Provision #391: Unpublished Grace

Laser Provision

With all due respect to our readers in the Southern Hemisphere and Equatorial Regions of the planet, who are basking in long days and bright sunshine, I want to pose a question that is most timely for the rest of us, who are watching earnestly for those glimmers of light to mercifully illuminate the darkness: Can grace be grace if it is part of a published policy? Answer: Not if you want my grace-filled experience of qualifying last week for the Boston marathon. Read on for the rest of the story.

LifeTrek Provision

If you read last week’s Provision Click, then you know I was in Dallas, Texas to celebrate my 50th birthday by visiting special friends and running the White Rock Marathon in a Boston-qualifying time of less than 3 hours and 36 minutes.

After visiting friends in Waco from our Chicago days, we headed up to Dallas to join two friends who came in from around the country to run the Marathon and Half-Marathon. Walking past the spot where President Kennedy was shot and killed on November 22, 1963, on our way to a carbo-loading, pre-race dinner, I was reminded again of the tussle in life between the forces that drag us down and those that lift us up. As for me and my life trek, I seek to be among those who lift up.

One might even say that was part of my reason for seeking to celebrate my 50th birthday by running a Boston-qualifying marathon. For those who don’t know the rules, let alone the legend and the lore, perhaps I should mention that Boston is the only marathon in the world that requires you to run a fast, qualifying time in another marathon, on a certified course, within 19 months of their marathon, as a prerequisite for entry. If someone tells you they qualified for Boston, you can assume that they are in the top 10% of runners for their gender and age group.

The qualifying standard, combined with the fact that Boston is the oldest continuously-run marathon in the world (it was first run on April 19, 1897), make Boston something of a prize for marathon runners around the world. “If you qualify, you have to go, right?” is the way one of my running buddies puts the question. And so it must be, since the logistics are not conducive to great running. The first Boston marathon had 15 entrants, and that’s about right for the narrow road from Hopkinton to Boston.

This year, 20,000 runners will make that trek, running en masse, like a herd of buffalo, for more than 26 miles or 42 kilometers. Having run the course once before, to celebrate my 45th birthday, I can testify to the fact that it remains crowded the whole way. But the inconveniences pale in comparison to being part of the history of running.

With helicopters hovering overhead, real-time Web splits being posted every 5 kilometers, more than a million people lining the course from start to finish, let alone baseball being played at nearby Fenway Park by the long-suffering but now “World Champion” Boston Red Sox, it’s easy to become one with the energy, the crowds, the hoopla, and the tradition. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of this, if they were able?

Of course “able” is the operative word. Even for experienced runners, the Boston qualifying standards raise the bar to a new level of fitness and performance. It’s one thing to train to finish a marathon. More than two million people now do that every year. It’s another thing to train, and to finish, a marathon in a Boston-qualifying time. That kicks everything up quite a few notches.

One doesn’t just decide, “OK, this time I will try harder.” Instead, one has to start months ahead of time in order reach the starting line at an ideal weight, with an ideal level of conditioning. It can be, at once, an exhilarating and intimidating prospect. Having done it once before, I knew what it would require. Did I have the desire, the design, and the discipline to do it again? That was the question.

The answer was unknown just months ago. I had, for years, talked about celebrating my 50th birthday by getting back to Boston. But I had also watched my weight creep up from my ideal running weight. I was running marathons every year, but they were slow marathons to pace other people. So those extra pounds were tolerable, even if they weren’t helping me in the health and wellness department. But those pounds were not going to get me to Boston.

As a Wellness Coach, those pounds were staring me straight in the eye. And I wasn’t sure what to do about them. As those of you who read our Wellness Pathways know, I had been a healthy, fish-eating vegetarian for many years, since losing almost 70 pounds in 1998. I was doing everything right, or so I thought, consuming lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat organic dairy, olive oil, and filtered water. Sounds healthy, right? Yet I was still gaining weight. So what’s a Wellness Coach to do?

What any coach would advise his or her clients to do! Throw out the playbook and try something different. I needed a different design to my diet that would assist me to reach and then to maintain my optimal body weight. I thought I had figured that out back in 1998. But in July I caught wind of something new.

I attended a lecture at The Chautauqua Institution given by S. Boyd Eaton, an anthropologist and an expert on evolutionary nutrition from Emory University in Atlanta. He made a persuasive case that our bodies are not designed to eat the products of agriculture.

For millions of years, our genus evolved and thrived as hunter-gatherers • eating fresh, lean meat, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. With the agricultural revolution, only a few hundred generations ago, we developed and started to eat new foods that promote weight gain and chronic disease conditions.

The solution? Go back to a hunter-gatherer diet. Get rid of grains, dairy, and oil. Recognize them as processed foods that harm rather than help the body. Avoid farm-raised (and farm-fattened) animals as well as all the extras we now like to add to our foods, such as sugar and salt. Stay with the things that we were meant to eat: lean meat (from organic, free-range, grass-fed ranches), wild fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds.

