Holiday Favorites

Happy Holidays. In an effort to seem more into the spirit, I quickly compiled a short list of some of my favorite things about Christmas time. I hope you’re all enjoying the season with loved ones and cherishing your friends and families as the true gifts that they are. Merry Christmas.

Favorite Christmas Story: Only the scroogiest of jerk-offs could find a way to dislike Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” It’s one of those classics that will never go out of style for a reason. “’Twas The Night Before Christmas” is also a great little story that I remember having read to me as a small child. But my favorite Christmas story for the last several years is David Sedaris’ “Santaland Diaries.” I listen to so much NPR that this is one of the few holiday productions that I do actually catch each year. And it makes me smile each and every time.

Favorite Christmas joke: “A severed foot is the ultimate stocking stuffer” Mitch Hedburg. Another dead genius.

Favorite Christmas movie: I don’t know. I don’t watch a lot of movies anymore and without television service at my house, I don’t catch a lot of them at all anymore. But A Christmas Story stays near the top of my list. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation still makes me laugh. And I’m pretty sure I’d watch Die Hard or Lethal Weapon right now if either one was on (both set at Christmas time). But my favorite thing to watch is probably still the Charlie Brown Christmas Special. It’s short which is perfect for me, it’s got a great soundtrack, and it’s just pretty awesome all the way around.

I haven’t seen it in a few years. Maybe I’ll have to do something about that later.

Favorite Christmas Song:
I don’t really have a single favorite Christmas song. There are so many good ones (that I still don’t want to hear a single note of before Thanksgiving), Sprinsteen’s “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” Nat King Coles “The Christmas Song,” Robert Earl Keen’s “Merry Christmas from the Family,” or the entire Kenny and Dolly holiday catalogue.

But when I was a little boy I would spend a lot of time around the holidays at my grandparent’s house where they would keep a pretty steady rotation of 1940’s era Christmas records spinning on the house stereo. My brother and I would lie on the floor of their den with our heads under a tree that had been decorated with no less than three trees worth of lights and antique glass ornaments each multiplying those lights’ affect. We would lie under there with all the other lights off and just listen to those records while staring up through all of those tiny twinkling colored spots. It’s still one of my favorite Christmas memories, and that era of Christmas recordings is forever dear to me.

Bing was my grandmother’s favorite. And now, he’s one of mine as well.

Merry Christmas. I’ll see everyone in the New Year.

I’m sure I left out a whole bunch of stuff (like all references to food). Favorite cookie? Favorite Christmas beer? What are some of your holiday favorites?

Living Healthier Sucks

You can't go wrong with X to the Z.  Yes, I'm ridiculous.

You can’t go wrong with X to the Z. Yes, I’m ridiculous.

As I continue to try and live healthier and smarter, I’ve started to notice just how much living healthier sucks. It does. It sucks time from your day every day. It’s really no wonder that so many people struggle to adopt healthier cleaner changes in their life, or to maintain those changes over the long haul. It’s hard work. It’s totally worth it, but it’s not easy.

I’m grateful that so many of my friends and family appreciate what I am trying to do for myself and how important it is to me that I succeed, because it would be easy for them to be less tolerant of my “pickier” eating habits or my extremely limited free time.

I’m still awful at being honest with myself about how long it will take me to get done with my run and/or workout. And because of that, I’m late for damn near everything. If I tell you I’ll be anywhere before 7 p.m. on a weekday, just laugh in my face. I’m dreaming. So far, seven o’clock is the absolute earliest I can manage to get my run/workout completed and then get myself cleaned up and ready to go anywhere. Sorry, but if it’s happening before seven, I’m probably not gonna make it.

Healthy living is a time-suck. But I think I’m slowly getting better at organizing and sequencing my life to stay ahead of it.

How is it a time-suck? Eating real food and exercising regularly takes way more time than just the 30 minutes on the treadmill or that hour it takes to bake a sweet potato. And it’s important to know that from the start, and figure out ways to streamline as much of those diet and exercise routines as possible, or they won’t be “routine” for very long.

Eating real food takes way longer than eating trash. I am somewhat darkly amused by how many businesses have drive-thrus. You can cash your paycheck at the bank; drive across the street to McDonalds for a quick and delicious fat laden, high calorie, and chemically flavored “milk” shake; and then run down to the corner Walgreens to pick up your diabetes medication and high blood pressure pills, all without getting out of the car. Hooray modern civilization. We’re nailing it!

Simply dedicating yourself to a diet of whole, raw, unprocessed foods means going to the market more often (unprocessed and raw foods don’t shelve well for very long), cooking more often, and more cleaning up after all of that cooking. It is little wonder why so many people opt for faster processed food. Life is busy and time is limited. I get it. Heat, eat, and throw a box in the trash. What’s on TV tonight? Is it bed time already?

