Dreadmill , The Progress in Going Nowhere

“Butch Cassidy: Is that what you call giving cover?
Sundance Kid: Is that what you call running? If I knew you were going to stroll…”
– Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid (1969)

I’ve been happily estranged from the film industry’s wares for a pretty long time. Nevertheless I’m still confident when I say that the greatest Hollywood creation of all time has to be the mismatched buddy movie. You know the ones. Two people with vastly different backgrounds or beliefs are unwittingly paired together where their obviously incompatible natures come into immediate conflict. They don’t understand each other. They can’t possible like each other. And there is absolutely no way in hell that they could ever work together.

Well, that is until some unforeseen circumstance persuades those polar opposites to set aside their differences and join forces to resolve the situation or accomplish the common goal. Comedy and/or drama ensue.

Hollywood is so creative. Can I get an extra squirt of artificially butter flavored oil on my popcorn please?

“It’s not about how fast you go. It’s not about how far you go. It’s the process. As we run, we become. Every workout reveals new truths and releases new dreams.” – Amby Burfoot

I ran ten races in 2013, ranging in length from 5K to my first full marathon. As a newbie runner, every one of those events was a milestone. And I experienced some level of self-discovery in accomplishing each of them. But the true joys and revelations were found in the hundreds and hundreds of miles I ran training for those relatively short-lived events; 966.28 miles to be exact approximate.

Do you know how many of those miles were logged on a treadmill? Neither do I, because I only stepped on the damn thing one time all year. And all I can remember is how hard it was just to stay on it for a measly half hour.

I forget what my initial goal was. But I remember that only 10 minutes after pushing the start button, I made a deal with myself that if I could battle through 30 minutes without losing my mind, then I could stop. I’d already adopted the practice of running outside no matter the weather, and logged many wonderful miles in the rain, snow, heat, and cold. I have no clue what I was doing on a treadmill that day. But I hated it.

It was boring. I clumsily struggled to keep from stepping off of one side or the other. The lack of air movement felt stifling. It was tedious. If I wasn’t about to trail off the back I was running into the console. I couldn’t feel the sun on my face, hear dogs barking, smell honeysuckle flowers, or see a single bird. And, oh yeah-Did I mention that it was mind-numbing?

Even without knowing what I wanted from it in the first place, because I hated it so much I’ve unapologetically referred to that gym clutter as a “dreadmill” ever since. Cliché runner joke or not, that’s how I saw it; an endless vinyl path to insanity.

“So I stay out in the streets, Hoping to find you anywhere
Now that I understand, The woman you need to be
I can feel you in the heat, I can taste you in the air
And I can’t help but find your face in Everything I see”
Dawes, Moon In The Water

I spent 2013 running through the surrounding neighborhoods, rarely seeing another runner. But after my ankle crapped out on me last December, I would see one every time I drove around a curve. I swear they were everywhere. Each twisting the knife in my back, reminding me that I couldn’t do the one thing I could rely on for relief…or all too often, escape from a winter season I’d made way too dark. (Note: A healthy crutch is still a crutch. And crutches suck!)

If seeing all of those able-bodied jerks out on the road wasn’t hard enough, there were always a dozen or so people wearing out the dreadmills at the gym. I’d never really paid much attention to them. But as soon as I wasn’t able to run, they became pretty much all I could see.

“Look at that lucky bastard. Goddamn I wish I could go run right now.” – Me, every single day of winter.

It’s amazing what you notice when you’re forced to slow down…or worse, to stop. I never stopped my cycling or strength training exercises. And between sets at the gym, I’d catch myself zoning out into a total stranger’s running style. I saw people screaming along with a heel strike so sharp, it made my legs hurt. I saw others with a stride so vertically bouncy that I thought they had to be joking. There were runners whose upper bodies were so rigidly immobile that I don’t know how the twisting didn’t strain their lower back. And of course there were the gazelle-like superstars with the smoothest, most gracefully fluid running form you’ve ever seen. They’re the worst.

