Share Your Gifts!

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Different people comprise different gifts. Some people are born with angelic singing voices, and some people display innate athleticism. Some people have a flood of money, and some people contain creative minds. Some people lead naturally, and some people easily inspire their neighbors. When God gives you a gift, you are expected to share the gift with others. If God blesses you financially, He expects you to use your wealth to advance His glory and Kingdom by helping others rather than for your own renown. If you are given the gift of serving and miracles often occur when you serve, you are asked to serve. As Jesus teaches in Luke 12:48, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”

As the Apostle Paul says to all in Rome in Romans 12:6-8, “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.” In short, share your gifts and use them to serve others. No gift is superior to another for those who use their gifts in obedience to the Lord. Your gift is useless if used for yourself, for He does not gift you for your own humanly contentment. This is the reason Paul says to the church of God in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 14:5, “I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be edified.” God will not force you to make the right choice, however, as He respects your free will He has given you. Therefore, even He cannot make those who left Him come Home; only they themselves can, as illustrated in His Parable of the Lost Son in Luke 15:11-32.

Paul notes to the churches in Galatia in Galatians 5:13, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.” Remember, even Jesus, the Creator of the universe and King of kings, “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). What gift has the Father given you to serve your neighbor?

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Different Side of the World

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After recruiting students from Nepal and India for the University of Nebraska at Kearney for over a year, I finally traveled on business to these two destinations for the first time ever from August 22 to 25, 2017, before flying into Korea to wrap up my trip. A colleague who has explored India for a month almost a decade ago informed me on the economic and social difference between the country and the places to which I am accustomed, that I would experience an underdeveloped country. I had assumed Nepal would be similar to India due to the two countries’ physical proximity.

Waiting for my Uber by the Delhi Airport, I sweated profusely as if in the sauna due to the humidity level at what I assume to be nearly 100%. I had believed drivers in South Korea to be the absolute worst in every sense of the word until I heard honking every second and saw zero drivers sticking to their lanes and every driver impatiently cutting. The original Uber driver who was connected to me canceled after making me wait twenty minutes, and the replaced driver was immediately stopped by the police for “not wearing uniform,” or a formal attire; the latter driver was allowed to proceed after paying a fine of Indian rupee’s equivalent of just over $1. Line simply does not exist in India. As I waited to ask about my boarding ticket to Chandigarh at the Delhi Airport, one clumsy man cut me as if I had become invisible, and I asked, “Are you with these two?” pointing at the pair of men next to him. I then said, “I am in line,” at which the cutter looked confused and to which a tourist from a different country said, “That doesn’t exist here.” A couple more individuals cut me seconds following, and I had to almost push others away for my turn. As I presented my boarding pass to Kathmandu to a security officer and he examined it, a man behind me reached for the officer over my right arm with his own boarding pass. Each time I went through security, a group of Indians tried to cut and/or stayed so close to me I could feel their bodies touching me. However, just like honking, cutting is deeply ingrained and the norm in Indian culture that no resident considers that to be rude. I cannot even attempt to count how many times I instinctively said in frustration and disbelief, “Excuse me.”

In Kathmandu, I noticed drivers did not honk as much, as doing so “is illegal in Nepal”; nevertheless, their hazardously cutting and staying out of their lanes felt similar to India. Each time I opened my eyes and looked straight, they were struck by dust and I had trouble opening my eyes.

My first time in India and Nepal, I felt I was observing the Republic of Korea of 50 years ago. The majority of buildings in Chandigarh remained under construction to the point I wonder where the city will be in two or three years. I could see why entrepreneurial-minded individuals say India, especially with its immense population of 1.345 billion, offers many business opportunities. Rather than complaining about the discomfort as I might sound like I am in this post, I was humbled and realized how much God has blessed Korea, the United States, and virtually every nation in which I had ever set foot.

