Can a good God allow suffering?

When I was a boy I had an idealistic view of war, probably created by the fact that any war movies I had seen as a child made war seem like a fun adventure with few real risks. The Great Escape, was about as serious a movie on the subject that I had seen.

It was probably a not dissimilar naive view that led many young men to march grinning and cheering into the meat grinders of the First and Second World Wars. We don’t often cheer soldiers into battle any more, we are older and wiser as they say.

For me my idealistic view of war as being a fun adventure went away the night I saw Saving Private Ryan in my early teens. The veil of bloodless fun and adventure was torn away and the horror of war was splattered onto the screen about as powerfully as any movie can.

Sometimes it takes facing the horror of seeing the true face of something for us to realise the danger and seek to avoid it.

This week, Stephen Fry, one of my favourite celebrities was asked what he would say to God if he ever met him.

Stephen is an Atheist but went along with the question anyway and his passionate answer was basically that he would want to hold God accountable for the suffering he has allowed in the world. I think the point underneath what he was saying, was basically that a loving all powerful God cannot exist, as if he did, he would not have created a world in which so much suffering occurs. In effect God, if he exists is evil, a maniac, a monster.

You can watch the video on YouTube, it’s had over 3.5million views.

It’s a compelling argument and is something I have agonised over a lot myself and have heard it many times from many people.

Why does God allow the most horrible suffering to occur without seemingly any physical intervention?

He could easily stop it, but he doesn’t, why?

There are really several questions here. Why did God create a world where suffering was allowed to happen in the first place, why does God allow suffering to continue?, can God be good if he allows suffering?.

I’m just looking at the last question and am only looking at it from a very narrow point of view. This is more me thinking through things from one angle rather than trying to give a comprehensive answer. I’m completely ignoring things like the origins of suffering, original sin and free will for the sake of keeping this short.

As a side note, this type of question appears in the bible itself. The biblical prophet Jeremiah questions the justice of God with regards to the seeming prosperity of evil people.

“Lord, you always give me justice when I bring a case before you.
So let me bring you this complaint:
Why are the wicked so prosperous?
Why are evil people so happy?”
– Jeremiah 12:1

The fact that this verse is in the bible tells us two things.

1. It’s not just Atheists who should be asking these questions. People of faith should have difficult questions to ask of their own faith. Nominal box ticking of a belief system is not enough. As C.S Lewis said: “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important”

2. Christianity should be and is be open to criticism. Christians should be perfectly happy to be criticised and have answers demanded of them. If you believe you have the truth then you can’t fear it being attacked, can you?

So back to the issue.

If God exists and is good and all-powerful, then why is there evil and suffering? Surely he can’t be all powerful if he is good and can’t stop suffering. And he also can’t be good if he is all powerful and won’t stop suffering. Can he?

This argument rests firmly on an assumption and that’s what I am going to focus on. The assumption is that a good all powerful God wouldn’t allow suffering to occur.

But what if he had a really good reason?

The best doctors in the world cause suffering for a time, but they have good reason, the long term good.

If suffering exists and an all powerful, all knowing, all loving God also exists then the only conclusion is that suffering must be allowed to happen for a very good reason. I fail to see how the two can exist together otherwise.

What reason could it possibly be?

What if there’s a serious problem with this world?

What if there’s a great danger in seeing this world as an attractive desirable place?

As a fun adventure with few real risks?

What if God wants something much better for us than this broken world?

What if it partly requires us to look at this world and ask why, why is it so messed up?

What things prompt people to ask why? Do people ask “why is this pleasure so good?”, “why am I so successful?”, “why is life just all round fun?”.

If this world is ultimately very bad for us, it’s in our greatest interest to see it for what it is.

We ask “why” the most from things that horrify us, sicken us, cripple us, disgust us, deprive us. We ask it because we hate to see mindless random evil and tragedy occur. We ask why because we want to believe that there was a reason for it. Otherwise we wouldn’t blink every time a tragedy occurred, we would simply write it off as an inconvenient truth about chance.

What if God allows suffering not because he can’t stop it or that he is evil, but that he is good and loves us. That he wants us to have the chance to ask why and to seek for answers beyond us?

In a world of unavoidable suffering that’s surely the only type of God you would want to exist.

God in having a reason to allow suffering, in turn gives meaning to suffering. Surely even this is of much greater comfort than that bumper sticker attitude which makes suffering meaningless, bad luck, oops too bad. Writing off suffering as a fact of life in no way softens its blow, but the idea that your suffering is part of a plan by a God who loves you…?

So to conclude, for at least the reason I’ve discussed, You can’t say that an all powerful God who allows suffering to occur is definitely a maniac, evil or a monster.

At this point the questions to answer are “Why is there so much suffering and horrible stuff in the first place”, “Why create those things?”, “If the world was created perfect, where do things like those horrible eye eating worms come from?” And of course the big one, “If God is all-powerful, then why doesn’t he just do things another way”.

I think those are perhaps topics for another time, but I think there will always be things to which we Christians may not even find a satisfactory answer for ourselves, but then that goes for everyone else as well. What matters is having the best explanation for all aspects of reality. Questions like: Why are we here? Where did we come from? What is our purpose in life? Is there life after death? Why does rationality exist? How should we treat others?

