12 Tips to Run Your First Long-Distance Race

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I am a runner.

Running is some of the best thinking and down time I have in my life. It’s the one time where I’m the most removed from all the pressures of the world and able to clear my mind and concentrate.

As a leader, I’ve found it to be a huge part in my leadership development. I think when I run.

Just to give you a point of reference — a good week for me would be to run about 30-40 miles total. My favorite distance is about 5 to 7 miles. I run at a moderate pace — somewhere between 9 and 9:30 minute miles. I have completed 1 full marathon and more half marathons than I can count. My goal is to do one more full. I’ve intended to the last few years and schedules haven’t allowed it, but hopefully I can still plan in this direction. I don’t run a lot in really cold weather, but my goal is to remain fairly trained for a half. (I’m told if I can run 8 miles comfortably I can run a half. And, I’ve found that to be true.)

What some who know I run don’t know is that I was a previous anti-runner. I ran years ago, but then in my 30’s I had even made the statement, “I hate running. I’m a good walker.”

I continue to encounter people who are where I was. They think they are “too old” or past the running days. So many times I hear — “You wouldn’t catch me running unless I was being chased.” We”ve got to get you guys some new lines. :)

But, most of the time those people are just like me. They never really got into the habit of running. And, that’s what it is. You don’t start by running a half. It is a gradual build before you are inspired to enter to run a longer race. You might set a goal to run a 5K — or even a 1 mile fun run. No shame. Start where you can.

So here are some suggestions — just to consider. I can’t oversell the benefits to me of a discipline of running. I miss it during the harsh winter. Maybe it’s something you should consider.

Keep in mind these are an amateur’s perspective. You should obviously check with your doctor and the experts. And, believe me, there are lot of experts.

Here are 12 tips to prepare to run a race:

Training makes all the difference. I did finish my marathon, but I wasn’t adequately prepared. I won’t do another one until I’m sure my schedule will allow me to complete all of it. Don’t race if you aren’t prepared. Period. It’s not good for your body or your mindset towards running.

As a side note, running for me is down time, so I run alone. You may need to run with a group. Find a friend or a group and encourage them to join you if you need this support.

Follow a training schedule that matches your schedule. The Internet is full of online schedules. Research until you find the right one for you. I have consistently used Hal Higdon’s and they fit well with my weekly schedule.

If you have to skip training one day, don’t skip the long runs. You need the long day every week. These days are vital to stretching you for the final big day. You’d be better to push your schedule back, in my opinion, than to miss this day. If you have to alter the long run to another day — do that — but don’t skip it.

You may gain weight initially while training. This was surprising to me. And, frankly disappointing at first. You will have an appetite like never before. If you aren’t careful, you will justify eating much more because you are running so much. If your goal is to lose weight, you’ll need to have a plan for what you eat too.(The good news is you WILL get to eat more!)

Keep running. In the beginning, before you are truly committed, run even if you don’t feel like it. That’s hard, but you have to do it. Even if you don’t run as far as the schedule calls for that day — just run. You must push through the desire to quit. The joy of running will come. This is one of those “you just have to experience it to believe it” things. Keep at it until it sticks.

Remember it’s a “marathon not a sprint”. Even if it’s for a shorter run, don’t frustrate at where you are today. You’re not going for speed at this point. Pace yourself. A lot of times you’ll feel like you can run faster, but you can’t just yet. Don’t be afraid to start slow and build. You’re going for distance and to build the discipline of running. Keep pushing forward and you’ll increase over time. Celebrate each step of progress.

Shoes matter. I’m tight with money when it comes to spending on me, but I have discovered that having the right shoes and replacing them often is a key to lessen injuries. This is a place where I learned the hard way to invest. Even best is a good run shop where they can analyze your running pattern and help you find the right shoe.

Learn to stretch. I’ll get some push back on this one, because there are so many opinions. But, for me, I stretch the first mile of a long run. I may do a few stretches, but I am ready to get started. I just start slower until I’m ready to run my normal speed. Many say the best stretching is after you run. And, I’m not the best at this either, but I keep working at it.

The rest periods in your schedule are important. Once you start to enjoy running — and that will come — you will be tempted to run even when the schedule gives you an off day. Don’t do it! Your body needs the rest to prepare for the longer runs. Again, trust me on this. These are good days to do something different. I like to use weights or ride my bicycle on these days.

Run a shorter race first. >If you are training for a full marathon, try to do a half-marathon first. If a half is your goal, try a 5K. It will help if you’ve experienced the adrenaline of a race.

