Cheat Day

“In the continuing dialogue between me, the runner, and my body, I become more and more health-minded. I become eager for more training, more discipline, more self-control, seeking inside of me the person George Leonard called the ultimate athlete. All the while knowing, as Leonard suggests, that I’m playing the ultimate game, which is life.

And in life, you remember, it is not how long you lived, but how you played the game” – Dr. George Sheehan.

I’ve gotten way behind on my blog reading lately. And while trying to catch up over the last couple of days I saw that my blogging buddy Kathryn gave herself a training cheat day on Friday. A training cheat day is a little different than a diet cheat day. On a diet cheat day, people eat shit that they know they shouldn’t and risk sabotaging their progress. On a training cheat day, a runner either skips a run or, as in Kathryn’s case, they add a workout.

Skipping a run can slow progress, but probably isn’t that big of a deal as long as it’s not the week’s long run and it doesn’t become a habit. It’s more like adding a valuable rest day than stealing a training day. Adding a workout on the other hand risks overtraining and increases the possibility of injury. It’s in effect, stealing a valuable rest day from your training plan; a plan that would probably work a whole lot better if we could only follow the damn thing.

But sometimes, the weather is just right. And the drive is there. And the time is there. Sometimes the run is just a pushy bastard that won’t be easily quieted.

Unfortunately, now my friend is nursing a sore foot and is a little panicked that she may have injured herself over the weekend. That really sucks and I truly feel bad for her. At the same time, I’d love to give her shit too because she knows better. But I find myself “tweaking” my own plan a little bit here and there. And I’m tempted all the time to go run on my non-run days. So, I understand. Sometimes you have to log some “just for me” miles. And because I’m confident that she’ll be okay, I’m still glad she got those miles in on Friday.

“So when you see a jogger out on the roads, you can never be quite sure what is going on in his or her head. Whether the reason for running is reasoned and practical and altogether a matter of just getting it done. Or, on the other hand, whether this childlike foolishness is the focal center of the runner’s day. And running is the answer to the crucial question: How do you want to live the rest of your life?” – Dr. George Sheehan

I share all of this because I really liked her carefree blog about her cheat day. In it she pondered the great question: Why do I run? Now, I don’t know Kathryn that well, but I read her blog regularly and have had the pleasure to run with her. And I think I know the answer. She runs because she’s a runner.

There are some people who are runners because they run. They’re the people that don’t get the buzz, but still have the discipline. The people that force themselves out the door or onto the dreadmill a few times a week because they want to lose a few pounds, or the people that manage to push themselves through longer training cycles because they want to meet some race challenge. So they run. And because they run, they are runners.

But then there are people like me, and I believe like Kathryn, who run because we’re runners. Sure we might be a little thinner, but that’s more of a side effect than the actual goal. And I can’t speak for K, but not at all why I started. The running IS the buzz. It IS the point. Runners do it because it takes us somewhere in ourselves and lets us see something in there that no one else can see. We do it because finding that place in there changes how we see so much of the outside world too. We do it because it’s constant self discovery and outside adventure all at the same time. We run because it feels true to the nature of ourselves. We do it because it’s what we do. We are runners, and runners run…

…Sometimes even on days that we’re not supposed to.

I hope I’m not speaking out of school concerning Kathryn’s motivations. But I know why I run. I’m supposed to.

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Doubting ThatGuy: A Run I Needed

“There are those of us who are always about to live. We are waiting until things change, until there is more time, until we are less tired, until we get a promotion, until we settle down / until, until, until. It always seems as if there is some major event that must occur in our lives before we begin living.” – George Sheehan

This week I experienced true doubt in my path for the very first time. I considered the possibility that I may not be moving in the right direction, or that I might be letting my imagination get away from me. I don’t think I’ve ever been called a “dreamer.” But for a brief moment this week, I felt like one. I felt like maybe I should resign myself to certain perceived realities whether I believe them correct or concrete; that maybe I should accept simple comforts instead of seeking true satisfaction; maybe I should settle for less. I briefly wondered if I even deserve many of the things I believe to be possible.

Then I went for a run; a very peaceful run at Norfolk Botanical Gardens; a run I needed.

“Success means having the courage, the determination, and the will to become the person you believe you were meant to be.” – George Sheehan

I’ve said it so many times. And I do understand how tiresome it must be to read it over and over again. But running is the greatest thing I have ever done for myself. It is also the most selfish thing I do. I’ve mentioned to the point of nausea the therapeutic and meditative qualities I experience when I run. But I don’t only seek the mental healing of it. I’m not always a fucking mess looking for a cure. I don’t only enjoy it because I’m such a flawed and scattered creature that I can’t live without my “medicine.”

I do genuinely love doing it. And from the very first day, running also provided a new clarity of perspective; a glance into areas of myself that I had never seen before and that I sometimes still can’t see unless I’m pounding it out on the road. Without getting out there and peeking through those cracks, I might forget all of the potential I see in myself. I don’t want to forget. I can’t afford to.