Maybe the most important observation was something I’d accepted as truth without actually witnessing it. Treadmills bounce. Of course I don’t mean like a trampoline. But no matter how clumsy or smooth the runner’s technique, the belted pathway gives more than any outdoor surface I’m aware of. I’d often read that treadmills could reduce running’s impact on the body. But not until I was forced to just sit there and watch did I actually see its flexibility under the stress of all types of runners. And seeing that bounce forced me to accept what I’d long feared; if I really wanted to heal and get back out on the roads, I was going to have to make friends with that “gym clutter.”

“Martin Riggs: Hey, look friend, let’s just cut the shit. Now we both know why I was transferred. Everybody thinks I’m suicidal, in which case, I’m fucked and nobody wants to work with me; or they think I’m faking to draw a psycho pension, in which case, I’m fucked and nobody wants to work with me. Basically, I’m fucked.

Roger Murtaugh: Guess what?

Martin Riggs: What?

Roger Murtaugh: I don’t want to work with you!

Martin Riggs: Hey, don’t.

Roger Murtaugh: Ain’t got no choice! Looks like we both been fucked!” Lethal Weapon (1987)

I was reluctant in our relationship for sure, but I’d avoided it as long as I could. I took several weeks off with no running at all. Then I eased my way onto an elliptical machine; which I also don’t enjoy. After a couple of weeks substituting my three weekly runs with that arm swinging, cross-country-skiing-meets-stair-climbing silliness, I finally stepped back on the dreadmill. And I did dread it, except that I didn’t. After not being able to run for so long, I couldn’t help but see that whirling nightmare in a slightly different light. It still looked mind-numbingly boring. But it also looked like the only doorway back outside. And I desperately wanted to go outside.

In addition to the presumed lesser impact, I also thought the treadmill would keep me from running too fast. In my earlier efforts back from injury, I would hit the road for “easy runs” and end up going too fast for too long, always distracted by some modest, but ultimately insignificant, mileage goal. I wasn’t focusing enough on healing. I wasn’t listening to my body. And as a result, I aggravated my injury and hindered my recovery. I do stupid shit better than a lot of people do anything. If I wanted to run faster on a treadmill, I’d have to consciously change the speed setting. I thought that might rein me in a little.

My first treadmill sessions had no goals, only limits. I wasn’t worried about mileage or speed at all. I just wanted to get some time in. I would run until my ankle told me to stop. But if I made it to 20 minutes, I’d stop regardless and finish my 45-60 minute daily cardio goal on an elliptical or bike. I stuck to that routine for a thousand weeks (What? It felt like it), slowly adding a few minutes or a little more speed as my body allowed it. But if I ever felt even a tinge of pain in my Achilles, I’d stop. It was frustrating beyond words.

After several weeks of battling the boredom of those runs, I let myself out on the road for a short run, only with the understanding that my other two runs that week would be back inside. Eventually I started taking my Saturday “long” runs to a local trail where I could get a softer surface AND still be outside where I belong. But again, if I did my long run outside, my next run was on the mill. Patience is key. Slow is fast. Baby steps. Blah blah blah. It was excruciating. But I think it’s working.

It was brutal out there.

It was brutal out there.

A couple of weeks ago, I finally ran my first race of 2014. It was my slowest 10K to date and maybe my most satisfying race ever. I’d just taken another week off after some worrisome outings the previous weeks. And my prerace warm-up was not at all confidence building. I approached the start already conceding that the only goal for this race would be to enjoy the spring weather. Once it started, much to my surprise, I actually ran well. It was the first time I’d run “fast” in six months. After the cluttered crowd navigation of the first half mile, I zoned out. I’m not a speedster at all, nor am I very competitive. But for the next six miles, almost without realizing it, I slowly crept by one runner after another; steadily reeling in each next person without paying much attention to it. It was awesome. I finished the race with negative splits throughout, only a few seconds slower than the same race last year, and most importantly with zero ankle issues. I felt good, which felt great. And as much as I would’ve loved to buy into the “Greg’s back” sentiment expressed by my friends, three days later, I was back on the treadmill. Why? Because I want to run a marathon this fall. And I won’t be able to do that if I do something stupid this week.

“Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” – George Bernard Shaw

During those agonizing months of slow recovery running I was tweaking every aspect of my form; my foot fall, my posture, my stride, everything. Those adjustments brought with them the general aches and pains that come with all change. And those discomforts complicated my ability to measure my progress. “Was that pain Achilles-related? Or was that normal (and less worrisome) soreness of a flatter foot strike?” I swear I can complicate anything. But I always had my new friend waiting for me at the gym if I needed to slow down and evaluate something in a controlled environment. And that helped a lot, whether I always want to admit it or not.