Beat the Heat with a PR

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Having run four races in sum of roughly 142 miles already this year, I registered for a fifth at the Beat the Heat Half Marathon, with Freedom Running Company that supports wounded warriors’ families, in Bellevue, Nebraska, on August 12, 2017. Minor soreness in my left hip and right wing for weeks leading up to the event told me my body is finally asking me for some rest, but, aside from God, nothing distracts me from loneliness more effectively than running.

I did not put too much thought into my finish time, unless well past the two-hour mark, because I knew nothing about the course other than being on a trail. However, when the race commenced and I began my mile pace in the six-minute range and maintained the seven-minute for a while, I shifted my focus to securing the first official (and second technical) sub-2:00:00 half marathon. (Something about race day always makes me overperform drastically compared to training.) I sprinkled my throat with Powerade from my hydration pack every three to four miles to stay hydrated and “beat the heat.” I tried not to look at my Garmin for distance, as thinking about how much farther I have to cover drains my mentality and somewhat defeats the purpose of running; I should be running because I enjoy running rather than simply to finish. I did consistently check my mile pace, and I knew around mile 9, as long as I did not bonk substantially, I would finally break two hours in the half marathon.

My body abruptly felt the overwhelming pace and slowed down significantly with 1.5 miles to go, around when the finish line became visible. Half a mile left, in my 25th race, I finally experienced what “hitting the wall” meant. My entire body went numb, and I had to pour every ounce of my energy to keep running. Quoting Anna Rohrer, one of my favorite college runners, although I kept telling my mind to push, “my body wouldn’t let my legs go faster.” I completed the 13.1 miles in 1:56:55, 8:55 per mile, and I consider this my most impressive running performance to date in terms of time. Speaking to the race community after, I arbitrarily and repeatedly had trouble inhaling and talking, but, hilariously, I found this amusing rather than being intimidated by this unprecedented reaction. With a nearly four-week business trip to India, Nepal, and Korea coming up, I will finally have an excuse to give running a break, but will I? Honestly, I don’t know.

Freedom Run

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Running 102 miles just over two months ago, I had firmly decided to take a mandatory 102-day break, one day per mile covered, to safely and properly recover. Perhaps because I fulfilled a dream that took up much of my life for a couple of years, I felt a few days following an immense void in my life, which invited back longer and more powerfully than ever before many disturbing intrusive thoughts, one symptom of my obsessive-compulsive disorder. An innate suburbanite extrovert, I have been constantly forced to fight loneliness of a minute city of 33,000, exacerbated by the not-so-healthy work environment. “Maybe running has been working as my therapy and I just didn’t know it,” thought I, triggering me to jump back into running only a month after the ultramarathon in Texas. The resumption of habitual running brought back my desire to race, and I spontaneously registered for a half marathon at the 2017 Brownville Freedom Run, hosted in the historic Brownville, Nebraska, to celebrate the Fourth of July.

I love talking to people in races! Happy Fourth!

I hoped to embrace again the feeling of running with dedicated, disciplined, and humble strangers and befriend some of them. I simply wanted to have fun and did not care too much about my performance or finish time, as I understood my body still needs time to fully recover. Furthermore, I began experiencing stomach pain a week and diarrhea for two days prior to the event (because I unknowingly drank a brutal amount of laxative tea for days). I relied on prayers and medication and made sure to consume much of sports drinks to replenish electrolytes and water. The hours of fireworks outside my motel in Rock Port, Missouri, allowed me only two hours of sleep, but I trusted my body that could move without sleep for nearly 40 hours in my most recent race could manage 13.1 miles. Indeed and thankfully, I held up without any issues, although blistering heat and nearly 100% humidity did affect me both physically and mentally—along with most other participants—the final 3 miles of the concrete-gravel course. I do not recall sweating nearly as profusely as I did in any of my previous 23 races. All of these obstacles considered, I am semi-content with my 2:05:40, 37th place out of 86 runners. After all, I traveled 3.5 hours, the farthest I have driven for a half marathon, to merely have fun and feel free, which I did.

