Memorial Day Miles

“I enjoyed growing up part of my life in Virginia Beach. We had the ocean and the beach and a beautiful landscape. We were outdoors all the time and we played outside.” – Mark Ruffalo

Wow. Time flies when you’re running around all weekend. This year’s Memorial Day weekend was a really great weekend to get outside, so that’s what I did. All. Weekend. Long. And after catching up on some of my favorite running blogs this morning, it appears that everyone with a pair of running shoes got out and enjoyed the sunny weather as well. A few logged some race miles, some kept up their training, and everybody seemed to make time for some fun-running. Which is the best kind of running, in case you didn’t know.

I spent almost the whole weekend outside somewhere and enjoying a relative break from the internet. I never miss it. There’s just not enough natural light online. I attended a small cookout with friends Saturday evening, enjoyed some quality time with my family on Sunday afternoon, squeezed five rounds of disc golf in there somewhere, and ran my first Yasso 800s on Monday morning. And of course over those three days, I ate way too much shit that I generally don’t eat; which I’m still feeling the effects of today. Ugh. But at least I started the weekend strong by running my first race since March. It felt good to pin a bib to my shirt again after such a long break. I did miss that.

“You have to wonder at times what you’re doing out there. Over the years, I’ve given myself a thousand reasons to keep running, but it always comes back to where it started. It comes down to self-satisfaction and a sense of achievement.” – Steve Prefontaine

100_6619Saturday morning was the Elizabeth River Run; a waterfront 10K in Portsmouth, VA where I live. It was nice to have a race that was so close to my house that I could’ve probably run to and from the thing if I had to. Of course the after party beers would’ve made the run back home a lot harder to enjoy, so I drove (that might be the dumbest “logic” ever expressed in a single sentence).

Goal expectations for the race were a bit unclear for me. I’d only run one 10K race prior to it, and because that race was so early in my running life, I have naturally gotten faster since then. In fact, I reread the blog I wrote about my first 10K and enjoyed remembering how happy I was to maintain a 9:24 pace and reliving the joy of discovering that I was going to be able to run all six miles without walking. They don’t call them baby steps for no reason. But calling them baby steps doesn’t make them any less important.

Running each race (or each and every run for that matter) singularly and in the moment is a lesson that I feel very fortunate to have stumbled onto early, even if I didn’t exactly know it at the time or if I still forget on occasion. Sometimes it’s nice to look back at how far I’ve come instead of always staring into the sun on the horizon and blinding myself with the uncertainty of the road ahead. Just keep running for fun and before I know it, I’ll be wherever I’m going.

I try not to take anything for granted, but knowing that my only other 10K was so long ago, I was fairly confident that if I could avoid falling into the river, I’d be able to PR on Saturday. But I’ve also been mixing up my training runs more in recent weeks while at the same time trying to solidify my form again after adopting a new rhythmic breathing technique. Both of those things have undoubtedly contributed to my better speed and comfort when I run. But the focus on my breathing did temporarily distract me from my basic form. And giving up one of my three weekly runs to speed intervals gives me one less opportunity to focus on my less than fantastic natural pacing ability. So I really didn’t have a solid goal for the E.R.R. or a terribly well informed expectation either. I was just going to run it…for the fun of it.

“Success rests in having the courage and endurance, and above all, the will to become the person you are.” – Dr. George Sheehan

Because it was close to my house, I actually managed to wake up, get ready, and make it to the race a whole thirty minutes before the scheduled start time. I was almost confused as to what to do with so much free time. Stretching seemed like a good idea, so I tried that. Then I went for a quick warm up jog around some nearby office buildings. It was windy as hell, but the sun was shining, and the temperature was mild. It was a great day for a run. About 10 minutes before race time, I wandered back into the general staging area and started to make my way towards the line.

On my way in, I gave quick hellos to my friends Beth and Sarah. Beth is a long-time runner who is starting to ramp up the miles again as she comes back from an injury. Sarah is also an experienced runner who signed up last minute because she wanted to motivate herself to “get back in the game” after taking a short break from running. And while waiting at the start, I chatted briefly with Justin, a man who works at the same place as me and Beth’s husband. Small world, right? It was good to see them out there. Races seem just as much social events as they do athletic ones. I think that’s why there’s always beer at the finish line.

“Running gives freedom. When you run you can determine your own tempo. You can choose your own course and think whatever you want. Nobody tells you what to do.” – Nina Kuscik

Once the horn sounded, I took off and managed to clear the early bottlenecks relatively quickly. I was half-assed aiming for an 8:00 minute/mile pace. And about ¾ of a mile into the run, I realized that I’d been approximately 25 ft behind the same women for pretty much the entire time. I’d checked my watch a few different times. If I started to catch up with her, I’d see that I was running faster than 8:00. If she started to pull further ahead, I’d check and find that I was lagging. Sweet. I found an 8:00 pacer already. This was going to be easy. I could just stay the same distance behind her, ignore my watch, and enjoy the run. Despite the wind in my face, it was a really nice day for a run. I might as well take it all in.

The sun was shining from a bright blue sky as we ran along the waterfront looking out at all of the local shipyards stocked with different sized grey boats in various states of disrepair and maintenance. There were a few ducks in some of the well treed and green park areas we passed, and even the occasional smattering of cheering supporters. The coarse wove through Historic OldeTowne Portsmouth for the first two-ish miles before heading out along the river and into the Portsmouth Naval Station, doing a big loop around their soft ball field, and back out across Olde Towne into the waiting Finish Line where we started.

About three miles in, I passed my pacer. I had been steadily gaining on her for a half mile and after checking several times had to accept that I wasn’t speeding up; she was slowing down. Dammit! Now I’m going to have to pace myself.

I tried to simply run at the speed of comfort. I don’t generally pay any attention at all to whether I’m passing anyone or if someone is passing me unless it’s in some tight part of the course where I can’t help but notice the close proximity of another runner. But being less familiar with my natural pacing, I did start to notice those things and each one would elicit a speed check. I wasn’t racing anyone, but I definitely didn’t want to run so fast that I ended up falling apart at the end of a six mile race.