The best me I can possibly be is still sometimes a very distant vision. I don’t mean that I live under a constant weight of self doubt. I really don’t. I simply see a better me that is well within the realm of possibility and I want to be that person so fucking bad that it drives me mad when I feel like I’m spinning my wheels and wasting my limited time not pursuing that existence.

Sometimes I’m seriously tempted to just lace up my shoes and run that way until I get tired, and then maybe that way over there for a while and maybe way over there the next day. At work, I’ll catch myself walking to go speak to a coworker and on the way to their office have to stop myself from running. Not because I don’t want to, but because I’m not sure I’d be able to stop. I’m so ready to fly. I’m just looking for my wings.

“There’s a point in every learning process where we are so sure we see everything we can, we make fallible assumptions about our situations”Justin Dohrmann (If you’re not reading his blog, you should. Click his name. Seriously)

Being more conscious of oneself is being aware of both the positive and the negative. I am continually adjusting to the unfamiliar feeling of true confidence and the belief that I can conquer any challenge. And I am also more affected by the depth of those holes in my life where something is clearly missing. These things can often conflict with each other. And I also have to realize that being in better sync with myself does not automatically mean that finding total peace will be easy. I still live in a world full of doubt and doubters. Every day is new and focusing on my own experience of each one is crucial.

It is almost a testament to (and maybe the pitfalls of) a more positive general attitude that I am able to forget that sometimes the things that should happen don’t and things that seem totally wrong often still do. I guess in a weird way, that’s progress…right? I feel so much more in tune with the natural way that I forget that much of the world actively rebels against it.

In recent weeks I’ve rebelled against it myself and often felt overwhelmed as I’ve stretched myself thin trying to focus on too many things at one time, and totally distracting myself from the current moment. I’d stopped concentrating on each step of my journey and instead started lazily staring too long into the horizon, leaving myself much more susceptible to the potential lure and distraction of mirages. Allowing myself to get too excited running towards imaginary oases only caused me to forget my form, run sloppy, and become exhausted. And ultimately I forgot that all of the confidence and determination in the world will never be enough to get me to something that doesn’t exist.

I need to stay focused on the path more. Sure, a quick glance up at a particular goal won’t kill me and can often provide motivation. But the next step is the only one I can reach from here, and much more worthy of my attention right now.

“When you’re staring at something you can’t really see it. But you have to look away to look back.” – Chris Jaeb

Because of the above mentioned overwhelming feeling, I took a much needed break this week. I called it my “Mid-Week Mental Health Weekend.” I’d already scheduled two days off from work. I really needed that time off and was excited about it. So when my original plans fell through, I took those days off anyway. And I dedicated myself to being totally relaxed and unencumbered my distractions on the horizon. I essentially closed my eyes for two days.

I still ran of course, and went to the gym because they are maybe the only things that consistently relieve stress instead of adding to it. But other than that, I held myself to no schedule. I sat at the beach with a friend for five hours Wednesday afternoon relaxing in the water, watching sand crabs do what they do, and achieving a pretty solid sunburn. Thursday, I went for a relaxing morning run and a long afternoon workout before going to bed early. It felt good.

I had ideas for my blog; observations I thought I could share; anecdotes about whatever, but I couldn’t make myself sit down to write. And I refused force it. I considered letting the blog go until next week’s J.O.G.T. entry. And honestly, there have been a few different times over the last couple of weeks when I debated suspending my blog altogether.

And then I went for a run this morning; a really great run; a run I needed.

“If this is what you want to do, as ludicrous or as crazy or as farfetched as it may sound. Set that goal. Nurture it and be protective of it. But you have to be careful about who you tell it to.” – Rich Roll

This week, I allowed myself a moment of pause in which to reflect on the things I want to do, whether or not I’m being honest with myself about my ambitions, and whether or not I deserve my shot at some of the things I want.

And after that pause, I decided that “deserve” has got nothing to do with it. I owe it to myself to give everything my very best shot. I don’t expect to succeed at all the things I want in the world. But I should certainly continue striving toward them. There is absolutely no consolation prize in lazily accepting unsatisfying aspects of life just because change might be difficult.

Just between you and me, the idea of going back to school even crossed my mind this week for the first time in forever. It crossed quickly and ran off into the woods before I could get a good look at it. But a year ago, just that thought would’ve been as fantastically absurd as running a marathon. I’ll be running my first 26.2 in 16 weeks.

And this blog isn’t going anywhere anytime soon either. The release it provides is way too important to me. I said I was selfish, right?

Happy Saturday

Summer School for a Slow Learner

“Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” – A. A. Milne

Wow! This week totally got away from me. And honestly, I’m on the fence about whether I should concern myself with how, or just be grateful it’s over. What I am totally sure about is that it was annoying. I’ve spent the whole week ranging between exhaustion and frustration. And both have a high potential of souring my attitude. Combine the two for any amount of time and I just start of feel overwhelmed. When I get overwhelmed, I go run. Thankfully, I did run this week. I really needed to.

But shit! What am I griping about a single week for? Where has this year gone? I swear I think I can already hear the Easter Bunny clucking out chocolate eggs for next year. Geezus!