Philippians 4:13

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From April 21 to 23 of 2017, after two years of daily debating whether or not I should, I finally set out to turn my fantasy of running 100 miles into a reality at the Jackalope Jam 48-Hour in Cat Spring, Texas. I would be covering a single-mile trail loop, 0.5 mile out and 0.5 mile back, as many times as I can within the given time frame. With only two ultramarathons, 51 miles and 50K, under my belt, I relied solely on my Father to control my pace and condition to radiate His presence through me. My objective of reaching the pinnacle of ultrarunning had recently shifted from a simple human desire to building an eternal testimony to His greatness, that in Him, I (we) can do all things; “This only means a lot to me if You do it with me. Allow me to use this journey as a testament to Your greatness for the rest of my life,” I prayed. The Holy Spirit had already repeatedly provided me with motivating verses in the Bible and sermons from my church for the race of my life, and, the day before the event, I was led to Deuteronomy 29:5-6: “Yet the Lord says, ‘During the forty years that I led you through the wilderness, your clothes did not wear out, nor did the sandals on your feet … I did this so that you might know that I am the Lord your God.’ ” I replied, “I know You are the Lord my God, but let others see that through my journey.” Thinking of what happened to Peter walking on water the second he doubted, I reminded myself to always keep the faith. I believed He had already delivered 100 miles into my hands; otherwise, He would not have sent me for this task.

I guess I AM always smiling. 😉

The race commenced the following morning at 9:00 AM, and, within an hour, the unshaded sun welcomed the brutal heat of nearly 90 degrees and humidity and made numerous runners slow down and re-strategize. I, one of only two participants residing outside Texas, should have been impacted the most but felt unscathed and had no issue with hydration, thanks to Him. After reading thoroughly Scott Jurek’s Eat & Run, I understood the significance of calorie intake in ultrarunning and, even when not hungry or thirsty, consistently put down food, Spring energy gels, and fluid, as well as salt tablets, to avoid any sudden unexpected shock. (Throughout training camp, He had taken away my craving for junk and unhealthy food and given me a sense of need for organic food; I felt the positive change in the way my body kept down calories in the race.)

I began to include brief walks after nine miles of easy jogging, reminding myself I was running four marathons, which would have killed the first-ever marathoner four times. Nonetheless, oftentimes when I started walking, I spotted photographers taking photos, prompting me to pick up running again. On mile 43, I sat down for ten minutes to conserve energy, as I was beginning to feel a sign of fatigue. When I resumed, I was pleasantly surprisingly rejuvenated and lightly ran the next two to three miles nonstop. One does not recover out of the blue like this past 40 miles, and I prayed, “Continue to add testimonies, God!”

One tough lady!

As I anticipated, the true trial set in after the first 50 miles; I tried doubling my personal-record distance that immobilized me for days just over a year previously. I took a mandatory 30-minute break, lying down with my feet up on a chair and shoes off. The sun had set and temperature had dropped, and my body shivered viciously, making me question for the first time in the event if I could recover sufficiently to carry on. When I tried standing up to resume, a couple of volunteers came to me for a second time since mile 46 to examine my multiple blisters that formed on both feet under mile ten and progressively intensified. A fellow participant rucking had checked my feet and asked, “How badly do you want this?” and I simply replied, “I’m not quitting.” The couple popped and taped over some of my blisters and brought me more calories to consume. One of the volunteers put on me Trail Toes and a new pair of tighter socks for friction so that my blisters would not rub against my socks as easily. My feet were swelling up, and, although the experts found me two pairs of larger sneakers, I remained adamant to stick with the Nike my mother bought me for my 28th birthday until the end. When the couple suggested I take ibuprofen, I refused because I wanted no potential feeling of guilt I cheated. I walked the majority of the following 12 miles, to 100K, and took another short break. From this point forward, each stop of ten minutes or more felt like a risk, as my muscles swiftly tightened, knees buckled, and body shook uncontrollably and I had to drag myself for three to five minutes to be semimobile. Captivated by the gorgeous stars, I repeated, “Lord, You created all of this with mere words. As long as You are willing, nothing is difficult for You. Please help me.”