Don’t let your head play tricks with you. Running for long periods of time is as much a mental exercise as a physical one. Fight through the mind games. Listen to your body — of course. Check with a doctor — all those things. But, don’t let your mind be your enemy.

Prepare to celebrate. Once you cross the finish line, no one can take that feeling away from you!

You can do this! Obviously some reading this post are not able to run a longer race — or run at all. But, some of you have just been making excuses. I’m encouraging you to go for it! Run. Run for life!

What You Can Do To Be Productive On A Snow Day


We had a snow day this week. As I type this, actually two snow days. Who knows if there will be more?

If you’re wired like me, a snow day can be very disruptive to what you hoped would be a productive week. My weeks are full and if I don’t go into the office on a day I had planned to be in the office, everything I had planned on that day backs up to a future day. I feel so trapped and unproductive.

I’m not sure it has to be that way. I’ve discovered if I can give a few hours to work on a snowy day at home I will feel incredibly productive, and keep from feeling miserably behind when I can get back to work.

Here are some ideas to be productive on a snow day:

Special projects. What is a new project you’ve wanted to think about and haven’t had time? Spend some time putting a strategic plan together for implementation.

Life planning. Work on your life plan. Here’s my easy version. (There are better ones.)

Encouragement. Say a prayer — ask God to lay some names on your heart — send an encouraging note or email to them. Spend some time crafting a life-giving note.

Read. Find a challenging and instructive book. Take notes as you read.

Get ahead. Work on routine projects that you know you’ll eventually have to do. It’s a great time to catch up on the routine so you can be more effective on return.

Maintain. Keep up as much as possible. The computer makes us so much more connected. One good smart phone almost brings our office home. Returning emails and phone calls when possible help you go back to the office with less stress and feeling more on top of things.

Relax. Have some fun. Rest. Prepare for a more productive day in the future. Even build a snowman. (That’s the hardest one for some of us.)

What ideas do you have?

And, if you’re wired opposite of me — enjoy the couch — or whatever it is you do. No pressure from me.

Dr. Martin Luther King Wasn’t Perfect — And That Should Be Encouraging


Dr. Martin Luther King wasn’t perfect.

And that should be encouraging to all of us.

I’m reminded of the great prophet Elijah from the Bible. God used him once to hold back the rain. He was fed by ravens. He kept a widow and her son alive — miraculously.

Yet, one of the most encouraging Bible verses about Elijah to me is James 5:17: Elijah was a person just like us.

And, I’m reminded of that when I think of Dr. King.

Dr. King was a person — just like us.

If we aren’t careful, because he accomplished so much, we can make Dr. King something he wasn’t.

He wasn’t perfect.

Wait, don’t throw things. I’m a fan. I’ve studied him beyond his most famous speech.

Was he great? Of course.

Was he extraordinaire? Absolutely.

Did he do great things? Without a doubt.

These lines from his famous “I Have a Dream Speech” alone are grand enough for celebration:

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope.

As a pastor, knowing these words were obviously inspired by Dr. King’s knowledge of Scripture, I’m impressed. So inspiring. I wish I could do it that well.

But, was Dr. King perfect?

I don’t think so.

I doubt, based on what I know of his faith as a Gospel preacher that he would even claim perfection apart from Christ. Only Jesus is perfect. Dr. King surely believed this.

We honor his birth because of his impact on our world.

In fact, he’s one of the best examples of leaving a legacy that we have in modern history. His work keeps encouraging, inspiring, and making us better.

We honor him because he was fighting for a perfect dream.

We honor him because he was willingly to sacrificially give everything to achieve his dream.

Yet, sadly, his dream yet to be fully realized. His work is not finished.

This year alone should teach us we haven’t reached the dream Dr. King fought for with his very life. Ferguson. New York. Your city.

Every hill and mountain has not been made low. The rough places are not yet plain. There are still crooked places. The glory of our Lord hasn’t been fully revealed.

Peace has not been achieved.

And, here’s why it matters so much, in my opinion, that Dr. King — the man — wasn’t perfect.

If we see him as perfect, then, those of us who know we are not, (people like you and me) may feel we can never measure up to his standard. That we could never attain greatness, because we don’t have the charisma of Dr. King. Or, the courage. Or, the oratory ability.

In fact, we may not even try. We may not give ourselves the chance for God to use us for His glory.

So, we will dismiss any dream we have as unattainable. Even our efforts to continue the dream Dr. King had will cease because we falsely believe that such acts of greatness were reserved for the one man — Dr. King. Or, maybe a few like him.

But, that’s not true, is it?

Dr. King was great, but only His Savior Jesus is perfect.

The best way to honor Dr. King is to strive for impact.