Not long after losing my pacer, I came upon a fellow Tidewater Striders member (who coincidently shares my first name). He was running with his teenage son, and during our quick exchange of pleasantries and hellos, he asked how I was doing. I said I was great except “I think I’m running too fast.” “That’s okay, it’s a race, you’re supposed to run fast” He replied. Shit! I couldn’t argue with logic like that, so for the remaining two miles and change, I just ran. I checked my pace way more than I thought, but for no good reason at all. I didn’t consciously change anything based on the information gained during those wrist checks. And with each vibrating mile reminder, the pace was getting quicker.

“Ask yourself: ‘Can I give more?’. The answer is usually: ‘Yes’.” – Paul Tergat

The beauty of starting a race with the wind in your face is that if there is any fairness in the world you’ll get to finish that race being pushed by that very same wind. As I was approaching the finish line, I could hear the race announcer yelling encouragement to anyone within earshot of the speakers. “Thirty seconds left to finish under 49 minutes.” I have no idea if that is some universally recognized 10K benchmark, but Kathryn of Run Eat Play RVA had recently PR’d her 10K while aiming to break 49 minutes. And if I was only 30 seconds away, I saw no reason not to at least try and get there. So I kicked it up. I lengthened my stride, picked up my pace, ignored my newly untied right shoe, and charged across the finish line where I overheard what I thought to be a familiar voice holler out “nice stride” as I passed. As I immediately circled back to see who had yelled, I saw Beth come across seconds behind me. Even bouncing back from injury, she’s fast. Bitch! (Yes I’m kidding.)

I never found a familiar face to go with that voice. I have no clue if that comment was even directed at me. But I know I finished in 48:56. And I know that I felt great.

I had beaten my previous 10K PR by more than nine minutes. I was confident that I would beat it. I had no clue that I would run at an average pace of 7:51 min/mile; over 90 seconds faster than I was 4.5 months ago. And I had no clue that I would feel so strong after doing so. I’ve been making a very conscious effort to refuel better after runs and workouts and I have noticed a very clear reduction in soreness, aches, and pains. And I have also been experiencing so much more energy that I’m not sure I’m going to be able to keep my weekly running limited to only three days for very much longer. It feels good to feel so good, in case you didn’t know.

“For every runner who tours the world running marathons, there are thousands who run to hear the leaves and listen to the rain, and look to the day when it is suddenly as easy as a bird in flight.” – Dr. George Sheehan

While catching up with a few people I had not seen since the Shamrock and discussing my sporadic pacing and how bummed I was to have lost my pacer so early, I said something like “It’s way too nice out here to spend so much time looking at my left arm.” I believe that to be true. But just a few minutes later, as I was checking in with Beth and seeing if her husband had come in yet, she informed me that she was behind me as we rounded the soft ball fields near the 4 mile mark and was amused with how often I was checking my watch.

Dammit!

I really need to pace better. I know I’ve gone out on training runs and ignored my watch. I’ve seen the erratic splits that result from it. But it sounds like once I lost my pacer on Saturday morning, I unknowingly built an intense and overly committed relationship with my left wrist for the next four miles. Is that a huge deal? Not really. But I really don’t want to be that guy that misses simple things like squirrels fighting, or ladies in pretty running clothes just because I’m distracted by my second-to-second pace adjustments. It’s nit-picky, but I’m a dick, and always have to find the grey cloud around my silver linings. I PR’d my 10K. But I’m almost certain that I might have seen a mermaid out there had I not be so pre-occupied with my watch. And is there really any good excuse for not seeing a mermaid? I didn’t think so.

“If I’m free, it’s because I’m always running.” – Jimi Hendrix

After the race, I spent the next couple of hours enjoying the morning sun and chatting with a bunch of people that I don’t see very often. I don’t usually consider running to be to be the best topic to build a lengthy conversation around, but I was nice to chat briefly with other runners about how they did, what races they’re planning to run, and getting some details about some fun runs I’m already planning to participate in later this summer. And any time you can drink beer at 9 a.m. and not be looked at like a freak is a good time to me. I had a blast.

Oh, and while I may have had two slices of pizza, one hamburger, a hot dog, and twenty-some-odd beers over the three day weekend; I also ran 11 miles and had zero cigarettes. I haven’t had a cigarette in 12 days, and more impressively…two Sundays. I will admit that I do miss them; but not as much as I did 11 days ago. We’ll see what happens.

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End of the First Quarter (J.O.G.T. 3)

“There was a dream. One day I could see it. Like a bird in a cage I broke in and demanded that somebody free it” — The (effing) Avett Brothers

Shit! March flew by; ending the first quarter of 2013. It was probably the most hectic month so far, but a good one just the same. We were short-handed at work all month. I was finishing my half marathon training. And I was just generally busy trying to keep up with my own routines. But there were a lot of additions to the Jar Of Good Things this month. Here is a sample of them, but not necessarily the best things. I have to have some secrets right?

(some names may have been changed/deleted to protect the innocent)

Mar 07. I might have found a good in-race fuel. After staying up too late last night, I tried Jelly Belly Extreme Sport Beans before going to the gym and had a very good workout w/ lots of energy. Can’t wait to try them during a run.

This might not seem like the most exciting event in the world, and it’s not. But on March 07, I was ten days away from running my first half marathon and realizing that I definitely needed to be taking in calories during my long runs, and the even more troublesome fact that I was running out of time to figure out that issue before the Shamrock.

My previous weeks’ long runs had left me feeling completely drained, some of which even worrisomely so. I started hydrating better during my runs after that, but finding a food source had still alluded me.

I’d read a lot about in-race fueling, but had gotten busy and not applied any of that reading to my runs very well. During my last pre-shamrock race (20K), I experimented with Honey Stinger Energy Chews and felt like they helped a little bit. But I wasn’t convinced yet, so when I saw Extreme Jelly Beans at the grocery story I figured why not. Even though I cannot stand the artificial cherry flavor that candy companies use and that was the only option they carried, I chomped down the 100 calorie bag before going to the gym one afternoon and ended up having a really great workout with a noticeable spike in energy.

