A Banner Day for Yoga but Not Satan in School

satanology

Two cases dance on the fence between a protected expression of religion, and a government endorsement of religion. One has to do with a school’s inclusion of yoga practice in the curriculum. The other surrounds controversy that erupted from a fake “Satanology” student club. Both demonstrate how the courts take religious establishment on a case-by-case basis.

Previous cases that have worked through the legality of religious displays on government property by arguing context. In short, it’s fine to display Santa or a nativity if Rudolph, Happy Holidays, or a Menorah is nearby. Display a nativity with “Happy Birthday Jesus” and it won’t be there for long. The Ten Commandments are acceptable as a general moral document on a courthouse. To convey a specific religious idea like God is the source of wisdom for government, again, it’s probably coming down. With that said, if your locality allows religious displays that have religious intent, the real problem comes when you forbid the presence of a competing religious display near it.

The first case asks when the practice of yoga is religious in its context and goals versus when it’s a secular practice adopted by Americans in general. When a California public school was given a grant to teach yoga to its students, conservative Christians challenged it as a religious practice. Those concerned Christian parents lawyered up, and the evangelical Alliance Defending Freedom took up the case. The court decided the case with a peculiar ruling saying that in the case of the class, yoga was not religious secular in nature. However, at the same time, yoga is indeed a religious practice. Light is both particle and wave; General Tso’s chicken is both Chinese food, and yet definitely not Chinese. Like displays of the Ten Commandments on public property, the context matters. Where students were practicing yoga and the purpose of it had nothing to do with its various religious purposes found in numerous traditions. A practice’s historical association with religion does not mean that the practice is inherently religious.

In the second case, an activist requested to post a banner for the “Church of Satanology and Satanic Activism” club along a fence on school grounds. This followed an English teacher at Boca Raton Middle school who erected a 10 foot pentagram display next to a nativity scene in a local park. The reason was not to begin an actual club, but to test the school’s approval of banners for an organization promoting Christianity. The location where the “Satanology” banner was to be placed was a place where churches and synagogues had posted their banners for a fee paid to the district. As soon as Chaz Stevens, an atheist activist, proposed the banner, the school instituted a ban on all banners until further notice. After pressure from the Freedom from Religion Foundation to change the policy permanently, the Palm Beach County School District capitulated. The site for Satanology is part of a campaign by The Religious Liberty Project which “is an advocacy organization dedicated to protecting and promoting freedom of speech and religion, especially the separation of Church and State.” The use of Satan as a polarizing figure to raise awareness on church/state entanglement is not new, but it is a recent strategy by secularists to clarify separation and how it is applied through the 1st Amendment norm.

The issue that connects both of these cases has to do with the ramifications of insisting on the superiority of one religion or group of religions over other faith claims in any context that is a publicly-funded entity. Evangelical legal groups like the Alliance Defending Freedom hide their true intent of reintroducing Christianity as a distinctly superior, American religion behind language of religious freedom. Would they not also seek to defend the equality of other religions’ not-specifically-Christian concerns? The evidence of their case load is an emphatic “no.”

Whenever an activist group insists on the superiority of its religion rooted in whatever jurisprudence that argues for that superiority, it opens up an interpretation of the 1st Amendment as protecting religions through “equal regard” in which religion is not given any particular favored position in these decisions, but it is neither viewed with any disproportionate contempt. As the demographics of society are trending less religious, the idea that religion ought to have some favored status according to the 1st Amendment could fall out of favor. This means that when activists encourage the debate now, they open up their own interests to a deeper secularizing effect in the future. They could allow people to enjoy local favoritism towards the dominant religion while they still can, but outside organizations such as the Freedom from Religion Foundation and Alliance Defending Freedom are on opposing missions to change the ways that the 1st Amendment is interpreted everywhere. So, before that happens small town America, please enjoy your live nativity this Christmas before the giant Baphomet statue comes to peer over your shoulders to judge whether you’ve been bad or good this year.

Reading Religion and American Education

religions_and_american_educationIt’s hard to pinpoint an exact moment when religion and schooling turned from a dance into a WWE match between mortal foes. Most may point to the “Scopes Monkey Trial” where local laws prohibiting the teaching of evolution were publicly questioned. Others may go back a bit further to the Harvard Presidency of Charles Eliot who eliminated compulsory chapel and instituted sweeping curriculum changes that are today observed across universities worldwide. Or, one might go back to the heyday of the Enlightenment itself where reason and observation began to push God out of the way as the necessary agent to understand the world and humanity’s place in it.

