My head’s no’ back yet.

Eric Liddell has become a new personal hero. I knew about him, of course, and had seen Chariots of Fire. I’d even quoted him regarding feeling God’s glory. But I wasn’t a runner when I did all that, and well, now I (sort of) am. According to one account (if Wikipedia can be trusted):

At an athletics championship in Glasgow, a visitor watching the 440 yard final in which Liddell was a long way behind the leaders at the start of the last lap (of a 220 yard track) remarked to a Glasgow native that Liddell would be hard put to win the race. The Glaswegian merely replied, “His head’s no’ back yet.” Liddell then threw his head back and with mouth wide open caught and passed his opponents to win the race.

Liddell ran “from the heart,” and lived his life that way too. When his head went back it was as if his physical heart literally impelled him forward, but I’ll say a little more about “the Flying Scotsman” later.

Aside from a very eventful two mile run with Back On My Feet last Friday, I haven’t run since my first half marathon two weekends ago. I desperately need to get back out there, for my body’s sake and I think especially for my mind’s sake. Last Friday’s run was so eventful because I fell for the first time ever on a run. It was dark and we were running through a construction zone and I just misstepped, I think. I know my form isn’t great and sometimes I think there’s something wrong with my stride because I can feel my feet come together in mid stride occasionally. Whenever that happens my immediate thought it that this could make me fall and I need to figure out why I do this. I’m not sure that’s what happened this time, but whatever the cause, I fell- hard. I knew I had scraped my knees and knuckles a little bit and also my face, but I popped up and asked those I was running with if it was bad. I heard that I “had a little blood” and didn’t think too much of it as I said, “okay, well let’s go” as we finished our run. When I got back in the car, I got a look at it, and well, it was bad. I had pretty bad road rash above my right eye and also from the eye all the way back to my ear. A “goose-egg” developed and that area around the eye stayed swollen for several days as a black eye developed. My knees were nicely cut up such that they hurt even now, five days later, whenever I bend them due to the tension on the scabs. My hands are still healing too. I remember thinking not long before it happened that I had yet to fall when running; so perhaps I was due. At least I’ve got that out of the way now. Anyway, this is how I looked just after the run (as some of you may have seen on Facebook):

So I haven’t been running much the past couple of weeks, at first because of the half marathon recovery and then because of my fall. I’ve also been feeling quite a bit more depressed again. Lord knows (as do some of you, my few dear readers) I’ve been depressed (albeit “mildly”) for most of my life, but basically since early fall it’s felt a bit worse than it used to. There are numerous contributing factors, which I’ll recap in no particular order. My exercise and weight loss journey has been incredible, even euphoric. My “high” on this journey naturally coincided with my lowest weight, on my birthday last summer when I weighed in after a run (minus all the fluid lost on that run) at 150. That was a perfect 100 pounds below my 250 when I started losing in July of 2009 (so I lost the 100 in less than a year) and a full 110 pounds below my highest weight ever. In short, it felt great. By the grace of God this weight loss had been achieved through lots of (and progressively more) running and a similarly increasing focus on my diet. I started out by cutting out the sugary treats I so love- candy/chocolate, cake, ice cream, especially donuts, etc. I then started looking at portions and cut out the massive plate-fuls (and the massive plates) and seconds. Along the way I started really reducing calories by taking only yogurt and a couple of pieces of fruit for lunch to work and using gum to “tide me over” when I thought I wanted to eat. Eventually I found Spark People and started tracking every single calorie I ate, aiming to keep my intake between 1500 and 1800 calories in order to stay in that weight loss zone. All of this worked great. I lost the weight for sure, but like so, so very many others before I’ve learned the hard way that this wasn’t sustainable.

My transition into trying to maintain that weight worked for a short time, but once I started working again in the fall of last year, and once that job proved to be extremely hard, stressful, and challenging for all the wrong reasons, my diet and exercise both tanked. For one thing, I now have to get up at 4am most mornings if I really want to get a run in before work, which is often necessary due to circumstances usually conspiring against me to make it hard to get a run in after work. Likewise, things have simply been tough whether it was work-related stress and drama, or family-related stress and drama, or ever challenging finances, etc. So this “perfect storm” creates a vicious cycle. I exercise less because I lack the time or energy to do so. This stresses me out, and life itself continues to really stress me out; so I cope by eating all those sweets I swore off of for a while. I do so compulsively and more often than I’d care to admit I even binge eat. A frequent binge for confession’s sake features a stop at Starbucks on the way home for a 400 calorie specialty drink and a 600 calorie piece of “bread,” followed by another stop for 700 calories worth of Krispy Kreme donuts or a 600 calorie McFlurry. I admit this with much shame and guilt, but do so openly to illustrate my point: it’s not at all “rational” behavior. It’s compulsive behavior likely fueled by an addiction, and it’s a great contributing factor to (and self-perpetuating factor in) my depression. This behavior, as I just indicated, depresses me even further making it harder then to get out of bed at 4am to exercise, and the whole process starts over. This has contributed to a near 40 pound weight gain since that low weight of 150.

