Running for Our Lives

tlumacki_boston-marathon-_sportsJ“Run with perseverance the race that is set before you.” This quote from the Letter to the Hebrews sustained me the one year I ran the Boston Marathon — in 2008. Along with the supportive crowds along the entire 26.2 mile course, this mantra carried me from Hopkinton to Wellesley to Heartbreak Hill and into Copley Square. It is a quote we need now more than ever.

With Monday’s events we have collectively hit the dreaded wall. Unspeakable violence has been visited upon the purest of human pursuits with three dead, 150 injured, and the innocence of an iconic event forever altered. The images of destruction amid what would normally be a scene of unmitigated joy and triumph are seared into our minds as shouts of encouragement morphed into screams of terror.

It would be easy to quit or walk away — that’s the standard reaction when you hit boston-marathon-logothe wall. I hit it pretty hard in my first marathon, a result of the classic rookie mistake of starting too fast. Around mile 18 of the 2005 Baltimore Marathon I started cursing my decision to enter the race. I  began walking although what I really wanted was to curl up in the fetal position underneath the table at one of the water stops. Eventually, I snapped out of it and continued on to the finish line. I ended with my inflated time goal blown but was both proud and relieved as I swore off ever running another marathon.

I have no doubt that the city of Boston, all of New England, and our entire nation will push through the wall. Like the runners themselves, we are a resilient people. Unlike the elite runners, we may not win any races but we never give up in the face of adversity. We muddle through, placing one foot in front of the other. We keep moving forward partly because we have no choice but also because we believe in running with perseverance the race that is set before us.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAHaving this happen on Patriot’s Day only strengthens our resolve as we hearken back to the spirit of our nation’s forebears. Paul Revere’s lantern reminds us that the darkness of tyranny and hate cannot overcome the light of liberty and love. Just as John’s gospel says of Jesus Christ’s entrance into the world, “The light shined in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.”

As we continue to wade through the carnage and seek answers, I find it helpful to focus on the stories of heroism and selflessness that abound. So many have reached out their hands in love and compassion both in the immediate aftermath and in the intervening hours and days. In this Easter season, I see these acts as glimpses of resurrection glory amid the despair. As Jesus conquered death and the grave on that first Easter Day, he continues to do just that in our own lives even in the face of tragedy.

As people of faith our first response is always prayer. On Monday evening, as we held an impromptu prayer service at St. John’s, we closed with the following prayer. As you continue to pray for the victims, their families, first responders, medical personnel, and those affected by these horrific events, I encourage you to reflect upon it.

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.

Planet Fitness — No Critics Allowed!

I just joined Planet Fitness. It was inevitable since Bryna became a member of the recently-opened Hingham branch a few months ago. The Hingham rec department has a low-cost gym which I used to go to but for about the same price ($10 a month!) I can work out without feeling like I’m in someone’s cellar.

If you’re not familiar with it, Planet Fitness is a wildly popular, ever-growing franchise of gyms. In other words, it’s the opposite of main-line denominations.

I’d never stepped foot in a Planet Fitness but the first thing that strikes you is the color scheme. If you can’t abide purple and yellow while pumping your legs on the elliptical machine, don’t bother. It’s omnipresent. I’m sure market research drove this choice as it seems to have driven the entire Planet Fitness experience. In fact the whole vibe of the place feels contrived and driven by polling — much like the Romney campaign.

With the decor and the not-so-subtle messages on the walls, you can almost imagine the responses: “I want a gym where I don’t feel like people are staring at me; I want a gym without grunting, skull cap wearing, muscle-shirt wearing power lifters; I want a gym wear I can watch flat screen TVs and listen to my i-Pod; I want a gym where people don’t sweat so much as perspire.”

Now, the place works for me. I don’t need to listen to Megadeath while I pump iron (and I use that term loosely) or have some guy yelling at me to just “Push through the pain!” But there’s an odd sense of forced community indicative of the slogans plastered around the place.

Their catch phrase “Judgement Free Zone” is painted in huge letters on the walls of the gym. In fact this slogan is even trademarked (and, some would argue, is spelled wrong). I’m not sure how this applies to a health club. I’ve never had anyone come up to me, look at the mileage on the treadmill, and say “Four miles? That’s pathetic. You’re a worm and no man.” But maybe this is geared toward the overweight newbies who are taking the daring step of joining a gym but fear they’ll have fellow exercisers whispering behind their backs. Again, I’ve been a member of myriad gyms over the years and I’ve found most people are too busy working out to care about anyone else’s routine.