I live alone and cook for one, and I still end up at the grocery store at least twice a week. Using almost half a gallon of almond milk every three days doesn’t help. But I’m lucky. The grocery store is across the street from the gym, so I’m going to drive by it every day anyway. That’s a huge bonus.

To help me keep that process as smooth as possible, I keep a grocery list in my pocket at all times. It’s the flip-side of my “To Do” list. When I run out of something at home, whether it is shampoo, envelopes, or eggs, it goes on the list immediately. If I’m at work and think of something I want for dinner, it goes on the list. And I shop to the list. If I don’t, I forget stuff. Then I have to go to the store again tomorrow. That’s more time sucked from my life because I was too stupid to use the list.

I’m also starting to look into pickling and canning vegetables. That could maybe provide some quicker food options in the future. We’ll see about that later.

Just finding the time to exercise can crush even the best intentions. We’ll all see evidence of this in the coming months as the resolution-rush of new members comes and then goes at our local gyms. Time constraints, perceived or genuine, are probably the biggest reason why so many people never start or don’t continue to exercise regularly.

I’m guessing that most gyms count on that low overall attendance too. If every paying member at any given gym actually went regularly, the place probably couldn’t function. They need the money from all of those absentee members in order to pay the bills. But they definitely don’t want EVERYBODY to show up. They don’t have the space. And the wear and tear on equipment would be insane. Thank you to all of the people that aren’t actually going to my gym. I truly appreciate it.

(And you’re welcome to all of the Bally members I supported for years without bothering to go.)

The time commitments of exercising that most easily get overlooked are the time traveling to and from the gym, the time spent making sure you’ve got everything you need (shoes, iPod, gym clothes, headphones, towel, iPod, water, iPod), the time spent actually changing clothes or showering, and the time spent washing those extra clothes being used every day.

If I’m actually at home, I’m probably doing laundry.

It might not sound like a hell of a lot. But I bet if you tallied everything up, it probably takes closer to an hour to fit in that 30 minute elliptical workout than people really realize. Especially if the gym isn’t just 10 minutes down the street.

An extra hour on top of all of our other work and family obligations can be hard to find.

Even the simple act of running can take way more time than it may seem at first glance. And you can essentially do that anywhere. Finding the time in everyday business to run at all is time-hurdle number one. Then you’ve got all of the above mentioned clothing/accessory issues, maybe even more sense dressing for unpredictable, non-climate-controlled, outdoor weather could require a higher and more cumbersome level of layering. So yeah, the time required to change clothes, stretch properly, warm up, complete whatever run you’re aiming for, cool down, stretch again, take a shower and dress again can end up making that quick 20 minute “run to a beach body” you were reading about in that fitness magazine suck about an hour out of your life. Not a problem as long as you know that going in.

time flies

It takes a while to get accustomed to all of these seemingly invisible time expenses and how they will affect your overall living budget. But like any budget, it only works if you stick to it. Life is busy. Time is limited. I get it. But if you can find a budget that works for you, and you can stick with it, you will be rewarded by feeling better and having more energy in the hours that you have remaining each day. And in theory, you may just end up with a little extra time tacked on to the end of the long game we all cling to so tightly.

I’m consistently busier than I have ever been in my life with way less “free time” than I’ve probably ever had in my life. But that makes total sense. I work five or six days a week, I run three days a week, I go to the gym at least five times a week, and I cook almost every single meal I eat each week. I am consistently doing more than I have ever done. Does it get hectic sometimes? Sure. Have I considered slowing down? Not yet. And I hope that I don’t. I’ve wasted too much time already; much of it claiming with foolish pride to be a NBU: Natural Born Underachiever.

I’m done with that noise. I’m charging into the rest of my life. And it better be ready.

Here are a couple of small things that I do to help me stay on track with my diet and exercise routines. Maybe you can adjust them to their own needs. And I would love any suggestions that might help me streamline even better.

1. I prep daily food needs in bulk. There are certain things that are ALWAYS in my refrigerator: A large garden salad, some kind of cooked beans (lima, black, garbanzo, kidney), a container of cooked chopped spinach, and frozen bananas and berries in the freezer.

Coworkers have wondered in the past if I get up and assemble my lunch salad every morning. Nope. Every four or five days I make one large salad and then just portion a lunch-sized salad from that every morning. Then I add a few spoonfuls of some beans, and a cut up slice of tomato. It takes me less than a minute to “make” my lunch every morning.

I make a multivitamin shake every morning. I’m not always up as early as I’d like or maybe with the pep that I’d like. So I make that shake as easy to execute as possible by peeling, halfing, and freezing several bananas at a time. Each morning, I mix almond milk with vitamin powder, and then blend it with half of a frozen banana and some frozen berries (blue, black, straw, and/or rasp). Takes less than two minutes, and I swear it’s better than coffee…for me anyway. I don’t like coffee.

