trusted advisors.

“You told me to remind you about Ezra,” Tim said as Paul caught up to him. “And I want to know what you’ve been telling God about me.”

Paul laughed. “Nothing bad, I assure you. In fact, I thank God for you. Instead of being grateful for stuff, I’m grateful for people. And I’m content with whatever stuff I have.”

Tim shook his head. “You don’t strike me as someone who settles.”

“I didn’t say I settled. In fact, why do you think I’m out here running? I’m training because I don’t settle. I want to improve. But I’m content with what I have.”

Tim looked confused.

“I’ve been running for a long time,” Paul said. “I’ve seen fads in shoes, in exercise plans, in clothing, in technology. But I decided a long time ago that I was going to concentrate on running. If I have new shoes or old, I still have to put in the miles. A watch doesn’t make me faster or slower. A shirt is a shirt (unless it’s cotton and it gets wet. Then it a dead weight.) I focus on the run, not the stuff.”

Tim nodded. “I’ve struggled with that a little. Sometimes I read a magazine and see some new thing. I want to buy it because it seems like I’ll get better. Usually, I’ll remember that what makes me better is running.”

“Sometimes those shoes look amazing, don’t they?” Paul said. And then he laughed. “But I’m content with these.”

“But what about Ezra?” Tim said. “Didn’t you say he had something to do with giving advice, like shoe ads?”

“Ezra. He’s the title character of a short book, though it’s mostly about other people,” Paul said. “There’s a short description of him that I think about any time I look at people who try to give advice or teach others about running. Or anything else. It goes, ‘Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the Lord and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel.'”

“That’s nice,” Tim said. “But what does that have to do training advice? Was Ezra a running coach?”

Paul smiled. “Ezra was a coach of sorts, but I don’t see him running. Here’s why I talk about him. The first thing we read is that Ezra was committed. His heart was set. He was passionate about what he was doing. He was training for something.”

Tim shook his head. “Always with the training. From our first conversation. But I’m working on it.”

“Second, Ezra studied,” Paul moved on. “Before he taught, he learned. He wanted to know all about what God said. When I’m looking for who I’m going to trust for advice about running or nutrition or life, I want to know that they aren’t making it up. I want to know they have studied.”

TIm nodded. “I get that. When I hear someone talking about a training method, I’m starting to look for their research. And if they are saying that this is brand new, never before discovered, secret until now, I need to know why they are ignoring everything that has been said before.”

“That’s a helpful filter,” Paul said. “And then I add another one. Ezra observed the law. He did what it said. He kept the practices. Not only was his heart involved, and his head, he made his body part of his life. So that by the time he got to teaching, he had complete credibility.”

“So don’t take marathon training advice from a person who only runs 5Ks?” Tim said.

Paul nodded. “Assuming that the person has the capacity to run, that’s exactly right. And they don’t have to run fast, if what they are teaching you is how to complete a marathon. But I always pay more attention to the whole life of someone who is telling me how to live mine.”

And while Tim was trying to make sense of that sentence, Paul started to move ahead.

“Have a great weekend,” Paul said. “Don’t forget your long run.”

Tim waved. “So should I trust you? Just because you run faster than me?”

“Ask me Monday,” Paul said.

Practical steps.

“How did you know about running at a conversational pace?” Tim said.

Paul smiled. “And happy Wednesday to you, too. Are your legs feeling okay after our run on Monday?”

“They are,” Tim said. “And that’s why I’m curious about how you knew about running at a slower pace than I usually run. After we were done talking, or after you ran away, I realized that I had run further than I usually run and that I hurt less. It was great advice. So, did you make it up?”

Paul shook his head. “I read about it several years ago.  From a number of running writers. So I tried it. I did most of my running a little slower than my capacity. And I discovered that it helped my last longer.”

“How do you stay slow?” Tim asked. “And why is your conversational pace faster than my gasping pace? And how did you know to follow that advice?”

Paul ran for a bit. Tim could tell that he was thinking.

“I think there are several issues you are raising,” Paul finally said.  “Let me see if I understand them and then I can answer them in order. First, you are looking for practical advice about how training works. Second, you are wondering how to compare experience with youthful energy. And third, you are wondering about how to determine whose teaching to trust? Does that seem accurate?”

Tim nodded. “I have a lot more questions, but those will do to begin.”

Paul laughed. “I know. When they get over their shyness, new runners are full of questions. You are going to need to help me remember my answer to your third question. Ezra. Remind me to tell you about Ezra. He’s my favorite person for talking about what kinds of people and advice to trust. But I want to take care of the short answers first.”

Tim started typing on his phone. “I’ll remind both of us.”

“Let’s start with your second question,” Paul said. “Never fall into the trap of comparing someone else’s middle with your beginning. In running, in writing, in understanding stuff about God. Use someone else’s apparent expertise as an opportunity to learn from them rather than as a way to criticize yourself.”

Tim nodded. “I’ve just started improving at that skill. Just in the last week or so.”

Paul ignored the compliment. “On your first question, I quit listening to music and started listening to podcasts. Because they are conversational, I can keep my pace better. (And it’s challenging to listen to Joel Runyon talking about doing impossible things at 37.) Look for really simple practical acts. It’s why I pray every morning and every evening. If I see the sun coming up, it reminds me to talk to God.”

Paul started to speed up, slowly, like he always did. Tim did his best to keep up. “What do you talk about?”

Paul smiled. “Lately, I’ve been talking about you. See you Friday.”

Conversational speed.

“Can we run together for a little longer today?” Tim asked. “When you come running up at the end of my run, say few things and speed off, I’m a little frustrated.”