The solution sounded simple enough. But would it work? And what about my vegetarian instincts? Those had become part of my identity over the years. Was I willing to give them up as part of a grand, new, eating experiment?

Such resistance to change is what every coach has to deal with when working with clients. Old, familiar ruts are like an old pair of running shoes: even when they no longer serve us well, we like them very much, thank you. No one likes to change, let alone at the age of 50. But after hearing The Chautauqua Lecture, I read multiple books on the subject and became persuaded of its wisdom. Why not give this a try, just for a week or two, to see what happens?

That is the quintessential coaching dynamic. We inform, inspire, and investigate. We overcome resistance through education, motivation, and experimentation. We recommend new practices as learning exercises • to see whether or not we like them and if they work • long before we settle into new routines. We get clients to try new things for just one week, just one day, or even just one hour. Then we review the dynamic to keep what works and to discard the rest.

By mid August I knew it was time. Having persuaded my wife to try the new practices with me, we jettisoned grain, dairy, and oil products from our diets and from our house. We started a new regimen of eating and I started a new, more rigorous, schedule of marathon training to get ready for my big day in Dallas.

Much to our surprise, the weight rolled off effortlessly. With no serious hunger pangs, I lost almost 30 pounds and my wife • who was not marathon training • lost half that over the course of the next few months. “I wish this wasn’t working so well,” was my wife’s occasional quip, “because I liked some of those old foods.” But we both could see and feel the difference.

I felt it most dramatically in my running. Conventional wisdom says that over the course of a marathon your performance will improve by 2 seconds per mile for every pound that you lose. And as the pounds came off, I certainly saw that in my training. Suddenly paces that had been a push became easy, while paces that had been out of reach became reachable.

And it wasn’t just a matter of speed. I also eliminated my little aches and pains at those higher speeds. And my blood pressure came down. Just like the doctor ordered, all the things that we know would happen as a result of weight loss did happen. So we’ve decided to keep eating this way, on a permanent basis. We now view it as a healthier and more natural way to eat.

That got me to the starting line in Dallas at the right weight, with the right training, to go the distance. But I was still nervous. It had been almost 5 years since I had run anything close to this time. Was my 50-year-old body up to the task? Would my run-walk strategy pay off or be my downfall? Only 26.2 miles (42.2 kilometers) would tell.

The run-walk strategy has been made famous by running guru, Jeff Galloway. He believes that anyone will run faster, if their goal is slower than 2 hours and 50 minutes, by introducing short walk breaks at regular intervals for the first 20 miles. But when you’re fresh and ready to go, it’s a little nerve wracking to start walking after one mile as hundreds of people pass you by.

Still, on a sunny and warm day in Dallas, I passed the half way point in exactly 1 hour, 47 minutes, and 29 seconds • that’s a perfect halfway split for a 3:35 marathon. I didn’t know it at the time, but out of 207 runners in my age group, I was in 41st place at the halfway mark. Not bad, but not good enough for Boston. Would my weight loss, training, and run-walk strategy enable me to maintain my pace and make up the difference in the second half? As the sun and the heat poured on, I was beginning to get nervous.

The problem became especially clear after mile 20, where I lost a minute of time as the course climbed up about 150 feet (46 meters). That climb didn’t look like much when I saw it on paper the day before. But I didn’t have the legs to keep up the pace. My wife met me at the top of the hill with a welcome water bottle and a high-five. “Are you on pace?” she asked, “Can you make your goal?” “It’s not impossible,” I responded, “but I’m going to have run the best final 5 miles of my life.”

So I picked up the pace and took off, to see what could be done. I was surprised that my legs were as strong as they were, because they usually tire out in the final 5 miles. This time, in spite of a tight left hamstring, they were holding on. Each mile got faster, but by mile 24 I knew my goal was out of reach. Under 3:36 was just not in the cards. There would be no Boston marathon for me in April, 2005.

But I kept running, and I kept getting faster. I have no idea why I did that, other than that I was running for me, from the inside out, rather than for Boston or any other carrot on a stick. There was nothing out there for me to win. There was only my satisfaction of having given it my all, right down to the very end. So run hard I did, with my last mile coming in at a 7:30 pace.

I’m not sure I’ve ever run the final mile of a marathon that fast, not even when I finished one in 3 hours and 18 minutes. I knew I was flying because no one was passing me now. Those early walk breaks were paying big dividends. By the end, I had moved up into 20th place • the top 10% of my age group and gender • passing 21 competitors in my age group who had been ahead of me in the first half of the race.

I finished in 3 hours, 37 minutes, and 53 seconds • less than two minutes short of my goal to qualify for Boston. But I felt great about the race, the course, and the day. I had lost the weight I wanted to lose, I had followed the training schedule I wanted to follow, and I had run the fastest marathon I had run • by almost 10 minutes • in almost 5 years.

