Looking Forward (J.O.G.T. 4)

Well it appears that April is ready for the rearview mirror. And before looking in the Jar Of Good Things, I would’ve assumed that it was not such a great month. It was the first month since last November that I ran zero races. I felt busier than any month prior while experiencing almost no sense of accomplishment in the things most important to me. I let the stress of that feeling overwhelm me at times. And because of my incredible willingness to focus on self-made distractions, I had more days in April than any previous month where I didn’t even put anything in “the jar” at all. FAIL!

BUT (isn’t there always a “but?”)

When I opened up the jar, I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was not all bad and certainly not the total loss I sometimes wanted to pretend it to be. I spent some quality time with friends and family. I learned a lot about by body, my diet’s affect on it, my MIND’s affect on it, as well as what was causing my running discomfort and hindering my recovery. Figuring those things out let me start running regularly and enjoyably again. And though I ran no races, I managed to get in 65 highly valued therapy-miles at a time when I clearly needed them. Sometimes it’s about quality, not quantity.

I had more down days than I was ready for, but I think I smiled more than I may have remembered. Maybe I should work on the accuracy of my memory as I continue forward. I didn’t expect to say this, but I’m putting April in the “win” column. Here’s why:

Apr 4. As I was running by, an elderly man that was sitting in his car waiting for his wife to come out rolled the window down and yelled “pick ‘em up and put ‘em down” as I passed. It really made me smile.

When I was growing up, my brother and I spent roughly every other weekend with my grandparents in rural North Carolina. My grandparents were very active members of their church and on Sunday mornings they’d naturally take us with them. My granddad was a Sunday school teacher and the leftover Krispy Kreme donuts from his class were the highlight of those trips. Every Sunday morning that I remember played out pretty much the same way. My grandfather, my brother, and myself would all be ready to go and sitting in the car, listening quietly to morning radio, and waiting for my grandmother to collect her things and come out to join us.

In fact, Sunday school or not, that is how my grandparents always left the house. It didn’t matter where they were going. My granddad, whether because of his time in the Army or years working in the U.S. Post Office, was always dressed and ready to depart ahead of schedule. My grandmother was always running laps around the house getting everything together last minute and putting a last minute cloud of Aquanet in the air. The drive “into town” was not a short one, so she did have a lot of stuff to remember: Her bible, her knitting bag, some Kleenex, her ear-rings, a shawl for her shoulders (there church was always cold). Being married for decades had solidified this routine, and I rarely remember Granddaddy getting vocally annoyed with waiting. He’d simply wait as long as he could and when it was getting to the point that they were going to be late, he’d call out “Mama, I’m gonna go warm up the car.” “Alright, I’m comin’ right now” she’d often inaccurately reply from wherever she was in the back of the house. He’d then go out, open the garage door, back the car out, close the garage door, and pull the car up in front of the porch steps and wait patiently for her to come out and join him, my brother, me, and Paul Harvey all waiting patiently.

I run almost all of my weekday runs in the neighborhoods surrounding my house. I’ve got a good idea of where the shorter mile markers are. And when I need to log longer runs, there are enough cross streets and a few stretches along the river to make those distances possible and sometimes even interesting. On the 4th, as I turned a corner I’ve rounded many times before, I saw a gentleman sitting in his car alone in front of an almost beachy looking cottage a block away from the water. When I got closer, I noticed a woman coming down the stairs distracted with her arms full of stuff: a large bag, a coat, a hat, her sunglasses…stuff. She was approaching the car just as I passed and he rolled the window down, smiled big out the window, and hollered out “Pick ‘em up, and put ‘em down.” “Exactly” I responded as I waved on the way by smiling at them both. They smiled back.

It may not be fair to have used the word “elderly.” I’m not exactly sure what that means, but I feel like it may carry a heft of age that I didn’t see in that lovely couple. They were probably in their early sixties and appeared pretty lively as a couple. Because of the scenario, it was impossible not to be reminded of my grandparents. And thinking about my grandparents always makes me happy.

Apr 16. Got a huge reception for my Boston Marathon blog. Ran my first 4 mile training run towards eventually running Boston. Beautiful day.

I think every blogger with a pair of running shoes felt some desire or maybe obligation to address the bombings in Boston. For a brief second, I toyed with the idea of refusing to address it. Maybe I’d ignore it altogether as I do so many other parts of the “news.” But then I realized that I write a blog that started overtly political, has evolved into something more-than-a-little tied to my running experiences, and that I was completely tired of people being assholes. So, like everybody else, I wrote what I felt.

My blog was shared by many more people than usual and my blog site received the second highest number of views ever. I appreciate all of the support of my ranting that day despite my even more liberal use of profanities. Thanks to any and every one who read or shared that post.

To have pointed out that runners, as a group, are probably the most charitable and giving collective of human beings I can think of, and therefore not at all deserving of being targeted would’ve been to misunderstand the reality of the situation.

Sure, every single race I’ve ever seen or heard of is tied to some sort of charitable fund raising and/or awareness initiative. Sure, almost every single person making those events possible is volunteering their time and/or money to make it happen. And yes, we’ve all heard about the remarkable responses of runners in Boston immediately assisting with the wounded and flooding local hospitals to donate blood. That is all known. Runners kick ass.

