. Somehow I find that slotting a run into my day, shapes the rest of my day. On running days, I’m more likely to have a good time alone with God too. On running days, I’m more disciplined in my work routines. Running seems to do something to me, which puts everything else in order.

But much as I could go on, I’ll come back to more reasons for running, later in our run!

Today’s challenge was to go push myself further than I’d gone recently, which for me would be over an hour of running. And it was a beautiful day for it – blue skies, sun beating down.

My route would be the coastal path along Belfast Lough, which sadly turns away from the coast and goes through endless industrial estates at a point not too far from my house, and leads to the city centre, and then out the other side along the river (or alternatively, along the rest of the shore path to Bangor). Today though, I was grateful for the industrial estates, because they lessen the crowds and give some shade.

And we’re off

And so I set off, glad to get away from the swarm of biting friends, and head in the opposite direction to where most of them hang out, by the water’s edge.

I love running, but particularly by the water’s edge, or through beautiful regions. It’s partly what made me take up ultra-running – to remove the concrete from under my feet and remove the constant glancing at my watch from my runs. Not that I don’t care about time anymore, but its not what drives me. The joy of running drives me onwards.

FREEDOM!

And it gives me a mental release from over-thinking. I’m a person who thinks alot. I replay situations in my head, I mull over problems that aren’t even my own problems, I am always engaging intellectually with something. But running is the chance to lose myself (in the music, the moment….you only get one shot etc etc – sorry a little sidetracked) and think about nothing apart from the path ahead, the beauty around me, and the nothing-ness of the moment.

And so there I was, delighted to be free of worry, until a mile further on, as I passed a shady wooded area, dappled in sunlight trickling through the branches, I was slightly alarmed to find them again. I pushed on through the infested cloud of indiscernable bites, in the hope I could outrun them still. My legs felt fresh enough to give them a run for their money today.

On I plodded, knowing that I didn’t have to keep going. The danger with setting a time on running, rather than a distance, or setting joy as your driver, rather than set distance targets, is that I find it easier to turn round at nearly any point or to be reduced down to a snail’s pace (if time is my goal). I mean, technically you could do this, no matter what motivates you. And some days, one does really need to dig deeper, even when you don’t feel like it. Even when joy is not there in your mind. Even when your mind groans at the thought of the miles ahead.

No pain no gain?

Let me differentiate though between your body painfully groaning at the miles ahead, and your body mentally groaning. Yes, there is sometimes deep connection between the two, and it’s not quite as simple as I might make out here. But my mind will often complain at the journey ahead. But my body will only complain in pain if I’ve been pushing it too hard for its own good, if I’ve picked up niggling injuries or if I haven’t been sleeping well or physically doing ok in the recent days. The two are very different things. And it’s essential to listen to your body. To put your ego of your training routine or targets behind you, and listen well to your body, and not just your lazy mind (that will perhaps rarely choose to run any decent distance at times).

This, in today’s world is a counter-intuitive thing for anyone to do – to not listen to the loudest voice in your mind. For the mantra of the modern age is “be true to yourself”. But for the runner, if one was to listen to this internal voice, you would never leave the sofa. For the good of one’s self, one must not listen to oneself (which raises big questions for other areas of life…but I digress).

Choosing a goal

I say this, as I lay down the gauntlet of our microadventure today being to run farther than you’ve done before. Can I suggest pushing yourself just one or two steps further, rather than trying to break land records for running? Perhaps it’s only me, but my teenage self would often just take a whim to do some stupidly mad long distances on a nice day. To take off, and never return. And that was normally on top of a physically gruelling training schedule. The day after, I’d always suffer. In fact, often the whole week after, it’d put my other training into reverse. My ego would have tried to persuade my body that this was fitness. Instead, it was normally just pride.

I must never run so hard, that my body feels damaged by my actions (with perhaps a few exceptions of escaping danger or occasionally when I push myself in a competition – but still, I would be foolish to do this without knowing what will result). Because I partly run, to keep myself in shape. I sleep better when I run. My body feels fitter, when I run. And the endorphin release after running is the only drug I need for the day. There’s something about the elation and buzz of coming back from completing a run that leaves me buzzing for the rest of the day. I don’t know all the science behind it, but it feels good!