I found the below article which looks at this from another angle to be helpful.

http://www.24-7prayer.com/features/2445

Inconvenience

There was a young man who lived an active and fulfulling life. He was friendly, worked hard and people liked him. He lived in a simple house and took good care of it. He was usually careful to keep his house protected and to lock the doors at night.

One evening he forgot to lock the door, it just slipped his mind, a simple accident.

When he noticed the next day, he was worried, but decided that there had been no real harm done. He made a note to be extra careful in the future and tried not to worry about what could have happened.

That evening he was relaxing, watching tv. Sinking into his armchair he started to drift off, the soft glow from the set on his face. His heavy eyes moved across the room.

He sat bolt upright, heart pounding, a cold dampness breaking out on his face.

He had just noticed the stranger in the corner.

The stranger was just sitting there on the floor, hunched over, arms wrapped around her knees, long black hair falling down to the floor. Her eyes seemed to be closed and her body was gently rising and falling with her breath.

A young woman, but where had she come from?

The man realised with shock that he had not been so careful after all. This stranger must have snuck in the night the door had been left unlocked.

Getting up from his armchair, he walked slowly over to take a closer look at the stranger. As he got closer the stranger looked up and opened her eyes. Her face was calm, expressionless. She gazed around her, wide blue eyes sweeping the room as if only seeing it for the first time.

“Who are you?, What are you doing in my house? You are going to have to leave.”

The blue eyes flinched and locked with the mans.

“I don’t know who I am. I just found myself here. I can’t leave, at least not yet.”

The strangers voice was soft, almost childlike, naive, innocent, ignorant.

“Did you come in the other evening when I left the door unlocked”

The young woman began to look frightened.

“I don’t know. I…can’t remember.

I can’t remember…anything”

“This is my house, my property, I say who can and who can’t stay here and I didn’t invite you in. You being here is an accident, you must leave. Do you understand?”

A confused look crept across the strangers face.

“No, I can’t. I cant leave yet.”

“WHY?”

“I don’t know…I just know Im not ready. Won’t you let me stay until I’m ready”

The man went quiet for a few minutes, thinking.

“No this is my house! I’m not ready for someone else to be here. If I want someone in my house, it’ll be when I decide, I have that right. This can’t happen now. For a start I can’t afford another person in the house and you hardly seem to have a source of income. I want you gone”

Walking over to the stranger he grabbed her by the arm and began to pull. He stopped immediately as the stranger screamed in agony.

The man looked down and gasped in horror. Two thin lines of blood seeped from her eyes and down her pale perfect skin.

“You hurt me! You’re hurting me! I can’t leave, I don’t have a choice. I’m not ready, I need to stay here a lot longer”

“I’m sorry but this is my house and I do have a choice. This is my life. You are not welcome. You were not invited. Your presence was not planned. You being here is an accident. If you stay you are going to ruin my life. I can’t deal with another person here right now. As this is my house I have the right to deal with you as I see fit. Your life is in my hands. I have no need for your life”

“What?”

The man walked over to a locked metal cabinet above a table. Reaching into his jacket he pulled out a key. Inserting the key in the lock, he turned it and opened the cabinet door. Inside on a shelf was a revolver and a box of ammunition.

“What are you doing? What is that thing?”

“I’m sorry, I’d rather not do this”

The man reached in and took the gun and he took a single bullet from the box. He set them on the table below and looked at them.

“Can’t I just stay until I’m ready? I could leave straight away”

“No, this is my house, my life. You have no rights here”

Picking up the gun the man popped open the cylinder and rolled it gently between his fingers. He looked at the stranger and inserted the bullet.

“What is that? What are you doing?”

“You really don’t know what this is?”

“I don’t know what anything is. Everything around me seems new. All I know is that I feel safe here”

The man snapped the gun shut and cocked the hammer.

“Are you 100% certain you can’t just leave now?”

“I can’t go, I’m not ready, I have to stay for now”

“I’m sorry but that’s not good enough, I have my life to live”

The man quickly walked over to the young woman and put the gun to her head. She looked straight back at him, unaware of the significance of what he was doing.

“This is not my fault, it was only once”

He pulled the trigger, blowing the strangers brains out onto the floor.

“My home, my choice, my right”

(The above is kinda how the idea of lifestyle abortions or abortions of convenience makes me feel. I feel differently about other situations to varying degrees. The story came to me while out for a run.)

My Bad Weather Running Gear

As part of this years marathon training I’ve decided to train outside regardless of the weather. The only exception is if it’s dark, because I’ll be instantly run over by a car. The only two things that really matter in cold, wet weather is that your torso and feet remain warm. Some would say just your torso being warm is fine, but I find that if my feet are wet and cold I’m more likely to pick up injuries. Being wet isn’t a problem as if you are wearing enough layers you’ll still be warm. The wet layers act like a wetsuit. I’ve tried running wearing a waterproof raincoat, but it’s not breathable and just end up hot and sweaty. So here’s my current cold and wet kit.

Head

Cheap beanie hat

black_beanie
Not my exact hat, you get the idea.

I got mine free from my father in law who got it from a supplier of veterinary pharmaceuticals. A non pharmaceutical branded one would be fine.