But I, and no other runner I’m aware of, believe that runners were ever the targets of the attack. They were obviously victimized along with so many other people. But the “target” of attacks like these is rarely as specific as that. I doubt the two accused bombers had any feelings towards runners one way or the other. Runners and everyone else were all victims of convenience. The attackers wanted a large crowd; any large crowd. And the Boston Marathon provided one.

As I stated in my post on the 16th, I was not disgusted about the attacks because I am a runner. I was disgusted because I’m sick of reading, seeing, hearing about that type of shit. Seeing the response of the running community in the days and weeks to follow made me even more proud to be part of that world. And because I’m a runner, not because of two angry people with the weapons of cowards, I want to run the Boston Marathon.

I was obviously being a bit figurative when I mentioned running my first four mile training run towards Boston. I’m not going to run it in 2014. I’m not even sure if I could possibly qualify for it in time for 2015. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have at least the beginning of my plan to achieve my goal. I don’t talk about races I haven’t registered for yet. But trust me, there is a plan. And if it takes me until 2016 or later, then at least I’ll have a slightly more achievable time requirement, because I’ll be 40. That is if the boon in registration doesn’t require another tightening of the qualifying times. Either way, I’m fuckin’ going!

Apr 21. I got my Further, Faster, Forever shirt today and it’s awesome.

Sometime in March, a friend of mine posted a link on facebook about one of his childhood friends, Aaron Edge, who had moved out west and discovered a love for endurance sports; both running and cycling huge distances. I’m not Aaron’s biographer and will not pretend to know his whole story, but if I understand the info on the FurtherFasterForever website correctly, his friends and he started posting pictures online of themselves accomplishing and celebrating their challenging physical achievements. Those posts started to catch on and create a buzz within the other endurance athletes in the area and a small online community developed of people challenging and encouraging each other to continue to push themselves further, faster, forever.

The link that my friend posted was about Aaron recently being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, and how he was dealing with such a traumatic discovery, its inevitable affect on the physical life that he loves, and the long term financial burden that living with such a disease is sure to become. Needless to say, I was moved by the article and impressed with his attitude. He was not pretending that it wasn’t hard or that he wasn’t discouraged or even depressed. But he also wasn’t giving up. The link was raising money for the above mentioned medical expenses by selling limited edition t-shirts. I bought one.

100_6549I wore it for the first time last Wednesday and I have to say that I really like the shirt. The image of Jesse Owens on the back looks good and it’s a quality shirt. But what I really love is the quote on the back: “When life deals you a bad hand, remember that you run on your feet. Further-Faster-Forever” Every time I’ve seen that shirt, whether dropping it while taking clothes out of the dryer or days later when I finally fold it and put in my closet, it reminds me that life is not so bad.

I, like a lot of people, will too often dwell on the negative around me, things I’ve lost, things I want but never had, and things I may never have. This shirt reminds me that though I may have been dealt a bad hand from time to time, there is always somebody out there who was dealt even worse cards, or not even allowed to sit down at the table at all. At least I’m fortunate enough to play. I might not win. I might not get what I want. But at least I get to try.

So far, I’ve been “dealt” a healthy body, strong mind, and with that, the ability to do whatever I want if I’m willing to work hard. Maybe I’m being dramatic, but I think about that every time I put that shirt on. I may never be the athlete that Aaron is, but that is not the point. The point is to never be scared to see where you end up when you keep pushing further, faster, forever. The answers to life’s questions might be waiting for me right over that hill or around the next corner. But I’ll never find out unless I keep moving.

Apr 23. Ran my first speed intervals today. Meditated for a few minutes for the first time in over six years. I am underestimating the affects of stress on my body. It felt really good.

Throughout my preparation for the Shamrock Half Marathon, I simply logged miles. I used a training plan designed for beginners and kept it as simple as possible so as not to confuse or distract myself trying to learn too much too soon. After finally getting past my recent ankle issues, I was ready (eager in fact) to start putting in some miles again. And I wanted to start stepping up my training a little more. After all, I’m never going to get to Boston by running slow, right? I’m half kidding still. But I did want to start mixing up my runs a little bit with some speed intervals and tempo runs.

Last week I attempted 400s for the first time. I’m still a little weird (read: private and/or shy) so I didn’t even consider actually going to a track and running official 400s. I know that a track would be best because it is flat and a little softer than the street, but I just told you that I was weird. We’ll continue to work on that too. 400 meters also happens to be very close to a quarter of a mile. So instead of warming up, running a lap at a faster than normal pace, jogging/walking a lap to recover, and repeating that cycle until I was satisfied, I followed my warm up by running 0.25 miles fast, walking 0.25 miles to recover, and repeating that until I was done. I did seven 400s. It felt good.

It did not however have nearly the therapeutic effect of a normal run where I get to settle into a rhythm and just run. Sometimes “just run” means sinking deeply into whatever might be on my mind and really letting myself get to the heart of it. Sometimes it means focusing on running so much that it occupies my mind enough to clear out all other thoughts and distractions.

I’m not always in control of which way my run is going to go. But so far, it seems that if I can stay out of the way, the run always knows. Doing 400s seemed too much of a mix between the two, so neither one really panned out and even after my gym workout, I was still way to wound up over dumb shit and feeling overwhelmed. So I took a few minutes and just sat still and focus on nothing but my breathing. Inhale deeply, exhale slowly, inhale deeply, exhale slowly, I need to work on th—NO!, exhale slowly, inhale deeply, exhale slowly, I wonder if—NO!, inhale deeply, exhale slowly. I did that until I finally stopped interrupting myself and let my mind settle down. I really need to do that more.