I’m a little uncomfortable with the caffeine in them only because I’d rather be able to get the energy I need from the food I eat and by getting better rest. A year ago, I was drinking an energy drink almost every day. Now I can’t even remember the last time I had one, but I know I’ve had the same little red bottle sitting in my refrigerator door for at least five months. I like not “needing” those things. And that feeds into my apprehension about caffeinated jelly beans. But they worked great during my half marathon. So while I continue to tweak my regular diet and try new in-race foods, I’m glad that I found them when I did.

Mar 11. Picked up some prints that Dee made for me and absolutely love them. I can’t wait to frame and hang them. Having talented friends is always a good thing.

100_6507I’ve been living alone again for just over a year and my apartment looks like a single man lives here. There is very little rhyme or reason to my furniture and almost nothing hanging on my walls.

My grandfather used to tell people that my family’s beach cottage in the outer banks was decorated in the style of “early donation,” meaning that they’d pretty much accepted any hand-me-down furniture that would serve the purpose needed and its appearance was of very little importance. I’ve always been a function over fashion sort of person and my apartment is decorated as such. What I’m saying is it can use a little personality.

I’ve mentioned before how lucky I am to know so many talented people, so when I decided to try to find some artwork for my apartment there was no doubt that I would start there.

My friend Dee is a very talented artist is this area, and even though we didn’t know each other at the time we went to the same high school in North Carolina a long time ago too. It was actually through mutual friends from NC that we met.

I don’t think she would disagree that her style is not at all mainstream. And it is not what I think most people would immediately associate with whatever my tastes generally are either…whatever that means. I like what I like and rarely feel the need to explain why.

While kicking around her Dee-Composed artists facebook site, I saw a few prints that spoke to me. And even though they were not intended to be a series, Dee agreed to print them on similar background paper stock (old maps) for me so I could more easily tie them together.

She was incredibly easy to work with and more than fair. I could not have been more pleased. You should check out her stuff here.

Now, all I have to do is get off my ass and find some frames.

Mar 16. Watched my mom run her very first 8K race. I think it was her longest race to date, and she did great. She stuck to her plan and beat her expected time. I’m super proud of her.

My mom ran her first 8K on the same weekend as my half marathon. And she killed it. She had run other races before (a few 5Ks I think), but that was before I was running and I really had no idea.

She and I had discussed running and training so many times leading up to our race weekend and I had to be there to see her execute her plan.

My mom is one of those people that is so organized and “together” that she makes almost everyone else on the planet look a little haphazard by comparison, so it was no surprise to me that she had a pre-planned run-walk workout programmed in her phone for the race. She had been putting in the miles for several weeks and doing a good amount of cross-training too, and…well, she was just making me proud.

On race day morning, I met her down at the beach where I was lucky to find her among the over 9000 runners that morning. But I chatted with her before the race, wished her luck, and at the sound of the horn I watched her take off into the hoards of other runners.

After running back to my car to drop off the Tervis cup I dropped and broke (dammmit!), I strolled back over to the Virginia Beach boardwalk in time to see her passing the three-ish mile mark at a pretty good pace. Then I was able to get to the finish line in time to watch her cross at an even better time than she had anticipated. It was awesome. My mom rules.

Mar 20. Went to the gym at 5 a.m. so that I could play disc golf after work without having to skip a workout. The gym is pretty nice that early.

100_6503I’m still battling with my schedule. In the last several months, I’ve been trying to fit my new running and workout routines into my previous schedule while omitting as few things as possible. The key word in that sentence is “trying.”

With daylight savings time back in the equation, I would normally be excited to be able to play disc golf on weekdays again and restart a summer routine of meeting some friends to play on Wednesday afternoons before we go grab some tacos. But as I’ve adopted a daily after work gym habit, there is an immediate conflict.

On the 20th, I simply got up early and did my workout before work. No problem, right? Well the problem is I’m not sure it was worth that effort. I didn’t particularly enjoy my afternoon round with my friends. And honestly, I’d have probably had a better time at the gym alone. My friends are great, and I love tacos. But all of the running around to make it happen isn’t as relaxing as just going to the gym and getting in some sweat-meditation.

I love my friends, and I know my schedule already makes me less available sometimes. But I’m slowly realizing that I am going to have to reprioritize a lot more of my life than I have so far. I’m going to have to admit that I spend a lot of time doing things out of habit more than pleasure. That doesn’t mean that I’m ever doing something that I don’t enjoy. I wouldn’t do that. But I’m finding myself sitting quietly with friends at the bar from time to time, or wandering around a park on a weekday afternoon, when I’d much rather be running or sitting at home reading, writing, or any number of other things.

I’m not exactly sure what I’m trying to say. But there are a lot of things I want to do that don’t get done because I don’t say “no” enough. I want to hang out. I want to get a drink with friends. And I love playing disc golf. But I want to do so many other things and I’m going to have to start picking my moments more selectively and less routinely or I’ll keep putting off things that are important to me for no other reason than it’s the custom.

I’m a slow work in progress. I’ll figure it out. But at least now I know that the gym is damn near empty at 5 a.m.

Mar 30. I heard a radio segment about something called ASMR, and realized they were talking about something that I have experienced for most of my life and just didn’t know what it was called or that it didn’t happen to everyone.

100_6504

Wikipedia calls Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response a “claimed” biological phenomenon because it is difficult to research and apparently only recently been given that name.

Leaving the grocery store on Saturday put me in the car during NPRs This American Life and right in the middle of a segment seemingly about these youtube videos that have been gaining popularity for their targetting of people that experience an Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response.

Because I missed the beginning, it took me a few minutes of them describing these videos of mostly young women whispering while performing simple tasks like turning pages of a book or crinkling paper or…whatever, before I figured out that they were really talking about the biological response and not these odd sounding videos.