It was in short, a very good day. I had achieved all my goals except one. I had not qualified for Boston. Or so I thought. On Monday afternoon, I got a phone call from a running buddy who said he had heard of Boston letting people in who had come very close to their goal time. He encouraged me to give the Boston Athletic Association a call.

I ruminated about that for several days and then on Friday I dialed their number to see what they would say. “Oh, sure,” the voice on the other end of the phone cheerily proclaimed, “we have an unpublished 2-minute grace rule. You can’t do it through the Web site, but if you mail in your application we’ll accept it, no problem.”

I was almost speechless in my astonishment. An “unpublished 2-minute grace rule”? Given that I had come within that time frame by only 6 seconds, it was a good thing I had run those final two miles so fast • all the while despairing over the impossibility of my qualifying for Boston. But I had qualified after all. Amazing grace!

Now that’s the way grace ought to be. It ought to be unpublished. Out of sight. A total surprise. Leading to astonishment, awe, and wonder. Otherwise we may be tempted to play fast and loose in the game of life, failing to give it our all, reasoning that God has gone on record as being in the forgiveness business. But that kind of grace, like publishing the “2-minute grace rule,” is no grace at all. It just becomes another rule, another way to qualify, another way to run, and another way to live.

But when the rule is unpublished, oh, what grace divine! It arrives totally unexpected, like a strange and curious gift, that one hardly knows what to do with. Do we accept the gift? Or do we proudly refuse anything less than the higher, published standards? Everyone has to make their own decision. And I made mine when I decided to make that call. As Millard Fuller, the founder of Habitat for Humanity, is fond of saying, “I’ve tried it two ways, asking and not asking, and I always get more by asking.”

There’s a coaching principle here. If my running buddy had not raised the possibility, I might never have thought to call. And if I had never called, I might never have received that unpublished grace. And if I had never received that grace, I might not be going to Boston next April. In this season of merciful illumination, may we all open ourselves to the art of possibility and take it upon ourselves to ask for unpublished grace. I’m going back to Boston! And it feels great.

Coaching Inquiries: When was the last time that you went looking for unpublished grace? Are there possibilities that you have failed to consider and explore? How would you like to celebrate your next birthday? What would it take for you to be in the best shape possible for life?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form on the Web for a complimentary coaching session.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob..

Since late 2000, if I remember well, I have been reading your Provisions every Sunday through AvantGo. In fact, I look so much forward to reading your articles that it is often the only reason to turn on my computer on Sunday. Your Provisions are part of a broader “diet” of spiritual growth and a quest for enlightenment and fulfillment in life.

In the past 4 years, you have become a person with a meaning for me. I have become connected to your journey • your marathons, your relocation to Williamsburg, your children’s progress, as well as your relationship with Megan (Your stand on sharing names as in a partnership was truly an eye-opener for me. My wife and I made the decision to each keep our own family name. Your article on the issue struck me as if by lightening: a symbiosis where the whole of the relationship is larger than the parts each individual brings to the table). 

I am Dutch and living in Colombia, South America. My transition from a Nordic culture to a tropical culture has been one of ups and downs and that’s where your Provisions and reflections have been food for the soul. In those 4 years I have not only emigrated to Colombia, I have also worked for a time in New York and some 2 years in Taiwan. Those changes of culture and work transitions, while traveling some 9 months out of every 12 in a year, have generated a need for spiritual reflection and you have quenched my thirst. 

During that time I also have become father of a beautiful son. Given the experiences with my own father, being a father myself now has a very deep meaning to me and this experience has helped form a clear proposition for the relationship with my son Daniel. Because of him I have cut back drastically on traveling, which has entailed another transition. Your Provisions have helped create a mindset of taking a step back to reflect on what life is about and how to deal with the questions that drive us in life.

You take a stand that I admire: you share your religious background without ever imposing your beliefs or position. Past experiences in religious circles have made me wary of religion. Nevertheless, people who know me have stated repeatedly that they consider me a highly spiritual person. Your Provisions are food for the soul in a wider quest for love, enlightenment, service and fulfillment in life.

Moreover, in a broader way, your coaching reflections have helped me to see the broader benefits of coaching. Even to such an extent that I have taken courses of coaching myself • in particular with Joseph O’Connor, Timothy Gallwey, and Robert Hargrove. I read extensively on the subject and develop new coaching ideas. I have started my own business in Colombia in internationalization and business coaching.

Being in a startup phase in a new field in country that is only starting to wake up to the benefits of coaching is not easy. When reading your Provisions I feel that my own work becomes more doable. A sincere thank you for that. You are an example for me to make “selfless” contribution to the wellbeing of others.

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School
Immediate Past President, International Association of
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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