Regardless of where you locate the start of this conflict, the disciplines of science and philosophy, educating for professions rather than vocations, and the emergence of a truly public, state-sponsored education system have always created friction with proponents of the old curriculum that put the Bible and Christian devotion at the center of the curriculum. Today the ACLU, Freedom from Religion Foundation, American Humanist Association, Americans United for Separation of Church and State have been central to maintaining a strict interpretation of non-establishment of any kind of religion in public schools against organizations that promote a weakening of that “wall” from groups such as the Alliance Defending Freedom, American Center for Law and JusticeChristian Educators Association International, and other groups like conservative denominations and political action committees. Activism on both side of the issue has been gaining strength and financial resources in the past few decades. The legal rulings have favored those who argue for a stronger interpretation of the 1st Amendment keeping religion and state funded schooling as distinct and unrelated as possible. Yet the conflict persists unabated.

News about this tension pour in daily. Just this week there have been reports of schools whose doctrines are at odds with LGBT student rights. The voucher program promoted by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos may create constitutional problems not only with entanglement of state and religion, but with how religion impacts equal protection regarding admissions policies. Recently, Donald Trump said before the Faith & Freedom Coalition, “Schools should not be a place that drive out faith and religion, but that should welcome faith and religion with wide, open, beautiful arms.” One questions what faith he is talking about and how schools should practice that welcome. It’s a relevant question given his audience of conservative, evangelical Christians. Surely they would not applaud the wide welcome of Hinduism and Islam on equal footing with their own idea of Christianity, would they?

Legal issues abound with these ideas. But at the center of all of this are the students, our kids. What is school here to do for them and for society? What are kids supposed to learn before they get to college? At what point do federal and state funding of not only the public school system, but of the public tertiary education system get entangled? Where do Constitutional amendments start to conflict with each other and what has happened in the courts to sort these complicated issues out?

Part of my “research reboot” this summer is to take a step back, catch up on the latest research, and to sort through some of the older texts with fresh eyes – especially those that I have only read in part while working on my dissertation. The first of these that I am going to work through is Religion & American Education: Rethinking a National Dilemma by Warren A. Nord. It was published in 1995 and while there have been titles since then which I will follow with, none of them go into the depth of this book from the time up until Nord wrote it. Sometimes you have to take a few steps back to put what comes next in context. My goal here is to offer a short post on each chapter in three sections which will sort of be a template for future books I go through.

  • The Gist – The main argument the author is making.
  • The Idea – I want to focus on one interesting idea that might be applicable more generally or might spark a research question.
  • The Relevance – This is the trickier part where I want to find a connection with what is in the text, especially since its older, with something happening today.

This is something I do through the typical research process anyway. I thought, hey, want not put it all here and if it is interesting to someone else, or if there are other ideas out there I have not seen in relation to it, sweet.

More to come.

Secularization is Happening, and Liberals are in Trouble

exit

A narrow definition of secularization goes like this: “First, modernization induces people to lose faith in God and religion. Then, as religion is no longer meaningful, they stop identifying with it” (Hout & Fischer, 2014). In the mid-twentieth century, this was a common understanding of how the world would become less religious.

The evidence has consistently shown the contrary.

Throughout the twentieth century into the twenty-first, the world did not seem to become any less religious, but regions in South America, Africa, and Asia, became more religious leading some sociologists to argue that Europe’s secularization is an “exceptional case.” But this has left the United States something of a puzzle. There are parts of the country that are less religious while parts of it appear to be more religious, and there has been a sense that political alignment maps to this pattern. At the same time it seems that fewer and fewer Americans are enjoining themselves to any particular religion with each new generation.

In a recent paper, Michael Hout and Claude Fischer conclude that both politics and generational succession have real effects on religious preference and have significantly contributed to why fewer and fewer people are identifying with a particular religion. One-in-five people expressed no religious preference in 2012 compared to one-in-fourteen in 1987. They argue that secularization along the definition they use, did not have an observable effect on this trend which helps to account for the rather stable percentage of people who believe in God without doubt (61%) and life after death (81%). In several statistical models, secularization did not hold.

Religious disaffiliation is explained primarily in two ways. The first is that as one moves from a moderate to a more liberal political stance, they become less religious. This is in part because of the marriage between conservative politics and Christianity caused moderates and liberals to distance themselves from religious organizations, hence, the “backlash.” It’s not a reaction to religion per se, but leaving religion because of its perceived association with conservative politics, in general. The second and greater effect is generational succession. Each generation that replaces the previous has been less affiliated with religion in general, especially among liberal households, and the proportion of unchurched is growing. Moreover, those not raised within a religion are less likely to join one in the future. There was far less a change over time in affiliation among political conservatives who tend to enjoin themselves with conservative religion. However, given the decline in membership in the Southern Baptist Convention, we may be seeing the cracks in the conservative foundation as well.