So if you’re choosing a distance to push yourself this week, perhaps consider your current level of fitness and go just beyond it. If you’re used to running 2km, run 2.5km. If you normally do 10km, do 13km. Or run the same distance at slightly faster speed or on a more hilly route. The “couch to 5k” challenge is beautiful for this reason – it sets reasonable targets over weeks, that won’t break you beyond what your body is capable of.

Pounding concrete

But as I ran on, I came to the depressing part of my route – the industrial estates. Thankfully they were quite quiet, given the nature of the times we live in, though they must still be ok to traverse at other times, given the main cycle route to the northside of the city goes through this route, giving a perfect path to run.

Here, I smiled. I had outrun my fellow competitors. Nothing moved for several miles around me, apart from two cyclists, whizzing past at high speed.

At the 35 minute mark, I turned, stuffed a few more jelly babies in my mouth (I’m a type 1 diabetic, so need constant sugar supply) and turned to run the same path back again.

It was 10 minutes in to my run back again that I sensed a cheater in our ranks. Had the race adjudicators not noticed? I was once again being bitten by my friendly rivals. But they’d not been anywhere near the distance I had traversed? Angrily, I pushed onwards, sure that even with less of my body in tact from their incessant biting, I could still outpace even cheaters like these.

And so I was still confident as I hit the sign for one mile to go – and it was all along coast now, with a gentle breeze off the shore, and stunning views of the Cave Hill to my other side. A flock of geese forming a “v” shape in the sky, flew by, effortlessly flapping their wings and gliding close to the water. Stunning!

Passing a walker, they dived into the bushes, sensing my deep breathing might smite them with undesirable viruses, as I ran past. But on I ran, keen to keep going.

One hour 10 minutes struck. And I was back within a few hundred metres of home. Time to slow down to a walk, for the last bit to allow my body a chance to recover before I spent the rest of the day indoors.

Overtaken at the final hurdle

But sadly it was that decision (which was a good one, I must add) to slow down, that cost me the race that day. Just in those last few hundred metres, my fellow competitors caught up with me for one final time, and gloated over me as I headed towards my finish, continuing to bite at any possible juicy morsels they could find on my body. Too tired to swat or dance away from them like I did at the start, I resigned myself to defeat. How had they run faster than me on such an occasion? I slammed the door, hopeful that they’d remain outside of my isolation bubble and at last, I could have some peace for the rest of the day.

Collapse, midway through an ultra.

It’s over to you

So, at the end of our little microadventure for today, could I encourage you to get out there and use your one exercise per day to push yourself just a little bit harder, faster, wiser, (and erm stronger?) in the days ahead.

PS: What if you’re only allowed 2km away from home by government isolation?

Don’t worry, there’s always running round your garden a billion times:

Or doing many lengths of your seven metre balcony, in order to run similar distances:

So what are you waiting for?

Let’s get running!

7 reads for Coronavirus season

Each year I try and get through over a hundred wide ranging books, whether old classics, the latest releases, or ones I’m slow to catch up on. Here’s 7 that have deeply influenced me this in the last year, that have particular relevance to us as travelling people and also to the Coronavirus season. I must also add – this is not what I feed myself spiritually on as a Christian traveller! It’s the extras on the side.

  1. SCIENCE: Why we sleep. (Matthew Walker, Penguin, 2018)
    If you’re anything like me, you’ll have tried at some stage in life to be living such a productive life, that you get up early and stay up late – burning the candle at both ends, so to speak. Matthew Walker writes quite a shocking book in that regard, making me realise that such patterns of living longterm would make my health, mental wellbeing and life crumble. He does so simply through outlining the science which he has spent years researching with many others. He also has very practical tips about drinking before bed (those whiskey nightcaps!), screentime and caffiene which may help improve life too. It’s a heavy read in places (you may want to skim at times), but one that shouldn’t be avoided because of that. Ultimately, I hope that the Coronavirus will return many to rhythms of rest which they hadn’t before, particularly amongst those of us who travel and always desire “more”.