Around mile 75, when the sun had risen again and 24-hour, 12-hour, and 6-hour competitors were added to the course, I hallucinated at the aid station, seeing on the table two groups of numerous dots merging to the center. The thought of unexpectedly passing out intimidated me the most, but I also reminded myself with Whom I was running, that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). “The greater the adversity, the greater the testimony,” thought I. 18 miles to the 100-mile buckle, delirium hit me again, and a Christian woman running in the 12-hour, unaware of my symptoms, told me to walk with her; God had already planned her entrance for me here. I could no longer run at this point, and I had been limping since mile 51. I asked her if ultrarunners commonly hallucinate, and she referred to a scientific study that proved the human brain becomes “fried” and reacts similarly to drunkenness after 68 miles. Around mile 87, Race Director Rob Goyen told me, “You are about to do something very special,” encouraging me to keep grinding through the pain. Runners passing me continued to comment, “You are amazing,” “You are an inspiration,” “You are still going!” and many more inspiring words, and their sincere longing for me to fulfill my dream, constantly asking me which mile I was on, warmed my heart. One Christian brother I shared the course with often towards the beginning even said about me, “I am more excited to see him finish his first 100 miles than for me to finish this race.” Both seeing and hearing numerous people become emotional for me, I cannot remember the last time I was surrounded by such a humble group of individuals so genuinely interested in other people’s success, in spite of how they themselves were doing. Ultrarunning humbles and builds character.

“Go, Nebraska!” x 1,000!

On mile 91, I took a twenty-minute break, which recovered me enough for the next mile to feel less straining than the previous ten. Another Christian man, not even running in the race, volunteered to “guarantee [I] receive that buckle” by walking the rest of the 100 miles with me; again, God had planned his entrance then for my upcoming hardship. On mile 94, moving with him, I became delusional again and occasionally threw out arbitrary phrases. I even asked him, “Do I seem delirious?” to which he responded, “If you are asking that, that means you are.” On mile 95, I questioned myself, “Am I in a dream or is this really happening?” (On the bright side, while these symptoms lasted, the physical pain vastly escaped.) The pacer wanted me to complete mile 100 on my own so that I could reflect on this grueling journey, but at this point I was already out of my normal state of mind and had trouble comprehending I was on the verge of accomplishing a goal that felt like a fantasy for years. I envisioned breaking into tears receiving the buckle, but I did not even have the energy to cry at the buckle ceremony. (I was later told the race director stayed past his shift just so that he could present me with my buckle himself, which made me feel grateful beyond words.) Following, to test my absolute limit the Lord set before me, I covered two additional miles with a volunteer, making my total mileage 102 in 39:25:44 and me actually appreciate insomnia for once in my life. Throughout these two mornings, afternoons, and evenings, I felt not even a hint of injury, another visible showing of His protection considering my history with knee injuries in long-distance running.

Garmin doesn’t work too well on trails.