When I was in third or forth grade I remember a teacher doing something at my desk and while watching whatever she was writing on my paper having a strong tingling sensation in my head. It was similar to the pins and needles feeling when people say that a body part has “fallen asleep” but maybe a little more numbing than tingling. And it definitely had a tinge of euphoria that doesn’t come with a numb arm in the morning.

I know it sounds stupid, and I’ve never discussed it because I just assumed that it happens to everyone. And maybe it does. But there is apparently a whole subculture of people that watch these youtube videos trying to trigger the numbing response in their head, and I guess having some level of success. It sounds like different people have different triggers ranging from paper sounds, to clanging silverware to simple whispering tones. I’m not sure exactly what triggered mine, if it was the sound of pencil on paper, or maybe the vocal tones of whomever, but I remember liking the feeling.

Even as a kid I always thought it felt really relaxing, and when it would happen I would try to just sit really still and stay soft-focused on whatever I was looking at so as to not make it go away. It has happened many times both as a child and adult, but not as frequently anymore. I’ve never even thought about trying to trigger it. But hearing that radio story about it was kind of crazy.

What can I say? It was a relaxing day and I can be easily impressed sometimes.

Well I guess that about covers March. It was probably my favorite month of 2013 so far, but I hope it’s just the beginning of the adventure. There is way too much of the year still left to live for it to peak this early. And I have a feeling there is more excitement to come. Or I hope so anyway.

“There’s a darkness upon me that’s flooded in light”

Honorable mentions:

Mar 01. I had a good time jamming with Mike, Charlie, and Jeremy last night. I am every bit as rusty as I imagined, but it was still really nice to rock out on the old tele, before staying up too late listening to Punch Brothers songs. Good times.

Mar 02. Recording session with Ray and Trey. Got Ray’s new song down in one take, and snagged a pretty nice version of Trey’s “Traveler” too. Good night.

Mar 17. Ran my very first half marathon (Anthem Shamrock Half Marathon) and did it in less than 2 hours. I was stoked.

Mar 18. After packing up the stuff she still had in my apartment and getting it into her car, [my ex] and I executed what I believe to be the very first mutually recognized “last date” and had a really great time together.

Mar 21. Climbing around in two different submarines today illustrated how much smaller and healthier I’ve become since the last time I had to do it. Weird but good thing.

Mar 26. Had a really nice time chatting with Justin, Kim, Sean, and Stacey during “tacos with tilly” tonight.

Mar 29. Woke up with a weekend schedule so full that I wasn’t sure how I was going to be able to get everything done. By 4:00, most of my weekend had cleared, allowing me the time I needed to prep for Sunday dinner. GOOD THING.

F the Q Word

“Happiness quite unshared can scarcely be called happiness; it has no taste.” – Charlotte Bronte

Let me start by saying that I feel good. I don’t say that enough. I seem to have very little reservation in sharing when I’m frustrated, annoyed, distracted, angry, or even a little sad. But I rarely find myself openly expressing when I’m in any kind of a good spot. I don’t think I’m alone in that either. Scanning through facebook is almost always like flipping through a phone-book-thick volume of personal gripes and dissatisfactions. And I’ve been as guilty of it as anyone else.

I’m not exactly sure what I could credit with this current sense of wellbeing since I have again changed a few too many variables at one time to accurately calculate a clear cause-and-effect relationship. I’ve continued to refine my diet habits; refueling better after runs and workouts, adding more nutrient-rich foods to meals and shakes, taking some additional vitamins, and making my food choices even more whole food vegetable based. I’ve also tweaked my gym workouts in the last week to better pair muscle groups and schedule more recovery days between those workouts. This should hopefully improve gains while reducing some recurring aches and pains. And I’ve managed to reduce the amount of stressors in my life.

I’m not sure which of these things is or is not more contributive to my current light-heartedness. But I don’t really care either. Today is a good day to have a good day. And I’m thankful to have noticed.

“We’ve been taught that quitting means failure. But we neglect to add the very important caveat to that statement, which is that there are two types of quitting: Quitting things that matter, and quitting things that don’t. “ – Ash Ambirge

A friend of mine recently shared the link to a blog that really hit home with me. The blog expressed the belief (or I would say: “understanding”) that in our efforts to never be seen as “quitters,” we often remain diligent in directions not beneficial to our goals, our interests, or even our personal welfare; and that when we find ourselves expending energy and valuable time in such unsatisfying pursuits, quitting is not a mark of weakness, but instead a sign of self-awareness…or maybe even wisdom. (Read blog here. Seriously. Read it.)

I’m more than satisfied with many of the changes I’ve adopted into my life in the last eight months and genuinely delighted with how natural those new facets have become. But I have been too reluctant and slow in removing and adjusting other stuff in order to better manage my health, my schedule and/or my stress levels. I felt that blog may have touched on some of the reasons why. I read it and several different things immediately came to mind; some unhealthy habits, poorly prioritized routines, previously made commitments. And I started to reassess each of them in an attempt to determine what the biggest obstacles in my life were and what I could do to reduce them or at least traverse them as quickly as possible in order to streamline my existence a little better. In short, I needed to be a better quitter.

“The only reason we should ever persevere is when it matters. And when does it matter? When it contributes to your big picture goals. Anything else is a waste of your time, and not quitting is extremely counterproductive.” – Ash Ambirge

Some friends and I hosted a disc golf tournament last summer to honor a friend of ours. It was moderately successful, we learned a lot, and we planned to do it again. No problem. But to anyone that’s read some of my posts from last fall already knows, I’m not the same person I was last summer. My interests and priorities are vastly different. So when it came time to organize this year’s tournament, I was admittedly much less enthusiastic. But I had already committed to it. Tournaments aren’t cheap so my financial support was definitely needed. And I didn’t want to let my friends down just because I was less personally invested in it. So I was going to do it. It’s not hard to do. It’s just expensive.

