Map My Run – death trail version

rod artersI decided to go for a run last night.  It’s the first time I have run (without chasing a soccer ball in the process) in a long time. At least since last week.  In the neighborhood I currently live, there are “trails” (think wooded with sidewalks) that weave around townhouses, past tennis courts, lakes and through tunneled roads.  Since this was my first time on this trail, I was unsure as to where it led, how far it went or how to get back home.  Notorious for a poor sense of direction, I figured I better bring my i-phone and i-pod as back up.  The i-pod would undoubtedly distract me from the pain.  The i-phone would allow me to dial 911 quickly or use the google map app for when I get lost.  (Yes, I fully expected this to happen.)

I started out like any serious runner: walking.  Almost immediately, two physically fit white men sprinted past me.  I’m pretty sure they were Kenyan.   Afraid they would detect my novice running status, I tried to give them the impression that I had just finished a triathlon and was in my cool down stage.   I don’t think they were buying it as triathletes do not (I’m sure) run this trail.   Triathletes sweat a lot and I, somehow, was as dry as a Q-tip.  I decided to stretch various limbs prior to my run as I felt that was a prudent idea for a man in his upper upper 30’s.   39-ish.   With 5 years of experience.

After a full 20 minutes of employing every known exercise in the universe (aka stalling) as my pre-run ritual (stretching, synchronizing my watch, getting my playlist together, adjusting my ear buds, praying to the god of oxygen, faking the aforementioned cool down stage, checking for ticks, checking my stocks, checking my email, double knotting my shoestrings, jumping jacks, etc.) – I was finally ready to begin.  Like the majestic trot of a pure breed Arabian racehorse I began the “jog pace” (minus the majestic, pure breed & Arabian part).

I took about 3 steps into my run and remembered the “Map My Run” app on my phone.  I downloaded the app the same time everyone else downloaded it – January 1st, Resolution Day.   Mine still had cobwebs on it.   Apparently there is an option for every type of pace (walk, cross-country, power walk, dog walk, etc).  Though the “sprint” option was tempting (I could die sooner), I selected “trail run” as that most closely resembled what I wanted to do.   At least in theory.  On paper.   Vicariously through someone else.   After that, I hit the “start workout” button and my jog had officially commenced.

At first, it felt great to get outside and be on the trail.  Of course, I was still standing still.  When I actually started to move forward, somehow all hell broke loose with my body. It was as if 44 years of resentment built up and my body was now angry or something.  Shin splints appeared out of nowhere.  My tongue immediately became devoid of all moisture.  My lungs collapsed.  At least they felt like they did.   My legs seemed heavy.  Incredibly, someone – without my knowledge – succeeded in placing lead bricks in my sneakers.   I think I got chicken pox.  How was I going to be the first man to run a 3 minute mile with all of these medical anomalies happening at once?  To make matters worse, the stupid app had a timer on it and I knew time was ticking.  Why do we add unnecessary pressure on our run with a ticking clock?   Is the universe going to explode if I don’t make it home in 30 minutes?   I’m already stressed about my run – I don’t need some ticking metric to point out how slow I really am.   I looked at my watch with disdain.  I had been officially “running” for about 30 seconds now.  This was not a good start.

By all accounts, my pace is slow.   Think turtle with a sprained leg after triple bypass surgery.   Keeping up with the Kenyans (or the Kardashians) is not the goal.  Jogging this trail, I reminded myself, is not a race.  So what if the white Kenyans were in another zip code by now?  This is not a race.  So what if the elderly man in the motorized electric chair is passing me?  It’s not a race.  So what if the seven-year old girl walking her disabled poodle lapped me – twice?  It’s not a race.   So what if I’m already parched within 50 feet of my door?  It’s not a race.   I’m here to get some exercise and lose some weight and enjoy God’s beautiful creation.   Oh, and die of cardiac arrest.

Trail runs are interesting, if I can even call this one a trail.   Apparently, in America, we can’t even allow our trails to be natural.   Just a few suggestions for the future trail makers of America:

  1. First of all, there should be a law requiring neighborhoods to mark their trees.   Ribbons or spray paint would work just fine.   How can I know where I’m going when every tree looks identical to each other?  I mean, they all have bark and green leaves.  How in the world could I possibly tell I was circling the same Pine tree for 45 minutes straight?
  2. Second, there should be signs at every “V” in the trail.  Numerous times I had to choose between going “right” or “left.”  I felt like Neo in the Matrix picking a pill.  It reminded me of the Encyclopedia Brown book series I read as a kid – determining my own ending.  If I went “right,” was that where lemonade and Dr. Scholl’s inserts would be?   If I went “left,” would I encounter snakes, leprechauns or other dangerous creatures?   Which way did the freaking Kenyans go?
  3. Third, where are the helpful “you are here” maps that they provide in the malls?   Granted, they would be impossible to create as even the “you are here” map makers would have no clue where they were.   Even so, it’s the thought that counts.   If you are lost in a mall, at least you are indoors and not far from the food court.  Survival is not a question.   On the trail, sunset was imminent – at least 4 hours away.  That didn’t give me much time to find my way home.