I have cooked myself breakfast at home every day since Labor Day, and I like my spinach omelet, so I make sure that I always have spinach in the fridge.

When I run out of any of these things, I take the time that evening to make a bunch more of whatever I’m lacking, so that I get that time back each and every morning before work when my time is even more limited.

2. I keep things I use every day conveniently located for use.
I mentioned my morning shakes. But I also drink protein shakes after longer runs and all workouts. So to keep it convenient, I never take my blender off of the counter. Why? Because it’s ugly? So what. I’m always going to use it again in a matter of hours. It stays on the counter so that I never make excuses to skip a shake. It stays on the counter so that I don’t waste valuable time digging it out of a cabinet every morning, or piling it back in there every evening. Life is short. Time is limited.

A place for everything...

A place for everything…

I have kept my running shoes in the same place since the day I bought them back in September—right in the middle of my bedroom floor. Not against the wall with all of my other shoes. Right in the middle. I have not yet been tempted to skip a run, but I won’t move those shoes. I want them there to remind me that I need to run. The back of a closet is like a lazy man’s attic. It’s where you put things that you have no intention of using again.

If you don’t see my running shoes in the middle of my bedroom floor, it’s because I’m out running. So get out of my room. Or at least clean up in there or something. That bed isn’t going to make itself.

Happy living. Good luck.

Back to the Finish Line

Now that I’ve completed a whopping two 5Ks, I’m pretty sure that I know everything there is to know about running and it’s probably time that I share the wealth of my knowledge with the hoards of people that read this blog. Of course I’m kidding. But I have picked up a few tid-bits of information that might help some other aspiring runners that are just starting out.

I have no clue where this picture was taken

I have no clue where this picture was taken

ONE: Know where you belong at the start of a race. I’ve messed this up both times. It is not unrecoverable, but why waste time “recovering” when you can just start in the right place and enjoy your run?

In my first race, there were thousands of runners separated into corrals. Corrals, as I understand it, are organized with the fastest runners starting in the earlier corrals and the slower runners in the later groups. Makes sense, right? Those groupings are made based upon the projected finishing times provided by each runner as he/she registers for the race. People are going to be wrong. I was.

I hadn’t been running very long when I registered for my first event, and I had no idea what my pace would be so I provided an estimated finish time of 30 minutes (approximately 9:40 min/mile pace). By race day that ended up being over a minute slower than my pace, so even if everyone else was accurate, I was still likely to be grouped into a corral with some amount of people who were going to run at a slower pace than me. Oops.

But really, how was I supposed to know? Newbie mistake.

Because I’m not a aggressively competitive person at all, and because the race was chip-timed, I also assumed that it didn’t matter very much where I positioned myself within the corral. I was wrong again. I entered the corral in the back and after the start, it took me ¼ of a mile to navigate my way through the group and get to a place where I could settle into my normal pace; the pace that I was confident I could maintain throughout the run.

This past weekend, I erred in the other direction. It was a smaller, more casually ordered race (Only 1509 total finishers), and therefore did not separate runners into individual corrals. Because of the lesson I thought I learned the previous week, I positioned myself near the front of the group. That just set me up for a different kind of failure.

I was able to immediately start at whatever pace I wanted, but because the front of the pack was predominantly made up of faster runners, it was almost unavoidable to take off at a similar pace as those around me. And that was a much much faster pace than I could’ve ever kept. It took me almost half of a mile to settle myself down into a pace that I could maintain through to the finish. And because I started too fast instead of too slow, I ended up experiencing muscle fatigue faster and had to battle through that in order to finish without walking.

It resulted in a new PR for the 5K (24:53 with 8:02 pace per mile), but was more valuable in making it totally clear to me how important it is to know my pace as well as how diligent I have to be to set myself up properly to achieve it. I’m still a novice runner, no matter what my times may be or how awesome I look in running tights. My body’s current abilities are still very limited, and to allow myself to forget it for too long will only increase the possibility of injury. That is not an option. I need this shit.

TWO: If you’re running with three or four friends and decide to run together shoulder-to-shoulder, you have just built a moving fence that is difficult for other runners to get through or around. Be aware of what’s going on around you and maybe line up behind each other at least until the crowd of runners spreads out a bit. Luckily I run alone and a moving fence post isn’t much of an obstacle. But I have had to run from one side of the street all the way to the other to get around a running roadblock of similarly dressed runners. I can imagine a more aggressive person being pretty annoyed with that sort of thing.

THREE: Even thirty minutes of running in an improperly fitting polyester tech shirt is enough to make you aware of the sensitive nature of your nipples. Yep. If you’re going to run any longer than that, you may want to use some kind of anti-chafe balm, or maybe a better fitting shirt will help. Saturday, I used body glide and wore a compression shirt so I’m not sure which one was more effective. But I had no issues. Sorry for that visual. I’m a jerk.