Sometimes I’ve got too much on my mind. And with my eyes on the horizon, I need to lighten that load or I’ll never get there. A slow work in progress. Happy Tuesday.

Honorable mentions:

Apr 1. Made it through the entire day without having to endure even one stupid April Fools joke. That is an indescribably good thing.

April 8. Had a really great workout before coming home and opening up the windows to let in some of that spring air before actually going to bed at a decent hour. Oh, and I smoked zero cigarettes today.

Apr 17. Almost bailed on Wednesday tacos again, but decided I should go. Had a really good time and saw Mike do the worm outside of Bier Garden. Good night.

Apr 20. Mapped out my training/running schedule from now until November. I’m excited.

Apr 26. Mom picked up my new blender for me today and we had a lazy dinner and long foodie conversation when I picked it up. She rocks. 2 days in a row with zero cigarettes.

Apr 27. While helping Todd and Luce move today, I sat for several minutes watching a man shoot a bb gun at something in the back of his truck while his kids ran around screaming. Eventually a huge rat jumped from the truck and ran under it. It was surreal and entertaining and I could not turn away. 3 days zero cigs.

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My Chrysalis Self

“I promise you nothing is as chaotic as it seems. Nothing is worth your health. Nothing is worth poisoning yourself into stress, anxiety, and fear.” ― Steve Maraboli

I woke up this morning with a sore throat. That is something that would ordinarily freak me the hell out, having me drowning myself in orange juice, and pounding vitamin C because I have a tendency towards strep throat that is so awful and unrelenting that I popped a Ricola as a preventative measure just for typing those words into this sentence. Not kidding. It was honey-herb flavored and so far it’s working.

I wasn’t as worried this morning however because I was really letting shit get to me yesterday and I also know that sore throats are how my body responds to me being overly stressed. I know it sounds weird. But when I get stressed out, I get a sore throat. It’s usually the undeniable sign that I need to make some adjustments, whether they be in attitude or behavior.

I think everyone already knows that stress is bad for us. It inhibits the immune system, negatively affects our ability to achieve quality sleep, reduces the body’s capacity to regulate inflammation, and even affects how the body metabolizes food or responds to exercise. You have to love the fact that insufficient or low quality sleep increases your stress levels, and increased stress levels make it harder to achieve deep regenerative sleep. In short, stress sucks.

My back has been bothering me for almost a week now too and I’m starting to wonder if that is not stress related as well. I’m falling apart dammit.

Not really. I’m just annoyed. But eventually those two things start to feel about the same.

“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” – Maya Angelou

What’s stressing me out? The same shit that stresses everyone else out. I’m not special. Work, finances, general dissatisfaction with any number of things in my life. The details are unimportant. I’ve been a little busier at work lately. I’ve got a few too many financial and/or schedule obligations coming together at the same time. And because so few of these things are particularly fulfilling to me personally, I’m under-motivated to deal with them. They’re all just chores. I hate chores. I’ve got goals I want to achieve and plans to accomplish them, but I have to get through this current bog of inconvenience first. And I’m impatient.

It’s all selfish and self-inflicted. Because I’m seeing too much energy and expense being spent in directions unfulfilling to me, I’m letting that dissatisfaction stress me out. But none of it is insurmountable or infinite, and I should be focusing on the path beyond these hurdles and how eager I am to run down it. It’s all about perspective. And mine is clearly a little askew right now.

“Running made me free. It rid me of concern for the opinion of others. Dispensed me from rules and regulations imposed from the outside. Running let me start from scratch. It stripped off those layers of programmed activity and thinking. Developed new priorities about eating and sleeping and what to do with leisure time. Running changed my attitude about work and play. About whom I really liked and who really liked me. Running let me see my twenty-four-our day in a new light and my lifestyle from a different point of view, from the inside instead of out.” – Dr. George Sheehan.

I saw the above quote in the current issue of Runner’s World and it immediately spoke to me. I felt like it summed up so many of the things I’ve expressed less eloquently both in private and in this blog. It’s full of the enthusiasm, strength, and self confidence that come with personal growth. But it is also essentially about what can be one of the most difficult and daunting parts of that development; change.

I’m not sure that it should be, but I believe that change is sometimes the scariest thing each of us has to experience in our lives. Reluctance to it has almost become an accepted, or at least understood, part of the current idea of human nature. I’ve done no research on this, but it seems that so many people strive for some sort of norm; a static condition that can be adjusted to and made comfortable. How many people are working jobs that they hate while making no effort to find another one? How many people are dissatisfied with their health but make no effort to improve it? How many people simply accept a dissatisfying situation because changing it seems too difficult or just plain scary?

I work with people that will complain about someone else getting a promotion that they wanted, only to later let it slip that they didn’t even apply for that position. What? How can someone complain about not getting a job that they didn’t apply for? Was the job they wanted supposed to come ask them to come aboard? Has the world ever worked that way? Maybe complaining itself has become that static world they’ve found comfort in. I’m not interested in that world.