Strive for a perfect dream. Strive for an end to racism, an end to the fighting, a reality of peace — where all God’s children are able to sing, “Free at last. Praise God Almighty we are free at last.”

Have a dream. A big, hairy audacious dream.

That kind of living honors the legacy.

The fact is that all of us are capable of greatness. If we have big dreams — ones that honor others and make the world a better place — and we do everything in our power to realize them, we can be used of God to accomplish great things.

There will never be another Dr. King. Just like there never was another Elijah.

But, there will never be another you either.

And, we need your dream.

We need your work.

We need your energy and your vision and your passionate attempt to make things better in our world. We need your contribution to the peace and prosperity of our land.

So start honoring Dr. King!

Be brave. Be bold. Dream big. Live strong. Do good things!

7 Life Giving Statements Everyone Needs to Hear

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Words are powerful.

As leaders, the words we use make a difference. A huge difference.

I recently posted statements Jesus made that are life-giving.

As we seek to be like Him, we have an opportunity within our influence to be people-builders. Speak life-giving words.

For good and bad, my life has been greatly shaped by words shared with me.

I once had a pastor say, “Ron, you’re a giant killer!” He encouraged me to kill giants for the Kingdom of God. It changed the trajectory of my life.

Words are huge. Especially from someone we trust.

I’ll be honest. I’m not the best at it, but I try to pass on encouragement to younger leaders. And, others as I see opportunity.

Everyone needs encouragement.

It takes an intentional effort. I try to make it a personal discipline.

Here are 7 life-giving statements everyone needs to hear:

I’m praying for you!

You can do it!

I love you!

It’s going to be okay!

I believe in you!

I’m proud of you!

I’ve got your back!

So there you go. Words. Powerful words of encouragement.

Who could you add some life to today?

Five Personal Reflection Questions to Evaluate Your Year and Start the New Year Right

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I’m a reflective person. This time of year — when we start to see all the “best of” reflections online and in the news, I like to do my own personal reflection. How was the year? What can we learn from it? How can I do better next year?

Perhaps you need a little help getting started. Take a couple hours over the next week or so — get alone — and reflect.

Here are five questions to get you started:

What was great?

List some of the highlights of your year. What gave you the most pleasure in life? Make sure they merit repeating — sin can have an immediate pleasure — but plan ways to rekindle those emotions in the new year. Most likely they involve relationships. The new year is a great time to plan some intentional efforts to strengthen relationships — spend more time with family and friends. Maybe you enjoyed the times you spent writing. Take some intentional steps to discipline yourself to do that more. Remember how good it felt that day you served people less fortunate than yourself? Well, now you know something you need to do more of in the new year.

What wasn’t great?

Think of some things that are draining to you personally. Again, it may be some relationship in your life. It could be a job or a physical ailment. It could also be that whatever it is that isn’t great has been around for more than a single year. But, chances are you’ve never taken the hard steps to do something about it. Sometimes recognizing those things is the first step to doing something about them. (Your answer may be that a relationship has ended — and there’s nothing you can do about it. Maybe this is your year to move forward again — even in spite of the pain.) Could this be the year?

What can be improved?

Sometimes it isn’t about quitting, but working to make something better that makes all the difference. Intentionality can sometimes take something you dread and make it something you enjoy. I’ve seen couples who appeared destined for divorce court turn into a thriving marriage when two willing spouses commit to working harder (and getting outside help if needed). I was out of shape in my mid-thirties. I’m healthier today in my 50’s than I was then. The change began in one year — one decision — one intentional effort. Conventional wisdom says a new habit begins in 21 days, but some now believe it may take as long as 66 days to really get a habit to stick. But, would it be worth it if you really began a daily Bible reading habit? Or the gym really was a part of your life more than just the first couple weeks in January? Maybe this is your year to get serious about improving some area of your life.

What do I need to stop?

Maybe you need to stop caring so much what other people think. Maybe you need to stop overeating. Maybe you need to stop worrying far more than you pray. Maybe you need to stop believing the lies the enemy tries to place in your mind. Maybe you need to stop living someone else’s life — and start living the life God has called you to. Maybe you need to stop delaying the risk — and go for it! Maybe you need to stop procrastinating. Do you get the idea? Sometimes one good stop can make all the difference. What do you need to stop doing this year, so you can reflect on this year as your best year ever? Start stopping today!

What do I need to start? 

Think of something you know you need to do, but so far you’ve only thought about it. Maybe you started before but never committed long enough to see it become reality. Often, in my experience, we quit just before the turn comes that would have seen us to victory. Is this the year you write the book? Is this the year you pursue the dream? Is this the year you mend the broken relationship? Is the year you finish the degree? Is this the year you get serious about your financial well-being — planning for the future? Is this the year you surrender your will to God’s will — and follow through on what you know He’s been asking you to do? Maybe getting active in church is your needed start this year. Start starting today!

