Lesson #4 The pebbles in your shoe will take you out of the race…

The expanded version of this lesson is: Large boulders in your path can distract you and cause you to veer from your goal, rocks in your path may trip you up, but (uncorrected) it is the pebbles in your shoe that will take you out of the race. All three can ruin your day, if you don’t address each problem as you encounter them.

Let me first say, I’d apologize for this long post, but I took the time to write it and don’t know what to cut. So I hope you will read it without getting bored, and gain something from it (and maybe even say, “Nice work!”).

I run 5 to 6 days per week. I am practically obsessive about it. If I can’t run several days during the week, I get… well… agitated. If you are a runner, you know what I mean. So, if I am pressed for time, I will only run 4 miles. If I have more time, I may run between 7 and 10 miles. Running with Dixie (my dog) is therapy for me. To which you may conclude, with all that running, I must need a lot of therapy. The truth is, some days it is work to get out and go running, but when I complete a 7 miler, I feel great. And so I run.

Anyway, less than 100 yards from my home the road behind my house turns to dirt. A little further there is an intersection with the Railroad tracks, and then I make a right or left turn onto a gravel and stone maintenance road that runs along the side of the tracks. I can run for miles along those tracks, crossing over short bridges every 1/2 to 3/4 miles that have been built to allow for flash flood run-off.

Dixie ever watchful for Rabbits

In the summer when it is particularly hot, the rabbits and chipmunks seek shade under those bridges, a practice not lost on Dixie who sneaks up on the bridge as I approach, giving her a chance to chase the little varmints who are spooked out of their respite when I run over those bridges made of rail road ties.

The path is covered with rocks that range in size from pea gravel to stones that are typically no more than 4 inches in diameter. While the road has been compacted by rain and trucks, the rocks are pretty much loose. As I run, I tend to kick up the rocks and gravel as I foot plant and toe off. Because of the roughness and rockiness of the road, I have to watch where I am stepping, and so far I have been able to avoid twisting my ankles from a misplaced step on the bigger rocks. But I do kick (though not intentionally) some of the stones that then roll safely out of the way as I run. From a distance I probably look like Pig Pen from Charlie Brown, churning up a dust cloud that follows me wherever I go. Rocks in my pathOccasionally, I run off the gravel path and simply run through the desert in search of a change of scenery. And occasionally I run onto large boulders. I am smart enough to run around or jump over those without kicking them. I make note of this detail because it caused me to come to the previously profound conclusion that, large boulders are an avoidable nuisance, and rocks don’t trip you, but the pebbles in your shoes can take you out of the race. A position I had to modify as you will see in a moment.

But let me continue on my train of thought. I don’t know how it happens, but once in awhile some of the gravel falls back into my shoe. A nuisance at first, I try to coax those little pebbles up to the place between my toes and foot where I know they are present, but conclude that they will not be a nuisance. The truth is, it is a delusion to think that I can just ignore or move the stone to a less irritable location, as the end result is generally the same. First it is simply annoying. Then it slows me down. And finally, if left unchecked, it rubs a hole in my foot, turning what was at one time no more than simple discomfort into potentially a race stopping event. Ultimately, I have to stop, take off my shoe, and remove the offending but tiniest of pebbles. I flip my shoe over to get out what surely must be a boulder, and am surprised when this teeny little sliver of a rock (OK… grain of sand) falls out of my shoe. I concede, “That was nothing at all. Why did it cause such a problem?”Rocks in my path

So, along the Train Tracks I go, kicking stones and pebbles and dirt as I run, striding more lightly over larger rocks or adjusting my foot placement so as not to twist an ankle, or trip.

Then I ran “The world of Hurt” in Boulder City. A single track trail run with massive boulders (literally so big you had to climb over them), tiny gravel, and everything in between, including large rocks embedded in the hard pack trail. Here is where I learned that I needed to modify my original statement. Because some of the rocks were firmly embedded in the hard pack, the same rocks that I would have simply kicked out of my way without tripping along the railroad tracks, now in fact did cause me to trip at least 4 or 5 times and finally one time while distracted, I stumbled, and unable to catch myself, I went all the way to the ground. So now with bruised pride I have added to my axiom, the rocks in your path may trip you, and, as in my case take you down.

OK, now for the lesson that applies to life. There are many things that we potentially encounter each day that can cause us harm . The big temptations (boulders) we maneuver around with ease. For example, you would never think of killing someone, robbing a bank, stealing a car, or _______ (you fill in the blank). Indeed we could say that those are not even a temptation for you. Good and descent people see, understand, and avoid the boulders of life with ease. It is simply not in their nature to commit such a sin. Now for the rocks in our path. These are things we encounter every day at work, on TV, in magazines, and sometimes in conversations. They include lying, cheating, stealing, and other things that somehow have become more mainstream and acceptable as a part of doing business or getting through life. If we are watchful, of course we see that they are wrong and can adjust our steps to avoid them. However, for some of us, those things have become somewhat embedded into our workplace as a way of “getting the job done”, or a myriad of other excuses. If we take our eyes off the objective of life – to complete life’s race with integrity – we can be tripped up and hurt by them.