This looks like a double-whammy for liberal and progressive religious organizations. Not only is there a general distaste for religious organizations among those who identify as liberal or progressive in their political, social, and cultural beliefs, there will be an increasing likelihood that they have never grown up in a religion and therefore see it as having little or no value in their lives. If we push this up against other explanations for secularization, it looks bad for progressive, God centered organizations. Religion is but one means of social bonding among many competing choices that happen on the weekday evenings, weekends, and holidays. Youth sports is one draw even though it has seen a recent decline in participation. It is also part of a wider trend of civic disengagement as argued by Robert Putnam.

Reclaiming the political position of the left might be one vehicle to reverse some of these trends. The position of Trump has caused a new vigor among religious liberals and progressives who feel threatened by right-wing policies and even betrayed by Christian evangelicals who overwhelmingly voted for Donald Trump, who is ostensibly the least Christian looking candidate and President in a very long time. Religion used to be an important means to gain social capital in Western and American societies. During presidential campaigns, it has been normal for candidates to enjoin themselves to denominations and traditions because of their influence. Eisenhower joined the Presbyterians for this reason as Trump courted the evangelicals in 2016. We may see a liberal candidate hook up with progressive Christians with the same idea that religion feeds social capital even though the politically progressive have moved away from religion and continue to do so. But even if a reversal of political trend helps galvanize those in religions and attract people to religion, it will not move the downward trend on religious participation all that much. There is still a massive problem with a growing population in the country of people who have never been involved in any religion and are not likely to join one just because it seems to share a few political views and activities with them.

This is why Hout & Fischer’s narrow and linear definition of secularization needs to change. It is true that we have not seen people lose faith and then leave religion. Right now, leaving religion is happening first. Moreover, it might not be just that the modern ideas of reason and scientific progress are enough to dislodge belief in God from young peoples’ worldviews. It might be that with endless war, famine, economic inequality, murder, and oppressive political systems, that any doctrine of God does not come out looking all that loving, powerful, or knowledgeable about human affairs. It could be in the cultural disconnect between ancient texts and societies that look absolutely nothing like them.

Without a regular involvement in a religious community to help make sense of old doctrines and texts utterly alien to the people and events of this world, faith in them will not survive. This is a theological claim made in most Christian traditions where the center of worship is in baptism and communion. These are vehicles to nourish faith and without them, faith dies on the vine. Without these social constructs to nourish faith, we are left with vague spiritualities and temporary communities of interest that rarely gain enough momentum to act as vehicles for lasting spiritual practice. As Hout and Fischer conclude, “Time will tell if personalized religion is sustainable or if belief fades without public profession and community practice.” If this continues to happen, and it looks like it will, what is left to nurture or reinforce the notion of God or spirituality in any shape?

Caught Between Should and Am: Fixing My Writing Problem

shoes beside word lux

Running and light

Ever since I finished my dissertation, almost 5 years ago, I have been caught in a weird head space where I haven’t figured out my identity as an academic, a professional, and even as a person. I’ve had a few starts on blogging that usually stops after a couple of months. I get distracted by something else and totally lose interest. Why?

At first I thought it had to do with marathon training. Doing this is so time consuming and tiring that I would usually post about starting the process and then do nothing until the result. The fiction that I convinced myself was true is that I can’t write and train at the same time. If I am going to perform at my job, maintain my relationships, and be mentally healthy, I can either run, or write. I have told myself this even though I knew it was total bullshit. Great writers all have parallel obsessive habits from drinking and smoking to running. Telling myself lies to avoid doing something is a deep-seated character flaw. I’ve learned much about how this mechanism works, but this time it had me caught. The real question is not why I stopped writing, but what I was avoiding.

It was last night when I was catching up on Supergirl that a little sisterly advice hit me that freshly out of the closet Alex Danvers gave her sister Kara (Supergirl):

Look… sometimes, you know, in our life, when one part is really confusing, we will pour way more attention than necessary into another.

I started running for very good reasons that still hold. It was to improve mental and physical health. It is still the single best tool I have in my toolkit to maintain mental and physical health and stability and I can’t ever see myself stopping. However, I have poured a lot into it. Challenges are really effective to have in front of you to stay motivated. But at what point do you become obsessed with it to the point that you are avoiding something else? I went from at most running one marathon a year, and last year that was enough. This year I am not only running two marathons, but running 2017 miles which is about 700 more than the previous year, and I want to train to get a Boston Qualifying time which would shave about 5% off of my finishing time this past May. Have I crossed the tipping point where running has gone from healthy activity to obsession I am using to avoid something? I might be there.