FOUR: After you finish the race, go back to the finish line and cheer on the other runners. After my first race, I wandered over to the finish line a few short times in my uneasy laps around the event’s after-party, and was lucky enough to see a five year old crush her own 5K with a good time and in better form than I did. But I didn’t really hang out there long enough to fully appreciate everything that was really happening.

On Saturday, after I finished the race, I grabbed a banana, went to my car for a protein drink, and then headed back to the finish line to watch the other runners come across. Standing there, I noticed something that I thought was somewhat unfortunate. As more and more racers came in, fewer and fewer people remained at the finish line. As many spectators’ friends or family members crossed the finish line, they would greet them and too often disappear together never to return. So in essence, as the crowd dwindled with each in-coming runner, the people that probably needed the encouragement the least received the largest reception. And the runners who might’ve appreciated it the most finished to a much smaller fanfare.

I’m not saying that the guy that finished in less than 18 minutes didn’t fully appreciate the warm welcome of all of those people. I’m sure he did. But he never had a doubt that he was going to finish, or even that he wouldn’t finish well. The cheering crowd was just icing on the cake. And the cake was never in question.

I finished the race in 100th place out of approximately 1500 total runners and was greeted with a very energetic crowd of cheering spectators lined up along both sides of the street approximately 100-150 feet outside of the finish, all the way through the finish line, and beyond. And it is impossible not to feel a little chirp of gratitude and pride in that moment. It feels good to finish strong and be blindly supported by so many strangers. I imagine that the 99 people ahead of me had a similar experience.

I smiled.

I didn’t have to be anywhere for a couple of hours, so I decided to stay at the finish line and welcome in the later runners and I feel like I got to see so much more than a few super athletes killing a three mile run for the umpteenth time. Along with all of the simple runners like myself slogging across the line, I got to see the people that were winning something more important than a medal or a gift certificate to a local running store. I got to see people giving a lot more of themselves too. I saw people winning internal battles against obesity, or aging, or low self esteem, or any combination of things, people who were maybe a little less confident that they could even do it. And witnessing Team Hoyt members pushing handicapped young people along the course in both events in which I’ve participated just makes me feel good.

And I try to tell them so as I pass…IF i pass. They’re not slow.

I clapped for a woman with severe obesity who was walking and running and walking again as she came up the street, but forced herself to run and keep running through the last stretch and across the finish line. I saw another much older woman muster the same last minute strength and will of spirit to force herself to cross the finish line running. I saw a few people with minor disabilities light up with joy as they finished the race to the sounds of a small but supportive crowd. There were several similar finishes, each just as meaningful as the one before to those runners. It felt really good to witness these winning moments. Hell, it felt good to smile at all that particular morning.

Don’t get me wrong now. I don’t want to portray the finish line atmosphere after the first 30 minutes of a 5K as some sympathy parade of broken people struggling against life. It’s not at all. It’s a happy time for everyone and most people are just running for the fun of it anyway. There was a local chapter of Girls On The Run participating and they provided continuous entertainment watching each of those young ladies come in at varying degrees of speed and enthusiasm, especially when the super energetic among them would charge back into the street laughing to drag their less enthusiastic friends by the arms fast across the finish line. There was also parents running with their kids, people in costumes, and a lot of generally happy people enjoying a morning run along the river. And of course Santa was there too…a few of them in fact. It was a good way to start the day.

If you want to mill around watching strangers eat bananas and drink bottled water, hang out anywhere after the race. If you want to see a perfect mix of silly innocence, good-natured fun, and true personal achievement, go back to the finish line.

No clue on this one either

No clue on this one either

No More Skipping Lunch

Well, I did it. Last Saturday, I completed my first official running event. Sure, technically I’ve run an organized 5K once before. But, in all but the most literal of senses, the man that ran that race over four years ago is dead and gone now. So I’m calling this one my first. And it went well. I beat my pace-goal according to my GPS (which also measured my run at 3.24 miles instead of 3.1), and nearly matched my goal perfectly according to the official race record (104). I’m cool with both. I didn’t expect to be overwhelmed with emotion simply by finishing a three mile run. But I oddly didn’t feel any recognizable sense of accomplishment at all. That is until I was actually leaving the parking lot on my way home.

Frosty 5KLess than a mile from the race venue, I felt it. I wasn’t sure exactly what “it” was. But I certainly felt something change. And as I continued to drive away and it settled in, I realized that the actual running might have been the smallest part of why I needed to complete the event. And I don’t mind admitting that it was a somewhat emotional realization…or that it still is as I write this.