But, it is the little incipient indiscretions and indulgences (pebbles) that can destroy all that we are working for, whether it is success in business, success as a parent, as a spouse, or for that matter, reaching any goal. What are the little pebbles in our path? Any seemingly minor vice that you convince yourself is of no consequence. An occasional drink, casual gambling, porn, flirting (if you or the other person is married), slacking off at work, profanity, occasional raising of your voice to a spouse or child, or anything that you may be thinking of right now that I failed to mention and you say is “nothing”. We recognize these pebbles by their labels. They come with disclaimers, perhaps better called delusions, like “I deserve this”, or “I only do ___(fill in the blank)___ once in awhile”, or “It doesn’t hurt anyone”, or “no one will know”, or “My parents were a bad example”, or “I’m (Italian) (American) (a guy) (a girl) (young) (old) (you fill in the stereotype), and that’s the way we roll”, or “That is the way I was raised”. Can you think of something you do that you could apply a similar label to? The problem with these “precursor delusions” is that once we begin to indulge them, they have a habit of growing and leading to worse behaviors, and eventually these incipient little “nothings” deter us from our goal or desired outcome, whatever it may be. And it all started out as “Inconsequential”. The problem and the reality is that nothing is inconsequential. If we look back on the failures, and mistakes, and sins, and well, any regret in our lives, I suspect that we can trace them back to something that was “inconsequential”. The truth is that it doesn’t matter what your gender, nationality, upbringing, or even your biochemical make-up, there is no excuse for, and ultimately, there is a danger in attempting to excuse bad behavior or little vices. Perhaps more dangerous is tolerating it in others. Alexander Pope said, “Vice is a monster of so frightful mien, As to be hated needs but to be seen; Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face, we first endure, then pity, then embrace”. And sometimes it just begins with tolerance of the vices in others, or the indulgence of “little” vices in our own lives.

Allow me to give an example from someone I knew. I know a wonderful lady who’s life took a horrible turn. When I asked her what happened, this is what she told me. Betty (not her real name), a great person in every way (pretty, talented, funny, successful, Mother) was not happy in her marriage, and found meeting people in chat rooms on the internet (“it was just a little nothing”) to be a comforting distraction… at first. She met a man there who was funny, intelligent, interesting, and found her to be funny, intelligent, interesting, and made her feel desirable. After awhile the talk turned sexual, and then a phone call, and finally a meeting which culminated in a sexual encounter. It cost her her marriage, the respect of her children, and she found herself not with the greater self-esteem she sought, but less, and finally, she found herself subjected to spiritual consequences as well, as she had offended God. Of course the internet affair fizzled. One day I was talking with a friend of mine, James (not his real name) who also knew Betty and the story of her tragedy came up. Amazingly, he confessed to me that when he heard about Betty’s internet tryst , his curiosity was peeked as he had never heard of chat rooms or chatting. Curiosity turned to fascination, which turned to titillation, then obsession, as he explored the playground of the internet, until finally he found himself in nearly the same disastrous situation as she. It all started out as an “innocent curiosity”.

So our challenge is this; to see life’s little indiscretions, indulgences, curiosities, and temptations not just for what they are, but even more, for what they can become if we attempt to find a “less irritable” place for them our life. Even allowing them into our homes, relationships, or tolerating them in the live’s of those we love and care about is a serious mistake. Remember, it is a delusion to think they won’t have an affect on us or those around us. If you carry such a pebble in your shoe, or know someone who does, why not take a moment right now and not only commit to, but remove it before it gets worse.


3 Responses

  1. How was the Las Vegas marathon??

  2. Wow! I read it all, from the very beginning. Very inspirational – and timely. I have been wanting, really wanting, to get back into running but, frankly, have lacked the motivation to actually make the commitment and do it. Getting back into it is going to be painful given my current (lack of) conditioning. Your words of wisdom may just tip the scale. I do have a good track record of keeping my new year’s resolutions. One reason for this is that I spend some time thinking about them before I commit – I’m thinking very seriously about becoming a runner once again making it part of my life as you have done with yours.

    I look forward to your next words of wisdom

  3. Steve,
    I am really enjoying your “Lessons”. You are a talented writer…the book is appearing before us on this blog. Keep it up. I’m inspired to get back into running or cycling.

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