I have struggled with my identity as an academic and as a professional since finishing my dissertation in 2013. For a very long time, my religious identity as a person of faith was my central obsession academically, emotionally, and socially. At the time I gave that up, a story I have not yet fully told, running filled the void. I traded one preoccupation with another. But my life as an academic sat hollow. If faith is no longer what I want to be doing, what should I be doing?

I have this theory that confidence in what we do is not something we are born with, but something we learn over time. As we become more competent in something we become more confident in our abilities and that alone builds our desire and drive to do it more. So, if I could just find out what I should be doing and become more competent in it, then I would resolve my confusion.

Well, it didn’t work. The experiment failed because my fundamentals beliefs were wrong. I believed I needed to become competent in what I believed others wanted to read. I focused on what others might find helpful like focusing on life hacks and self-help that I think works. How about something in my professional field that others find interesting? What about lessons I have learned in life that others might find useful? After a few tries, I got bored and stopped. None of that was very fulfilling. That material is all out there written by people who are singularly passionate about it. I am not one of those people. The entire theory of becoming competent got derailed by the one thing that all of these ideas has in common: doing what I think I should do based on what I believe others want. It’s like all that advice from successful writers went right through my head – do what inspires you, not what you think will inspire others.

If I should’t do what I believe I should do, what is it that inspires me or consistently interests me? That’s the real question. My answer has been that no one is interested in any of the stuff that interests me, so who cares? Another lie. Keep running. Today I’d rather run on truth than the bullshit I tell myself. Walking the dog last night, after that little moment from a cheesy TV show that struck me, I found an answer. The question was how these things were related. And they absolutely are.

My academic interests have always been first, in how to teach the whole human subject based on an understanding that it is the relationship between teacher and student that is the most revolutionary and fundamental aspect of human learning and progress. The second is related to it. My dissertation focused on secularization and higher education which is tied to patterns of belief in American society, the policies that both respond to and shape those patterns, and how historians tell that story. Both of these are looking at the dynamic relationship between faith, belief, and knowledge in society and in the student.

My professional interests are about how we can help college and university teachers be better teachers. What habits, programs, and behaviors can we improve as teachers to help students learn more effectively? Right now this is about designing a program of teacher formation through critical reflection to find areas of improvement and to experiment with different online classroom behaviors to help students learn more effectively.

My personal interests have to do with the connection between physical and mental health and supporting pragmatic behaviors that help improve health with scientific evidence. I have many friends who have been in long term recovery from addiction who have thrown themselves into physical activity as an integral part of how they manage their sobriety. I know of runners and other athletes who have traded their obsession for drugs, sex, and body dysmorphia for clean living, even without the aid of prescription drugs.

How are these tied together? Anyone can look at these three areas and find things in common: human progress, the nature of belief, evidence-based living, etc. But those aren’t what hit me as interesting. Instead, it’s this idea:

I am fundamentally interested in how groups of people form relationships that support and cultivate healthy patterns of belief, knowing, and action, and in relationships and ideas that do exactly the opposite.

So… that’s what really interests me and the three ways I look at it. With that, it’s time to stop thinking about what I should write for an imagined group of others out there, and just do what I find interesting. Someone out there has to be interested in this stuff too, right?

Starting Marathon Training…Slowly

I started running in July of 2015 just to lose weight and to give my mental health a needed boost. After I finished my first half marathon that December and signed up for my marathon for May of 2016, I started running just for the sake of running. Today I mostly run because it’s just what I do. Also, if I skip out on it too long my brain gets all squirrely, I get depressed, and get a mild case of the “fuck-its” which neither I nor anyone around me enjoys that much.

I am running the Pittsburgh Marathon again this May and I hope to get in the Marine Corps Marathon this fall. My training program starts on Sunday and now that I think I know what I am doing, I am taking a whole different approach.

Last year, going from couch to marathon in 9 months, my entire goal was to increase mileage as much as possible and at as fast a possible pace. I had no time for base building and was coming off of my third minor injury. For someone who had never run that distance, my training would give me only 12 weeks. That’s way too short a time and most run coaches might dissuade me from doing too much. But I learn from mistakes which means I need to make them. I did not get injured again, but every recovery period was sore, distances were difficult, and I got flu-like bugs twice. I focused far too much on carbs and my protein intake was abysmal. But I completed the marathon in under 4 hours anyway.