Five questions. When I’m answering questions like this, I like to apply them to each area of my life — spiritual, physical, relational, personal, financial, etc. Reflect on your life with God, with others, and with yourself.

Try answering them — see how it helps you start your best year ever!

5 Step Process to Write a Simple, but Achievable Life Plan


Here’s a simple, step-by-step process to writing a life plan. If you don’t know me, you wouldn’t know that I prefer simple. If it’s complicated or too involved, I’ll opt out quickly. That’s my goal here.

(I actually wrote these posts several years ago and I’ve not updated them — just this summary page. If you find any links that don’t work, let me know.)

I’m praying God allows many of us to realize dreams and goals we never thought possible.

Here are 5 posts to walk you step-by-step through writing a simple life plan:

Step 1

Step 2

Step 3

Step 4

Step 5

Of course, all of this should be done by committing your plans to God first. For help and an example of that, you might read this post: 7 Ways to Make Your Prayers More Effective

Let me know how your plans develop.

A Guaranteed Way to Have the Best New Year Ever

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Do you want to guarantee your success in the new year?

If you could figure out a way, that’d be worth it, right?

Here’s a Biblical example of how to have the best year ever.

The Lord said to Abram:

Go out from your land,

your relatives,

and your father’s house

to the land that I will show you.

I will make you into a great nation,

I will bless you,

I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.

I will bless those who bless you,

I will curse those who treat you with contempt,

and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you.

Genesis 12:1-3 (Emphasis mine)

The secret, for lack of a better word, for any success Abraham would ever had would be found in moving from his will to God’s will — allowing God to shake his direction and the outcome of his life.

When the “you” comes after the “I” rather than before, we’ll always guarantee our success.

Here’s a guaranteed strategy for the new year to be a success:

  • Drop your agenda — and join His agenda.
  • Get off your path — and get on His path.
  • Release your ambitions — and embrace His ambitions.
  • Set aside your will — and live His will.

Are you ready for a great new year? Let God lead the way.

5 Insights I Have Learned About Failure


I deal with people who feel like failures. Everyday.

It could be because of relationships gone bad.
Business setbacks.
A personal life — that was private — but is not anymore.
Bad decisions intentionally done or bad circumstances — out of their control.

All of that and more — failure.

One reason people seem to identify with my teaching is that I’m not perfect. I’ve made lots of mistakes. I didn’t enter the ministry until I was 38 years old and that was plenty of time to learn valuable life experiences by failure. (And, I haven’t quit making mistakes in ministry.)

Here’s what you need to understand though.

I’ve had failures — but I’m not a failure.

Because I got back up every time I failed.

Along the way — through failure — I’ve gained some insight into failure.

There are some misunderstandings about failing that you don’t necessarily knowing during the failing process.

Here are 5 things I’ve learned about failing:

Not everyone is talking about you. This is a critical understanding, because it sometimes feels that way. As a result, sometimes you avoid people — even though you may need people in your life now more than ever. Sometimes you refuse to get back in the game — even to attend church — because you assume you’re the news on people’s mind. Yes, some people may be talking about you — for a while — but not for long. I’m not saying you aren’t important, but there will be a bigger story out there soon. Trust me. And, yours won’t be the flavor of the month for long. And, for those who do like to talk about others — I’ve learned they are often trying to shift attention from their own failures. (You can also remind them it is a sin to gossip.)

Your attachment to the failure may never fully go away. That’s hard, but it’s true. Rahab was always known as a “harlot” in the Bible. She kept her title. When triggered in someone’s mind, they may remember your failure for years. History books record great failures of people with great success. And, I’m not sure it should be our goal to completely lose that failure reminder. It’s a way we can demonstrate grace. We can be an example to others who have failed — and are seeking hope. God uses our failures as a source of strength for others. But, whether or not people can label you a failure will depend on how you respond to failure — how you proceed after the failure.

God loves you more than you can imagine, even when you fail. In fact, in my experience with failure, whether it was by intentional sin or through no fault of your own, it breaks your heart at some point. My Bible says God is close to the brokenhearted. And, your failure is what makes you a great candidate for grace — something God loves to extend to those who will receive it.

Forgiving yourself may be the most difficult thing. It’s true. The hardest person to forgive for failing is almost always ourselves. We usually hold our failures against ourselves much longer than the world does. And, the enemy loves to use that principle against us too. Why not? It works, right? But, forgiveness is a choice. Receiving God’s grace is a choice. Moving forward is a choice. Choosing your next steps wisely — that’s a choice too.

