The Twenty-First Letter: Running Intervals

letter 21

Dear Daughters,

I have always been hesitant to call myself a runner. For one thing, I really don’t like to run.

Like, seriously don’t like it.

I feel miserable when I’m doing it and at some point during that first mile, I always whisper to myself, “Why am I doing this?”

But, see, there’s this other element to it: I love having gone running.

In elementary school–and all the way through high school–I absolutely abhorred the dreaded run-the-mile phys ed class. It surprises nobody who knows me that I’ve never been an athlete, so apart from the weeks we did square dancing in the gymnasium and didn’t have to change into our gym uniform, I pretty much thought phys ed was a waste of my academically-directed time.

Despite looking like a basketball player with my 6’0” frame, I’m not an athlete.

But in college I started running. Sort of. I started realizing I needed to be exercising and so spent time running around the track. Huffing and puffing and hating it. Holding my side because it was incredibly painful. Every time.

I’ve run off and on over the last decade. I got used to running in high-heat Texas. I got used to running in the ridiculous hills of the Bluegrass. I got used to running with a single stroller.

I’ve never really gotten used to running with the double stroller. Combined, the two of you weigh seventy pounds now, girlfriends, so that is some serious weight. Just walking with the double stroller is a workout in our town.

Then, a few weeks ago, our neighbor asked me if I wanted to start a running program with her. She had a baby less than a year ago and was running intervals.

Here’s the thing: I look down on people who run intervals. When I first heard that some people ran intervals for big races, even half-marathons, I kind of felt like they were cheating a bit. They weren’t “really” running.

But I said yes.

And then I became an interval runner.

For real.

Remember how I said that at some point during that first mile of every run I questioned why the heck I was doing it? Not any more.

We have worked our way up to five miles already on our weekend runs, and all we do is run twice a week during the week. Sometimes both pushing double strollers, sometimes not.

Five miles, girls.

Your momma is a runner.

Today I ran four miles and had a better per-mile time than I’ve gotten in the two races I’ve run.

Here’s the thing with intervals: they let your body rest. When your body–your joints, your muscles, your lungs–get to rest, then you are able to run harder and better on the running leg of the interval without even trying to.

Today, I didn’t start to feel uncomfortable until nearly the three-mile mark.

A key part of interval training, so I’m told, is that you don’t wait until your body is tired to rest. You begin your intervals right way. Our intervals are that we run for 60 seconds and walk for 30 seconds. (We’ve got smart phone apps that buzz like the beginning of a round of boxing to start the run interval and then ding like the end of a round to start the walking leg.) Beginning our intervals right away means that after only one minute into our run–before we’re even feeling tired–we go ahead and stop and walk for thirty seconds.

Did you hear me? We stop and rest before we’re tired.

This is a metaphor, of course.

There are a lot of worthy causes in the world, girls. I’m raising you to care about people, to have compassion, to be peacemakers and lovers and creators. When your dad prays at dinner, he always prays that we are able to find ways to be part of the solution. That’s what you will be, I know it. Part of the solution.

Maybe you’ll be academics or legislators seeking to understand and enable change, activists or lawyers fighting to make changes possible, poets or preachers speaking change into the world. There is always more work to be done.

Will you be a teacher who sees your students’ needs beyond the classroom? A doctor in a clinic in a low-income neighborhood? An engineer planning bridges in Africa? A journalist who voices what we all need hear: “There is still more work to be done“?

But, daughters, hear this, too:

Even the hands and feet of Jesus in the world need to rest.

We all need to rest.

It is often easier not to.

When you are a compassionate person, it is easy to see only the pain of the world that needs fixing. When you love people, you want to help people, and there is no shortage of people to help. When you invite others into your world, it is easy for those people to become your world. When you love your church, you want to fix your church.

But you can’t fix every problem. You can’t soothe every pain. You can’t meet every need. You can’t invite everyone in. You can’t. I can’t. We can’t.

We need to rest.

We need to rest regularly, and we need to rest before we’re tired.

Sometimes that means saying “no” to good things. Sometimes that means going away. By yourself. To run. Or to read. Or to paint. Or to pray. Or to nap.


That’s what I was thinking today as I approached the four-mile mark, huffing and puffing and, yes, hurting quite a bit as I came up Clinton Avenue. That’s the steepest hill in the neighborhood, girls. One of the steepest hills in our town. But I heard that loud, clanging gong on my phone saying to pick up the pace at that moment, and you know what?

Because I’d been resting, I could.  And I did.


Your Momma