After that I decided to work on just building up mileage and pace. I rarely paid attention to heart rate except for when it was too high. My only goal was to get to running 50 miles a week comfortably. I met that goal and did so in good health. I also emphasized carbs less and focused more on meeting protein targets. The result has been a stronger, faster, healthier me. Now I’ve reached a point where I should be far more literal about a training program, work more on strength beyond doing pushups, and run each session with a different goal in mind.

polar_training_program

So what I am doing this time? I wear a Polar m400 (seen at the top) to record all of my workouts. I sync that data to a few other platforms (Strava, Runkeeper, and MapMyRun) for the community and because I am a nerd. The Polar ecosystem has blossomed with each update. Now, Polar will design a training program based on your race goal and over the time period you specify. It mixes up the distances, effort by heart rate, and works in a dozen or so strength and stretching exercises. A feature that I had never used before that I used today is called Zone Lock. By pressing the big “start” button, you can lock in the heart rate zone with which you want to pace yourself and it beeps when you go over or under. You can program it to use a pace lock instead if that’s what you’re after. This is all about becoming more efficient and consistent and little beeps and alarms help a great deal when you are getting used to a new rhythm and relationship between your brain, heart, and feet.

The hard part will be going slowly. I am so adapted to doing everything at a heart rate of 148-165 and at a pace less than 7:50/mile that all of the slower paces just feel weird. But I am also not adapted to push through sprints very well. I need both of those parts of my physiology to improve my time and health for the next marathon. Zone 2 for me, based on age and resting heart rate, is somewhere between 115 and 132 bpm. The hard thing to do will be to keep most of my running time at that heart rate regardless of pace. As you see in the picture at the top, that means running somewhere in the ballpark of 10 minute miles to start. Painfully slow. But I am trusting the science and evidence rather than my feelings. Today was my first shot at it, and I have to say it was enjoyable. Once I got used to the cadence of going slow, I was fine. And after about an hour I was really sweating it out and working hard. that partially because I was running on tired legs at the end of the week, but also because the myth I had that running more slowly was less work was false. It is not less work, it is different work. And different is exactly what my body needs.

So on we go to Pittsburgh. Slow, fast, and everything in between.

Getting Through New Year’s Resolution Running Pain

postcards2cardsnewyearsresolution1915New Year’s resolutions have a horrible success rate. While gym memberships spike with all sorts of well-meaning goal seekers, 60% of new members give up.  One estimate shows that about 9% of people who make resolutions feel they achieve them with over 42% feeling that they fail every year. Whether these are scientific results might not matter all that much. I think it’s safe to say that most of us experience or know many people who experience that sense of failure within just a few weeks of making a New Year’s resolution. It all sounds great when we are partying with our friends after those holiday vacation days, but when it comes to doing the actual work in the cold, dark days of January, that initial enthusiasm tanks and it all fades. Hell, last year I “resolved” to read 24 books. I got a good start, then started marathon training, then that goal disappeared. I finally deleted my habit tracker app in October because it was just annoying me. I did finish that marathon though. I also crushed my goal of running 1000 miles by about 300. Reading and writing – not so much.

In response to holiday torpor, many people make fitness goals. They have a ton of energy and enthusiasm usually motivated by shaking off the winter blues or a strong desire to eliminate the sluggishness of holiday gluttony and avarice. All those cookies, pies, pigs-in-blankets, and ham seemed like great ideas at the time. But eventually, everyone gets sick of casseroles and endless college bowl games. People who have never exercised that much, don’t particularly like exercise, or haven’t exercised in a long time suddenly shake their bodies awake for that first week of January. It rarely comes off that well. The soreness overtakes them, the weather outside sucks, and it’s dark until at least 7:30 in the morning which is torture for non-morning people. So what gives?

If you want to keep going past the first week, here’s what you need to be aware of.  I promise that if you keep at it through three weeks, you will feel better even as the days get longer. But you gotta keep going.