Torso

Two Running T-shirts

tshirts I wear a round neck one as a base layer and one with a zip neck above, allowing some adjustable ventilation. My headphones also go between these two layers. I got mine from Decathlon

Fluorescent Running Jacket

45000113_xl Adds another layer of warmth, gives me a couple of pocket to put hat/gloves in if I get warm and stops me from being instantly run over in bad visibility. Got mine from Sports Direct 

Hands

eGlove SPORT Touchscreen Gloves

All black touchscreen gloves-500x500   These handy lightweight gloves keep my hands warm, dry out quickly thanks to thin material and allow me to operate my touchscreen phone while running. These were a Christmas present from my Amazon Wishlist.

Waist

FlipBelt Carbon

Flip-Belt-Carbon-C-Thru-625x625   When running I’m usually carrying my phone, headphones, keys, jellybeans and energy gels. Usually the gels and keys just went in my pocket and I used a belt clip for my phone, but having things in your pocket is a pain as everything flaps about when running. I’ve also tried an armband for my phone, but it made me look like a tool and made my arm go numb. This handy belt solved all those problems. It’s basically an elasticated tube that goes around your waist and has slits to put things in. I can carry my phone, keys, plastic bag and about 4-6 energy gels in mine. As it grips your waist theres no jiggling up and down. One of my favourite bits of running kit, think I got mine from Amazon.

Plastic Sandwich Bag

Couldn't find a photo without sandwiches. I don't run with sandwiches.
Couldn’t find a photo without sandwiches. I don’t run with sandwiches.

If it looks like its going to rain I always carry a small sandwich bag for my phone. If it starts to rain i put my phone in it, twist the end around the headphone cable and slide it back in my belt. I’ve tried proper waterproof cases but they add too much bulk., plus you can get about a million of these in Asda for £1.

Legs

Running Tights

45402303_xl It took me a long time to man up and admit I needed to get a pair of these. For a while I was heading out warm on top and still in shorts. These were a revelation, not only do they keep your legs warm they also help to regulate internal heat and I found my legs actually fatigued less when wearing them. I was initially concerned about them being skintight and revealing, but the cold negates these concerns.

Feet

1000 Mile Socks

1000mile-fusion-zoom These dual layered bad-boys both keep your feet toasty and prevent blisters. I don’t wear them all the time and the dual layer makes them a pain to put on but they are great on long runs.

Vivo Barefoot Neo Trails

main-vivobarefoot-neo-trail-lightgreyred_1024x1024 After a couple  of numb-toed runs in my Vibram Fivefingers I realised I had to get running shoes that would keep my feet dry and toasty. These did the job nicely, they are designed for trail running and have a water-proofed upper and insulated liner. Managed to complete a 10mile run in very heavy rain with several puddles and only got my feet mildly wet. While designed more for trail running than roads I got these anyway as some of the roads I run on are quite rough and I’m covered if it snows. These are last season so I got them at a bargain price on eBay.

What do you wear?

I’ve kinda put my various running outfits together by trial and error over a few years, I would be interested to hear a comment from you about what your kit of choice for bad weather is.

Running my first marathon, mile by mile

I ran my first marathon on 6th May last year, I made a few mistakes but finished in 4hrs 19mins in the top 50%, here’s how it went .

Starting Line

I warmed up, posed for photos, gave my wife a goodbye hug and stepped into the sea of over five thousand people at the starting line. Around 2500 runners for the full marathon and around 2900 relay teams. The starting area was divided up into sections according to predicted finishing time 2hrs30, 3hrs, 3hrs30, 4hrs, 4hrs30 etc. Hoping for a four hour finish I joined the middle of the crowd, looking around for any familiar faces. Looked up at the huge digital clock, 8:45, 15 minutes to go.  There was a incomprehensible  voice shouting out instructions over a loudspeaker which everyone was ignoring. It wasn’t until later that I realised that a few moments of silence from the voice had been the time of silence for the Boston Marathon bombing.

Bouncing on my toes I realised I needed to pee, again. Worried about being dehydrated I had drank over half a litre of fluid about  two hours before and was now regretting it. This was my first mistake.

0 – 2 Miles

9:00, horn blaring and we were off. Shuffling slowly as fast as we could towards the bottle neck that was the actual starting line. Thankfully the chip on your running shoe doesn’t register a start time until you are over the line.  Otherwise there would have been an additional 2-3 minutes added. Wanting to track the run on Runkeeper  I had been holding my phone in my hand until I crossed the line. I tapped the start button and the app crashed, landing back to my home screen.

Mild curses and some frantic screen tapping later, phone tucked into my belt and I was properly off. It was an amazing feeling running along in a river of people stretching as far as and beyond the next corner. Thousands more people were pressed against the fences on either side of the road, cheering us on, holding up kids who were high-fiving runners. Feeling energised I surged forward.

I had catching up to do already. For the past few years the marathon has had pacers, runners who run the race to a particular time. For the inexperienced runner, keeping up with one of these guys is the best way of hitting your target. Just before the race started I saw the helium balloons attached to the three four hour pacers go up. About 10 metres in front of me.