But I have been guilty of similar inactions. I’ve owned cars with such ridiculous mechanical quirks that only I knew how to drive them. Sometimes that was due to a lack of funds to fix the issue. Sometimes it was laziness. Most of the time it was a dream team of the two together.

But I am in no way stressed out in anxiety or apprehension towards any of the changes that I’ve made in the last several months. On the contrary, I’m eager and excited to continue on the path I’m on. I’m stressed at the things I view as standing in my way. The longer I travel in the direction I’m moving, the faster I want to go. The more I learn about myself and my potential, the more I want to discover. I may have spent decades building the world’s strongest and most impenetrable wall around my chrysalis self, but I want to spread my wings and free myself of that cocoon. And having to spend so much time and resources fulfilling legal (taxes, bills, etc.) and previously made personal obligations just frustrates me. And this week, I let it get to me way too much. It’s just another battle to be won. No biggie. I know I can do anything.

“But I think that at the most basic level, every one of us who runs does so because, deep down, we crave that little daily battle — against busyness, distraction, adversity, self-doubt — that every time we lace up our shoes, push ourselves out the door, and run, we win.” – Matt Frazier

Over the next couple of months, as I get through this temporary time of annoyance, I know my appreciation of running will be reinforced and strengthened. It is still that one thing that I know will always make me feel better and give me the meditative release I need when I feel overwhelmed.

I was talking with a friend recently and explaining to her how I knew I had changing even more than I might have realized. There was a time not very long ago when a stressful day at work would have elicited a comment similar to “Ugh, I’m definitely going to need a beer after this day.” It was just something I would say. Sometimes I would actually meet some friends after work for a beer (or six), sometimes I’d pop a top at my house, and sometimes I wouldn’t even bother.

Last week while getting increasingly frustrated at work and desperately wanting to get the hell out of there, I put my face firmly in the palms of my hands, pressed my fingers into my temples, and simply grumbled “fuck, I cannot wait to go run.” As soon as I said it, I felt better. Obviously I already knew that I loved running. And I was totally aware of its therapeutic affect on me. But in the same way that I sometimes forget that I’ve lost weight until I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, I hadn’t quite realized how unconscious and truly ingrained in me it has become. And that realization really reinforced the feeling that I’m on a good path, even if that path still has the occasional mud puddle or downed tree limb.

I may not necessarily be happy all the time. I might have some shitty days. And I may vent my frustration in unconstructive and juvenile ways sometimes. But I’m happy with who I am and what I’m doing. And I truly cannot wait to see what other changes are to come. If I’m smart, I’ll accept that I have to wait and realize that there just might be something to learn in that too. We’ll see.

Blinding Effect of Disgust (Boston)

“I lost some time once. It’s always in the last place you look for it.” – Neil Gaiman

A month ago, almost to the day, I finished my first half marathon. I trained hard for it, and because of that, it was the easiest long run I had ever run at the time. But after training so much on so little experience, I was still a little beat up afterwards. Because I had been battling ankle issues during the last few weeks of training and experienced minor discomfort all during the race, I decided that I should definitely RICE (Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate) my ankles for as long as it takes to get back to 100%.

After giving that “R” a full week of no running, I started small with a three-ish mile run. But before I got to the second mile, my left ankle was already a little sore. Are you kidding me? I wasn’t sure if I could make myself go without any running for much longer, but I definitely didn’t want to keep running through pain and eventually end up with a real injury.

I RICE’d my ankles for two more days and then ran another short distance. That time I really focused on how my right foot was landing, and trying to pay attention to what I was obviously doing differently with my left. After a week of total rest with so little marked improvement, I felt like it had to be something I was doing wrong. And I was so determined to figure it out.

That run was a little better. I made it past two miles before my ankle started bothering me. It was minor discomfort, but c’mon. It’s only two miles. If I can’t run two miles without discomfort, I’d never be able to run another half marathon.

Towards the very end of that run, during a slight downhill section I realized that I was running with the toes of my left foot partially balled up and essentially limping on it in an effort to lighten the load on that ankle. That realization helped immediately. During my next run, I made sure to relax my foot and splay my toes out to avoid balling up my foot. I noted some improvement, but it was still not enough. Within only a few miles, I was again experiencing that same annoying sensation in my ankle. Dammit!

Then I read an article about rhythmic breathing , and how the foot that is landing as you release your breath takes a larger impact due to your diaphragm and core muscles relaxing during exhalation. When your core relaxes, it puts more of the impact of your body’s weight on your lower body. The math behind rhythmic breathing is that if you inhale for three steps and exhale for two, each exhalations will occur on the opposite foot-strike as the one prior. Could breathing really be the source of ankle pain?

I’d read about the breathing technique before but never with that explanation. I immediately started training myself to breathe that way. I started figuring it out while sitting at my desk at work, just tapping my feet while learning the rhythm. Then I’d practice it while taking walks during my lunch break. Then I finally got to put it to use on the road. Total game changer. I was immediately able to run longer distances before even noticing that I had ankles. And when I would experience a little soreness, I would take note that I had let my breathing slip out of rhythm and was in fact landing on my left foot on every exhalation. Immediate corrections would produce immediate relief.

Eureka! I had my answer. As funny as it may sound, I was actually hurting my ankle by breathing incorrectly. I love how the body works.