As I continued to wander in the wilderness like Moses, I thought about those wilderness survival shows on TV.  I wondered if I would have to cut off my arm to survive or what animal I’d have to kill and eat to make it through the night.  I mean, it was 68 degrees out and I was developing a slight chill.   At one point, I recalled a story from childhood that may have proven helpful.  It was a beautiful story about 2 trail running children.  Something about leaving food on the ground.  Wait a minute, wasn’t someone trying to kill them?  I really should have paid more attention to my bedtime stories.  Besides, I wasn’t sure how feeding the squirrels was going to help me so I immediately abandoned that train of thought.

About 55 minutes into my “run,” I came to the conclusion that I was officially lost.  Even though I had only traveled about .3 miles from my front door, I began to panic.  I wondered if Park Rangers had been deployed to look for me yet?   Were there teams of individuals canvassing the neighborhood organizing a search for me?   Was the local police chief holding a press conference?  I wonder what picture my roommate provided to show others what I looked like?  Secretly, I hoped a Facebook page was created for me (“Support group for fans of the pseudo trail jogger“).   Then the thought hit me – “What if I became the next Reader’s Digest story?”   Those stories always seem to involve a bear mauling.   This, by the way, is not helpful thinking when you are alone, on a foreign trail, in broad daylight, in the middle of suburbia.   At one point, I was so concerned, I almost drew a panicked self portrait of myself to hang on a nearby tree – left behind as a clue to my whereabouts.  (Note to self: bring a sharpie and paper next time I go trail running.)

As for the i-pod, which was to serve as the ultimate distracter of pain?  It’s final song was ironic, if not taunting.   “You’re only human (2nd wind)” from Billy Joel:

“Don’t forget your second wind
Sooner or later you’ll get your second wind
It’s not always easy to be living in this world of pain
You’re gonna be crashing into stone walls again and again
It’s alright, it’s alright.

Don’t forget your second wind.   Wait in your corner until that breeze blows in.”

Note to self: Update my playlist before my next trail crawl.

As I finished my near death trail running experience, it led me to think about running as a past time.   We don’t time our experience at the grocery store.  We don’t time our dentist or car mechanic.  And yet, somehow, we put this pressure on ourselves that we have to run a certain distance in the speed of light or we are out of shape.

No sir.   No more.

As for me, I’m getting rid of my watch.  In it’s place, I’m strapping a calendar to my wrist.   It doesn’t “tick” and is much more encouraging and gracious.

I began my run in May.  If, by the end of June, I’m not back – come look for me.

Until then, I’m circling the trees and feeding the squirrels in search of some Kenyans… who I have a feeling are back at home “liking” some Facebook support page.

The breath in my shadow’s nostril

If you have ever spent time with little kids, you will remember how slow the clock moves for them.   Send a disobedient three year old to their room for a 5 minute “time-out” and they will complain how long they have to stay in there.  If you didn’t know better, you would think (by the sound of their whiny complaint) they had been rotting in their room for days.   Or tell a 10 year old they can have an ice cream cone after you are finished with your errands.   The errands (from their perspective) take “forever,” just ask them.  Recently I heard a young woman (mid-20’s) in Wal-mart tell someone on the phone that she had been in the check-out line for “an eternity.”  I smiled as I heard her description when I realized we were in the express lane.   My belief about eternity is that you experience it in Heaven or Hell.  I can only assume which one Wal-mart would be.

I have noticed that our perspective of time changes with age.   The younger we are, the slower the hands on the clock seem to move.  The older we are, time literally flies – as the saying goes.  How many parents and grandparents have told me how quickly their children have grown up!  As a parent myself, I now understand what they mean.   One day they graduate from diapers.  The next day they graduate with a diploma.   In between those bookmarks is a blur.

Since the clock ticks and tocks at the same rate for all people of all ages in all time zones, what is it about our perspective that seems to influence it’s pace?  Elizabeth Taylor echoed this sentiment when she penned, “It is strange that the years teach us patience; that the shorter our time, the greater our capacity for waiting.”

