Category Archives: Running and Spirituality

Marathons and Sonnets

Marathons and Sonnets

Sonnet writing is a lot like marathon training. No kidding. Last fall, I took a creative writing course at Valparaiso University, and the professor asked me why I didn’t just want to audit the class. I explained that I wanted to take the course for a grade because I needed the deadlines. I’m not just going to go out there and do three twenty-mile runs for the heck of it, and I’m not going to revise my writing over and over if I don’t have to turn it in. It makes perfect sense to me.

I write a lot, just like I run a lot. In fact, I write in my head all the time, usually when I’m running. The challenge is actually putting my thoughts on paper and sharing what I write. It scares the heck out of me.

The professor asked our class to write two poems, one short story, and two analytic essays.  I was terribly disappointed. I wanted the fall semester to be my big break in becoming a real writer. I wanted to have a piece of writing due every week in the hope of having sixteen polished pieces to post on my then imaginary website. I wanted a weekly goal – just like in marathon training. And I wanted that sense of satisfaction you get when you just finished an eighteen-miler because you did your homework. You ran seventeen the week before.

When the first poem was assigned, I intuitively gravitated toward the sonnet:

  1. Sonnets have fourteen lines; some training schedules encompass fourteen weeks.
  2. Sonnets are often written in iambic pentameter, with stressed and unstressed syllables – kind of like hard/easy days on the run.
  3. Sonnets have a rhyme scheme: aabb, ccdd, eeff, gg. Marathon training schedules have a deliberate pattern of hill work, fartleks, long runs, and cross training. Like a reader gets immersed into an expectation of a rhyme scheme, the body adjusts to the work out. If you throw off the rhyme, you goof up the training – oops, I mean poem.
  4. Sonnet lines end in strong words not prepositions, conjunctions, or articles. Training weeks end in long runs, the key to gaining strength and stamina.
  5. Sonnets are a unique discipline; need I say more?
  6. Sonnets end in rhyming couplets – the twist in the pattern that creates thoughtful introspection.  Training schedules end in a taper – the gradual reduction in mileage that leads to success.
  7. Sonnets require creativity; marathon training fosters it.

The next time you are out of a long run, consider creating a sonnet. If you want to change the rules, you can. Hal Higdon has yet to indite me for skipping my speed work.


I wrote this sonnet for a course I was taking at Valparaiso University in the fall of 2013. The poem was due shortly after my fifty-first birthday, and I was feeling overwhelmed by the love and kind words of my dear friends. Their birthday messages on funny cards and loving cards filled me with gratitude, but they also left me with a foreboding sense that I am not worthy of such kindness because I am riddled with faults. I have been blessed my whole life with loving family and friends, and I can’t imagine where I would be without them.


Friends share, bring joy, bask in presence –

Tears, strength, laughter, simple essence.

Slow sweet stories, thoughts, yarns of past

Words soothe, hands hold– hope here at last.


Warm space, at ease, joy, tease, group prayer,

Fierce army joined to fight despair.

No stress, no judge, be you, I’m me,

Don’t fear, stay here, safe place, be free.


They see in me all that is good

O’erlook the dark black core that could

Shatter my soul without their love.

I grasp their gift from God above.


Friends make me want to be their dream,

But then I would be what I seem.

Twenty Minutes = Decades of Benefits

Gretchen Reynolds delves into the remarkable benefits of exercise in her book The First Twenty Minutes: Surprising Science Reveals How We Can: Exercise Better, Train Smarter, Live Longer.

Maybe it’s because Reynolds was an English major and she’s a runner, but I love her writing style.  Unlike many research texts, Reynolds’ synopsis of scientific research is witty, profound, and inspiring. I always knew that running enables me to think more clearly, and I attributed it to being away from distractions and to increased oxygen to my brain. Reynolds sites more reasons to get off the couch than I ever imagined, and her book is incredibly self-affirming for runners, swimmers, dog walkers, and gardeners. I better get moving.


I Yoga

I Yoga

I run, bike, swim, and yoga. Awkward –  try again. I run, bike, swim, and do yoga. It still isn’t parallel, but either am I when I do my poses. I have yet to go to a yoga class where I feel like I look like the instructor, long, lean, stretched, and at ease. Instead, I tremble and my muscles quiver and beg for a simple run. Focusing on my breath enables me to keep my mind off the fact that I’m about to topple over.

However, I refuse to give up. There’s just too much history behind the practice to toss out the concept without giving it a five-year college try. I started in August 2013 and have been at it for seven months, but only recently have I managed to fit it in more than twice a week. I’m proud to say I can now touch my toes after a fifteen minute warm-up. I look forward to the day when I can return from a seven-miler and simply pick the paper up off the front porch – without focusing on my breathing.

Stolen Miles

Rhythmic footsteps, soft silent snow,
Predawn hours, miles logged, who would know?
Weekly goals gained, long distance runs,
Lean limbs, strong arms, powerful lungs.

Pitch black dome, crisp air, gleaming moon,
Quiet world, my mind its own tune.
Grateful runner, each breath I take
Lets me sprint, plod, race, navigate.

Round bend, bolt, roam, leap log, haul hill,
Conquer burdens; legs do your will.
Savor time, relish pace not fast,
Sort past, grasp why, feel peace at last.

Rest inside the palm of His hand,
God embraces me, unbiddened, unplanned.