This is Uncomfortable: Embrace the Discomfort

I have heard people say “Pain is fear leaving the body.” When I started running after having never run a mile in my life, I wanted to stop because it hurt and I was tired, not because I was afraid of anything. My legs were sore all the time, I felt worn out, I was hungry, and just warming up my aching body was rough. I started in July when days were long and it was warm outside. Starting this in January must be miserable. Part of my problem is that I started out too fast and did not heed to advice of professionals to start slow. I went from couch to 10K in 11 days. I was exhilarated, but hurt myself and had to take 18 days off. It took a while for me to learn my tipping point where running through soreness is helpful and where it becomes unhealthy. A good pace to start is where you can speak an entire sentence of about 6 – 10 words. You will be slow. That’s ok. Your “conversational” pace will get faster over time. If you are in your 40’s like me, that will take a bout 3 weeks of consistent work. Your body has been in hibernation for maybe years. What you will need to learn is how to adapt to feeling a little sore and a little hungry most of the time. This is normal. Your relationship to soreness will determine how long you persist in that Resolution. Stretch out after your workout and a few hours later. Take a warm bath. Apply ice to sore joints for 20 minutes. Lean into your discomfort, don’t avoid it. This is your body waking up and adapting to new stress. Embrace it.

Don’t Spend a Ton of Money

In two running groups I am in on Facebook, new runners are eager to know what shoes, jackets, tights, underwear, watches, water bottles, and everything else that “more experienced” runners use. I love a good product. But this stuff is way expensive. Clothing designed and sold with shoe company branding is mostly a rip off. It looks cool and might be comfortable, but after running for a while, as soon as I hit about mile 5, what I am wearing is the last of my thoughts. Right now in the Northern Hemisphere, you do need a few things if you are gong to run outside. You need good shoes that can handle some slush, socks that dry quickly, a few layers of moisture wicking material, maybe a vest and a hat, and something to repel rain. It sounds like a lot, but all of this stuff is available at Wal-Mart or Target. All of my clothing came from the clearance rack and for my most recent 15 miler in the cold wet winter, the price tag was about 60 bucks that I spent last year. I ran in a 38 F degree rainfall this week for 10 miles. The rain jacket I wore was on clearance for $9! Fancy brand name products that do the same thing can run you up to $180.

rain beads on a cheap starter jacket

With that said, if you run for a couple of weeks and find out that running is something you want to do, get good shoes, just get last year’s model. I pay full price for a shoe very rarely. These things run from about $110 to $160 bucks which is nuts! I use Shoekicker which is a great site to get the cheapest shoes, often in a color scheme you might not prefer and in last year’s model. I also like Running Shoes Guru for reviews. That’s how I got my Asics Gel Kayano 21’s last year for $75. They have about 400 miles on them right now and I think I can squeak out another 50 or so (those are dog poop bags I used for waterproofing). One last tip on shoes: It ultimately does not matter what another person’s review is. I read reviews to exclude shoes the models with really bad reviews. Regardless, you still need to find the shoe that works for you. This takes some time. If you can get fitted at a store that specializes in running, do it. You’ll save a ton of time and guessing and those folks will give you all kinds of useful advice.

Asics Gel Kayano 21

Pick a Time That Works for You

I really do like a good morning run. Just not this time of year. It’s dark, cold, and I am nervous about icy patches from snow melt during the day. This time of year in Central, PA the roads are rarely dry and even then they are covered in gravel and undissolved salt among other things. I also like to get sunshine when I can so I run during my lunch break at work. The point here is that here is no better time to run than any other. If you despise a 5 am wakeup call, don’t feel obligated to change your wakeup habit just to start running. You are already making a big change and adding that to it will create only more stress and exhaustion. This is neither helpful nor healthy. If you have to run in the evening when it is dark, find a well lit area if you don’t have a headlamp, and run in that spot back and forth 20 times if you need to. I am fortunate I can get out for lunch. Many people cannot. Time is no excuse to quit. Be flexible and willing to adjust.

Get Rest, Take Your Vitamins, Get Protein

I learned this the hard way. The more stress I put on my body, the more I am actually damaging it. Sore muscles are healing muscles. What helps with healing? Protein intake and rest. You might read about something called “overtraining” or “overreaching.” It’s when we ignore our body’s signals that we need to rest or take it easier in order for it to heal. When I started running, I ran though everything. I ignored pain and would pop a few ibuprofen tablets to help me ignore it more effectively. The result: I got injured frequently and got sick a few times including an episode of pneumonia. I started with the advice to carb load which isn’t exactly false, but it’s also a half-truth. Your body will burn sugars first and fats second. Carbs efficiently convert into the sugars your muscles need so they help you perform. This is especially true for new runners whose bodies are not used to burning fat efficiently. But those sugars are not what your body needs after a run.

You need protein. As soon as I began to add a protein supplement to my diet after a workout, my recovery time shortened and my stamina to run longer and faster improved. I stopped getting hurt and I stopped getting sick. The one I use is cheap from Wal Mart. I get it because it has a 30 grams of protein per 41 grams in a serving. That’s a solid ratio. How much do you need? It will vary based on your age, weight, and how strenuous your workouts are. I run between 40 and 50 miles a week and on running days I will get my protein up to about 130 grams. On rest days it will be between 30 and 60. I use MyFitnessPal to help me keep track.