Ironically enough, you could argue that Planet Fitness is the antithesis of a “judgement free zone.” If you are a serious body builder, you’re clearly not welcome. There’s a dress code for one thing. And if you grunt too loudly or drop your weights after your set, you’ll set off the “Lunk Alarm” and be asked to leave.  This is why there are blogs out there called  “Planet Fitness Sucks.” Scratch the surface of some of the comments and you’ll quickly see that a class war is at the heart of the anger.

The other sign you’ll encounter is “No critics.” Evidently Roger Ebert, if he ever found his way to an exercise bike, wouldn’t be welcome. Again, I’m not sure who’s judging and criticizing people at gyms across America, but this seems to be a big fear among potential gym members.

I’ll plan to enjoy working out at Planet Fitness — it’s clean, comfortable, and convenient. The vaguely Orwellian signs don’t bother me that much and I just plan to keep my head down and ignore the slogans which feel more like ground rules for a youth group than anything else. And who knows? The contrarian in me just might start making snap judgments about those around me. I don’t think they can kick me out for my thoughts.

Amateur Hour

For the first time in a number of years I ran a Thanksgiving Day race: the Hingham 5K Turkey Trot. It’s always gratifying to run a few miles before sitting down for the feast and football (well, with a 9:00 am Eucharist in between). It makes even the best yams taste that much better.

It’s also a great intergenerational community event — entire families run it together. Or at least it gives the family cook a few moments of peace while he/she shoves the rest of the family out the door for an hour. Alas, in my case I ran it alone since everyone in my house complained about the 7:30 am start time being too early.

The thing I’d forgotten about these Turkey Trots is that’s it’s amateur hour for runners. Warning: this next part will sound snobby to non-runners or non-experienced racers so you may want to skip over it. It has nothing to do with time — I ran it at a respectable but by no means blazing 8 minute-per-mile pace. Many experienced runners go faster and many go slower. But here are a few ways to tell you’ve got a slew of people not used to race etiquette and protocol:

1. Race numbers worn on the backs of shirts/jackets. At the finish line the lower half of the number gets ripped off by a race organizer in the shoots to determine place. Pinning it the back fouls up the post-race process.

2. People getting way overdressed. Sure it was a chilly 39 degrees yesterday but you don’t need an Eskimo parka. After 10 steps you’ll be overheated.

3. Walkers and slow runners beginning the race near the front of the starting line. These rolling road blocks make the first half-mile quite annoying.

4. People wearing the long sleeve Turkey Trot t-shirt that accompanied the registration. Act like you’ve been there before and never, ever race in cotton.

5. Kids filled with adrenaline racing past you as the gun goes off. It’s a rite of passage, of course, and that’s how they learn the value of pacing. You inevitably pass them as they start walking up the first hill.

6. Runners coming to a dead stop at the water station. Please keep moving or move off the course to enjoy your beverage.

Okay, you can start reading again. Sorry about that — just had to vent. I’m always glad to see so many people out getting some exercise and having fun. Hopefully next year they won’t make the same rookie mistakes. And hopefully I can get my boys to run with me next Thanksgiving.


In a recent post titled Run-Sweat-Preach, I detailed my plan to run the Hingham road race at 7:00 am on the 4th of July and then be back in time to lead the 8 o’clock service at St. John’s. Since I’m sure many of you had trouble sleeping the night before wondering whether I’d be able to pull this off, I’ll share how things went.

In a word? Swimmingly — but mostly because of the sweat involved. I was actually pleased with the race itself. I ran the 4.5 mile race in just under 35 minutes (a 7:47 minute pace per mile). I was feeling good about myself until my kids informed me that the 9-year-old girl who lives next door beat me by a minute and ten seconds. Granted she’s somewhat of a running prodigy — she is in a running club, trains regularly, and obliterated the competition yesterday to win first place in her age group (way to go Lexie!).