By the time I crossed the line they were around the first corner and out of sight. Despite having over 26miles to catch them, I panicked.  So I bolted after them. I had been training to run at around 9:10mins per mile. I was running around 7min/mile to catch up with the pacers. Running this pace for the first couple of miles was my second mistake.

2 – 4 Miles

Caught up with the pacers at around 2 miles and settled down into a more comfortable pace. It was at this point, once we were clear of the city center that a few relay runners slowed down and started walking. I focus now was just on enjoying the next four miles that headed out of the city and looped back in. Oh and looking for a suitable toilet stop. I witnessed a female runner, obviously more hydrated than I was, sprint off behind some cars and squat down out of sight. I hoped for a bit more privacy than that.

It was already around 12 Celsius. Most of my training was in temperatures of around 7-10 degrees, so I was already roasting. Grabbed a cup of water at a water station on the way past, drank most of it and threw the rest over my head. Also made note that doing so put me about 30meters behind the pacers.

4 – 6 Miles

By this stage we were heading back towards the city on a gentle downward slope. The course runs down a single lane of the Sydenham Bypass. Having huge articulated lorries blowing past was both un-nerving and welcome as they pushed a blast of air alongside them.

Coming to the end of a slip road I saw a runner in front of me run full speed into the end of a crash barrier. The road was narrow and the group crowded, he didn’t see it at all. The poor guy smacked into the barrier, hitting the top of his left thigh and nearly sending him to the pavement. It looked really painful but he kept going, telling his buddy he was ok.

He was right in front of me and I hadn’t seen the barrier either, so it was him or me. Quite thankful for his pain.

I ran just behind one of the pacers for quite a bit of this section.  But kept being wacked on the head by his flailing balloon, so I moved alongside instead.

The first relay changeover point was at 6 miles and I knew there would be porta-loos.

6 – 8 Miles

At  the six mile relay change over  I pushed out through the crowd at the sides and found a free porta-loo. Back on the route and I had lost my pacers again. Spent the next couple of miles trying to catch up with them. I made a mental note at this point not too drink too much or I would have to go again, so for the majority of the water stations for the next 10miles I sipped some and threw the rest over my head. This was to be the stupidest thing I would do all day.

The marathon route at this point  goes right through the city centre, very near to the start line. My very loyal support team of Louise (wife), Joanne (sister) and Naomi (sister) cheered me on as I ran past at about 7 miles.

Now began the toughest part of the route. Over the next 7 miles the marathon route climbs 317 ft, that’s roughly the height of the Eiffel Tower. After that, it then descends to nearly sea-level over just 1.5miles, a real knee buster of a drop.

For energy I had worked out a very elaborate plan involving taking various foods at certain point. The basic plan was to eat something every 30mins after 1hour.  I had with me jelly beans and energy gels in my running belt. Both these would turn out to be a mistake. While training I had eaten jelly beans as I found them to be quite motivating, but I hadn’t eaten very many of them at a time. Also while training I had used different energy gels, the ones I had with me were concentrated and had to be taken with water.

I started eating some of the jelly beans just before 7 miles. I took my first energy gel at the 8 mile water station, washing it down with a cup of water. Bit sickening.

8 – 10 Miles

Tragedy struck shortly after 9 miles, on the Shankill Rd. The pacer in front of me was running past a security fence and his helium balloon innocently floated into it. The unwitting balloon hit the spikes at the top, let out a death-pop and slumped to the ground. The devastated pacer untied his deflated friend and deposited the remains in the next bin.

I was particularly energised at around 9 miles, perhaps hearing what sounded like a quiet gunshot on the streets of Belfast gave me a burst of adrenaline. At any rate I suddenly felt like I was having a great time and started speeding up the hill. The day was getting hotter.

A particularly steep section just before 10miles brought me to my senses and I slowed down. I didn’t drink anything at the 12 mile water station, just threw it over my head.

10 – 12 Miles

The route levels out for about a mile, before a much steeper climb starts. During the level bit the sun came out and suddenly it was a completely difference race. I started to feel uncomfortable and sweat was pouring down my face.  I think I trained in warm sunny weather about 2 or 3 times. The rest of the time it was overcast, or raining, or snowing. So being acclimatised to cold weather, the heat was killing me. Hardly drinking anything for the past 10 miles hadn’t helped.

Not quite realising that the problem was water instead of energy, I decided to down another energy gel. I knew there would be a water station soon so I ate the sweet sickly syrup. Grabbing a cup of water at the water I kept running. I carefully folded the edge of the paper cup so I could drink while running.

Tripped on the pavement. Split nearly all the water.

It was at least another mile before I got any more water. By that time the mess of syrup and jellybeans in my stomach was making me feel really sick. Felt like I was on the verge of being sick for at least the next hour, which also meant I didn’t eat anything more until then.

12 – 14 Miles

This was the part of the marathon where it really hit me just how difficult this was going to be. Especially if I wanted to finish in four hours. The hill got steeper , the sun got hotter and I started to feel like I was loosing energy. For the first time I wanted to stop. I wanted to stop running and just walk, or better sit down on the ground. But I was determined not to stop before the top of the hill. Shortening my pace and moving forward on my feet I pushed on up.