I also don’t go cheap on the vitamins I take. I looked into it and after reviewing the information on Labdoor, I settled on Now Adam for men. It’s got everything the male adult needs and more. I don’t need any other vitamin or mineral supplements when I take this.

Finally, healing needs sleep. Good, deep sleep. Yesterday I was primed to get a 10 miler in, but I did not. I was too damn tired and sore from the previous too workouts. It’s ok to skip a workout if you are too tired and don’t feel healthy enough. When I started running I was under the false belief that skipping a workout would end my days as a runner. Nonsense. A healthy runner performs better than a sick and injured runner, always.

Take It Easy, Have Fun

If you are running slower than a sloth, don’t worry about it. If you fear you look bad, show me a runner that looks good when they are in the middle of a serious workout. We got snot, spit, and sweat happening and look kind of rough a lot of the time. Get your body used to it and let it adapt at its own time. You’ll get there. You will adapt and your progress will shock you. Even to this day, I hate the first mile or so. I feel stiff and my body takes a good 20 minutes to warm up. Hills are always hard and I run up plenty of them. But I always feel great after a run and never regret a workout. I only regret not getting outside to get it done.

The only outcome that you should not accept is regret for not sticking to your goals. Put in the work. This is worth it.

From Couch to Marathon

Pittsburgh Marathon RouteWhen I started my running journey last year, there was absolutely no way that anyone could have convinced me that I was going to run a marathon within the next 10 months. I was barely able to put together 3 miles last May and that was with walking. But I kept running. On May 1 not only did I finish my first marathon, but I did it on a challenging course and comfortably under 4 hours. I did this with no athletic experience other than 25% of a wrestling season before I quit. Nor was I ever a runner before July of 2015. I gave it a shot back in 1997 for a maybe three runs and stopped. I did the same pattern in April of last year. But something clicked in July and I stuck with it. Now I am in it for the long haul.

So what did I learn while training for a race I did not think I had any business running just a few months ago? What did I do right and what mistakes did I make? I look at life like a big science experiment. One of the most difficult problems in educational research is that there are so many variables that condition what happens in the teaching and learning process. Gender, socio-economic background, race, family systems, mental illness, personality, and many others are all somewhere in the background affecting things we think are simple to measure. Running is no different. There are dozens of general guidelines, but until you get out there, make some mistakes, identify the causes of problems spots, and then change the variables, you will never make progress. So you want to run your first marathon this year? Here are a few things you might want to think about.

Check Your Shoes When I started, I ran in old-ass shoes because that’s what I had and they were decent enough. When I started to realize I would be doing this as a weekly habit, I switched up to shiny new pair of Asics Gel Cumulus. I thought I had arrived. Until the blisters and shin pain settled in. It took me a few months to accept that I might have the wrong shoes on my feet. Just because a shoe gets rave reviews and costs in excess of 120 bucks does not mean it’s a good shoe for you. One afternoon I stopped in my local running store to get fitted. He watched my gait and told me right off that the shoe I was wearing was not right for my overpronating ways. He put me in a different shoe and I have been golden ever since. It’s not the brand or the prettiness of the shoe, it’s the kind of shoe that fits not just my feet, but my natural cadence. Now I alternate between Asics GT-2000 and Asics Gel Kayano. So get fitted, or get injured.

Find Your Own Groove No matter how many articles, videos, and conversations you consume about proper form, the best roller to use on your sore legs, stretching, strength exercises, mileage, interval training, hills, and nutrition, you have to go out and try on everything until you find what works for you. I tried as much as I could and only after finishing that grandaddy race, do I think I know what works for me. Give yourself freedom and time to make mistakes, but always get back up and run it out as soon as you can. That perseverance is what got me to the finish line.

Form Matters When I did not pay attention to form, I got tibialis anterior tendinosis (like shin splints, but so so much worse), back pain, ITB syndrome, and runner’s knee. Once I shortened my stride by increasing cadence, and paid close attention to my posture while running, all of those problems went away. But they were replaced by others. My hips got really tight and then my back stated to spasm. Everything is related. If you have a sore spot in one place, your body will adapt to it by using other muscle groups and will do so often in ways that those other muscle groups aren’t used to functioning leading to other injuries. If you feel pain, stop, figure out what you’re doing wrong, solve that issue, and then get back out there. Ignoring it will eventually put you on the couch for a few weeks and that will totally mess you up. The solution for me was stretching and using a good foam roller after my runs. But I can do better. If I add more cross training to strengthen my hips and core, I will do myself a world of service. Even though I was doing a lot of pushups every week, I can still do a bit more.