After repeated schedule conflicts pushing our date over two months past when we originally intended to hold the event and some unexpected financial set backs, we recently decided that we would have to cancel that tournament this year. It was becoming insanely difficult to coordinate and we just could not afford to do it. I almost felt guilty for how happy I was with our decision. I’d wanted to cancel it for weeks but wouldn’t say anything. And as he and I discussed it, the other financial backer was pretty much doing the same thing. We were both dealing with undue burdens trying to fulfill an obligation that had become way more of a stressor than any source of excitement. But we were both too “committed” to our previously laid plan to admit that our plan was unwise and that we should quit.

At some point you have to accept that the obstacles have piled so high, that the reward for completing a task can never justify the energy spent to accomplish it. It was supposed to be fun. Last year, it seemed a no-brainer that we’d do it again. And maybe we will. But as my interest waned and the obstacles grew, it became nothing more than a really expensive burden of my time and energy at a time when I have so many more important things I want to focus on. I had to quit. We had to quit. I’m not upset at all that we did. Sometimes quitting feels really good.

“As long as habit and routine dictate the pattern of living, new dimensions of the soul will not emerge.” – Henry Van Dyke

I half jokingly mentioned in an earlier blog that everyone should have a standing weekly taco date. For those that don’t know, a “taco date” is exactly what it sounds like; a scheduled meeting with friends to enjoy delicious tacos and maybe a few cheap beers. But I was wrong. Maybe some people should have a weekly scheduled gathering like that. But I shouldn’t. I have too many life rituals already.

Not that long ago, I could reliably tell you where I was going to be every single Wednesday evening/night, Friday evening, Sunday morning, and Sunday night. That might not sound like that much of a time commitment. It’s only three days out of seven, right? But then you have to subtract the ten hours a day we all spend at work or traveling to and from work. And don’t forget all of that time we waste sleeping each night.

I’m fortunate enough to have a day job with regular hours, so from about four p.m. until 11ish every day, I’m technically free. That’s only 35 hours from Monday to Friday, and I had already committed two of those nights EVERY week, and half of EVERY weekend to standing routines. That didn’t leave a lot of extra time for healthy pursuits like regular exercise, smarter diet choices, or even full participation in my personal relationship.

Sure, they were routines revolving around activities that I enjoy, but my poorly prioritized dedication to the rituals themselves was too time consuming and inflexible and certainly not contributing to making me a better person or moving me towards my goals. In hindsight, I don’t even know if I had any real goals.

Working on reprioritizing my routines has benefitted me greatly. I still maintain many of the same regular customs but with a much higher level of flexibility. I love tacos, and I will not quit going to meet my friends on the occasional Wednesday night (though I’m missing it right now as I type this). I enjoy recording music with my friends on Friday. Playing disc golf with the same small group of friends every Sunday morning is as close to church as I will probably ever get. And my family dinners on Sunday night aren’t about to be cut from my schedule either. But the sheer routine of these things has been reprioritized. I’m not going to rush through a workout in order to eat a taco, or skip a race I want to run so that I don’t miss my Sunday rounds. I have to be a little better at making sure I’m spending my limited time in the most personally fulfilling way possible, even if it may not make any sense to those around me. My life is important enough to get my full attention.

“The time to quit is before you wish you had.” – Kimberly K. Jones

I had a doctor’s appointment today. Nothing dramatic. Just a follow up visit for a physical I recently had. Turns out I’m healthy; really healthy by the sound of it. As he reviewed my chart and read my cholesterol numbers, he seemed maybe even a bit too excited as he shared how rarely he gets to tell people that they’re doing great. I guess that’s good.

Then he went to his favorite topic since I met him. “How’s the smoking?” I told him the truth. I haven’t had a cigarette since last Thursday. “So you quit?” he asked, again a little too energetically. That should’ve been an easy question. I know that I should. And I’m pretty sure that I will. But I’m reluctant to use that word, very likely for the same reason he seemed so eager for me to say it. Saying I’ve quit smoking is outwardly committing to never smoking another cigarette. I’m not sure I’m ready to say that. So I didn’t.

But I will say that I’m happy to have gone even this long without one. I’ve mentioned before that my smoking habit has always been pretty lazy. I smoke one or two a day unless I’m out with friends and then the numbers climb slightly. And it’s not uncommon for me to smoke almost a whole pack while out at the park all day on Sundays. It turns out I’m kind of a binge smoker. And it’s never been the smoking that bothered me as much as the binging.

I like smoking. I like lighting them. I enjoy the physical act of smoking a cigarette. I like the slowness of it. But it’s definitely not a performance enhancing drug for runners. And according to my already improved blood pressure today, it’s apparently bad for you in other ways as well. Go figure.

After getting through last weekend without smoking any cigarettes at all (even on Sunday – what what), I have to admit that I felt pretty good. It was not nearly as easy as I thought it would be and that difficulty is what kind of woke me up to my need to take better control of it. I was using my low volumes as false evidence that my habit was some lower level addiction.

I’m still not going to say I’ve quit smoking. That word seems very permanent and maybe a little overconfident for me, having not gone a whole week without one yet. But I’m not smoking right now, and right now is the only moment I’m in control of. I guess it really doesn’t matter what we’re talking about, I still need to be a better quitter.

“Quitting is not giving up, it’s choosing to focus your attention on something more important. Quitting is not losing confidence, it’s realizing that there are more valuable ways you can spend your time. Quitting is not making excuses; it’s learning to be more productive, efficient and effective instead. Quitting is letting go of things (or people) that are sucking the life out of you so you can do more things that will bring you strength.” – Osayi Osar-Emokpae

I’m definitely not trying to imply that I’m going to adopt a simple “pro-quitting” life philosophy. I certainly would not endorse such a stupid idea. Adversity is not an automatic sign that something is not worth doing. Life is full of challenges that need to be conquered and bested. We learn lessons about the world and about who we are from those challenges. But in developing a strategy to overcome those unavoidable struggles as well as a host of genuinely rewarding ones, It seems invaluably important to know which battles are worth fighting to the end and when retreating is the best strategy for overall success.