It was then I noticed black dots floating in front of me. I had been concentrating so hard on putting one foot in front of the other that I hadn’t really been breathing. My head started to float about and I realised I was in real danger of keeling over. Slowed down until I was practically walking. Just breathing deeply and berating myself for forgetting such a basic thing.

A few deep breaths later my head cleared. Looking up I could see the top of the hill. I had been running solidly for over two hours and was still on track for a 4 hour finish.

Going around the corner at the top of the hill felt amazing, there was a large crowd at the top all cheering us on. I was grinning away as I started down the hill.

14 – 16 Miles

I checked my Runkeeper stats after the marathon and evidently I was feeling great on the way down the hill. At 14.7 miles my pace was 4:18mins/mile, over twice as fast as my target average pace.

By this point I realised that I was probably quite dehydrated. There seemed to be very few official water stations on the way down, maybe I missed them. A few locals had set up mini water stations of their own. Others were giving out fruit. I grabbed a small orange as I blazed past a small child. I think he was offering it to me. If not, I’m sorry but I needed it more.

Still feeling sick ,I didn’t eat the orange, instead clutching it like some kind of sticky talisman. I tossed it in the air at one point and dropped it. Nearly fell over trying to grab it as it broke on the ground and tried to roll to freedom. Carried its sticky remains for another mile before throwing it into a hedge. Felt sad about the orange.

Near the bottom of the hill was a water and nutrition station. They were handing out cups of water and energy gels. I passed one volunteer  grabbed a cup of water, downed it and kept going. The next volunteer was holding three energy gels, I tried to grab one, missed and got all three.

I now had a handful of energy gels but felt too sick to eat any of them so just squeezed them tightly and ran on.

16 – 18 Miles

Now at the bottom of the hill and I realised that I probably shouldn’t have ran like the blazes down it. The ground levelled out and my energy just disappeared. I felt alone and beat.

The next water station was giving out cups of Powerade. I drank one slightly worried it would come back up but it stayed put. If I hadn’t felt sick I should have drank more, but I didn’t realise at the time just how dehydrated I was.

At around mile 17 was the second to last relay point at a place called Gideons Green, a large open park beside the shore. From this point the route would level out and it would be a mostly flat run for the next 3-4 miles. For part of the way the route travelled alongside Belfast lough, which on a sunny day was one of my favourite places to run when I lived in Belfast.

I thought this would have been one of my favourite sections of the marathon.

Before I got to Gideons Green though, there was a small climb of about 40ft over nearly half a mile. It should have been an easy causal run, but the heat, queasy guts and my sprint down the hill had utterly spent my legs.

I ended up nearly walking most of it. The heat felt unbearable and I was very thirsty.

Finally getting down to the flat and Gideons Green and feeling refreshed by the crowds, I forced myself to start running again. I could still do this, I could still get my 4hr time. Still felt horrible though.

18 – 20 Miles

The path along the coast was often very windy, which normally would help cool you down. Today though, it was windless and the sun was blazing down taking it’s toll. As the path was very narrow there were no water stations, which meant I would be running about 4-5 miles between getting something to drink.

Starting to slow down I knew I had to do something to keep running and keep up my motivation. Looking up I noticed a yellow vest with a photo of an elderly man and a message “running for grandad”. I had no idea who the grandad was but I decided I would run for him a bit as well.

When I saw the owner of the yellow vest start to slow down to a walk my optimising improved as I would soon overtake him. Overtaking people feels great, especially when you feel terrible because at the very least there’s someone who is worse off.

As I slowly jogged past I turn around and handed the guy one of the energy gels I was still clutching. Surprised by the motivation I got from my act of Philanthropy, I tried it again on some other runners but no-one wanted them.

About 19 miles I started to realise just how thirsty I was feeling, don’t know why I hadn’t fully noticed before. It didn’t help that the sun seemed especially hot, my eyes were red and painful with sweat. The sleeve of my t-shirt sodden  where I had been wiping my eyes. My forehead was slimy and crusty with salt in places.

My mouth was feeling drier and drier and once again I just felt my motivation fade. and I walked, mad at myself. The next mile wasn’t great. I began to be convinced that I was going to be in serious trouble if I didn’t drink soon. I don’t think I have ever been as thirsty in my life. All I could think of was getting a drink. I kept picturing myself drinking ice water and swirling my hands in it.

I knew at the end of the path the route would go up a short slope to the docks and at the docks there would be a water station.

Bouyed up by this thought I bolted up the slope to the water station.

Except there wasn’t one. Looking ahead I could just see a long line of runners going down the road and into the industrial estate. Not a drink in sight.

I had forgotten that being a busy dock they couldn’t close off all the road, which mean the water stations would be in the industrial estate ahead. This was confirmed my a steward who shouted “water 500 meters ahead”.

Five hundred meters ahead I came around a corner to an empty stretch of road till the next corner. The road was covered in semi empty bottles of Powerade, but there was no-one handing out any fresh ones, or any water.

Too desperate to care I grabbed one of the fullest looking bottles I could find off the ground, wiped off the road dust, pulled open the chewed sports cap and sucked down the contents. Don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a drink more, even if it did come with several millilitres of some distant runners saliva.

Walked around the next corner and there was the fully stocked water station.