Heck, I’m not even the fastest clergyman in town — the unitarian minister at Old Ship Church, Ken Read-Brown, is a veteran runner who holds that distinction. In fact, I’m not even the fastest runner in my own chancel — choir member Scott Tooker ran it in a blistering 27 minutes flat. Yikes!

Results notwithstanding my diabolical plan to run then preach and celebrate the holy mysterious went off without a hitch. Except for the sweat. After the race, I got back to the rectory at 7:50 am, took a quick shower, changed into clericals, and walked into the sacristy at 8:04. Having a lay minister begin the service for me bought me about five extra minutes. I started vesting halfway through the first lesson, finished up during the second reading, and walked out with wet hair and a bottle of Gatorade just in time to read the gospel and head to the pulpit. Perfect timing!

Unfortunately when you take a shower before fully cooling down it’s only afterward that the real sweating begins. About two minutes into my sermon I excused myself to go into the sacristy and grab a towel. I must have looked like a caricuature of a nervous new preacher wiping sweat off my brow every few moments. But my 8 o’clockers were great — supportive, excited that I was able to run the race before the service, and it was a fun morning.

I’m hopeful that the Fourth won’t fall on a Sunday again for at least another seven years. But when it does, I’ll be ready. Plus I have a new training goal: Beat Lexie!


It’s hardly comparable to Phil Collins’ performance at the global Live Aid benefit concert in 1985 when he played on both sides of the Atlantic. After playing the opening set at London’s Wembley Stadium, Collins hopped aboard the Concorde and performed at Philadelphia’s JFK Stadium to round out a full day of global music and awareness for famine relief in Ethiopia.

But next Sunday I hope to accomplish the closest thing I can come to this. You see, the 4th of July is huge in Hingham, Massachusetts. There are fireworks, a big parade, and an annual road race that sees well over 2,000 runners. I just signed up to run the 4.5 mile race which I’m looking forward to. The only problem? This year Independence Day takes place on a Sunday which leads to a challenging scenario for someone who works on Sundays.

The race starts at 7:00 am; I have an 8:00 am service. Which means that I’ll either have to fire up the Concorde or run quickly to make this work. Fortunately, it’s a point-to-point course that goes down Main Street, passing the rectory and church, and finishing up about 2 tenths of a mile past St. John’s. Assuming the starting gun goes off on time I should be okay. I’m hoping to finish in about 40 minutes which should give me time to walk back up to the rectory, take a shower, and get to church for the 8 o’clock.

To give myself a bit of wiggle room, I’ve asked one of our lay ministers to start the service. Throw in the readings and this should buy me about five extra minutes to stop sweating, get vested, and be there in time to read the gospel, preach, and do the eucharist. At least that’s my plan. Nothing like adding a bit of drama to Sunday morning church in the middle of the summer!

Not that I’m dwelling on the negative but here is what could go awry:

1. I could step in a pothole, twist an ankle, and miss the 8 o’clock entirely.

2. I could get trampled by over-eager Hinghamites at the starting line.

3. Due to high heat and humidity I could pass out, be taken to the hospital, and miss both the 8 and 10 o’clock services.

4. If a fellow runner keels over on the course, I would feel a sense of Christian obligation to offer last rites thus making me even later to church.

So wish me luck. But more importantly, wish my 8 o’clock congregation luck. They have to put up with my shenanigans.

Some of My Favorite Things

Should a priest have a favorite Bible passage? Should a policeman have a favorite type of crime? These are some questions I ask in my latest “In Good Faith” column for the Hingham Journal.

Some of My Favorite Things

By the Rev. Tim Schenck

People sometimes ask me, “What’s your favorite Bible passage?” I guess it comes with the vocational territory. Like someone asking a veterinarian about her favorite breed of dog or a clerk about his favorite type of file folder. Though I do wonder if anyone ever asks a police officer, “What’s your favorite type of crime?” or a water treatment plant worker about his favorite kind of sewage.

My favorite passage from the Bible depends upon a multitude of factors: stage in life, my mood, time of day, season of the year. In other words it shifts constantly. But that’s the beauty of Scripture – it’s a living document that engages us where we are. Sometimes it’s comforting, at other times it’s challenging. It can inspire or reveal or awe or confuse.