Last weekend I realized that the Rock N Roll Half Marathon was only seven weeks away (six now obviously). I had kind of let it slip from my mind. And because I’m now registered for my first full marathon in November, the Rock N Roll has essentially become just another long run on my schedule and more of a “practice race” for me to get accustomed to crowds, navigating aid stations, fueling while running, and the overall atmosphere of a huge event. It’s a training run. I can’t afford to taper for it. And trying to go out and crush a PR would be stupid because I will have another long run the following week and can’t afford to risk injury on my path to Philly. I hope I don’t forget that.

I’ll have to run it smart, not hard. So I guess I had better do a better job of getting smarter.

“It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.” – Bill Gates

I originally registered for the Rock N Roll in the spring as a goal to keep me motivated through the heat of my first summer as a runner. This week has reminded me of just how important my therapy miles and sweat-itation sessions still are to me. And I’m not about to let a little hell-spike in temperatures get in the way of that.

Luckily, I’ve experienced no temptation to skip runs or even hesitation in getting out there. I have made a bunch of mistakes adjusting to the heat. But mistakes are probably the main ingredient of learning, and I’m slowly figuring out what I need to know to safely and effectively run during a delightfully humid Virginia summer.

First lesson so far: Drink more water. I “observed” this obvious-to-smart-people fact a few weeks ago when I conducted a sweat/weight test to estimate how much I sweat. I “learned” this lesson a week later when I made zero changes, ran out of water, and bonked for the second time in three weeks. Idiot!

Salt is salty

Salt is salty

Even during the winter months, a run of more than an hour would leave me with a crusty layer of salt on my skin. Because of that, as my summer miles started to ramp up I decided to measure just how much fluid I lose during my runs. A few weeks ago, I weighed myself without clothes before my run, and again afterwards (No pics. You’re welcome).

One pint of water weighs approximately one pound, so the number of pounds lost is roughly equal to the number of pints of sweat leaked during the run. I lost eight pounds during a nine mile run. I drank one pint of coconut water while out there. So calculating for the pound of liquid consumed, I sweat out about one pint per mile. That’s a lot. If I was smart I would’ve applied that observation during the 10 miler on the following weekend.

I am not smart, so instead I took the exact same insufficient amount of water with me, ran a completely new and less familiar route, and ended up running out of water seven miles in and still two miles away from my house. And my body completely tanked very soon after.

Sure, I could’ve planned to loop back by the house during the run to get more water. And I only passed three convenience stores and one grocery store out there, so I could’ve stopped and bought more water too. I even took a crinkled Lincoln with me (like I never ever do) just in case I needed it. But I don’t think straight when I’m dehydrated. And I barely think at all when I’m pissed. That day, I was both.

Last weekend I bought a hydration belt that holds two water bottles. I also picked up some electrolyte tablets to make sure I’m replenishing some of the salt that I leak so profusely. I test drove it Thursday. I’m sure I looked completely ridiculous. But I’m also pretty certain that I look better running with silly green bottles stuck to my hips than I would laying in the street mumbling profanities as I puke and die of heat stroke.

I wore that belt on my 11 miler this morning…and I even stopped to refill it. I’m still working on effectively fueling during my runs. I again had to battle sloppily through the last few hot ass miles. But I am learning. And learning is still progress.

Second Lesson: Slow down. This one should’ve taken no time. But I’m still a newbie, especially to summer running. After doing so much better than I expected in my first half marathon in March, my pace increased pretty dramatically for the next few weeks. And according to the consistent heart rate (HR) numbers in my run journal, it was not because I was exerting myself more. I was just getting more efficient and…gasp…faster. It felt pretty good.

But as the heat and humidity rose, the air got thicker, and breathing got more difficult I found myself running out of gas much sooner even on shorter weekday runs. This is totally normal. And I’d been told to expect it. But as I’ve emphasized before, if there is a hard way to learn a lesson, I will too often choose that way.

Following a few shitty performances at embarrassingly short distances, I started to pay attention. And after reading some more about HR specific training, I decided that I could slow down and still feel like I was directly benefitting my training.

“It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.” – Lou Holtz

Unfortunately I cannot even remember the last time I got to let myself sit down and read for more than a measly ten minutes. It’s driving me crazy because I’ve got books stacked all over the place that I really want to read. I can’t even describe how bad I’d love to just sit down and read for a couple of hours.

Eh, maybe tomorrow. But until I discover a 32 hour day or find a full time assistant that will work for free, podcasts have become my closest substitute.

Since discovering it a few weeks ago, I have been listening to Rich Roll’s podcasts during pretty much all of my gym workouts and most of my runs. I’m a fan for sure. Among being a huge advocate of a whole food plant based diet and an ultra endurance athlete, Mr. Roll also promotes the personal athletic benefits he experienced while conducting much of his training maintaining his physical effort in the relatively low intensity “zone 2” heart rate range.

I’m not going to try to fully explain zone 2 training right now because I’m not an expert, it would take too long, and most of you probably aren’t interested. But basically, zone 2 is the aerobic level of exertion between efforts so low that the physical benefit is nominal and higher intensities where the body starts burning glucose for energy instead of fat. This quote from Rich Roll’s web page is a mini nugget of the idea and if you’re more interested, you can click here.