I laughed.

Three cups of water went down my throat and one went over my head. In about 20-30 minutes I started to feel normal again and my stomach settled enough for me to take a much needed energy gel.

20 – 22 Miles

The docks are a lonely part of the race, there are no spectators, no-one cheering you on. It was just me walking slowly, legs in agony,  watching other tired runners file past one by one. Literally every step was hurting, didn’t matter if I walked or ran it still hurt. It felt like my leg muscles were being scrapped away from the bone, fibre by fibre. Every time my foot made contact, the tearing sensations went quivering up my legs.

It took the next couple of miles for the water and the energy I had taken to make a proper effect and until then I was pretty miserable. Checking Runkeeper I now realised that the trudge through the docks had cost me a 4hr finishing time. When I realised that I wasn’t going to achieve my goal my motivation just completely left, I was gutted.

I stopped for several minutes, pretending to stretch out my spent legs. Didn’t want to look like the complete failure I currently felt like. If someone had offered me a lift at that point I would have taken it. I vowed never to run a marathon again.

No one offered me a lift, so I put one foot in front of the other and headed slowly on.

By the time I was out of the industrial estate I was started to feel better, the sugar from the energy gel partially re-fueling my exhausted legs and brain.

I could see the city centre buildings getting closer and by the time the crowds had started to build up again I had started back into a slow jog. I had come this far, I was going to finish even if I had to crawl.

Thankfully no crawling was required. Alternating running and walking did the job in the end.

22 – 24 Miles

I sped up going down the slope of Oxford St and started overtaking people again. At the bottom of Oxford street the route goes in behind some buildings before coming out the join the Lagan Towpath along the river. My optimistic overtaking didn’t last too long as shortly after going behind the buildings I developed a nasty cramp and had to stretch my leg again a chain link fence.

I would repeat this pattern all the way to the finish. Grabbing a small amount of motivation and running and overtaking, then realising my legs kept emptying of energy and having to walk for a bit until they filled up a bit again. Was a bit like impatiently trying to flush a toilet after it’s already been flushed.

I found rejoining the Lagan Towpath a huge motivation, as you can look across the river at that point and see the finish on the other side. A few of my runs along here became sprints, which in hindsight was stupid because I’d forgotten that there was an uphill climb in the last two miles.

24 – 26 Miles

The longest two miles in the race. The first mile starts with a fairly short climb of about 60ft over about quarter of a mile, which on a normal day would be easy, but not after 24 miles.

I was still feeling much better than I had in the docks, partially because I knew I could still finish under 4hrs 30 which for a first marathon is pretty good. I was just exhausted and dragging myself along the road, trying to take motivation from anywhere.

Just ahead of me I saw a guy with “Ballymena Runners” on his vest, who wasn’t doing much running. A young women, who I don’t think he knew had seemly decided to help him finish. She was shouting words of encouragement and pulling his arm all the way up the hill.

Being just a few feet behind I pinched his encouragement, telling myself it was for me. I also decided that it was now a race between myself and this guy. For most of the hill I would go past him, before slowing down and walking. Hearing his loud encourager getting closer I would start to run again, this got me up the hill.

From the top of the hill the race turns down the Ravenhill road in a mostly downwards gentle slope. Sounds great, except that it means you can see over one mile into the distance and the mass of runners alreadly there. Not very encouraging.

I got my next boost from spotting a relay runner up ahead dressed as a dinosaur and high-fiving kids. In my exhausted state I had this hilarious mental image of me running across the finish line screaming while running away from a dinosaur. So I forced my legs to speed up , determined to finish the race with dino man.

Catching up with him I realised there was further to go than I thought and watched sadly as he bounded off, tiny claws flailing in the wind. I tried to keep up but I just didn’t have enough left.

I was now nearing the final corner onto the Omeau Embankment, and just a couple of hundred meters ahead of that was the entrance to the park and the finish line.

Spotting a  guy who I recognised from the start I decided to finish well and get past him. I got energy from who knows where and sped up, it was nearly over.

I got past him about 100m before the finish. Coming round the corner into the park I could see the finish and standing at the side was Louise and my other supporters waving frantically. Had a sudden burst of energy and sprinted across the line.

I felt awesome.

In a blur I was handed water, crisps and a medal.

Feeling like my final sprint was going to either make me vomit or pass out I looked for a quick exit through the crowd.

Met up with the others, hobbled to a bench, pulled off my shoes and socks and checked out my glorious blisters.

My legs felt like they were in tatters but I’ve never felt better, was on a total high and couldn’t stop talking. A trip to the loo revealed I was indeed badly dehydrated, brown lemonade anyone?

Five things no one told me about marathon training

I used to run a lot as a kid. Mostly away from other larger kids. Usually I had antagonised them in some way.

So when I realised that my chosen career path would involve sitting on my backside in front of a screen eight hours day, running seemed like a good counter balance. I’m not a particularly competitive person, I find most team sports really boring, but I’ve always enjoyed running.

Until recently I’d been fairly causal, just running a few times a week and only in nice weather and only for a few miles. I took part in a Marathon relay in 2010 and 2011, missed out in 2012, which I really regretted. I tried to put a relay team together for this year, but people were not committing so I decided just to run the whole thing myself. How hard could it be.