Nonetheless there are passages that we return to again and again. They may serve as mantras or aim to remind us of certain spiritual truths – like God’s love or our need to reach out to others. One such passage for me comes from Hebrews 12:1: “Let us run with patience the race that is set before us.” It resonates with me on a number of levels. First, the recognition that the journey of life and faith is not a sprint; it is rather about endurance. It is not always about comfort and ease but it is about overcoming obstacles and remaining steadfast in faith even when things fail to go our way.

The other reason I’m drawn to this passage, especially this time of year, is that I’m a runner. While I run outside year round to keep in touch with the change of seasons, nothing beats the transition from winter to spring. Running again in shorts and a short sleeve shirt is so freeing compared to the layering involved in running through a New England winter. I’m not the greatest runner in the world; I’m never in danger of winning a race or even coming close. But I have completed four marathons and so the notion of running the race with “patience” is appealing. At my pace I have no choice but to run with patience!

And not to delve too deeply into sports metaphors (which I tend to reserve for Super Bowl Sunday), but our lives do have much in common with marathoning. There are times when we all hit a spiritual “wall;” times when we want to quit and the thought of continuing is abhorrent. But we don’t. We keep on going, putting one foot in front of the other until we break through the wall of physical pain and emotional doubt.

In the past year or so I haven’t been running as much as I usually do. The last race I ran was the Providence Marathon in April of 2009. Some of this has to do with taking on my new position as rector of St. John’s in Hingham – I just haven’t had enough time. Yes, I realize this is a lame excuse but it works for me. I’ve been running just three or four miles a few days a week. But the other reason is that I haven’t found a regular group to run with. I, frankly, need the motivation to get out the door sometimes especially early in the morning. If you know of any runners looking for company please let me know. Sunday mornings don’t work too well for me; for some reason my congregation tends to appreciate it when I show up. You’re welcome to share your favorite Bible passage with me (or not). And in return I promise I won’t try to baptize you.

Horrible Marathon Photos…

coxsportsmarathon…that I won’t be ordering.

Click on the link below to view thumbnails taken by the official Providence Marathon photographers. Click on the thumbnails to view larger versions and you’ll see why I’m taking a pass on these. The pictures with the orange cones show me sprinting toward the finish and are particularly unflattering. But, then, I guess it’s how you’d imagine I’d look after running 26.(nearly)2 miles.

And if this doesn’t work for you, click here and type in my Bib Number: 420. That’s racing bib, not because I drool while I run.

The Day After

providence2I’m sore this morning. Grunting every time I descend another stair sore. Hobbling around like a 98-year-0ld man sore. And if experience holds I’ll be even sorer the day after the day after the marathon. Here’s a hilarious (and brief) video titled “The Day After the Marathon” which will give you a sense of how I’m feeling today.

Of course I’m not complaining — the aches and pains are reminders of a great day at the Providence Marathon. I ran the 26.2 miles in 4 hours, 9 minutes, and 59 seconds, shaving nearly 11 minutes off my previous best time, while averaging a 9:32 pace per mile.

Having only run marathons in major cities (Baltimore, Chicago, Boston) with thousands of other runners, this was a much more intimate experience (think 700 runners versus 30,000). Which has its advantages and disadvantages. Since we stayed at the host hotel, I was able to walk out my room 20 minutes before the race to get to the starting line. And on the other end Bryna, Ben, and Zack were able to watch me cross the finish line. Of course they all refused to hug me in my post-marathon state.

The real difference was in the crowd support. In Boston, the marathon is held every April on Patriots’ Day which, if you’ve ever lived in Beantown, is one giant party. There are literally people lined up on the course the entire way from the small towns at the start to the screaming women of Wellesley to the undergrads at Boston College urging you up Heartbreak Hill to Boyleston Street. If you feed off the energy of the crowds (and if you don’t, I’d need to check your pulse), it makes a big difference in those last few miles.

In Providence there were some folks at the beginning and some at the very end. In between it was pretty quiet — you’d see the occasional group holding up a “Go Jen Go” sign or hear someone ringing a lonely cow bell. And at one point I heard someone yell to a friend “You go, girl!” — and I pretended they were rooting for me. But a smaller marathon really forces you inward, which can be a tough place to be when you begin to encounter (and hopefully overcome) The Wall.