“By staying in Zone 2, I facilitate the proper mitochondrial and blood pathway development, which teaches my body to work in a highly efficient manner to use oxygen to burn fat rather than glucogen, which is a much more efficient and longer lasting source of energy — the preferred “food” of the endurance and ultra-endurance athlete.”

As someone who continues to seek out better ways to fuel during runs and who already has a fairly low heart rate, it seems a no-brainer for me to focus on this level of fitness and to try to condition my body to run more efficiently on something as abundant as fat while I also seek out better carb/sugar food sources for my runs.

I’ll continue to do speed work on Tuesdays because the slower segments between speed intervals keep it very bearable even in the heat. But on many of my other training runs, I’m focusing on my HR instead of pace and that makes it much easier to slow down during a hot day without feeling like I’m not benefiting as much as I could. And the lower intensity should reduce the risks of injury as well. I’ve only messed with it twice and only once since counting my resting heart rate and getting a better measure of my zones. But I removed “pace” from my watch display and I like not having it as a distraction.

We’ll see what happens in the fall when temperatures fall, everyone’s pace can pick back up, and my FIRST MARATHON approaches. What?! That still sounds weird in my head.

Third lesson: Have fun. This one is key. And during this past week of tossed schedules, poor decision making, spotty sleep, and the resulting sense of frustration, I almost forgot about the importance of keeping a positive attitude and making life fun. If something isn’t fun, then why do it?

“I had a lady gallon of water yesterday. Today I have a man gallon. Looks real manly, eh? Day 3 fitness challenge.” – S.B.

“I had a lady gallon of water yesterday. Today I have a man gallon. Looks real manly, eh? Day 3 fitness challenge.” – S.B.

I was unexpectedly reminded of this fact by a friend’s facebook pictures of smiley faced water bottles. She has just started a 30 day fitness challenge. I haven’t talked to her and don’t know any of the details. But apparently, part of the “challenge” is to drink more water; judging from the pictures, a lot more.

Anyone that read part one of the “thatguywithabeard’s kitchen” posts knows that I don’t understand why so many people don’t like to drink water. But whether I understand it or not, the fact is it’s not the most popular daytime beverage for a lot of people. And though I’m assuming she did it just to be silly, she decided to draw funny happy faces on these gallon water bottles she was lugging to work and then post pics of them on facebook each day.

That might not sound like a big deal. And I don’t know if she was thinking about it at much more than the comedy level of the pictures. But that comedy level is important. If drinking a gallon of water every day is not a normal thing, or maybe even a daunting idea, then making it more fun in any way possible helps. Maybe I’m reading into it too much, but I liked it.

“People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing.” – Dale Carnegie

I hear and have heard so many people say “I hate running,” “walking on the treadmill is boring,” “I don’t like water,” “salad is rabbit food,” or any number of other things concerning why they can’t stick to some diet or fitness challenge they’ve half-heartedly set for themselves. And I totally understand.

If walking on a treadmill seems torturous, listen to music or a podcast, bring a book, or go completely crazy and walk outside. If you hate running, ride a bike. If you think you don’t like salads, trick it into your system with a small piece of chicken or fish on top. The chicken will sneak the veggies into your stomach under its wing.

If you don’t like water…well, um…uh…You know your body absolutely needs it right? Whatever.

The trick is to find a physical activity that you genuinely enjoy doing; something that IS fun; something that makes you feel good. Then you will have no trouble motivating yourself to do it. You’ll actually look forward to it. And as you continue doing it and your desire to become better increases, I believe a healthier diet will follow. Your pallet will evolve. As you head out for that tennis match after a nutrient deficient fast food lunch and play like crap because you feel like crap, and after you try it following a healthy nutritious meal, you’ll find a new appreciation for all sorts of “rabbit foods” and good old fashioned water.

Whether anyone really wants to admit it or not, fried chicken and french fries might taste good, but it’s shitty fuel for physical activities. It’s shitty fuel for anything.

Anyway, I like running. It’s therapeutic. It’s meditative. It continues to catalyze so many healthy changes in my life. And it’s not because I’m fighting some battle of will against an activity that I hate. It’s because I genuinely enjoy it. I’m grateful to have found it. And because it is fun to me and I enjoy it so much, I keep doing it.

Go find your fun. And don’t be afraid to paint a smiley face on something new if that’s what it takes to give it an honest chance. Happy Saturday.

Horns and Hooves, You Define You.

“The past is not simply the past, but a prism through which the subject filters his own changing self-image.” – Doris Kearns Goodwin

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how cool it’s been to see some of the people in my life adopting healthier lifestyle choices, and how much I enjoy it when they share their pleasure or surprise in accomplishing new things and discovering a strength or ability they didn’t think they had. It’s really fun to directly witness the changes in them as they get smaller, stronger, faster, or whatever personal metric they’re using; as well as seeing how much happier and more lighthearted they seem overall. I like that shit. It makes me feel good to have positive people in my life making moves to improve themselves and displaying an excitement about living. Feeling good is contagious. Spread it.