I’ve been using an app called Runkeeper and a training schedule for a sub four hour marathon. I’m running Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Having never trained anywhere near this much before I’ve learnt several things the hard way.

  1. You lose the runners high. I’ve been used to going our for fast 2-4 miles runs, couple of times a week. After which I always feel great and totally buzzing for the rest of the day. I’ve found that with marathon training, the highs are few and far between. Some runs are just plain misery.
  2. It takes more time than the runs themselves. My previous runs only lastest 20-30mins, quick shower and back to whatever I was doing before. Now I’m out for 40-60 mins for the weekly runs and 2hrs+ for the long runs at the weekend. Factor in changing, showering, eating and the fact that I get nothing done for at least an hour after a hard run and I’m loosing about 10hours plus per week.
  3. Warm up and eat better before morning runs. My weekday runs I do over lunch, my Saturday run is usually from 10am. Last weekend I made the mistake of only warming up for a few minutes (usually fine for lunchtime runs) and only eating a cereal bar. The result was I started a 14 mile run that would burn 1500-2000 calories having only eaten about 200 and not warmed up. By mile 4 I felt horrific and wanted to lie down and cry. Lesson learnt.
  4. Medical tape is very useful. No more bleeding nipples from chaffing, enough said.
  5. Constantly tired. I’d been used to being buzzing and having loads of energy after a run, so I had fully expected to feel amazing when I started running more. Not so. A busy week at work combined with running 25+ miles a week just led to me being constantly tired. Improving my diet has helped with this somewhat, and making sure to keep off my feet on rest days.

Anyone else had any surprises while training for something? I’m sure I’ll have more as the weeks go on.

Self Employed Designer, Lessons Learnt in 2012 – Part 1, Mistakes Made Managing Multiple Projects

While ideally I’d prefer to only work on a few projects at once, there are multiple reasons why that just doesn’t always happen. I’ve made a few mistakes along the way and learned a few lessons as well, hopefully someone else will too.

1. Using email as a project management tool.

I only ever left the most current project and actionable emails in my inbox, all other emails were archived in client specific folders. This meant that in effect my inbox had become a combined todo list of everything. Which was fine when I only had a couple of live projects, but ended up a daunting mess, when as well as live projects I had emails relating to projects that were: on hold, small edit jobs for clients, enquiries, invoices needed paid etc. I ended up with a big disorganised list that fried my head just poking through it looking for what to do next.

Solution

I take any actionable points from emails and put them into todo lists specific to the client or project. I’m currently using Wunderlist for this as it lets me sync my lists across multiple devices, set alerts, add notes and it’s free. I don’t think I need a full project management solution such as Basecamp or Minigroups just yet but that will be the next step. The only emails I now keep in my inbox are only that I need to reply to ASAP, any that I need to reply to but are not urgent I star and archive.

2. Wasting time deciding what to do next on a project.

It’s bad enough not knowing what to do next on a project but it’s much worse when you have several. I’ve had occasions where I’ve had 4 or 5 live projects and not being able to act on any of them because of a lack of information.

Solution

My solution for this has always been writing out a list of all projects along with the next action I need to complete to get that project moving. Once I have the tasks for the projects I prioritise them and start with the most important. This could also be avoided by keeping on top of emails and keeping todo lists up to date.

3. Trying to fit small projects into lulls in larger ones

A couple of times this year I was in a situation where I was waiting on client feedback or content for all live projects and had nothing I could do until I heard from the client. Occasionally it looked like I might have a couple of weeks.  I’d get an email or phone call asking if I had time for a small project, I’d say yes. A week later the small project had grown (they nearly always do) and the other clients had got back and I was now stuck juggling several projects.

Solution

I’ll be honest I’m not going to start saying no to work that appears in a lull in other projects but I am going to start making sure I know better how long the lull will last. I’m also going to properly work out the time involved in the smaller projects and make the clients aware that if the project expands then my original projects take priority. Which brings me onto the next mistake.

4. Assuming a project is in a lull.

After a few days email silence from a client, their project suddenly seems much less urgent and you assume you wont hear from them in a while. This is what leads to new projects being started the day before an email comes through with a massive list of things to do.

Solution

I now take a several contact methods approach before assuming a project is in a lull. Firstly I email the client letting them know I need to hear from them before I can do anything more. If they don’t reply after 2-3 days I try phoning them, if they don’t pick up I leave a voicemail asking them to get in touch. If I still hear nothing a week later I both phone and email to let them know that I’m putting their project on hold and it’s up to them to contact me. This is also why I insist on a 50% deposit before starting a project, as for some reason this lull seems to usually happen right in the middle. Means I’m paid up right to when the lull is likely to happen.

5. Using email when a phone call would answer the question sooner.

Typical email conversation (slight exaggeration):

Client: “I need you to take the break away from the top”

Me: “Do you mean the page header, the section at the top with the business logo?”

Client: “I mean the part with the arrows to the topic page”

Me: “Ok the sidebar”

Client: “I prefer Snickers myself”

Time via email – possibly several days, time via phone call – 5mins.