    undefined undefined
  2. BIOGRAPHY/APPLIED THEOLOGY: The Common Rule (Justin Earley, IVP US, 2019)
    Potentially the millennial’s book of the year! I have not heard many my age be able to read it and say “that’s not me”. Justin describes his life as a successful cross-cultural business person and traveller, seeking to thrive and live life to the fullest, only to find his life crashing on the rocks, in ways many of us will say “that’s me – just a few steps further down the line!” Addiction to work; distraction; busy-ness; alcoholic tendendcies; indecision; paralysis; medications; mental collapse and more – this book doesn’t dramatise or tell glamourous tales, but instead shares of an ordinary life. The downward spiral was one that had him (although a missionary) at the end of his tether with God, deciding to pack it all in. But over the years that followed he was able to come back to the truths he’d neglected, that would have actually helped him flourish and grow as a human. This is his story. But it’s part of mine too. And I’m guessing many of our generation. Not sure? It’s worth a read. Again, my prayer is that the Coronavirus period will slow us down enough to stop many of these “rushed” patterns in life that cripple us mentally and physically, and instead will let us get back into daily, weekly and annual rhythms.

  3. FRIENDSHIP/THEOLOGY: Why can’t we be friends? (Aimee Byrd, P&R, 2018)
    As we think about isolation and community a lot, may we think about our regular patterns of isolating ourselves or developing deep community. Gender is one of the big topics of recent years, and sadly, many of us as Christians have been busy defending 1960s cultural conservatism, rather than Biblical good news. Aimee seeks to unpick a massive movement in Christianity that claims we shouldn’t get too close to members of the opposite sex, lest we fall into temptation. Showing provocatively how this is not good news at all, for a #metoo world, she calls us to engage wisely and hold out a marvelous Biblical picture of cross-gender friendships, that honour and empower each other, whilst having holiness at the centre. She answers common questions about the fall of so many Christian leaders through sexual sin. When you’ve travelled through cultures which disrespect women, and have segregated genders, there is nothing more free-ing than knowing good news of liberation – a liberation which doesn’t descend into sexual chaos and dishonour. Review here.

  4. MISSIOLOGY: Stubborn Perseverance (Nyman, Mission Network, 2017)
    What we do as humans when we perceive an urgent need or a seeming problem: panic! And its not just in response to viruses that we do this. Another complete change of topic brings us to the latest in missiology that all the main mission organisations are buying into. This is an easy-read fictional account based on real life stories from ‘Creative Access Nations’. It is gripping, very helpful in places, but like much of current missiology in such places, it is largely shaped by panicked pragmatism. In a bid to get the gospel to as many as possible, as quick as possible, we over-emphasize things the Bible does not emphasize. I’ve already written on this briefly here though more full treatment can be found on this website. What should shape our views on urgency? The Biblical pattern. And I think some of us more task-orientated cultures in the west will be shocked that God’s glory is greater than simply some of the tasks He calls us to.

    undefined
  5. COMMUNICATIONS: So Everyone Can Hear (Crosby, SPCK, 2019)
    The Church has gone online! With Coronavirus stopping any gatherings of people over a certain size where it’s possible to socially distance, livestream events and social media have taken over. But as one who works part-time in communications (including social media), I’ve noticed a wave of panic, as many churches just put up whatever content they can. Every church would do well to read this beautifully presented book, and then to discuss as a leadership team afterwards, how their church’s theology drives communication. It’s not a how-to-guide but an empowering read that will help guide you from your theology to practice. Of course, many in other parts of the world would chuckle, that western Christianity has tied itself so much to buildings and large gatherings, and can’t perceive of other ways of easily being a local church. But regardless, this book is a helpful read.

  6. THEOLOGY: Understanding Christian mission: participation in suffering and glory (Sunquist, Baker, 2013)
    One of the things that strikes me most about my own life, is my feeling of entitlement and desire for control over my life. The Christian doctrine of suffering and joy both running concurrently in the Christian life (1 Peter), is simply baffling for many of us in the west, even to those of us who’ve preached about following in Christ’s sufferings (as well as his resurrection hope) for years. We just can’t fathom suffering when it hits us. We want to say it’s evil, but then struggle when its used by God for eventual, ultimate good. And so this virus shakes the western world and has thrown us in disarray. This title, (recommended to me online by a lecturer at Edinburgh Theological Seminary), helpfully puts participation in suffering at the front and centre of God’s mission. There is so much that is helpful historically and to meditate upon in this volume, that I hope we can overlook the broader side to it. May this virus humble humanity to realise how to incorporate suffering into our worldview well. What might that look like for us pleasure travellers? I’ll leave you to figure.