I obviously prefer the company of happy, positive people over those seeking to wallow in the darkness of the cloud, refusing even the possibility of a silver lining. But I also don’t mean to deny the reality that life is still a roller coaster. You can’t have the mountains without the valleys; the ups without the downs. And everybody has their fair share of shitty days. Or at least I hope I’m not the only one.

I was recently talking with a friend who was having more of a “valley” day than she was ready for. And while venting a little bit she shared that, in a past relationship, an ex had so persistently remarked about her unicorn horn and cloven hooves that those things are sometimes all she could see when looking in the mirror. My first thought was “Well that’s fucking ridiculous.” I would’ve never noticed the hooves had she not first pointed them out. And I still can’t see that horn because it’s invisible to everyone but her.

My second thought: How much it sucks when someone else’s negativity can affect a person’s life so deeply that it redefines what they see in the mirror.

Negativity is just as contagious as positivity and I try to limit my exposure to it as much as possible. It’s poisonous.

Yes, I’m using absurd metaphors. 1) To try to protect the anonymity of a friend who didn’t ask to be blog fodder. 2) Because her insecurities are nearly as fantastical as my examples. They are exaggerations at best, and much closer to sheer fancy. They are not real.

Except that they are…to her. And in the end, that’s the only person that matters.

I’m sure I was little comfort. I don’t have any answers. And I’m not sure she was really looking for any, or even comfort for that matter. Sometimes a person just needs to let the voices out of their head simply to relieve the pressure and hear what they sound like on the outside. That is something I totally understand. I write this blog for similar reasons.

All I could do was listen, nod, and try to be funny when I thought it appropriate. That’s what I do I guess. I’m just as flawed as the next unicorn. And maybe that’s why her brief comments have continued to rattle around in my skull for this long, and ultimately remind me of just how powerful our perceptions of self can be in our interpretation of the world around us, and how we function in it.

“That’s why you find a lot of entertainers are insecure, because it’s the perfect camouflage for insecurity.” – Gloria Gaynor

In my life, I’ve gone through phases where I’ve let one personal insecurity or another take the lead in what turned out to be a decades-long mission of building walls. Maybe it was being a gangly gapped tooth kid in elementary school, not having the nicest clothes or some other trivial shit during adolescence, or the joys of losing my hair in my fucking twenties (**angrily shakes fist in the air**). Basically, I’ve spent most of my life feeling somewhat awkward and too often out of place. I don’t know why and I hid it well. But I always managed to find something to disguise my insecurities while steadily stacking bricks higher and higher into those walls.

They were well built structures too, protecting me from any number of things both real and imagined: judgment, ridicule, embarrassment, heartache, life. But the shitty part about walls is that they always work both ways. Sure, they kept a lot of big scary stuff out of my life and at a safe distance from vulnerable little me. But they also did a really great job of keeping me locked inside this fortress I’ve created, devoid many new experiences and relationships.

And I was damn-near gifted at hiding those walls; often behind a defensive quick wit and snarky sense of humor. I’ll make all kinds of wisecracks about the dim-witted shit I’ve done. But I’m far from stupid. And because of that, I was always able to mask my insecurities with well constructed excuses and eloquent rationalization of my bullshit reasoning.

Sometimes being a little smarter than the average bear is just enough rope to hang yourself and still blame it on the rope.

“The real man smiles in trouble, gathers strength from distress, and grows brave by reflection.” – Thomas Paine

I remember exactly where I was when I first found my smile. It was dark. I was sitting alone on the deck of a friend’s house in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. I was almost 26 years old and working two jobs seven days a week just to pay my bills late and stay broke. I’d moved there a several weeks prior; after spending the entire previous year at varying levels of intoxication as I poorly chose to self medicate a festering heartache. I was smoking the harshest nastiest hand rolled cigarette that I’d ever touched a match to. And as I sat there under the stars, looking down on the lights of my new home on a hill and exhaling slow gray suicide – a weight lifted. I felt light. I felt relieved. I found my smile…or it found me. I’m not sure which.

Now I am not at all trying to imply that prior to that moment I had endured some tragic and joyless life, and not until my 25th year was I able to curl the outside edges of my mouth upward and open my eyes wide with delight. That truly would be tragic. Sure, as a child, I might have had to sport a front-porch haircut from time to time or wear a tattered pair of shoes a little longer than most. And I carried a childish teenage angst way too far into adulthood. But I don’t recall a single day in my life where I didn’t feel my mother’s love for me. I’ve always had an incredible family, especially the two most supportive grandparents ever to walk this rock in space. And by the time I plopped my ass down to smoke that cigarette, I’d already started to collect some of the best friends imaginable and had shared countless joyful times with them. I had definitely had some fun.

But sitting there that night, I felt deeply and genuinely light of heart for the first time as an adult. Even at that young age, I had already logged many years building walls and convincing myself that it was normal. I was one of those “I’m not a pessimist, I’m a realist” assholes we all love so much; as though the only way to have a positive attitude is to deny reality. Maybe it was the clean air. Maybe it was the mountains. But at that moment I could see over the walls and I felt good. I couldn’t explain it. I didn’t know where it came from. But I felt it, and I’ve never forgotten it.