Solution

Any time a client is having trouble grasping a concept or there is any confusion about functionality, I’ve just started picking up the phone. Instant feedback, problem resolved and a few minutes and a lot less chance of a lull occurring in the project.

6. Trying to work on several projects on the same day.

This is just common sense but I keep falling into the trap of writing a todo list covering about 4-6 different projects for the one day. It takes a while to get back into a project and it’s a waste of time if I’ve only spent an hour on it before moving onto something else.

Solution

I try to pick a dominant project for the day that takes priority over everything else. This way I can focus on making a lot of progress with one project than a bit with several. Also helps prevent having several projects ending at the same time at this staggers them out.  I’ll keep a list of smaller optional tasks for the day which I work on if I need to take a break from the main project.

7. Reading emails as soon as they appear.

Because of my using my email inbox as a todo list it means that my email is always open and I’m reading emails as soon as they come in. Of course once an email comes in that needs something done that’s all I can think about and it totally messes up my workflow.

Solution

I only open my email app every few hours or when I’m between tasks, I try to never ever open email when I’m in the middle of something.

8. Not keeping on top of invoicing and payments.

A couple of times this year I’ve been so caught up with working on projects that I put off billing clients for completed work. Always in my head thinking that money appears a couple of days after sending out invoices. This of course led to a couple of times where it had been over a month since I had any money coming in, not ideal for cash flow.

Solution

Bill as soon as a project is complete, don’t leave it to the “next day” or say “I’ll do it this evening”.

9. Not writing action based tasks.

Sometimes when writing todo lists I get lazy and can’t be bothered writing actionable tasks so write thing like “Work on the website”. This means when I come to look at the task later I don’t know which part of the website to work on and I waste time trying to figure it out.

Solution

My tired morning brain only runs on 1 core until about 11am so it best to avoid making it think more than it needs to. Going to try and help it by only putting specfic actions into todo lists e.g Mark up the homepage, Add basic typography styles, style navigation.

10. Starting into projects too soon

This is probably one of my worst habits, exacerbated by the fact I need change to stay motivated. In fact just to staty motivated to write this article I had to go sit in a different chair .

I’ll have just about finished a couple of projects and I’ve got to the point were my enthusiasm is fading. A new project comes along and I jump into it straight away, killing what remaining enthusiasm I had left for the other projects.

Solution

My obligation is to do the best job I can for my clients so current projects must always take priority (regardless of size) over new ones.

 

What about you? Anyone else find they have the same issues or perhaps different ones? I’m sure I made several other mistakes this year and I’ll add new ones if I think of them.

Music 2012

Favourite new music (to me) from 2012

music-2012

In no particular order

  1. Wrecking Ball – Bruce Springsteen – 2012
  2. Calling All Dawns – Christopher Tin – 2009
  3. Discovery – Daft Punk – 2001
  4. Rumours – Fleetwood Mac – 1977
  5. Dredd – Paul Leonard-Morgan – 2012
  6. Born to Die – Lana Del Rey – 2012
  7. Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming – M83 -2011
  8. Here – Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros – 2012
  9. Wrecking Ball – Bruce Springsteen – 2012
  10. Write it on Your Skin – Newton Faulkner – 2012

The Three Year Itch

A few weeks ago I decided to see if this blog was still online (it was), and if I could remember the login details (I couldn’t). Once I had gone to all the trouble of reseting my password and getting logged in I decided I might as well start blogging again.

For a while I was trying to keep a work blog on my business website, but don’t really think I could contribute anything new to what is already out there. As it is I feel like I’ve read most “new” design/development articles before.

This time it’s personal.

I’ll not promise any particular level of quality of choice of topic, but I intend to try and write at least a few articles this time actually worth reading for more than comedic (or so I thought) value.

Probably cover: Life, God, Design, Science, Reading, Running, Cycling, Work and anything else I have more than a passing interest in.

In the meantime I apologise unreservedly for the quality of my old posts but I think I would be doing my three years younger self an injustice by removing them.

Besides, you only know you’ve gotten better if you can see how terrible you were.

New Photos Snow

As I’m sure you are aware, the UK had a slight sprinkling of snow over the past weeks and everything ground to a halt. Really everybody just wanted and excuse to skive off work and make snowmen, I know I did.  Alas here in Northern Ireland the snow was not very bad and we only got a couple of days of snow. But I got to run down the street barefoot in the snow so thats me happy for another year.

Anyway here are some photos of the snow we did get.

Some more on my Flickr

Its Bright, its White its Orange. My new portfolio site

With second semester fast approaching and with it a more and more urgent need to find a placement for next year, I needed an online portfolio. Luckily the last assignment for my design module was to create one. So here is my effort: www.stephenreiddesign.com, let me know what you think, any suggestions/crit welcome.

If you can’t be bothered clicking through here is a screenshot.

site

My main rationale behind the site was, keep it clean, keep it simple, keep it to the point and keep it easy to find information. As well as what is currently on the site I am also hoping to start a design blog where I will post about anything related to design. This blog will be kept for my personal rants and non-design related ramblings.

Placement

As meintioned above I am currently looking for a placement for third year and will hopefully be starting in the summer.  Ideally I would like to get a job with a smallish design company in the Belfast area.  So if you know of anyone or any company looking for design employees for next year, please let me know.