I’m working on it. And so far, I feel pretty good…today anyway. Happy Wednesday.

Half Naked Idiot

“My life has been one great big joke, a dance that’s walked, a song that’s spoke, I laugh so hard I almost choke when I think about myself.” – Maya Angelou

A couple of months ago while writing about running the Shamrock Half Marathon, I made a little fun of myself for how crucial it is for me to have a well laid out plan and often overly detailed lists in order to execute even the simplest of tasks. I demonstrated that fact last week when I forgot to take a dry shirt and change of socks to the park where I was running and ended up being that guy that wanders around shirtless at places where most people don’t.

It was only a few minutes while I ate my sandwich, drank a protein drink, and took a half dozen photographs for my blog. But I’m not generally the kind of guy that feels the need to take his shirt off every time the mercury climbs above 55 degrees, and I didn’t intend to be that day either. I felt more than a little silly. Sorry to all of the innocent victims out that day. But you don’t get to see a farmer tan that nice every day either, so you’re welcome as well.

“I wasn’t losing my focus but I was getting tired of focusing. What I was focusing on was becoming too routine, too ritual, not something that was interesting, new and exciting.” – Picabo Street

This morning I got up just before sunrise and started casually getting my things together to go run. I of course had no real plan and made no lists. I mean, why? It’s not a race or anything. I’ve done this before. I don’t have a schedule to keep. Who cares?

I started toasting a bagel, made my vitamin shake, put athletic tape on my nipples; you know, the usual Saturday morning shit. While drinking my shake and unknowingly putting a really dark brown on that bagel I dug compression undies out of the pile of unfolded laundry on my bed, found a pair of shorts, and pulled a dry-fit shirt out of the closet. You wouldn’t want to go run in the rain without wearing a nice moisture-wicking material.

Did I mention it was raining?

It was.

Because I had no list, I was basically just getting ready as if I was going to run directly out of my front door; like I do a few times a week, every week. Once I was ready to do that, I figured all I’d have to do is throw a change of clothes in a bag, drive to the trail, and knock out the last longish run before I try to PR my 10K race next Saturday.

Nothing is ever that simple for my scattered ass though.

“If the plan doesn’t work, change the plan but never the goal.” – Ritu Ghatourey

I was taking forever to accomplish the simple tasks of getting dressed and packing a dry bag. And as I was finally throwing towels, my garmin, some dry socks, and a shirt into a bag and starting to pile stuff by the front door, I realized that I hadn’t made my post-run sandwich yet. Shit! I thought I was almost ready to go. Now I have toast bread, cut up a banana, spread peanut butter…oh the tragedy, right? I’m such an impatient dick sometimes.

I’d intended to be running at 7:30 or 8 at the latest. At 7:30, I was standing in my kitchen sprinkling raisins on one half of a sandwich and just shaking my head at how slow I manage to do things that I’ve done so many times before. For a professed creature of habit, I sure do take a long time to develop good ones, like organization.

Oh well. It’s Saturday. It’s raining. I might as well have fun with it.

“As long as you’re having fun, that’s the key. The moment it becomes a grind, it’s over.” – Barry Gibb

I finally got there a little after eight o’clock, and once I’m out there, I’m pretty good about forgetting about the rest of the world. I briefly said hello to a couple of guys who had just finished their morning rain run, did some quick stretches, tried to take a picture of a small beaver clumping across a field, pushed play on my ipod, and took off.

There was a drizzling rain for the first four miles, but it was never really that bad. I had the entire trail to myself and after I turned back to the car, the sun even tried to poke through a couple of times. It was actually pretty nice out. My pacing was comically sporadic, but I felt good the whole time. My right knee has been bothering me a little all week, but rarely during my runs. I was just enjoying my Saturday morning. Who cares if I was running late? At least I was running.

I managed to conserve enough energy to pick up the pace and really charge the last half mile which coincided nicely with the sun finally fighting its way through the clouds. And by the time my watch chirped the eight mile alarm, the sun was reflecting off of the glass-like water and mirroring the bright green of the rain soaked tree limbs hanging out over it. It was a really beautiful way to finish my run. Woohoo!

I actually had every intention of snapping a few photographs before I left. But I was soon distracted again by my own poor planning.

“Acceptance of what has happened is the first step to overcoming the consequences of any misfortune.” – William James

As I finished my run, a man and his dog arrived to enjoy a walk together. And just as I was about to change out of my soaking wet clothes, a group of boy scouts showed up for a morning walk among the trees. I decided that parking lot nudity probably wasn’t appropriate at that particular moment. So it seemed a good time to eat my sandwich and enjoy a chocolaty shake instead.

In the few minutes it took for me to enjoy my pre-made treats and start thinking about the other things I had to do later, I was also beginning to discover tiny reminders of things I’d forgotten when getting ready earlier.

First, I had not remembered just how much running in the rain seems to enhance the wonderful art of chafing. But as I stood there, I was being oh so pleasantly reminded that I should have applied some anti chafe balm to at least one more sensitive area. “That’s going to be fun in the shower later,” I thought. (it wasn’t)

Second, while I totally nailed it with dry socks and not one, but two dry shirts, I didn’t bring a change of shorts. Sweet! The pair I ran in were only soaking wet. I wasn’t going to get in the car wearing those. Last week I felt foolish walking around a park shirtless. This week, I was going to have to drive home sans pants. Laughing at myself was my only option.

Fuck it. It’s only a twenty-five minute drive. And if anything is going to make sure someone follows every single traffic law, it’s the desire to avoid explaining to a cop why they’re wearing nothing but a towel. I’ve done way dumber things.

“Some people see the glass half full. Others see it half empty.
I see a glass that’s twice as big as it needs to be.”
– George Carlin

It’s amazing how quickly perspective can change. While running, I thought my pacing was so all-over-the-place that it would surely be the easiest thing for me to note as a weak spot in my run journal. But in hindsight, it paled in comparison to being reminded how much a few seconds of simple planning can affect my day…and how funny those effects can be.