I kept utilizing that technique through my next few runs and continued to feel better, faster, and stronger. Like anything else, as I focused more intently on my breathing, I’d experience temporary lags in my cadence or slight deterioration in my form. But after a few runs, I can already feel everything coming back into sync and I can’t wait to start building up some miles again.

boston start

“There are worlds of experience beyond the world of the aggressive man, beyond history, and beyond science. The moods and qualities of nature and the revelations of great art are equally difficult to define; we can grasp them only in the depths of our perceptive spirit.” – Ansel Adams

Yesterday I was all prepared to write a whole blog about this breathing/pain discovery and to somehow expound on the importance of keeping a wide view of the world in order to prevent tunnel vision during troubled times, or some over-reaching essay on self discovery and how the answers to our problems are often found in the most unexpected places. Yadda, yadda, whatever, whatever.

But as I was leaving work, I got a text message from my mom:

“Did you hear the news? Explosions at Boston Marathon.”

“Wow. I don’t even want to know” I responded.

That is generally my initial response to any violent news, whether it be a bombing or a bar fight. I never want to know. I’m always disappointed by the details. The more I learn in each scenario, the more bothered I become. Did that guy accidently bumping into your drunken girlfriend really require a violent response? Is there any reasoning that would make mowing down a bunch of elementary school students seem any less insane? Will finding out the motive behind blowing up the finish line at one of the world’s largest running events make it any easier to comprehend? I don’t see how.

I stopped watching television news over 10 years ago after watching coverage of the “Shock and Awe” beginnings of yet another mid-east war. During that coverage, the news channel I was watching presented a huge digital color graphic comparing the number of bombs that had been dropped so far to the number of bombs that had been dropped in the same amount of time during the previous gulf war. That graphic is a huge part of why I don’t watch the news anymore.

They were comparing the number of bombs dropped in the same way you compare opposing NFL quarterbacks’ completion percentages. They were doing it over live video coverage of a city being destroyed, and under the wonderfully patriotic red, white, and blue “Shock and Awe” header. It was disgusting. Those bombs were killing people; very likely innocent people. And I was sitting on a friend’s couch watching it on live television with a fucking beer in my hand. The entertainment nature of the news media had gone too far for me. I was done. And I still am.

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” ― Fred Rogers

I managed to avoid the Boston story on my short drive home from work, but got another text message expressing concern for the victims and saying that hearing about it had just reminded my friend of me and my new found love of running. By that point I had thought about it a bit more and together with all of the other senseless violence we’ve experienced in the last several months and years, I was just overwhelmed with total disgust for my species. How do we continue to deny the similarities in all mankind? Why do we instead insist to seeking out our differences and try to segregate ourselves based on such insignificant things as different sexual orientations, religious beliefs, and/or ethnicities? Why can’t we accept those differences? Why do we seem to feel the need to persecute and discriminate against others based on them? Why is violence such an accepted expression of and response to anger? Why are we such fucking assholes all the time? I just don’t understand. Life is so short, and people want to spend so much of it hating others. It’s just so goddamn STUPID!

I had to get away from the news. I didn’t want to hear anymore about it. I was too disgusted with yet another violent act. And anticipation of the soon to follow political bullshit about guarantees of justice or some dream of American solidarity in the face of “terror” was already making my stomach hurt. I turned off my computer and my phone. And I left.

I went to the gym to escape the immediate coverage, as the race to be first by our news media usually leads to rampant guessing, superhero caliber leaps of logic, and a whole lot of stupid graphics and redundant video loops. But I failed to realize what should’ve been obvious; the coverage would likely be on every television in the gym. And it nearly was.

I tried to ignore it at first, but I wasn’t going to stare at the floor the whole time I was on the stair climber or the exercise bike. That would only make my neck hurt on top of my stomach cramping frustration with mankind. So I watched as blankly and as uninvolved as possible. I’m glad that I did, because in the few segments that they were looping, I managed to see what I needed to see. I didn’t plug my headphones in to hear any of the coverage, but they were showing what seemed to be the same eight-ish minutes of combined video footage over and over again.

I saw a man just feet away from finishing get blown down by shrapnel as a coward’s bomb exploded in the stands adjacent to the finish line. I saw spectators and runners turn in shock to see what had to be unfathomable chaos. How do you process that scene? You can see the finish line; that finish line you’ve dreamt about. Your heart is pounding. You’re going to do it. You’re going to finish the Boston Marathon. You’re feet away from achieving a longtime goal, about to leave the pain and torture of training behind and pass into the relief of after-party bliss, about to notch a huge accomplishment off of your bucket list, about to feel unprecedented pride in yourself…and BOOM! Some unidentified asshole’s gutless expression of who-cares-what destroys that moment. How do you process that?

I don’t know how I would’ve, but I know that my heart goes out to every single person affected. It’s just unbelievably senseless.

As I watched the footage for the second, third, and forth time, I finally saw what I needed to see. It was right there the whole time, but my disgust wouldn’t let me see it. I finally noticed how many people immediately went from runners and spectators to first-responders and good samaritans. Bystanders were immediately running to lift debris off of victims. I saw people of all walks of life (military personnel, city police, bystanders, runners, etc.), shedding their coats and shirts to be used as blankets, bandages, and tourniquets. I saw people not only being human, but humane.

boston herosIt took me a few loops of the carnage to clear my sight of the blinding effects of disgust, but eventually I saw the helpers. And it made me feel better. There are still more good people than bad in the world. We just seem to pay so much more attention to the worst among us. I do not understand why. But I’m glad I watched the news yesterday, at least for the half hour or so I was on that bike riding nowhere.