  7. HISTORY: Dominion (Tom Holland, Little-Brown, 2019)
    This much acclaimed volume I’m sure has reached your attention a long time ago, but I believe still deserves a mention. Secular historian Tom Holland is certainly no friend of endorsing the Biblical text (taking a very liberal view of the Old Testament), but makes astounding claims, which seem fairly undeniable, around the fact that the way that we think in the west, is undeniably Judeo-Christian. Even if you are a hardened atheist reading this, you will be standing on Christian foundations, according to Holland. How are we thinking about the virus? In Christian ways. We mourn at such suffering! Why? Because we have expectations stemming from the Christian worldview. Why do we have the moral response we do in light of the virus? Because we steal our moral framework from the Christian one etc. But ultimately, Holland’s just a great writer who has got me back reading history (having been bored stiff at school by it). It might help us as we travel, to see outside our narrow cultural lenses.

Isolation: the opposite of travel?

With the Corona-virus keeping many of us isolated or indoors, I’ve been back pondering what good news there is in all this for travellers, and the travel industry.

In many ways, the industry is being decimated, day by day, as this continues. Small airlines are weekly being put into administration, travel companies are packing up and even most normal summer holidays plans are now in doubt for many of us too. Is the virus then, the antipathy of travel?

My last sunset on the road, before heading back for weeks in the house.

Is the virus the antipathy of travel?

Perhaps, in some ways. But as writer Marcel Proust (and later Alain de Botton) have reminded us, we daren’t harbour ‘travel’ as the ultimate goal, or else it will destroy us (particularly in times like these). Proust is famous in his writings, for deliberately isolating himself at times in one room, and still taking us on an incredible traverse of thinking, imagination and creativity, that leaves us marveling at the tiny subsection of the world around us. One could possibly, he claims, be more satisfied within a small room, than a world explorer is with the whole world at our fingertips.

The only true voyage of discovery, the only fountain of Eternal Youth, would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes, to behold the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to behold the hundred universes that each of them beholds, that each of them us.

Marcel Proust, The Remembrance of things Past (translated, Moncrieff)

And that’s striking exactly what the Christian good news also says. We can visit other strange lands and still not learn or grow, depending on how we view our travels. Travel ought not be our ultimate goal, or else we’ll be broken by it when it’s not freely available. We ought not be bored, even if we were stuck in isolation, if we view things well.

I’m fairly sure self-isolation could happen on beaches like this, in mountain ranges and other stunning location – but the feeling of wanting to be of use to less able members of the community, mean that I largely stay in the city to help.

By a lonely prison wall…

But it’s also different to what the Christian good news says. What Proust is left with, is looking inwards to ourselves, in order to view the vastness of the world, and glimpse the diamond through different lights. Not only do we struggle to do this (just think about how quickly we “other”/distance any viewpoints that are different to ours in the world), but looking within to find true vision and imagination for life, is shrinking your universe to a prison cell. Or so Rebecca McLaughlin would have us believe….

The fact that Proust actively chose to self-isolate in a cork-lined room (to help protect him from the noise and outside world) may baffle many of us at this stage in our virus-strewn world:

“…it was my intention to resume the next day, but this time with a purpose, a solitary life.   So far from going into society, I would not even permit people to come and see me at home during my hours of work, for the duty of writing my book took precedence now of that of being polite or even kind.”

Marcel Proust

But ultimately Proust came up with great works of art, which captivate many like myself today. So perhaps it was worth it?

So as you isolate or socially distance yourself from others in the weeks ahead, I hope we can soon look through any boredom, any temptation to pick up your phone again (for the hundredth time) to scroll, to instead see the world with eyes that aren’t our own. And ultimately, it is my dream, that we would all see through the eyes of the maker of the universe, who can give us infinite glimpses beyond what we could ever muster from within. It is only through His eyes, that we can escape our rather warped, lopsided views of reality.

And that’s what I invite us to do as we #travelintandem – in the corner of our bedrooms, in the chaos of virus-affected-life, and in the bizarre moments we stop scrolling to think.

The beach at Kilmore Quay, County Wexford, Ireland