“Training gives us an outlet for suppressed energies created by stress and thus tones the spirit just as exercise conditions the body.” – Arnold Schwarzenegger

While recounting that story recently and expressing how annoyed I am to have ever let my smile get away from me again, a friend helped me connect the dots a little bit.

In the course of our conversation and talking about how important my time in Steamboat was to me, she asked “didn’t you say that you rode your bike everywhere when you lived out there?”

That’s true. I did. I lived in Colorado for about six months and I probably didn’t drive a car six times. I rode a bike every single day; up the hill to my day job, further up the hill to my night gig, and luckily downhill every evening back to my house. And if I wanted to go downtown for a burger and a beer, I rode my bike there too. It was fucking great.

“Do you think that you being more active in Colorado was part of why you felt so good there? Just like how much better you feel now with your running?”

Exactly! This wasn’t so much of an amazing revelation to me as it was a timely verbalization and affirmation of something I’ve been banging around in my head lately.

When I was out west, I claimed that I “found” my smile. And when I moved back east, people could see it. It was obvious, and that made me feel even better. But I hadn’t paid any attention to how or where I “found” it. I thought I had it. And because of that, I convinced myself that the work was done. I had it. It’s mine. No worries. Over 10 years later I was again in a rut of making excuses for complacency and unsure of what my smile looked like. And thanks to my innate skills at excuse making and rationalization, I wasn’t even aware that it had gotten away from me again.

I found it those many years ago because I was living a more active lifestyle in a healthier place surrounded by the energy of positive driven people. And as I mentioned before, feeling good is contagious.

But instead of taking note of why I felt so much better there, I made up a cute euphemism about “finding my smile,” like it just happened on its own. I’m so damn lazy that I paid no attention to any changes I made in myself to “release” it. I had always held the keys to my own happiness. We all do. I didn’t really “find” anything. I freed it. I freed it by letting go of the mental bullshit weighing me down and taking better care of myself physically…kind of.

I still drank way too much and my dietary habits were controlled by my lack of money more than any understanding of proper nutrition.

“Life doesn’t just get better by itself. It isn’t like flying in a plane through turbulence. Life doesn’t just improve if you fasten your seat belt and wait.” – Angel Chernoff

The mind and body are intertwined. They are. I just didn’t understand that at the time. I’m only now starting to fully grasp how deep that union really is. If I spend all of my time trying to take care of one while neglecting the other, then neither will ever be as strong as it can be. There has to be some kind of balance.

At a particularly vulnerable time in my life, I went for a run. Because it made me feel good, I did it again. It cleared my head A LOT. I saw myself and my life in a very different light within that moment of clarity. And I didn’t like what I saw at all.

As I continued to run and to consistently feel those same moments of clarity, I decided I really needed to be better at it, not necessarily to be faster, but so that I could safely do it for a very long time. I needed the therapy of it. So I joined a gym. Then I actually went to that gym. I cleaned up my diet. I made being physically healthy a top priority. At a dark emotional time, that seemed something I could most definitely control and I felt the spiritual benefits of it very early on as well. I decided that I wanted to be as healthy as I could possibly be.

As I continued to cleanse my body of toxins and rebuild it with the most nutritious and beneficial ingredients I could find, my mind continued to clear as well. I began to feel lighter of heart, calmer of mind, and more confident. With each new milestone on the road or in the gym, I discovered a new mental strength as well. And unbeknownst to me, I was also starting to experience a certain meditative quality in those physical activities.

The more I take care of myself and the healthier I become, the better I feel spiritually. The better I feel spiritually, the more confident I feel in the face of new challenges. In accomplishing each new goal, broader ones appear that much more achievable. I feel cleaner, lighter, freer. And that feeling transfers over into everything else I do. I encounter negativity less and find it easier to cast it from my life. I handle stress better. When I feel overwhelmed, I go run. If I can’t run, I go to the gym. If I can’t go to the gym, I just go outside. It’s always better outside.

I don’t seek distraction. I don’t self medicate. I’ve tried that. It doesn’t work.

I’m no expert, but so far, being healthy makes everything easier. Eat better. Exercise more. Sleep better. You’ll feel better. I promise.

“Our beliefs about what we are and what we can be precisely determine what we can be” – Anthony Robbins

Our minds have an amazing ability to skew our view of the world and convince us of all sorts of things, both positive and negative. We can convince ourselves of obstructive things like we’re too old, too fat, too weird looking, or too devilishly handsome (what? Just me?) to achieve the things we want in our pursuit of happiness. Or our mental perspective can provide us with the confidence to see that age is just a number; weight is a variable we control, not the other way around; and despite each of our individual horns and hooves, we’re only as ugly as we feel. And feeling good doesn’t have to be such a fucking chore.

I feel like I’ve only recently started to find cracks in the walls I’ve built in my life, and I’ve enjoyed my adventures running free of them. At moments of weakness, I’ll let old habits chase me back into my fortress. But those moments are getting fewer, the cracks bigger, walls weaker, and each escapade is getting longer, more exhilarating, and revealing more and more exciting new things. I’m making progress.