Sometimes you find the answers you need in the most unlikely of places.

“Think of success as a game of chance in which you have control over the odds. As you begin to master concepts in personal achievement, you are increasing your odds of achieving success.” – Bo Bennett

In the coming days and weeks as coverage of the investigation wanes and personal interest stories make the cover of a dozen different magazines, I’m sure at least a few of them will try to make the Boston Marathon more universally relatable to the masses by calling it the runners’ Super Bowl or the World Series. But it is neither of those things.

I have never run a marathon, so I certainly cannot speak with experience about what Boston means to people. But the Super Bowl and the World Series are both events where tens of thousands of people gather to watch a few dozen athletes work together to achieve a collective goal. The Boston Marathon is where tens of thousands of athletes gather to achieve a personal and individual goal on their own…together.

The Boston Marathon is not some community 5K where anyone with an entry fee can just sign up, lace up, and run it. Each of those more than 23,000 runners had sacrificed months and years of their lives to qualify to be there. They had dedicated themselves at some point to do what so few can do; to run a marathon. And after accomplishing that monumental goal, they decided that they not only wanted to do it again. They wanted to do it faster. They wanted to do it fast enough; fast enough to qualify for Boston.

And I won’t even get into the registration hurdles they had to conquer once they finally qualified.

Those 23,000 runners had forgone time with friends and family to put in the many training miles needed to prepare their minds and bodies for the challenge of finishing one of the biggest races in the sport. They watched what they ate. They stayed in on Friday nights so they would be fresh for that no frills, no finishers’ medal 20 mile training run on Saturday morning. They put their sore bones in bathtubs full of ice to relieve the pain afterwards. They persevered through painful IT bands, planter fasciitis, swollen knees and ankles, stomach cramps, and shin splints. They did what they had to do to prepare to achieve a personal goal that no one else could do for them. And some shithead tainted or destroyed that dream with the most cowardly of weapons.

It’s hard now, not to again feel disgusted. But I remind myself of those helpers. I remind myself that this was the act of a few. And I remind myself of the perseverance of runners.

“Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after the other.” – Walter Elliot.

I don’t believe that the Boston Marathon is in any danger as an institution. I haven’t even heard anyone hint at it. But then again, I’ve been avoiding the news for almost 28 hours now. Runners, in my limited experience, are the most dedicated and headstrong people that I’ve ever had the pleasure of associating myself. They battle through so much personal pain and suffering week in and week out during their training, and for what? None of the runners I know were in any position to “win” any of the races I’ve participated in. They do it because they love running. They love challenging themselves. And maybe above all else, they love rising to that challenge and experiencing the feeling of accomplishment that comes with success in those goals.

These kinds of personalities will never let the dishonorable and spineless act of a few take their event away from them. Sure, there will be some runners who cannot stomach being on that ground again, and I don’t blame them at all. But there will be others that refuse to let fear invade their passion. There will be new runners who refuse to take Boston off of their bucket list. The Boston Marathon will likely experience a boon in registrations next year. Not in some back-patting brewhaha “look at how brave I am” pageantry, but as a result of the rallied support of arguably the most dedicated community of amateur athletes in the world. Runners will never give up their “Super Bowl.” Because unlike fans of the NFL Super Bowl, they’re actually going to play. And every one of them that crosses that finish line wins.

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” – Mahatma Gandhi

In my short time running, I have learned many things about myself. I’ve learned that I can do anything that I set my heart and mind towards. I’ve discovered inner strength that makes me want to do so many things that I’m constantly battling against that daily 24 hour time limit. I’ve learned that I’ve got a shitload more to learn too. And if I don’t leave myself open to new experiences and possibilities, I may never figure it all out.

Yesterday I was reminded that we are not guaranteed tomorrow, and that just makes those 24 hours every day seem that much more limiting. Statistically, I’m over half way through with my short time on the planet. I’ve wasted a lot of it. Monday’s chaos did not make me want to run a marathon. Yesterday made me want to run Boston. Not because I think that it needs me to, or because of any silly “If I don’t run Boston, then the terrorist win” bullshit. I want to run it for the same reason 23,000 people wanted to yesterday. Because it’s the Boston. Fucking. Marathon. And not just anybody in a pair of Asics gets to say they’ve done it.

I was in a sour mood this morning (still am) and I was very tempted to call out of work and then justify that irresponsible act to myself by putting in some epic long therapy-run in tribute to those effected by the events in Boston yesterday. But in the end that seemed kind of self-righteous and silly to me. If someone else did that, I get it. But for this newbie who’s never been to Boston, never run a marathon, and thankfully did not lose anyone in yesterday’s tragedy to do that seemed a bit out of place.

But I did run today. I ran four short miles just as I already planned to. And I’ll run again on Thursday, and again on Saturday, and so on and so on. I will because I’m a runner. I will because if I ever want to run the Boston Marathon, I’m going to have to start somewhere. And it might was well be here. And it might as well be today. We’re all running out of time. Let your loved ones know how you feel. Do the things you want to do. Tomorrow might be too late.

boston finish

I’m not disgusted by the events in Boston yesterday because I’m a runner. I’m disgusted by what happened because I’m a human being who expects more from society. And I’m tired of having to seek out inspiration in the face of overwhelming disappointment. Treat people better. It’s not that hard.