When I was growing up, we were predominantly renters. And like a lot of renters, my mom, brother, and I moved a lot. When I meet people that grew up in the same town, school system, and resulting overall social network all of their lives, I’m always curious about how that must have worked. I wouldn’t automatically say envious, but definitely curious. I wonder how much they took for granted that “see you next year” comment in their school yearbooks each year. I didn’t.

I attended four different elementary schools and three different high schools during my time trying to escape the public school system. And since that wasn’t a simple seven move consecutive run through the local school districts, some of those fine educational institutions were revisited during different housing changes. I’m not complaining. My childhood was far from tragic. I’m just trying to illustrate that I was “the new kid” in class A LOT of different times. And I think I got pretty good at it.

I obviously can’t speak for every kid that has ever had to uneasily wander into a new school for the first time, but I always found Lunch to be the absolute worst part. The class rooms were easy. No matter the school, they were going to tell you where to sit. They were going to let you know what work had to be done. And other than maybe an uncomfortable “introduce yourself to the class” moment on the first day, you generally weren’t asked to talk much. I was unusually tall, unusually early (5’11” in 8th grade) so I generally got to sit near the back. I’m lucky to have always been a fast learner, and with few exceptions, I always did well with whatever work was assigned. And I probably wasn’t going to talk very much anyway. The classes were easy.

But that goddamn lunchroom. Even after the almost identical experiences of all early elementary schools (where you march in single file with your class, eat lunch at the same folding table with attached plastic seats with your class, and march out with your class), Every cafeteria I entered after was still the same as the one before, only in different ways. You had the table of rich kids, the table of cool kids, the table of sports kids, band kids, delinquent kids, clique, clique, etc, etc. And then you had the tall skinny new kid scanning the corners of the room for his dream table: The table of NO kids, where I could hopefully be invisible. I fucking hated lunch. And by the time I settled into high school, I had pretty much stopped eating it. And I rarely, if ever, even walked into the cafeterias of the two high schools I attended during my junior and senior years. Who needs another piece of square pizza anyway?pizza-school-lunch-hoboken

If I wasn’t comfortable with something, I wasn’t doing it. And no one could make me.

When I walked into the Va. Beach Convention Center on Saturday, I was immediately 16 years old again walking into the lunch room at Summerville High School for the first (and only) time. I was wandering aimlessly through countless groups of people laughing and talking, some in festive costumes, some collectively getting their game-faces on for the 10 mile run, some just huddled inside to avoid the misting “rain” outside. There were clearly organized clubs and groups participating and a lot of what appeared to be families and/or couples running together too. That place is enormous and there were people EV-VER-REE-WHERE.

I did what this “new kid” has always done. I wandered the entire facility with a false look of purpose on my face. I went back to my car for a drink. I circled the parking lots a few times. I went back to my car for…something. I circled again. Wash, rinse, repeat. I probably walked two miles pretending to get ready for a three mile run. I got there an hour before the race, and the wandering seemed like a somewhat normal time-killing activity at the time. But in hindsight, I was subconsciously looking for that table of “no kids” again.

Only this time, I needed to stretch and warm up. So just “skipping lunch” wasn’t an option.

Twenty minutes before the start of the race as people began herding towards the starting line and the runners into their corrals, I was finally able to get over my ridiculous anxieties, do my stretches, and warm up a little by running short jaunts back and forth in the parking lot adjacent to the starting line. As the scheduled start got closer and closer, I felt better and better. Only minutes before eight o’clock, I finally entered the back of my corral and waited for the starting horn. If the convention center was the lunchroom, then the race was class. And classes are easy.

starting line 3It took me about ¼ of a mile to navigate my way through my corral and get to a place where I could run at my normal pace. And once I was finally able to settle into my rhythm, it was all downhill from there. I got to simply enjoy the run. Sure I had to navigate a few other small groups running at different speeds or obstructive formations. But overall, I just ran my run. Even being overcast, the rain stopped before the start, and it was turning into a pretty nice morning in my grey-appreciating opinion.

There were some pretty fun costumes to admire on my way through. Even after the earlier rain, there were still a few sections of supporters along the way clapping and cheering everyone on as we passed. And I couldn’t help put throw a nice thumbs up and “thank you” to the period dressed carolers singing at one of the turns; one of which looked so much like an ex-girlfriend’s mother that I had to double take pretty hard before making the turn. Weird, right? The point is I was having a good run. And it appeared that everyone else was too.

As I approached the final stretch just inside of the convention center, I could hear my name being announced as I crossed the finish line with my usual hippopotamus-like grace and style. The finish line led each runner immediately through a back and forth channel of tables and volunteers in order to collect his/her finisher’s medal, a bottle of water, a banana, and a commemorative pint glass. And as I exited that gauntlet, I was surprised to be greeted by…who else? My mom, who had gotten there just after the race started and managed to film me galloping across the finish line.