I won’t claim to be free of my barriers, like I won’t say I’ve quit smoking, like I won’t say I’ve got anything figured out. Declaring victories too soon can lead me to complacency. And as confident as I am about the path I’m on and my abilities to traverse that path, I know I’ve still got a long way to go. And now is no time to get lazy.

I still have a gapped tooth grin. I’m most certainly still bald. But I feel more comfortable in my skin now than maybe ever before. I do still spend the vast majority of my time looking around only to feel awkwardly out of place. And some may notice that with exception of the sidebar photo, I have no pictures of myself in my posts. Maybe that’s because my blog is not about the aesthetic benefits of being healthier. Maybe it’s because I’ve still got work to do on my own self-image. I don’t know. But I’m in a better spot overall with what I believe to be a much better understanding of what it means to be wholly healthy in mind and body. I feel confident in my abilities to do anything I want in my life and I’ll continue to work on whatever issues present themselves.

In September, I’ll be visiting Steamboat Springs again for the first time since I left 12 years ago. But this time I’ll be taking my smile with me from the start. And I’m going to have a fucking blast.

We’ll call it altitude training for my marathon. I’m stoked.

“Keep your face always toward the sunshine – and shadows will fall behind you.” – Walt Whitman

Sorry so long-winded this time. Happy Thursday. Enjoy this rock’n jam from the new Mavis Staples record. I’ve loved her voice since I first heard it years ago. And pairing her with Jeff Tweedy’s production help is just perfect in my world. This song kills. Dance it out!

Pretty Women and Big Voices (J.O.G.T. 6)

Damn! It’s already the forth? I was certain I’d get June’s Jar of Good Things post out on the first. The year is half way gone, and I think June might have flown by faster than any month so far. Are you finished with your New Years resolutions yet? Do you even remember what they were? If not, don’t worry about it. I’m guessing Christmas decorations will be in stores by the weekend, so it’s probably time to just forget about them and get your shopping lists ready.

While we wait for the man in the red suit, here’s the music-heavy highlights of my jar.

Jun 01. Played in the sun all day at Appel Farm fest… So much fun watching Brandi Carlile and her band clearly having a great time on stage.

I came out of the gate really strong in June by attending the Appel Farm Art and Music Festival for the third time in four years. It’s an annual outdoor music festival in Elmer, NJ that primarily focuses on folk, alt-country, and Americana music. But it definitely mixes it up enough to avoid any mood or tempo ruts.

In past years I’ve seen Gogol Bordello, The Avett Brothers, Patty Griffin, Buddy Miller, Trombone Shorty, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, Ani Difranco (I think), and a bunch more that I can’t remember right now. I’m sure my memory lapse is in no way attributable to excessive vodka consumption in those earlier visits. I did much better this year. Sheesh.

Mainly because I wasn’t very familiar with most of the artists, this year’s line up didn’t really excite me all that much. But Brandi Carlile was headlining, I have friends in the area, and I love the wide open outdoor venue enough that going back was still a no-brainer.

I spent most of the afternoon playing one game or another created by my friend’s 8 year old son. “Okay, you go stand over there, and I’m going to try and kick the ball past you. And um, if I do, then I get a point and we have to switch sides and you have to try and kick the ball past me. Okay?” I love hearing children create elaborate games that almost always just end up being very similar to a simple game of catch. It cracks me up. But those games always seem popular with the other kids too, so what do I know?

Our game started with me, my friend David, and his son Jacob. Then: “Hi, I’m Jack. I’m six.” “Hey, I’m Greg. I’m thirty-seven.” “Can I play.” “Of course.” And it just grew from there. Twenty minutes later there were six of us. I still don’t know the rules of any of the games we played, but I’m pretty sure I lost.

I didn’t know much about any of the opening acts and I still don’t. But I know they made for a really great soundtrack to play in the sun all day. And Brandi Carlile’s set did not disappoint. I always feel like her voice ranges between a young Loretta Lynn and Natalie Maines, which is a good thing in my ears. A friend and I went up to the front and were immediately impressed with just how much fun she and the twin brothers that make up her band were having. It was her birthday and they were all just beaming as they ran through a set of her often sad, but not necessarily down beat songs. It was definitely a great way to start the month. Good music, good friends, good times. I had a blast.

Jun 12. Met Kathryn from Run Eat Play RVA in Sandbridge for a hot mess of a run and an awesome dip in the pool after. Good times.

I think I’ve mentioned more than a few times that I almost always run alone. In fact, prior to June 12 I had only run with other people one time. But when Kathryn from Run Eat Play RVA suggested running together during a day trip she was making to the area, I knew I had to do it.

She was the blogger kind enough to present me with the Liebster Award a few months ago, I read her blog regularly, we both ran the Shamrock Half Marathon but were unable to cross paths, and now we’re both training for our first marathons in the fall. And honestly, I needed to do it just because sticking to my narrow routines has often proved a bad idea in the past, and I wanted to stretch my comfort zone a little. It turned out to be one hot mess of a run, but I’m really glad I did it.