I divide the victory of this seemingly unconquerable adventure into three stages. First, despite 99% of my close ones’ initial heavy opposition, I consistently prayed, believed God was leading me to 100 miles, and eventually registered for the Jackalope Jam. As my pastor Adrian Boykin said, “There is no failure in trying,” and, whether successful or not, my identity as a son of Christ does not change. Second, I had put my body through more than I ever have, cross-training between an hour and a half and three hours almost daily, covering up to 40 miles a week in addition to training on the elliptical, indoor bike, and treadmill, swimming, and technical muscle working. Even running back-to-back Friday half marathons and training in the sauna to prepare for the inevitable Texas heat at one point, I frequently felt verging on injuries but toed the line healthy. Third, I finally earned that buckle. A tremendous amount of prayers and support have come my way, all of which I felt more powerfully and realistically than ever, for my fantasy to materialize and I have countless people to thank, but I feel obligated to give one person, one of my faith mentors and mother’s best friends, in particular credit. The mentor told me to begin training half a year ago, that “If it is not meant to be, God will give [me] a sign.” Without this answer to my question, I would not have begun preparing for 100 miles and would still be thinking today, “What if?” Praying with her husband everyday since, she even stayed up throughout my entire race of nearly 40 hours and fasted and prayed for me while tracking my performance on the live results page. Through my success, she and I, along with many others, have built a new powerful testimony to God’s greatness, that a person can overcome anything in Jesus and His will. On top of fulfilling my dream, I am truly thankful and honored to have met and befriended so many selfless and compassionate individuals, most of whom referred to me as “Nebraska(!),” lending me seats to relax, checking on my torn body, cheering me on, and giving my simple smile too much value. I will cherish this experience my Father coauthored with me for the rest of my life.

Spontaneous, Again

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I Heart Running Half MarathonPresenting a webinar session internationally early in the morning, thanks to the time difference, I arrived at work at 5:50 AM and left around 3:00 PM on February 17, 2017. With a spring climate in forecast and ease of a virtual race, I, again, spontaneously decided to run a half marathon prior to my three-week business trip to Korea starting next Thursday. This time, I registered for Virtual Strides’ I Heart Running Half Marathon, partly because some of the registration fee is donated to the American Heart Association. Unlike for the Pizza Run 13.1M, I received an electronic bib upon signing up for the I Heart Running Half Marathon and thus color-printed and wore the number for the run, which likely confused many drivers and pedestrians I passed.

I Heart Running Finisher's MedalBecause I explored west of Kearney the week before, I went the opposite route and ran around east, again landing in many locations I did not even know existed in the city. In two impetuous lone virtual races in one week, I covered all of Kearney in 26.76 miles. Normally, I take a mandatory week off after a long-distance race of half marathon or farther; nevertheless, after the Pizza Run 13.1M, I went straight back to training: swimming, cycling, and lifting to avoid any potential overuse injury common in running. I am eyeing a major race in late April; therefore, I do not have time to approach this training camp slowly or cautiously, especially with the upcoming business trip.

Traveling 13.47 miles in 2:09:40 on foot, I learned a tough lesson I should have realized last week. For the vast majority of competitive races commence in the morning, I had never had any issue running feeling even remotely undigested from previous meals; however, because I ran the two aforementioned half marathons only several hours after heavy Subway lunch, I felt nauseous for hours following each run. Nebraska will resume hosting large running events starting March, so, as much as I appreciated and enjoyed the flexibility and convenience of virtual races, I will return to standard competition.

Spontaneous

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With a potential 100-miler in the near future in mind and a lengthy business trip to Korea coming up, in spite of the brutal cold and wind standard to Nebraska in January, I picked up training again a month ago. Constantly wary of my right knee and possibly injuring myself before races, I cross-train rather than solely focusing on weekly mileage like most professional runners do. Since my first ultramarathon in South Carolina back in May 2015, I figured training every day of the week to be unwise for my body; experts would call me crazy running such mad distances in races on such low-mileage training, but I know my body better than anyone else does. Therefore, I have added the elliptical and treadmill and long-distance walking in addition to typical road and trail running, swimming, and lifting.

Lovely way to explore Kearney!

For weeks, I sought a half marathon in or near Nebraska and discovered the state over twice the size of South Korea holds hardly any running events in February due to the usual cold, making me envious of states where the temperature does not fluctuate as insanely and thus hosting running events all year round. Recently, I came across on the Internet the Pizza Run 13.1M that was taking place in multiple regions, including Omaha, simultaneously and wondered about the event’s backstory. The race is hosted by Runners 2 Life and a virtual race, where you sign up for a distance, run anywhere as long as you cover the distance, provide proof of your completion and finish time, and receive a finisher’s medal in the mail.