One of the most rewarding things about the whole experience was raising over $2,100 for Episcopal Relief & Development. For me, raising money for charity while running a marathon adds a whole layer of meaning. It also allows me to use what is, in essence, a very self-focused activity to help others. And, not wanting to deny anyone the chance to donate, there’s still time! And if you already have givien to the cause, thank you — it means a tremendous amount to me and to those in extreme need throughout the world.

I’ll be hobbling around the next several days but it’s always worth it. As Lance Armstrong likes to say, “The pain is temporary; quitting lasts forever.”

The Glorious Taper

lit-taperWhen most people (at least in church circles) think of “tapers” they envision beeswax candles, acolytes, and high altars. For marathoners the taper is something entirely different, though no less holy.

I’ve reached that vaulted stage of marathon training known as “The Taper.” Most of the mileage is behind me and I can now focus on letting my body heal and gain strength for race day. In my case, the Providence Marathon in Rhode Island on May 3rd.

The taper is all about easing off on the training and bumping up the rest. Oh, and eating lots of carbs. My favorite! While marathoners differ on the specifics of the taper, most look like what I’m doing this year: 22 miles three weeks before the race, 12 miles two weeks before (I did this today), 8 miles the week before, then 26.2 miles on race day. Those are the weekend “long runs” — shorter runs get mixed in during the last three weeks as well plus cross-training.

The problem is that marathoners never quite know what to do with themselves while tapering. We’re exercising less, eating more, and getting the pre-race jitters. This is a bad combination. Especially for our spouses who must put up with us in this state. Bryna usually just sends me to the refrigerator to eat something or drink some Gatorade if I start to drive her nuts.

There’s great freedom in the taper because there’s nothing else you can really do. If you’ve trained hard and prepared correctly, the marathon will take care of itself. The fact is, you can’t “cram” for an endurance race. You’re either prepared or you’re not. It’s the difference between “Godspeed” and “God’s judgment.”

But I find that there’s also a great sense of peace that takes over during the taper — since there’s nothing else I can do besides short workouts and annoying Bryna, I can let it all go. Sure, I’ll be anxious in the days leading up to the race but there’s nothing more I can do to get myself ready at this point. And that’s a nice feeling after the hundreds and hundreds of miles I’ve run to get to this point.

So, the taper continues. And here’s one (probably not) final plug to help me raise money for Episcopal Relief & Development: Donate now! Click here!

26.2 or Bust

With the President of Tufts following the 2008 Boston Marathon

With the President of Tufts following the 2008 Boston Marathon

Boy, is it easy to sign up to run a marathon. You go to the website, click “register,” type in your info inculding your credit card number for the registration fee, and presto! You’re in. It’s only later, as you’re slogging through mile 17 of a training run in the pouring rain that the buyer’s remorse kicks in. But by then it’s too late. You’ve already told your family and friends that you’re running it so the potential shame alone keeps you going.

For me, the hardest part about running a marathon isn’t race day. Despite a few close encounters with “The Wall,” the marathon itself isn’t the toughest piece. It’s the training. It’s the four-month mileage buildup to make sure you can make it to the finish line. That’s the part that no one sees. Unless you’re the spouse of a marathoner and you’re used to getting woken up at oh-dark-thirty by your clumsy runner-husband who trips over his shoes in the dark. Speaking of which, here’s a great article on the subject of crazy runners that my sister-in-law forwarded to Bryna.

I always figure if I can make it to the starting line in relatively good health, I’ll be fine. That hasn’t always been the case but I’m feeling good these days as I train for the Providence Marathon in May. I ran 15 miles last Saturday and will continue to slowly build up the mileage. It will be my fourth marathon (Baltimore, Chicago, Boston) and, as I did for Boston last April, I’m excited to be raising money for a good cause. (Best thing about running Boston? Blessing the students from BC yelling out “Go Father Tim!” as I climbed up Heartbreak Hill — here’s that story.)

This time I’m raising funds for Episcopal Relief & Development, the Church’s global outreach ministry. They do amazing work all over the world in areas of greatest need. So, if you’re so inclined, you can support me in this endeaver by going to my fundraising website. Chip in a few bucks, add a comment, and I’ll be eternally grateful. Or at least grateful until the next time I run a marathon for a cause at which time I’ll hit you up again.