Do It Yourself

“I’m really anti-option, so computers have been my nightmare with recording. I don’t want endless tracks; I want less tracks. I want decisions to be made.” – Ian MacKaye

Last Friday night I crossed the river into Norfolk to see my friend Jenn play what could very well be her last show before she jumps the big pond to start her new life based out of the U.K. Jenn Lawyer is an incredibly talented singer/songwriter/guitarist, from Virginia Beach, that I have had the pleasure of calling my friend for the last several years. On top of having her as a friend, I feel very fortunate to have been able record some of her demos with her and even luckier to have just been able to see and hear her grow so much as an musician, a songwriter, and a person. I. Am. A. Fan.

100_5875Jenn, together with another songwriter friend, Ray McDaniel, and I have been working together under the “Seven Deuce Records” moniker for a few years now, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being part of our small but productive circle. Our recording setup is very simple, but almost all of our recordings are single takes of just voice and guitar. So it works. They write, play, and sing the songs. I push the buttons and occasionally turn a knob or two. But I enjoy the simplicity of what we get and the lack of technological tricks enhancing (read: masking) the organic nature of the songs. I absolutely love it when they nail a take. But I also prefer an occasional muted note or a subtle tempo lag over hearing a recording that I know has been tweaked, overdubbed, and digitally adjusted to achieve “perfection.” Those types of recordings lack a certain sense of personality and veer away from being a true capture of a performance. We don’t do that.

But Jenn has gone and selfishly fallen in love and married to a member of the British Air Force. So she’s skipping town for greener pastures and better accents. Seven Deuce is certainly going to miss her contribution to the process both musically and spiritually, and I’m going to miss my angel voiced pseudo sister. But I couldn’t be happier for the charming couple or more excited to see where their new adventure takes them. I’m sure they’ll kick ass. And I can’t imagine how there couldn’t be even more new songs to discover just over the horizon. It’s going to be awesome. I hope she never doubts that she has the talent and personal strength to do whatever she wants.

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes” – Marcel Proust

There has been a mini-rush of people at the gym in the last two weeks and I couldn’t figure out where all of these people were coming from, or why. I mean, the resolution rush had just started to fade out to manageable numbers. But then I noticed an online thread where someone was lamenting bathing suit season and asking if anyone knew of a diet or workout system that “worked.” That’s why there are more people standing around the gym (or more often just sitting idle on the machine I want to use). It’s time to get that beach body that the checkout isle magazines swear is just a few weeks of crunches away from revealing itself. Now it all makes sense…kind of.

“There isn’t much I have to say, that I wouldn’t rather just shut up and do.”
– Ani DiFranco

The interesting part of the question to me was how the wording seemed to expect the diet or workout to “do” something. I know I’m reading too literally into the wording, but no diet or exercise DVD system “works.” Or maybe all of them do, but only if you do. Low carb diets, Insanity workout systems, fat free diets, P90X, juice diets, veggie cleanses, the lucky strikes diet, whatever; They are all guidelines. They’re just plans. Some of them are healthier than others. Some are probably completely stupid (seriously, check out these gems). I have researched zero of them. But I know none of them work. They only allow you some guidance and/or motivation to DO IT YOURSELF. Like everything in life, from getting that job you’ve always wanted to mastering the pan flute to running your first 5K, YOU have to do it. You have to do the work. The diet or workout DVD isn’t going to do shit! Except maybe cost you a lot of money. The “work” part is up to you, and there’s more than one way to get it done.

I know people who have had huge success with the famous Insanity and P90X workout systems. Those two products don’t remain such popular and highly recommended systems because their customers are unhappy with the results. They’re popular because if you do the work, you will lose weight, gain flexibility, and build muscle. You just have to dedicate yourself to following those systems, adjusting your diet, and putting in the sweat-time. Sounds easy right?

But you don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars for some oily guy to scream at you over loud dance music. You can if you want. I’m not in any way trying to discredit those products or disparage the many people that have had so much success with them. But there are undoubtedly hoards of people that bought them, tried them, realized it’s actually hard work, and now have them on a shelf collecting dust next to their Lord of the Rings DVDs. Do whatever you want to do, but don’t forget that there’s more than one way to succeed at just about anything, and some are more affordable or convenient than others. In this case, it might actually be the destination that matters more than the path.

“The only person who can pull me down is myself, and I’m not going to let myself pull me down anymore.” – C. JoyBell C. (yes, her grammar sucks, but you get the idea)

My friend Justin has found a path to become healthier through his study of martial arts. He wanted to become better at something that he enjoys doing and that he benefits from spiritually. So he’s adjusting his diet, exercising more, and even doing a little bit of running. And he’s seeing the benefits of those changes in increased cardio-endurance, better flexibility, and a little extra room in his clothes. He did that.