On February 10, 2017, Nebraska’s climate went berserk and the temperature reached 72 degrees from 30 degrees the day before. My boss decided to let the office out of work an hour early for us to enjoy the unusual blissful weather, and I, upon reading this email, without hesitation registered for the Pizza Run 13.1M. Within an hour of signing up, I took off. I was not tapered, properly fueled, or carbo-loaded and had just devoured a six-inch Subway tuna sandwich, a bag of Sun Chips Veggie Harvest, a chocolate-chip cookie, and two cups of Diet Coke. I called this “the most spontaneous half marathon I have ever run.” Because I chose the course, to live up to the adjective, I moved about impulsively and became enamored of the sceneries and countless rolling hills I did not even know existed in Kearney for the past year and a half. My unplanned route included all concrete, gravel, trails, and steep hills, and I was pleasantly surprised by how efficiently my body adapted to such an inefficient decision. I covered 13.29 miles in 2:06:42, far from my potential but decent considering the lack of mental or physical preparation; as I often say, I believe running to be as mental as physical. Aside from my stomach feeling upset for a couple of hours following the solo competition, I felt as strong as ever. I still do not have much opinion on virtual races, but I do not question their legitimacy and thank Runners 2 Life for providing a convenient way for me to fulfill my goal of completing a half marathon prior to my business trip in under two weeks.

The World’s Happiest

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Over the summer of 2016, I booked a round-trip flight ticket to Copenhagen, Denmark, flying out of Denver, Colorado, on Christmas Eve, arriving on Christmas, and returning the eve of New Year’s Eve. What more refreshing way to reflect on another victorious and grateful year than a familiar solo adventure to the happiest country in the world? With in mind my peaceful and faith-strengthening experience in the world’s second-happiest country in Iceland, coincidentally formerly part of Denmark, I prayed that to be the case again at the conclusion of 2016, especially as this year has been the furthest thing from easy.

Landing in Scandinavia on Christmas, I prioritized finding a church to worship Jesus and remember His birth into the world. With the support of a bright young Danish girl on my plane from Amsterdam, the Netherlands, to Copenhagen, I conveniently located the Church of Our Saviour near the Copenhagen Airport just prior to the 10:30 AM Danish service. I do not speak the language, but I could feel what the female pastor was speaking of based on some of the biblical words I could make out. Due to the time of year, I did not spot too many tourists as I normally do when I travel and somewhat struggled with fulfilling one significant goal: befriending fellow visitors from all around the world. I should have anticipated this bearing in mind the sun rose around 8:00 AM and began setting close to 3:00 PM and generally families choose to be with one another for the holidays. I was pleasantly surprised by the climate; I had been warned multiple times by my close ones to make sure to pack heavy winter clothes, but both Denmark and Sweden felt tens of degrees warmer than Nebraska, where I work, and I even oftentimes sweated in my legitimate winter jacket.

Collage of my lone adventure to Denmark and Sweden!

Collage of my lone adventure to Denmark and Sweden!

Regardless of my detailed itinerary, I for the most part moved about spontaneously with hopes of seeing as many tourist attractions as time allowed and checked almost all activities I had researched. In five days, I covered virtually every popular indoor and outdoor site in Copenhagen and Malmö, Sweden; I visited Malmö mainly so that I could say I have set foot in Sweden. These locations include, in chronological order, the Church of Our Saviour, Tivoli Gardens, Amalienborg Palace, the Little Mermaid, the National Gallery of Denmark, various local sights on the culinary and sightseeing tour, Rosenborg Castle, the Knotted Gun, the Sankt Petri Church, Moderna Museet Malmö, Malmöhus Castle, Turning Torso, the National Museum of Denmark, Christiansborg Palace, and the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek. Walking to and in the majority of these destinations and considering how my body felt after each day, I am confident I traveled between 30 and 40 miles on foot; however, I refused to slow down because my time was limited. The immense smoking culture made the walk quite painful because I had trouble breathing for as long as I remained outside; seven or eight out of ten people in public held cigarettes in their hands, causing me to frequently instinctively grunt. In Malmö Central Station, although fully prepared for such ordeal, I managed to get my round-trip train ticket pickpocketed. Understandably I was initially frustrated but then began to appreciate not losing my passport, wallet, or iPhone instead; the thief stole the one possession I could afford to relinquish. As my father told me over the phone that evening, “It was an important yet inexpensive lesson.”