I had not invited anyone to come with me, so I obviously didn’t expect her. This running thing has been a pretty private therapy for me and like almost everything that I do for personal reasons, I do it alone. But it was nice to see a familiar face in that crowd as I found myself covered in sweat, with my hands full of swag, and again entering the biggest “lunch room” full of strangers I’d seen in years. And like the amazing mother that she is, she congratulated me, briefly asked about the run, held my stuff while I got myself settled, and then she politely went back to her regular scheduled Saturday…already in progress.

She’s the greatest.

Santa SwagThe race was over. I finished in 26 minutes and 30 seconds, with an average pace of 8:33 minute/mile. I was aiming for an 8:30 pace, and my GPS measured the same total time but over 3.24 miles, giving me a pace of 8:11 min/mile. I’m guessing that between slight GPS accuracy discrepancies and the weaving I had to do to navigate other runners, my pace is probably somewhere between the two. But it doesn’t matter really. I did what I needed to do, whether I knew it at the time or not.

I needed to prove that almost 20 years after being released into the real world, that this new kid can traverse the goddamn lunch room. I don’t need to loiter in the gym’s bleachers watching music videos on TV like I did every day of my junior year. And I’m not looking for an empty table either. I’m going to charge right in there, get my fucking lunch (race packet) and head to class (the race), where I will do what I’ve always done: Perform the best that I can with hopes of being able to leave early.

And I’ll do it again too. Not because someone is making me, but because I want to.

After the race, I meandered quietly around the after party long enough to enjoy my three free Sam Adams Winter Lagers, hear the typical beach cover band play some vanilla rock songs, watch a five year old girl running stronger than me as she finished her 5K in less than 45 minutes (imagine how many steps those short little legs took in that time), and chat briefly with a man I recognized from work who had just finished the 10 mile run. Then I split.

I’ll work on my after party etiquette on another day. After all, I skipped my prom too.

I cannot begin to fathom how many wonderful experiences I’ve surely stolen from myself by refusing to be “uncomfortable” long enough to try something new. And if there is a Guinness record for collecting the most regrets, then maybe I’ll be famous someday. But while I try to clean up and neatly stack my life’s load of regret out of my way heading forward, I can at least say that I now have something I’ve never had before. I have a new PR for the 5K.

It’s a runners’ thing.

There are so many reasons to tell yourself that you can’t run, or you can’t run that fast, or that far. Nine out of ten times, it’s all noise. Go run. Or go walk. It might not have anything to do with what you actually accomplish in the end. It’s really just a way to get from one place to another, totally under you own power and with only yourself to credit. And while you may know exactly where you’re starting, I’m not sure if any of us really know where we’re going to be when we finish.

I know I don’t have a clue anymore. So I’m going to keep running until I find out.

While I’ve got your attention, if you have any appreciation for country-ish singer songwriters, check this out. I have been listening to this record all day today and I love it. Her vocals range between, and sometimes blend, a young Loretta Lynn and Natalie Maines. And while I haven’t been able to fully absorb every song in one day, her song writing is very solid. Some of it a little bit along the Ryan Adams vein, and she can definitely spin a nice sad one…which I always like.

Good Will to Men

christmas_lights_headerWell, it’s that time of year again. That time when, while scurrying around town hunting for bargains, we’re more likely to walk out of a store and be approached by that downtrodden family patriarch that somehow managed to get the invisible car that they all live in, past all of the nearby gas stations, and into the busy department store parking lot just as it ran out of gas on the way to grandma’s house in (insert distant city here), OR that alleged veteran in the parking lot of a grocery store nowhere near a bus station looking for a little “help” getting a bus ticket back to his family for the holidays. Maybe these stories are true. Maybe they’re not. But they are a lot like Chia Pets and electric razor commercials in that they only seem to appear around Christmas time.

Personally, it’s an intuition thing with me, but if the story is good and they’re not rude or aggressive, I’ll usually give anyone a few bucks if I have it. If I don’t have it, I don’t feel guilty saying “no” either. I don’t concern myself worrying about what they end up doing with the money. It’s not my place to judge them. And at least they’re not ringing a fucking bell in my face.

No matter your feelings on the holiday shakedowns, it’s important not to let the grifters out there make us forget about all of those people truly struggling and heading into this holiday season with a drastically more uphill battle into the land of cheer.

While so many are scouring national retail chains and online marketplaces for sparkly holiday trinkets to satisfy some temporary want, many people are searching thrift shops and second-hand stores for those things that they absolutely need as we head into winter. And if they’re lucky, they might even be able to satisfy a holiday wish as well. And then there are so many people with nothing at all whose wish gland dried up years ago and wouldn’t know luck if she walked up and kissed them on the mouth.

goodwillI found myself in the unusual position this year of having a closet full of jeans, shirts, and light coats that no longer fit. I cleaned out my closet in the self-serving desire to get these things out of my way. I gave them to my local Goodwill store because somebody might be able to use them, or maybe even need them. I did it tonight rather than later so that these simple things might still have a chance of brightening the Christmas of someone who is working on a little tighter budget this year than they’d like.