I recently pondered these thoughts on time as I stood next to Christopher, a friend of mine for the last 24 years.   On Monday night, June 23rd, Chris was living his life like he did every day.  By 6am Tuesday morning, Chris was laying in the ICU trauma unit, literally fighting for his life.   One day he is fine.  The next day, he is not.   One moment, he is healthy, conscious, mobile.  The next moment, he is in critical condition, unconscious and motionless.   Though no one is exactly sure what happened, his nearby mangled scooter seems to indicate an early morning accident… cause unknown.

In a room down the hallway lay another man, half his age.  Another victim of a bike accident.  Another severe head trauma.   Another one fighting for his life.  Chris was wearing a helmet.  The other man was not.   Both now waiting for the one commodity that apparently waits for no man:


At 38 years old, you would think Chris had plenty left on his clock.  In spite of his severe injuries, he still may.  Or the good Lord could take him tonight.   Only the Keeper of the clock really knows.

One thing we do know is this:


In fact, repeatedly in His love letter to us, God seems to remind us of the brevity of life.  Notice what the Everlasting Creator says about our temporary time on earth:

  • “Our span of years is as nothing before God.” (Psalm 39:5)
  • We are “but a wind that passes and does not return.” (Psalm 78:39)
  • “…our days are like a passing shadow.” (Psalm 144:4)
  • Our “days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle...” (Job 7:6-7)
  • Our “days are swifter than a runner; they flee away” (Job 9:25)
  • Our “days are like an eagle that swoops on its prey.” (Job 9:25-26)
  • “Everyone is but a breath, even those who seem secure.” (Psalm 39:3)
  • …humans, who have but a breath in their nostrils.” (Isaiah 2:22)
  • “Like a shepherd’s tent my dwelling is pulled up and removed from me…” (Isaiah 38:12)
  • “All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass.   The grass withers, and the flower falls off, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” (I Peter 1:24-25)

Think about the imagery that comes to mind with each description.

A breath in your nostril.

A passing shadow.

A wind.

A runner.

A swooping eagle.


A tent.

Our YEARS are like NOTHING to God.

It’s as if the Heavenly Author does not want us to miss the message:


For some reason, we tend to forget this truth until it’s too late.   Too often that reality becomes crystal clear when we are lowering a casket or watching a loved one lay motionless in an ICU bed.   Our poor memory is jarred when we can’t see our children.   Our amnesia lifts when a precious relationship is no longer available to us.   It’s not until we are kneeling next to a tomb or listening to the beeps of the life saving machines in the ICU wing of a trauma unit that we recognize “the most precious resource we all have is time.” (Steve Jobs)

It’s a painful lesson I have learned and re-learned my entire life.  I buried my biological father at age 5.   I attended the funeral of several classmates in high school.  I said farewell to my best friend and youth pastor in college – both of whom died in the same tragic “accident.”  From grandparents to neighbors to co-workers to students… I have heard the mantra like an unwelcome drum beat: LIFE. IS. SHORT.  And thanks to some selfish decisions on my part, I now know a pain worse than death – the loss of relationships delivered via divorce.

What is your relational status?   Some of us are estranged from our children.  Others hold a grudge against a parent.   Some haven’t talked to their sibling in years.  Others have let pride keep us from former best friends.

The shadow is passing.

The breath in your nostril is brief.

The wind comes and goes before you know it.

The grass is withering – even now.

What will you do with the time you have left?

  • Ask for forgiveness.
  • Accept the apology.
  • Spend time with those that you love.
  • Mend the relationships dear to you.
  • Reconcile relationships while you can.
  • Say I’m sorry.
  • Tell them you love them.
  • Pick up the phone.
  • Write the letter.
  • Work out the differences.
  • Stop by for a visit.
  • Give up the grudge.

Don’t wait for the ICU room.    The grave-site is simply too late.


The only pain greater than saying goodbye to someone before you’re ready is to do so with the olive branch still in your hand.

I hope I have another opportunity with Chris.

By God’s grace, I pray I will.

“So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom.” – Moses (Psalm 90:12)

********** UPDATE **********

Chris went to be with the Lord on July 11, 2014 at 5:24pm.  I was honored to be one of the few friends and family in the room to witness his last breath and watch him step out of time and into eternity.   He is now pain-free and more alive than ever before.

The other man mentioned in the post, age 19, has regained consciousness and is expected to make a full recovery.

One family ran out of time.   The other family was given some additional minutes on their clock.

Remember, “Everyone is but a breath, even those who seem secure.” (Psalm 39:3)