About five minutes after leaving the park as I was coming to a stop sign, I noticed my second favorite dashboard light had come on; the one shaped like a gas pump. “Awesome! Now I get to stop for gas too.”

Planning is for smart people, not for half naked idiots like me.

Happy Saturday.

Now Seems Good

“What day is it?”
“It’s today,” squeaked Piglet.
“My favorite day,” said Pooh.”
– A.A. Milne

While running the other day, I rounded a corner that I’ve probably turned a hundred times and was surprised by something I’ve never seen there before; about 10 people running towards me. I almost never see another runner while I’m doing my in-neighborhood miles, much less a herd of them. Then it occurred to me. A week prior I had also seen a woman wearing exercise clothes walking in a parking lot nearby. I only thought it weird because that parking lot is almost always empty and I never see anyone wandering around here with any sense of purpose about them. Once I put that together with the collection of runners doing what looked to be a quick two block warm-up run, I discovered that someone had opened up a CrossFit gym two blocks from my house. Sweet…I guess…eh.

I wonder how long that’s been there or how many times I’ve passed it without noticing.

“Suffering needs time. It cannot survive in the now.” – Eckhart Tolle

After venting a little internal and self-made frustration in my last blog (thanks again for putting up that whiney shit), I ran one of the most relaxing and meditative runs I’ve had in weeks on Thursday afternoon. It was beautiful outside. The sun was shining. Temperatures were moderate. Humidity was low. And the wind: minimal. It was perfect running weather. I was running reasonably well. And I took the time to actually look around a bit.

I always have my head up because that’s how I run. And my eyes are always open so that I don’t run into shit or get hit by a car, both of which have almost happened in the last month. But I’m not always taking the few nanoseconds required to actually see the things around me while I’m out there. Despite my recent tone, I’m not so lost that I’m totally blinded all of the time. But I should do a better job of trying to stay in the moment of every moment. There are so many simple beauties to be appreciated and a lot of life to be lived during the times that I manage to keep internal distraction at bay. I should really maximize those times.

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I run along this tiny tributary off of the James River a couple of times a week. I turn down this road specifically to be by the water. But as I’ve proven very capable, I think I sometimes take it for granted and don’t truly appreciate how nice and peaceful it is. That’s the danger of routines with me.

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Being near the water is almost a guaranty that I’m going to see some form of wildlife. But I can tell you that some of these feathered friends seem to prefer it when I just keep running by.

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Others don’t give a damn at all.

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Do I think I’d look good in that little green dress? Not really. I don’t have the shoulders for spaghetti straps. But I’ve run by this place a couple of times a week for almost five months and I didn’t even know it was there until two weeks ago. That is ridiculous!

“Once I decided that I did want to set a goal, I laid out a plan, executed that plan one tiny step at a time, and accomplished each running goal that I set for myself. But I never wandered out of the moment. I ran each run for each run’s sake.” – thatguywiththebeard

I’ve spent so much time learning about how important it is to set goals, develop plans, and stay focused on those goals, that I may have sometimes let that focus sabotage my ability to appreciate the now. Goals are still super important, and it’s infinitely harder to accomplish them without a plan. But I’m starting to realize that a truly well laid plan can be executed while still experiencing each step along the way singularly and within the moment.

Keeping my eyes on the horizon sounds good, but maybe letting them take a look around every now and then isn’t such a bad idea either. The horizon isn’t going anywhere, and staring at it through tunnel vision isn’t going to get me there any sooner. But it could cause me to miss any number of lessons along the way. I should probably try to do a better job of fully experiencing the moments I’m in as I travel along my path so that when I get to the places I want to be, I will be that much more polished, well rounded, and who knows? Maybe even a better person for it.

“Live Today! Do not allow your spirit to be softened or your happiness to be limited by a day you cannot have back or a day that does not yet exist.” – Steve Maraboli

By giving in to distraction, I am stealing the now from myself and short-changing those around me because of my absence from the present. I’ll never be the best me I can be, at work or play, if I’m not fully in the moment I’m actually living. I can’t be the best anything when I’m phoning it in so that I can dwell on the past and future. One is gone, and the other isn’t here. What I’m doing now is important enough that I should dedicate myself to doing it as well as I possibly can. I might not get it right today, but I will be working on it starting…you guessed it…right now.

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This is where I ran this morning. It was sunny, 70 degrees, 73% humidity, with 7 mph winds from the south/southwest. There were lots of other runners, walkers, a few dogs, some gnats, a little bit of mud, and a whole lot of awesome. And I had a really great run. Happy Saturday.

Declaration Day

“The only way that we can live, is if we grow. The only way that we can grow is if we change. The only way that we can change is if we learn. The only way we can learn is if we are exposed. And the only way that we can become exposed is if we throw ourselves out into the open. Do it. Throw yourself.” – C. JoyBell C.

NOTICE: On my blog’s “About” page I state that while I may be documenting my personal experiences and discoveries as a new runner that “a lot of my motivation [for this blog] is to simply get some of these things out of my head to make room for new thoughts.” This is one of those times. You’ve been warned. Here’s the pitch.

“Hiding how you really feel and trying to make everyone happy doesn’t make you nice, it just makes you a liar.” – Jenny O’Connell

I’d like to start by saying that I’ve been in a pretty nasty funk for the last three or four days. But I can’t, because it’s probably been closer to two weeks. I reread my last couple of blogs today and it’s there. I was fighting it, or maybe just trying to hide it. But I can still see it in there.

It’s hard to explain how much more annoying it is to write a blog touting the importance of keeping a positive perspective and sharing the thrill of discovering a new self confidence in the belief I can truly accomplish anything if I’m willing to work hard AND at the exact same time being damn near miserable most days because of my own negative attitude towards life and its challenges. It’s a steep, dishonest stairway to the pinnacle of Mount Hypocrisy. And I seem to have built a small cottage up there recently. I apologize for being such a fucking liar…to myself first and in effect to everyone else.