Life can be hard. Sometimes it’s going to kick you right in the chest. I am extremely grateful that during a difficult time I was able to discover a healthy path to what I hope will be a better me. Not everybody is so fortunate. It’s easy to wander down the wrong path when you’re struggling with life’s hurdles, especially when those hurdles started early and can be seen stretching into the horizon. I sympathize with anyone struggling to run life’s roads in those conditions. And while I’m still working my way down my path and I occasionally stumble into some dark places, I know I want to remember that feeling of gratitude for my good fortune and share as much of it as possible this season. It makes me feel better.

In the hustle and bustle of holiday shopping and Christmas parties, it’s easy to forget that “Peace on earth, good will to men” isn’t just a Christmas card slogan. And even harder not to immediately disregard the possibility that maybe that guy in the parking lot honestly just needs a little gas money.

Happy Holidays.

ON A SIDE NOTE, if someone out there actually receives a Chia Pet for Christmas, you’d probably get more out of it if, after you grew the magic “hair,” you pulled it off of the pottery and threw it on a salad, or maybe just threw the seeds themselves into some yogurt. Chia seeds are a high fiber “superfood” rich in omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids that among other things has been shown to help control blood sugar, reduce inflammation, lower cholesterol, and possibly prevent cancer. And they’re subtle nutty flavor isn’t bad either.

Chia-Seeds-Bag_400Click here for more information on the health benefits of chia seeds (yes, that picture in the link is actually sunflower seeds), and here for more uses. I haven’t explored too many of those other uses yet, but I put a teaspoon of them in my vitamin and protein shakes every day. I’ve only been adding them for about a month, but I have felt better during runs and workouts. I’m not sure how significant their singular effect has been, but I’m going to keep doing it.

Now, what to do about these cigarettes? Hmmmm.

DISCLAIMER: I have absolutely no idea if the chia seeds that come with that silly pottery gift are of any kind of food-grade quality. Nor am I qualified at all in the nutritional, health, or medical fields. I only know what I read, but I read a lot. And I recommnend people research anything they plan to ingest for the first time. That’s why I provide the links. Enjoy.

Cleaner Fuel

In an earlier blog I briefly mentioned that I wasn’t eating enough back in September when I started running and exercising again. I seem to remember an elementary school science teacher telling us that changing two variables in an experiment at the same time could lead to unreliable results, and that’s exactly what I did. I dramatically increased my activity level while at the same time reducing my caloric intake. Sure, I shed weight like a crack whore, but it was impossible not to notice that even as I was running more and more, I was getting slower, weaker, and more winded.

Some of that was undoubtedly due to overdoing it and not letting my body recover between runs. My early runs were very short, but for a fat guy coming off a long streak of inactivity, they were more than enough to require recovery days in between. And I wasn’t taking any rest days. Of course, I wasn’t really thinking about being a “runner” at the time. I was just doing the only thing that made me feel less shitty.

After a couple of weeks of running almost every day and not getting any faster, stronger, or even improving my breathing at all, I was getting pretty frustrated. I kind of knew what was up, but without beating a dead horse, I wasn’t in the best mental state early on, and it took a couple of weeks to settle down and decide that if I wanted to keep doing this (and I did), I was going to have to pay better attention to my body and what it’s telling me.

I decided that I should take a count of the calories I was consuming on an average day.

I was lucky to be raised in a house not overloaded with sweets and by a mom that appreciated the economic value of taking her two growing boys to all-you-can-eat salad bars instead of a lot of fast food restaurants. Thanks to those things, I’ve never been a big fan of sugary foods and I love almost every vegetable that comes out of the ground. Radishes don’t do much for me. But hey, you can’t win ‘em all.

Yes, please.

Yes, please.

I was hard-wired for dietary success, but I could probably fuck up a steel ball if you gave me a little time with it. I have been taking a garden salad to work for lunch every day for over seven years and that is probably the only healthy diet habit that I haven’t waivered on. I did really well making my own breakfast (grits and scrambled eggs) for a very long time. I avoided unhealthy snacks throughout the day. And those things meant that I didn’t generally have to be too concerned with my dinner choices. I usually cooked those at home too, so I was doing okay even for a lazy ass.

My problems came with waning portion control, career advancements that required less and less movement (desk job), and eventually a housing change that provided no reason to stay home and higher social opportunities (read: I drank more). Going out more meant sleeping less, getting up later, and buying unhealthy breakfasts. Sitting at my desk all day made my regular snack foods almost unnecessary. I’m not burning any calories sitting there; I probably don’t really need the extra sustenance between meals as much I just really like handfuls of almonds and banana chips. And if I wasn’t going out in the evenings, someone would stop by my apartment to hang out. Either way, I was drinking four or more beers, four or more days a week. That is a lot of empty calories being fed into a fairly sedentary being. And the effects were impossible to ignore, but not impossible to excuse. I believe I’ve mentioned my incredible excuse-making abilities before.