My buddy Matt cannot stand the idea of going into a gym because of admitted anxiety issues, but he wanted to lose some weight and get in better shape. He simply wanted to feel better. He bought a very affordable exercise bike, a yoga mat, and a medicine ball. He probably spent less than $300 dollars total. It might sound expensive, but we all know someone spending more than that every year on a gym membership that they are not using. Matt watches what he eats, drinks less, rides that bike 10+ miles four or five days a week, and does medicine ball workouts that he found online. As he challenges himself to ride that bike faster and achieves those successes, he continues to adjust his diet to benefit those goals. Now after only a couple of months, he’s almost 30 pounds lighter, stronger, more flexible, and feels a whole lot better in his clothes that don’t really fit anymore. And he recently mentioned buying a road bike so he can get outside with his workouts. Hell, he might end up beating that anxiety issue eventually and be blowing up the gym. Who knows? But what I do know is Matt did that work.

Anyone that’s read my blog already knows I’m a runner. I run three days a week aiming for between 15 and 20 total weekly miles. I do it because I love it. It becomes more meditative with every mile that I log. It’s therapeutic. I go to the gym five or six days a week for roughly 60-90 minutes depending on whether I’ve run that day or not; originally because I wanted to run better. But now I enjoy the sweat-meditation of the gym in and of itself on top of how it benefits my running. I eat a diet heavy in vegetables, almost no processed foods, and very little meat. Last September, I weighed 265 pounds and couldn’t run around my block. This morning I weighed just under 200 lbs, and a few weeks ago I ran my first half marathon. I did all of that.

Don’t have time for all of that, you say? My friend Mellisa is a devoted wife and mother, caring for two children, and running a small business out of her home. But she has adopted a healthier diet and started exercising more. Sometimes that means going for 30 minute run/walks near her home or taking a bite out of her limited free-time to go to the gym. And she’s lost weight, gotten stronger, and clearly feels fantastic. And she should. She looks great and It’s really fun to see her hard work paying off. She is doing it.

“And my dad drilled it in my head, you know, ‘If you want it bad enough, and you’re willing to make the sacrifices, you can do it. But first you have to believe in yourself.” – Jennie Finch

See any similarities? Each person wanted to change something bad enough that they found a way to do it for themselves. It doesn’t have to be difficult. Training for the olympics can get scientific and complex. Just feeling better doesn’t have to be. Eat better, move more.

If somebody wants a diet or workout that “works,” there’s a few right there. They’re all different. But they’re all the same too. Eat a healthier diet. We all know what is and isn’t good for us. We can debate specifics about how many carbs we should eat or whether artificial sweeteners are actually any better than sugar. But we all know that deep fried twinkees are garbage we shouldn’t eat, and that we should eat more raw fruits and vegetables. Eat better. You already know how. And then find some physical activity that you enjoy and that benefits you somehow, whether it’s running, cycling, martial arts, skateboarding, or whack-a-mole. Then do that as much as you can make the time to do it. It will “work,” but only if you do. And you can do anything.

“Just as there is a trend toward high tech today, there is another trend toward high touch – homemade and wholesome.” – Meryl Gardner

100_6517Because I’m an idiot and never seem to remember that parking in downtown Norfolk on a Friday night takes longer than driving there, I walked into the venue just as Jenn was taking the stage. I snuck up to the back of the small crowd gathered up front where, thanks to my height, I could still see perfectly. The stage microphone was apparently set up for the headlining band (also friends of mine), who have a much greater appreciation for vocal reverb, but her voice still sounded great-ate-ate-te-e. Her guitar was a little boomy (probably also due to a soundman unwilling to tweak a knob from the headliner’s soundcheck set-up), but she adjusted well and did what she always does. She delivered her wonderfully written and often introspective original songs with the proper placement of exuberance and pause. And she let her naturally fun personality shine between those beautiful songs setting a nice light vibe to start off an evening of local talent. It was really fun to hear her perform so strongly and to be received equally well by the crowd. Standing in the back, I was able to hear the under-the-breath complements being shared among my fellow wall-flowers.

After collecting my hug as she left the stage, she escaped long enough to catch a breath and wrangle a drink out of a lackluster bar staff. When she returned, she handed me a small package. She, together with her mom and long-time cohort Mary had packaged several CDs of her demos to sell after the show. They were awesome D.I.Y. packages, all similar but each unique in its slight differences. They looked really great and as I opened it to see what kind of magic that more-than-capable group of ladies had pieced together, I was honored to see that I had been credited in her record as “Mister Mixer.” Sure I probably didn’t technically mix very much in our voice and guitar recordings, but I know what she’s saying. And I appreciate it. Besides, “button pusher” could’ve been misconstrued. I will treasure that CD as the singular piece of art that it is. And my favorite part of the whole package was this small tag just inside of the jacket that made me smile on a night that I wasn’t really in the mood to smile much. The tag read “Handmade with love.” Yeah. I smiled big.

That’s how we should all view the work that we do for ourselves. We deserve it.

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“Basically we just created our own label, but again we just did it to document our own music and create our own thing, so the major labels were just always out of our picture, we’re not interested.” – Ian MacKaye

Ani Difranco, Gillian Welch, and many many other musical groups across genres have started their own labels when no one else was interested in their art and rightly told the big money labels “No Thanks” when they finally came to cash in on the art that they had no part in creating. But when I think of D.I.Y., I can’t help but go to Fugazi. They’ve done it all themselves since the 80’s and have no interest in giving up even a hair of control just for a little bit of money. And they’re a really great band. Enjoy.

“I’m gonna fight for what I want to be”