Along the way I’ve tried several things to get me motivated again. I signed up for a half marathon a full four months before I was to run it. At that point I had only ever run in a handful of 5k’s; so this was a big deal for me. I thought having that big goal- a reason to run besides needing to lose weight (again!)- would help me to get out there and run every day (whatever it took to do so) and enable me to find a way to incorporate this (running) into my life regardless of whatever else was going on. This was partially successful as I saw my mileage increase a fair bit, especially in December and then again in March (the month of the race), but between the two it dipped quite a bit again and there were even weeks when I hardly ran at all. In the meantime I discovered Back On My Feet, an organization that I love, believe in, and feel privileged to be a part of. Those morning runs with the folks at the shelter are very powerfully motivating to me, but even that has proven insufficient some mornings to get me out of bed when I need to be. This depression, I fear, is the real deal, and when I blogged about it some recently I described the circumstances by which the counselor I was seeing at the time confirmed it as such. Unfortunately, as I said above the cycle it creates is so very, very vicious, as it has proven to be powerfully reinforcing:

The good news is that by the grace of God I did (mostly) run that half marathon. It was an incredible experience. It was hard, as I hadn’t trained adequately and had to walk a lot more of it than I would have liked, but I’m eager to do it again and to do it correctly (with proper training). In fact, there’s a Four Seasons Half Marathon Challenge that I plan to sign up for as soon as I can. Interestingly, as I think about the depression I’m dealing with today, I wonder if I haven’t been experiencing something of a “let down” after doing the half. It was a big goal. I did it (more or less). Now what?

The last time I wrote about all this, I indicated that I tended to be an “all or nothing” kind of guy and that (in addition to depression) I was really battling a food addiction due to the compulsive nature of it at times and the binge eating that at times accompanied this compulsion. Interestingly, a study was just released that states that food can activate the same areas in the brain as cocaine. Here’s one of the many recent articles about it. This obviously lends credence to the notion of treating an eating disorder perhaps such as the one I’ve described as a real addiction, and perhaps will give those judgmental types out there a bit more compassion. It remains to be seen, though, whether I really can handle the sweets that give me such problems (some salty things too) in moderation, as would be the ideal. As I said before, you don’t ask an alcoholic to enjoy a beer every now and then, because it only takes one to start a binge. I fear that I’m the same way, and wherever that neurochemical  “switch” is that allowed me to refuse those sweets altogether when I was doing so well before, I need to find it again and find a way to turn it  “off.” Then I need to destroy it.

I’ve also said before that I think I have an addictive personality. In some ways I’m grateful that food is my issue and that I’ve never had much interest in alcohol or any interest in drugs or nicotine, as I can easily see myself becoming captive to them. I indulge in my vices in part and at first in order to cope and deal with pain. Insidiously, the more I do so, the more my body adapts (in all kinds of negative ways) and comes to demand that “high” that the indulgence brings. That’s when the addiction takes hold, but the behavior starts with the pain that led to the indulgence in the first place, which is why I say I suspect I have an “addictive” personality. In any case, I have said that I hope to pursue running, fitness, and health with the same fervor; that is, in almost addicting fashion, and there are brief periods when I’ve approached this (and I certainly still hope for it). I believe that giving your all can be healthy, such as in the pursuit of Christ, or in a marriage, or even when going all out in a race. I’d like to fully give myself to those things that feed my soul though, rather than indulging my worst impulses destructively. I’ve also spoken before about being in some sort of “arrested development” due to various factors in my upbringing, and I still think there’s something to this idea. Even now Kirsten and I work to teach Samuel how to make good choices by (hopefully) allowing him to actually make them and to suffer whatever consequences come with them. We obviously limit his choices now, but our job is to allow him more and more freedom in his choices, praying all the way that he makes good ones, so that he knows what will happen in the hopefully few instances that he makes bad ones. This is the only way he will learn.

More and more, though, I suspect that I have not really learned the lessons of my bad choices, and this is evident in the fact that I keep giving myself opportunity to do so (because I keep making the same bad choices). I suppose then that I can only hope that I finally start learning from my bad choices as well as my 6 year old does from his. In the meantime, pray that I channel my energy constructively. Depression can be awfully expensive and hard to treat, but it can be done cheaply and with great benefit to oneself and others simply by focusing on the needs and hurts of others for a change. Every time I have opportunity to meet others in the place of their suffering and pain I’m reminded of just how small my own problems really are. I need such reminders a lot more often. So I’m reminded yet again of Eric Lidell. His story as depicted in Chariots of Fire is compelling and inspiring, and by all accounts in “real life” he was no different. In fact, he might have been even more inspiring in real life. He certainly gave his all, for God, to the people of China, and in every race he ever ran- head thrown back and all. I pray to know God’s glory when I run too, and to feel it as well each time I eat. Toward that end, I’ve come up with a little mantra to help me with both: “No wasted miles/miles make champions.” I don’t want to “waste” miles by overeating, and I know that if I want to be a runner I must, well, run. I may never win a footrace (my Dad was shocked that you get a medal “just for finishing” a half-marathon; obviously he’s never run one), but I’m still determined to “run with perseverance the race marked out for me” described in Hebrews 12. The Message puts it this way:

Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!

Lord, let it be so as my feet pound the pavement every day, as my body is nourished appropriately with food, and as my soul presses on for the love that awaits us all. Amen.

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