Build Mileage and Be Patient As a new runner, I wanted to get fast and far almost as a way to “get caught up” for lost time. That, more than anything, is probably why I kept hurting myself. Starting to run at age 41 means my body was clueless as to the stresses I was about to put it through. So it rebelled. At mile 22 as I was starting down the hill from East Liberty to the Central Business District of Pittsburgh, I started to cramp hard. It was awful. My quads and hamstrings spasmed and the pain was almost unbearable. Walking and stopping only made it worse. The good news is that I ran through it and crossed the finish line running. That was the goal. The bad news is that it happened. I was hydrated, had eaten three Clif Shot gels with water, and had had a solid taper and carb loading the week before. I cramped because I did not run enough during my training. Because of flu (twice), that back pain, and tight hips, I had to take some 20 days off from the training plan. This meant I had to do a little catch up which every trainer will tell you is a bad idea. However, had I not pushed through some longer runs shortly before the race, I would not have made it. The lesson is that I need to have a more solid foundation of running consistently and that takes time. The general wisdom is to increase no more than about 10-15% each week and for the longest run of the week to be no more than 35% of the total. I did not follow that rule, and I cramped up! This takes time and patience. It means that by the time you hit your first 20 miler during a training sequence, you should have worked yourself up to and adapted to a 50-60 mile week. That’s a lot of miles and a lot of time. A 12 week plan was not enough for my first marathon. I needed at least 16. More ideal would have been an 18 week plan. Beyond that, I am out of range for most of the published plans like Higdon’s or Galloway’s.

Watch Your Protein and Carb Intake I was a good boy with my carb to fat ratio, got my vegetables, and was mostly plant powered for my entire training sequence. I never bonked, rarely cramped, and had the longest stretch of injury-free health in my fledgling life as a runner. And for energy drinks while on the run, Tailwind is the shit. But I also overtrained, ran through a lot of soreness and fatigue, and got sick right after my 20 mile long run. OK…fatigue, soreness and sickness may have come anyway, but was there something I could have done better to help prevent all of those things? Yes! I was good with my vitamins, but missed the part where as my mileage increased, by immunity system would get compromised. That’s when I started taking an extra vitamin C  supplement which I will keep doing. The other part is that because I did not have a gradual enough mileage increase and my training was anything but consistent, even though I was technically under-trained, I put too much stress on my body all at once when I hit the peak weeks and my body basically shut down in viral hell for 12 weeks. Maybe I would have gotten sick anyway, but maybe it would not have been as awful as it was. Then I looked at recommended protein intake and what I was actually getting. Many articles recommend 0.6 to 0.9 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. I was only getting about 55 a day and should have been getting closer to 100. My muscles were getting damaged with every run and I was not feeding them what they needed to heal other than loads of rice. So I started protein supplements because I still don’t want to go back to pounds of meat, but I can only take so many beans, lentils, and nuts each day. We’ll see how it pays off in the future, but it can’t hurt.

Even after all of the pain that the last 5 miles of the Pittsburgh Marathon put me through and even after exhaustion as I have ever known, I am driven to get better and follow some of these rules to be a more efficient and less injury prone runner. I want to cross a marathon finish line in good health some day. What it means is better planning for the long haul. Rather than wait for another training sequence to start, why not plan it now while I am still basically resting myself in a post-marathon “holy shit I actually did that” frame of mind. There’s a race in Philadelphia in November. Remember time and patience? It starts now.

I looked all over for plans to help me sort of start over and put into practice everything I have learned, but none of them get me the time and steady increase I am looking for. So I made my own. It lasts 35 weeks and assumes that you are already able to run a solid 25-30 mile week without pain or exhaustion. What I have done is take the best advice from several training programs and plopped it all into one sheet. This sucker will build mileage, let you rest, and will also give you some tempo time and hills to get that heart pounding and muscles toned. The typical pace should be right around conversational for you or a tad faster. This is about building a base and building fitness over a long time. I am also going to be doing pushups on MWF and will also figure out when to work in other exercises like squats a little bit later on. I use a Polar m400 with a heart monitor to see how hard I am working. Their redesigned Flow app includes some killer exercises to supplement a running program. Great for rest days! So here is the new plan. Feel free to download and share. Just cite where you got it if you can. If you want to start it with me, let me know how it is going.

2016 Run Program

You can also download the 2016 Run Program in a PDF.

Happy Running!