I’ve spent months typing about all of the exciting changes I’ve undergone and how many more things I still want to change. Those things are true. I have. And I do. But I think I may have started to pridefully stumble into the arrogant pitfalls of believing that I had already completed some journey when I had not; and will not. I have merely discovered a path. And in that I found the direction I needed to start taking the earliest and smallest of many steps on a never-ending journey. After a seed sprouts and stretches into a tree, it’s not done. Barring catastrophe, the act of growing is never complete. I’m proud of what progress I’ve made, but there is so much more work to do. And now is not a time to get lazy, and certainly no time to be poisoned by a discouraging mindset.

“The most common and harmful addiction in the world is the draw of comfort.” – Angel Chernoff

I’ve mentioned before that I am a creature of habit; some good ones; more than a few bad ones. And some habits are incredibly hard to break. I’m a procrastinator and an excuse maker. I always have been. And in the same way that some recovering alcoholics will forever refer to themselves as alcoholics, I will always be a procrastinator and an excuse maker. They are the hardest habits for me to break. Ridding myself of those short-comings requires continuous awareness of them and living with the discomfort that comes with that kind of consciousness.

I’m not yet in the place I want to be. And the comfort I seek may not be easily achieved. There was a time when, upon identifying a goal out of reach (even if only by inches), I would promptly make an excuse for why I have to wait to reach out for that place. And with a solid excuse in hand, I could then create the illusion of comfort in the place where I stood idle.

It’s so easy to do. Maybe it’s really expensive to gain access to this utopian dream world, so I’ll have to accept that saving the money will take time. No biggie, I’m not starving where I am now. Or maybe the path to my nirvana is too steep and difficult to climb, so I’ll have to wait until I’m stronger. Hell, maybe there are just spiders and a rickety ladder between me and what I want. I hate spiders and I’m not a fan of heights either. I’ll just chill down here for a while. If it’s meant to be, it will be.

“Our destiny changes with our thought; we shall become what we wish to become, do what we wish to do, when our habitual thought corresponds with our desire.” – Orison Swett Marden

when a door shutsTo suggest that something is meant to be is to imply that it would simply occur on its own if we’d stay out of the way; even if we did nothing. I don’t believe that. Nothing is “meant” to be. And if I was to sit around waiting for my dreams to come true, “nothing” is exactly what would happen. I’ve proven this through multiple experiments. Our destinies are entirely up to us to create. Death is the only unavoidable truth in life. It doesn’t care about us at all and should be given equal consideration in return. And it certainly should not be feared.

I believe my future is mine to control. And I don’t want to create some illusion of a preordained path that I’m merely stumbling down unwittingly. If I want to do something, I can do it. If I want to go somewhere, I can go. If I want to become something new, I can do that too. My life is up to me. I’m not giving up any of that control to superstition or fantasy. The blame for failure lies with me, and I’ll be taking the credit for the successes too.

That is not to pretend that I’m some rock in the vacuum of space and above the influence of my surroundings, both positive and negative. I have enjoyed a lifetime of support and encouragement from family, friends, and the world around me. I’ve also encountered those that have slowed my progress and held me back by enabling my draw to “comfort” with negative attitudes and behaviors. I’m not angry about any of the latter; as I’m sure they were well intentioned and believed themselves to be in coalition with the former.

If I’m doing something that is counterproductive to my goals, I have to stop. If someone or something is standing in my way, I have to eliminate that obstacle. It is up to me alone to determine my destiny. There can be all kinds of influences. But ultimately, it has always been up to me to take the good, leave the bad, and move towards greater things. That will always be my responsibility.

“People tend to complicate their own lives, as if living weren’t already complicated enough.” – Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Becoming a runner is what taught me that I can do anything. But I think I somehow missed the real lesson on how I can do anything. When I started running, I wasn’t thinking about running a half marathon, a 5K, or even to that next street light. I just wanted to get out of my house, out of my head, and into some fresh air and sunshine. I couldn’t run around the block. It took me almost two months before I could run a mile continuously. But I just kept lacing up and heading out. I didn’t have any long term goals at first. I did it because it made me feel good in the moment.

Once I decided that I did want to set a goal, I laid out a plan, executed that plan one tiny step at a time, and accomplished each running goal that I set for myself. But I never wandered out of the moment. I ran each run for each run’s sake. It didn’t happen overnight. I started running very short distances at very slow speeds. And as I managed to meet small goals I set new larger ones, until eventually I found myself (or someone vaguely resembling me) running 13 miles on a cold gray Sunday morning; and actually having fun doing it. Who the hell was ThatGuy? I’m still not sure sometimes.

There is no reason why that system cannot work for any goal that I set. I recently spent hours laying out my running schedule for the next seven months. I know how to do this. I just don’t always remember that I know how. Stay in the moment. Focus on the small battles and before I know it, my war will be won. I know how to do this. It’s still new to me though, where making excuses is a habit well rehearsed and almost subconscious. That fact aggravates the hell out of me. But if I stay focused on each day as it comes and do each thing as well as I can, before I know it, I will again be crossing a finish line surprised by how easy it seemed in hindsight. I know it.

“A man can fail many times, but he isn’t a failure until he begins to blame somebody else.” – John Burroughs

Hi, my name is Greg. And I’m a procrastinator and an excuse maker. I’m not proud of that. But if I let myself believe I’ve beaten it or to think that this tree is somehow finished growing, then I will let myself down and never get to where I want to be. There is so much fun to be had and exciting adventures to experience. I’ve just let myself be distracted and discouraged by things outside of the present, events that have already happened, or things that haven’t happened yet. Focusing on either is a total misuse of my time and energy.

So right now out of frustration, I wish to again declare to myself, this time from high atop Mt. Hipocrisy, that I will be burning that cottage to the ground later tonight, and using those flames to light my way back down the mountain. I don’t want to make myself comfortable in the wrong place. I want to battle through temporary discomfort to end up in the right place for my happiness and well being. I can’t do that from up here.

Thanks for letting me vent. I’m truly sorry to say it, but I really needed to.