Each night in my minute hotel room with a bathroom where the toilet and shower without a tub or glass face a foot across each other and my knees almost touched the wall when sitting on the toilet, I thought of how privileged my life has been. I for the first time while traveling even felt lonely in that clogged environment. I shared this room observation with the friendly and intelligent tour guide of the culinary and sightseeing tour, and she replied, “That is actually very common in Denmark because a lot old buildings were renovated” and reminded me I cannot fairly compare the typical room size of Denmark to that of the US, again providing me with a reason to thank my comfortable and spoiled life.

My first of three flights back from Copenhagen to Denver on December 30 was canceled due to fog, and I spent a large portion of my final evening in Scandinavia seeking an ideal alternative. Once I did, my new first flight out of Denmark arrived in Washington, DC, thirty minutes later than scheduled, and with my bag being one of the last to come out of the baggage claim, I had no choice but to sprint over a mile to barely make the final flight to Denver. Here, I felt thankful for all the running I have done in the past half a decade, as I of early 2012 may not have been able to pull this off.

2016 has been a year of constant ups and downs, but I always try to remember how much God has blessed my life and hundreds of millions of people in this world would long for my worst possible day. This lone journey to Western Europe helped me once again realize how fortunate I am with a compassionate Jesus-following family, good health, a stable full-time job, and the ability to eat whatever and travel wherever whenever I desire. I cannot wait to witness what my Father has in store for me in 2017.

Thanksgiving Everyday

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Always smiling!

Always smiling!

The morning of Thanksgiving 2016, I participated in the Wild Turkey Chase 13.1 in Pickrell, 40 miles south of Lincoln even most Nebraskans have never heard of. Before Nebraska became unbearably cold for me to even consider running another race in the state until winter has passed, I felt a desire to squeeze in one more in spite of having completed a technical trail half marathon only a few weeks ago. The Wild Turkey Chase 13.1 took place on an entirely flat trail, boosting my confidence in no part of the race should I struggle; however, I did slightly worry I may have been recently overrunning for my legs’ liking. In light of Thanksgiving, I spent much of running in the wilderness reflecting on my privileged life and giving thanks to my Father. Due to the freezing and windy weather, my iPhone acted up and shut down towards the end of the course, forcing me to run the final 2.5 miles without music, which I am not accustomed to; nevertheless, I refused to complain but rather tried to maintain the grateful mindset. I finished in 2:02:48, not my best but irrelevant because I did not take part for the purpose of setting a new personal record.

Badlands National Park!

Badlands National Park!

Early next morning, only hours following feasting on several rounds of turkey, stuffing, mashed and sweet potatoes, apple and chocolate pies, ice cream, and apple cider and sparkling water, I finally drove to South Dakota after repeatedly saying I would for an entire year. Each time I thought about going, I realized South Dakota to be quite a distance away for a neighboring state of where I work. In one day, I spent ten hours in the car from Kearney, driving to Badlands National Park, to Mount Rushmore, and then back towards Badlands to my hotel; I originally planned to divide visiting these two monumental tourist attractions into two days until I found out about the one-hour time difference between western South Dakota and Nebraska. I spontaneously climbed brutally steep trails at Badlands, which had me giggling internally as I had just run a half marathon and my body was probably saying to me, “What do you think you’re doing?”

Locate my shadow!

Locate my shadow!

Mount Rushmore!

Mount Rushmore!