Tim was running his new route at the park.  A guy he met last week caught up with him.

“I can do that,” Paul said. “I wanted to find out whether you were interested in talking. You seemed pretty hesitant last week.”

“It wasn’t about you, exactly,” Tim said.  “It’s pretty scary to run in public, to have everyone watching and judging. And then, when someone older passes you, that’s pretty intimidating. No offense intended.”

Paul smiled. “None taken. But what makes you think that people are judging? Are you?”

Tim shrugged. “No, not really. But everyone is better or faster or cooler than I am. I want to stay in the shadows.”

“I’ll go back to my first question from last week,” Paul said. “What are you training for? Before you argue, let me explain a bit.

“When you have a clear sense of why you are running, what you are training for, it changes your relationship to everything: to running itself, to other people, to your life. You worry less about what other people think of you and more about how people might help you.”

Tim ran silently for a bit. “I’m not sure I understand.”

“Let me be really practical for a minute,” Paul said. “How fast are you running right now? Faster or slower than usual.”

Tim looked at his watch. “I have no idea,” he said finally.

“I can tell you. You are running a little slower. You can tell by the way we are able to talk. At your usual pace, you would be gasping. I’ve slowed you down a bit because good training happens at conversational pace.

“Too many people try too hard on their own when they start running. They run fast, then burn out. Because you wanted to talk to me, you adjusted your pace to mine. And my pace is a perfect speed for you to build stamina.”

Tim laughed. “I knew I was matching you, but I thought I was speeding up. But you are right. I wanted to know what you knew so I stopped worrying about what you thought of me.”

Paul smiled. “You will speed up, eventually. If we run together enough and you follow my lead. But the secret is learning to live at conversational speed.”

“That sounds like it’s about more than running,” Tim said.

Paul smiled. “That’s enough slowness for me. See you Wednesday.”

Training for.

Tim looked at his watch. He was running the same trail he had taken Wednesday, at the same time. He was hoping that the old guy he chatted with would show up again.

He’d been thinking about the old guy’s question: “What are you training for?” Because Tim wasn’t training for anything. He was just running because it would help him lose some weight and because it was exercise and because he liked having done it.

“So, do you have an answer?” The old guy startled him.

“I thought you weren’t going to show up,” Tim said. “I was just about to quit for the day.”

“Why quit? How did you know you were done?”

Tim shook his head.  “I run til I feel like stopping. Today I kept going a little longer because you said something about seeing me.”

day 15 #rwrunstreakThe old man smiled. “If I quit each time I felt like stopping, I’d only run a half mile at a time. That first part of the run is always awkward. I can’t find my stride for a couple miles.”

Tim laughed. “That’s my problem. I never run more than a couple miles.”

“So let’s go back to my question,” the man said. “What are you training for?”

“Why does that matter so much to you?” Tim asked.

“It’s the only thing that keeps me moving past my feelings. When I remember that I’m training and then remember why I’m training, I can keep running on any given day, and even every given day.”

“So how is that related to being godly?” Tim asked. “You tossed that out as you ran away the other day.”

“I regretted that statement as soon as I said it.” The old man smiled apologetically. “I should have said that running was part of becoming godly.”

“What’s the difference?” Tim said.

“Being godly suggests a condition you have. Becoming godly suggests that there is a process, that you can learn or train for it.” The old man paused. “And that’s why I’m running with you. I want to help you learn about training. In running and godliness.”

The old man started to speed up.

“What’s your name?” Tim gasped, struggling to catch up. “I’m Tim.”

The man slowed. “And you can call me Paul,” he said. “See you Monday.”


A question of training.

“Are you training for anything?”

The older man had come up behind Tim, then slowed to talk. It was an innocent question. Tim should have smiled and nodded and kept running. But the surprise of a running companion startled him.

Tim was running this trail for the first time. He’d been private about his exercising for the past few months, running at night through his neighborhood. It had been perfect. Several street lights, slow traffic, and no other runners.

He finally felt confident enough to be in public. A little. But he never expected someone to start a conversation.

“Um, not really,” Tim said. “I’m just learning to run.”

10860920_10153486930752008_3653967566468668962_oThe nice thing about talking while running is that there were excuses for short answers. You could always blame your breathing or the need to watch the path. You could pretend to be at the end of a long run instead of just starting a short one.

“Have you ever entered a race?” the man said.

Tim shook his head.

“What are you running for?” the man persisted.

Tim just kept going. He hoped the man would move on. But he seemed to be comfortable with the silence and with the pace.

“I’m not sure, actually.” Tim heard himself say.

It surprised him. He’d never had to answer the question for anyone else or for himself.

Tim had never been much for exercise. He finally started walking when someone suggested that it would help his stress. He loved helping people behind the scenes, but he kept being asked to take on public responsibilities. It stretched him, but it also stressed him. The walking helped. But it also made him curious about running.

One night he tried it. Just for the length of the block. It left him gasping. But it also didn’t hurt. By the time he was ready to run in daylight, he could last a couple miles at a time.

But he still wasn’t sure why he was running.

“How come people worry so much about races?” Tim finally asked the man. It was more of a statement than a question and had a little more frustration than Tim wanted to show.

“That’s a great question. Races can show you the progress you are making,” the man said. “But the race is never why you run.”

“So what are you running for?” Tim said.

“It’s part of being godly,” the man said.

If Tim hadn’t been so winded, he would have started laughing. The words didn’t fit with running. At all. And the man’s quiet confidence was creepy.

Tim glanced at the man. He was looking right at Tim. He smiled. And started running ahead with the ease of a veteran.

“See you out here Friday,” he said.