I learned a few things that day. 1) Leaving work only one hour early is not enough time to squeeze in my gym workout and still beat traffic out of Portsmouth. 2) Don’t eat half a bagel 30 minutes before a hot-as-fuck afternoon run in the sun. 3) Kathryn is cool as a fan.

She got a lovely dose of my awesome luck as our run coincided with the hottest, most humid day of the summer thus far and my work schedule limited our run time to the hottest part of the afternoon. Woo hoo! You’re welcome.

I met Kathryn at a beach house her cousins were renting in the area, and after a quick exchange of hellos and nice-to-meetchas, we took off into the blazing sun. She is a faster runner than I am and I was a little worried about that, but because of the heat we decided to run our 5 miles at something like a 9:30 pace. No problem. She also openly claims to be a horrible pacer. And I was absolutely no help because I forgot to even turn on my watch for the first mile and after I did all I noticed was that our pace was kind of all over the place, and often much faster than our plan. Oops.

Other than the heat, it was a pretty good run…kind of. We chatted a little bit about marathon training, the heat, the therapeutic benefits of running, the blazing sun, our jobs, how much the heat sucks, our diets, how long five miles feels when you’re dying, and most importantly-how awesome the pool was going to feel when we finally made it back…if we made it back. We stopped to stretch half way through. Our poor diet choices early in the day forced both of us to walk a couple of times. And did I mention that it was hot as hell? Well, it was.

But we bulled through it and finally made it back, and I was not about to turn down the kind invitation to jump in that pool. It was a good time. Kathryn is pretty awesome. And her cousins were super nice to let me take a dip and change clothes before heading out. Next time, I guess I’ll have to head to Richmond. Hopefully, she’s got contractors putting in a pool as I type this.

Here’s a link to her account of our run: Run Eat Play RVA

Jun 13. Saw Lake Street Dive @ 80/20 w/ Van and Amanda. Really great show.

During a break in the gaming action at the Appel Farm fest, I got a text message from my friend Van asking me if I’d be interested in seeing the band Lake Street Dive at a local restaurant in our area. Truth be told, I like Van and his lovely wife Amanda enough that I’d have gone just to hang out with them. But this one was even easier because I really like that band too.

Lake Street Dive is a four peace jazzy, but not exactly jazz, soulful, but not exactly soul band from the Boston area. It’s easy to get distracted by how amazing the lead singer is, or the vocal harmonies when they all sing together. But the band itself is really great as well. The bass player and drummer were really tight and they even let the bassist stretch out a little and show off with a few short and tasteful solos. And the guitarist (also plays trumpet) kind of stays low in the mix a lot, but when he does punch it up a notch, his guitar tone is just nasty (that’s a good thing).

I had a blast seeing my old friends again. And seeing Lake Street Dive in such a small venue felt like something I might not get a chance to do again. Check ‘em out if you get a chance. I think they’re current tour includes a couple of the popular summer festivals too.

Jun 29. Ran my longest run since Shamrock, and enjoyed a long but fun night at Jenn’s going away party, ending with super late night releasing of paper lanterns/balloons.

I’ve mentioned my talented musician friends before. Well, one of them skipped town on Monday to take the next step in her adventure in the U.K. On Saturday we all got together to drink too much and send her off right. It was a great time.

jenn lanternI don’t remember exactly where I met Jenn. I don’t really recall getting to know her. I just know that there was a time when I didn’t know her. And then there was a time when we were friends. And I’m very happy to say that we still very much are. I guess I’m just lucky that way sometimes.

I’ve had the pleasure of playing music with her on occasion and recording her incredible songs on many more occasions over the last several years. It was an honor to witness the creation of so much great art. And I can’t wait to see what she does next. Whatever it is, I know it’s going to be great.

I told myself that night that I wanted to be home by 10:30. At 1 a.m. I was standing by a lake, trying to light a wax block on fire, and eventually releasing a paper lantern into the night sky. So much for my plan. But it was a really quiet and beautiful way to say “see you later” to my friend. I love her.

Well, that’s about it. Looking at it now, it seems June was the month of pretty women and big voices. I’m really looking forward to seeing and hearing all of these people again too. We’ll see what happens. Happy 4th of July.

Honorable Mentions:

Jun 03. I haven’t registered for it yet, but I recorded the first workout on my marathon training schedule. I love having a training schedule to focus on. LOVE IT!

Jun 04. Met Meri and the legendary Laura Watkins for some amazing karaoke performances in Ghent. Those ladies are some damn fine singers…and funny too.

Jun 18. “Hey Alexis. Come here. Look!” young girl on a big wheel to her sister as I passed on my run. I don’t know if it was because I was a sweaty mess, my tattoos, or this silly ass moustache, but something about me startled some little girl today. And for some reason that made me laugh.

Jun 21. Bought some new running shoes, had dinner with Dad, and…oh yeah, I Registered for the Philadelphia Marathon. Stoked.

Jun 26. Supreme Court strikes down DOMA. We’re getting closer to treating my friends like equal citizens. It’s taking far too long.