The best days of your life may be after the failure — not before. Wow! If only I could have understood that during some of my darker moments due to failure. If you refuse to let failure control you and you allow God, by His grace, to shape the rest of your story you may just experience some of your best moments of life in the days ahead. That’s my story. And, for that I’m thankful.

Obviously, no one should ever desire failure so they can learn from it. But, failure is a part of living in a fallen world. The key is to not allow failure to be our dominant identification. That’s determined by what we do after the failure.

What have you learned from failure?

10 Realities Every Young Leader Needs to Hear


I work with young leaders everyday. I have two incredible young leaders as sons. (Here’s my picture with them a few years ago — taken the day we moved to Kentucky.)

Occasionally, when I am talking to a young leader something becomes apparent. They often think what they are experiencing is unique. And, more surprising than that, they think perhaps their struggle is no longer mine — like somehow I’ve outgrown them.

That’s what prompted this post. I’ve included a few tips for young leaders I’ve learned along the way.

Here are 10 realities every young leader needs to know:

At times you will feel overwhelmed. You know that feeling, right? Like you can’t get it all done and you’re not sure you know where to start. Those feelings don’t ever leave you completely as a leader. There will be seasons where they are stronger than others, but if you’re doing anything of value you will occasionally feel overwhelmed. They are a part of life. Something you’ll never outgrow.

You’ll not always know what to do. You don’t ever get to a point in life where you’ve learned everything. You get better at some things. Okay — lots of things. Wisdom and experience has its benefits obviously. But, regardless of your age — if you’re doing anything productive — you’ll learn something knew everyday.

Seldom will you be 100% certain. You’ll always have an element of risk in your life. You will be forced to move forward by faith. That is a good thing. It keeps you grounded and on your knees before God.

Sometimes it’s just for the learning experience. And that’s huge. If you put all your effort into something and it doesn’t work — or its not as good as you thought it would be — it’s easy to get frustrated. But, the process will teach you something. And, the value of the learning experience is huge. Never miss the life principles intended for you.

You’ll many times feel under-appreciated. There will be lots of things you do that no one will notice. Great things. Trophy-deserving things — and people will act — it will seem at times — like no one noticed and no one cares. And, that may not be true. They may simply be living a full life like you are — overwhelmed like you are — and it just passed by them. But, it leaves you feeling under-appreciated. And, like all leaders, eventually we have to find our reward in the knowledge and personal satisfaction of our work well done as much, if not more, than the public recognition of that work.

People are watching. If you position yourself to lead in any way, you become a target of spectators. What you do. What you say. And, what you post on social media. Some will agree. Some will not. Some will agree just to get on your good side. Disappoint them and they will leave. Some will not agree because they are jealous of a leader with an opportunity. All that said, don’t shy away from people. That’s never the right response. Just be aware. Be gentle as a dove and wise as a serpent.

Learn the words of successful leadership early. As with the previous one, the words of a leader carry great weight. Don’t make it “my” team or your leadership won’t be very successful and no one will buy-in to the team except you. A leader’s words should always be inclusive rather than exclusive. Become a fan of words like “we”, “us” and “ours”. The more you include people, the more they’ll feel included (see how simple this is) and they’ll be more likely to suffer with you for the win.

Sometimes, if we believe in something strong enough, we have to stand alone. That’s a hard reality in a world that tries to force sameness, but if you do anything of value — or believe anything strongly enough — sometimes you have to stand single until others catch on or until you find supporters. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t listen to advisers. You should. You should have mentors and be open to constructive criticism. I never make major decisions without the input from others. But, don’t give up what you know to be right — especially those things you sense God is calling you to do — because it isn’t popular.

Great things start with humble beginnings. Don’t be afraid of starting at the bottom and working your way to the top. That’s still a viable option — and the reward feels greater when you built it the hard way. And, never underestimate the power of a moment.

You have to discipline yourself to decompress. It’s not usually built-in to the system. During the busy seasons of life — when there’s plenty of work to do and time is of the essence — which is most of our life if we set out to be leaders, you’ll have to discipline yourself. To rest. Re-calibrate. Refocus. Rediscover the passion that once fueled you. Re-connect, if needed, to a deep intimacy with God. You have to discipline for that. You’ll seldom have a leader or a system that forces that upon you. And, it’s life-essential. Don’t neglect your soul.

These are obviously random — but in my life they’ve become realities. For some of these, if you don’t understand them, you may think something is abnormal about you. Although, I guess another reality I have learned, is that there something abnormal about all of us.