After my Labor Day weekend, a lot changed. I all but quit drinking for a few weeks and started eating all of my meals at home again because I had no desire to go anywhere. But once I discovered the healing and therapeutic powers of running and decided that I really wanted to get better at it; Once I decided that I really wanted to be healthier overall and get better at just being me, I was faced with the realization that I wasn’t fueling my body properly to accomplish those goals.

While I’m sure it’s not uncommon at all for someone to routinely pay high prices to put premium gasoline in their automobile just to then drive it into a fast food drive-thru and put cheap horrible fuel in their body, bad fuel is bad fuel and it makes things run like crap. I wanted to run better.

After I cut down on the alcohol, eliminated the poor food choices that sometimes resulted from its consumption, and better portioned the foods that I did eat, I found that I was running a pretty significant calorie deficit. When I calculated my meal totals, I found out that for those few weeks, I was only eating about 1200-1400 calories a day. That’s not enough. But I wasn’t starving myself. I wasn’t hungry. How was I going to force so many more calories into my body?

It was clearly time for some research. I started reading anything I could find about nutrition and healthy dieting (note: I use the word “diet” not as a temporary weight loss plan, but as EVERYTHING a person consumes to fuel their body). I genuinely enjoy so many healthy foods. There had to be a way to make sure that I could cover my basic nutritional needs and fuel my running without force feeding myself more food than I really wanted to eat. I’ve seen and/or met people that struggle with their weight because they claim to “love to eat.” I love and appreciate well prepared and flavorful cuisine. And I really enjoy cooking good food as well. But I’ve never simply loved to eat. That’s probably why I’ve always eaten too fast. “There has to be something better to do, let’s get this ‘eating’ thing out of the way and get on with it.”

My current diet is still a work in progress (like the rest of me). My scrambled eggs for breakfast have turned into a spinach omelet. I added nutrient and carb rich lima beans to that lunch salad, and sometimes a few sunflower seeds too (with an apple chaser most days). My dinners are all over the place, but I eat a lot of fresh organic vegetables and very little meat at all. I almost never eat red meat, and the chicken industry is so sketchy that I find it easy to skip that as well. Just to make sure that I’m not going to wake up to loose teeth and yellow skin, I started drinking a vitamin and mineral shake every morning that I now swear it is the best wakeup treat I’ve ever had. I love it. And I drink a protein shake after runs and workouts.

I have not recalculated my calorie intake, but I’m getting stronger instead of weaker and my running has noticeably improved over the last couple of weeks. So even though I am still slowly losing weight, it’s not at an alarming rate any more, and I feel good. Cleaner fuel seems to agree with this machine.

BUT ENOUGH ABOUT ME, It’s the holiday season and while doing all of the above mentioned reading, I learned something new that might come in handy for some of you during this time of office-parties and New Years excesses. Apparently asparagus helps the body break down alcohol faster. That’s right! Not only does it make your pee smell, it can help prevent and relieve hangovers. Now that is some information that needs to be shared. Click here for more on that gem of a revelation.

After discovering that, I figured that there has to be a convenient way to work more asparagus into the holiday menu. Asparagus is not a difficult food to find or cook, but it doesn’t exactly scream “party food.” However, I was able to find these two recipes that you could probably sneak into your family dinner and/or New Year’s party: Asparagus Guacamole and Roasted Asparagus Soup.

Asparagus Guac

The asparagus “guacamole” is closer to a fine diced salsa really, but I thought it was pretty tasty. I made mine with twice as much jalapeno and no yogurt (I didn’t have any) and with the garlic, onions, cilantro, and lime it made a pretty nice snack with some pita chips. I’d definitely eat it at a party. If I made it again, I’d probably add a small amount of sweet peas to see if they’d help smooth out the texture a little and of course sweeten it just a tad.

Is it guacamole? Nope. But the goal isn’t to replace the delicious goodness of avocado guacamole; it’s to help fend off that hangover. It’s worth a shot.

Asparagus Soup

The soup was tasty too, but I’m sure it gets more than its fair share of baby food comparisons. I personally like thicker pureed type soups (split pea soup, sweet potato soup, etc). If I made this again, I’d add more garlic, probably some herbs, and definitely spice it up a bit.

Is it going to change your life? Nope. But it might be a good early dinner course before you drink those two bottles of wine at the Christmas party.

I have not personally tested the hang-over affects of these recipes because I haven’t been drinking as much, and I was never really plagued with hangovers when I did. But feel free to let me know if it works for you.