I had never imagined the drive up to South Dakota through western Nebraska to be so full of awe-inspiring nature and unending hills. Seeing hardly any cars or buildings on various lengthy routes, I felt bored at times, but watching more of His beautiful creations only encouraged me to be thankful and pray passionately, my main motivation to visit South Dakota. In the past four days of driving close to 1,300 miles since leaving work for Thanksgiving break, I four times came verging on car accidents due to careless and reckless drivers on the road, which reinforced the God of angel armies always shields me. Perhaps I should not be surprised, but my body finally caught up and told me in a more direct way to rest by giving me a cold and severe right shoulder-ache the day I returned to Kearney. Regardless, I appreciate the nature-driven lone time I shared with my Father in Heaven and wish to maintain the thanksgiving mentality everyday.

Be Stubborn and Overcome

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Still undecided if I will attempt a 100-miler in the near future, but in case I do, I continue to sign up for appealing long-distance races for motivation to consistently train. Following the Nebraska State Fair Marathon in late August 2016, I eased down on running to recover and then went on a three-week business trip to Korea; thus, I remained inactive in running for a month. Upon return to the US, I immediately picked up running, in addition to swimming and technical muscle workouts, and pleasantly surprisingly took merely two runs to regain the speed I had vaguely lost from the time off.

In the second week of October, noticing how rapidly colder Nebraska was becoming and I may not be able to participate in another race in the state until winter passes, I hastily and almost instinctively signed up for a trail half marathon at The Ranch Run, taking place on October 29, 2016, in Elkhorn, 15 miles west of Omaha. I even convinced a friend who had never run outdoors to run a 5K in the same event, assuming the trail to be flat. Unaware the event website provided an elevation chart, I had no information on the conditions of the racecourse; “Is it flat? Is it hilly? Is it entirely run on a trail?” I wondered. The race director answered me the course, with the exception of one immense hill in each of the two loops, would be relatively flat, which proved to be utterly false from my perspective.

The Ranch Run Elevation Chart

Always smiles!

Always smiles!

Crossing the finish line!

Crossing the finish line!

The weather stayed ideal for running, with no significant rain or cold, for several weeks prior to the event. At the starting line, the director announced, “The course will probably be a little over 13.1 miles,” after which he shot the pistol to commence the race. I, along with fellow runners, immediately disappeared into the wilderness. I was caught off guard by the technicality of the course, as I hardly saw any set trail meant to be walked on. I had not imagined the vast majority of my running to be done on steep hills, untrimmed grass, uneven trails and gravel, and occasional mud. Kearney, where I currently reside and work, holds mostly flat concrete; I, the mother of generalization, therefore supposed all of Nebraska to be flat, but I no longer think this after weirdly joyfully suffering physically at The Ranch Run. Due to the hilliness and difficulty of the path, I pounded my legs to the floor more powerfully and overwhelmingly than I had in any of my previous eighteen races in the past four and a half years. Temporarily losing my way around mile four did not help ease the pain that had kicked in early on, although, thankfully, drivers passing by and a runner behind me instantly led me to the correct path. Consequently, I only thought about covering the entire race without walking, even on the brutal uphill, and did not obsess myself over achieving a personal record or pushing my body to the brink of injury. I felt I was running on a mountain but continued to remind myself, “This is supposed to hurt,” and find reasons to suck up the torment.

Congratulations to my friend Jordan on his first 5K finish!

Congratulations to my friend Jordan on his first 5K finish!

Do I call this a medal?

Do I call this a medal?

I sprinted to the finish line, with sufficient energy remaining to cheerfully pose to the photographer simultaneously, in 2:08:58. Taking a sip of Powerade that tasted like a drop of Heaven, I saw salt covering parts of my face and arms, reminding me of my 51-mile experience in Needville, Texas, in December 2015. I can confidently accept The Ranch Run as my hilliest and most technical race to date, and I thank God for protecting me once again and my semi-proud result of 17th place out of 45 entrants.