Do I love treadmills now? Nope. But I’ve been reminded that a bad first impression is not always the fault of the impresser. As a child I hated beets and brussels sprouts. Now I love them eat both almost every single day. A year ago I said that until they classify bacon and pulled pork bbq as vegetables, that I could never be a vegetarian. I haven’t eaten either one in a year, and now thrive on an almost completely dairy free, plant based diet. Two years ago, I’d have told you that I hated running. Now I can say without hyperbole that I believe it saved my life.

My resistance to new things has stolen so much from me over the years. Some of those things I’ll be able to get later, some I won’t. But first I need to avoid falling victim to the “I just don’t like change” mentality. The only people that should ever comfortably say that are people 100% satisfied with every aspect of their existence. Otherwise, refusing change is to refuse the possibility of achieving something greater.

I ran like shit on a treadmill, so I blamed the treadmill and built a whole argument about how awful they are. Then I realized that like any tool, you have to learn how to use it before it can work for you. I bought into many of the bullshit arguments against a plant-based diet. Then I tried it and discovered that it works incredibly well for me. I perform better without meat and dairy products. I recover faster. I feel better. I run better. And running has without a doubt made me better.

I’ve been wrong more than I’ve been right in my life. And my default settings are still to misplace blame, exaggerate my displeasure, and too often embrace the negative. I don’t know why, but those things just come easy to me. But I’m working on it and slowly making progress. I feel good. I like changing the things that don’t work for me. I’m learning that all of that might be as simple knowing when to change my mind. Happy Wednesday. Go outside.

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.

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.

Traveling, Can’t, Motivation, and Action

“You know, I’m sick of following my dreams, man. I’m just going to ask where they’re going and hook up with ’em later.”

Eight years ago today, one of my favorite comedians was found dead in his hotel room of a drug overdose. I had seen Mitch Hedberg in concert before and had all of his albums (still do). His comedy style was definitely a little odd with somewhat uneasily delivered one liner style jokes and the occasional self deprecating comment when he messed up a line or just bombed a joke altogether; those quips sometimes getting a bigger laugh than the fumbled joke he originally delivered. I loved his silly observations and askew way of seeing the world. I thought he was hilarious. And when they announced his death on April 1, 2005 it was easy to think that it was a joke, especially since I had tickets to see him again just a few days later.

February 24, 1968 – March 29, 2005

February 24, 1968 – March 29, 2005

In a 2001 Penthouse Magazine interview, he was asked how he would end his life if he could choose (What a stupid question). He replied “First, I’d want to get famous, and then I’d overdose. If I overdosed at this stage in my career, I would be lucky if it made the back pages.” I’m sure he was joking, but jokes are only funny when there is truth in them. As a person who has seen the affects of drug abuse a little closer than some, it sucks that anyone would think that overdosing is a good way to go or even a funny way to imagine it. But hey, I said he was funny, not smart.

Today, in memory of one of my favorite funny men, I will force my blog through a sieve of some of my favorite Mitch Hedberg quotes.

“I want to hang a map of the world in my house, and then I’m gonna put pins into all the locations that I’ve traveled to. But first I’m gonna have to travel to the top two corners of the map, so it won’t fall down.”

In a previous blog in which I was responding to questions posed by a fellow runner and blogger, I was asked the “What would you do if you won the lottery” question. Part of my answer was that I would run a race in every state in the United States. You can tell I don’t have the disposition for wealth. Why not just buy a helicopter and five houses? Or at least develop a huge gambling problem or something.

Well it occurred to me recently, that I don’t need a million dollars to do that. So I want to start trying to knock that out while I wait for my million dollar lottery ticket. It could be a while as I don’t play the lottery.

I don’t have a plan yet, but I will naturally start with the states closest to home. I’m lucky to have friends and family in many places across the country though, and I think it could be fun to try and combine visits with races. Now, I am by no stretch of the imagination rich, so it could take me a little while. But luckily there is no time limit on this either, so I will just get to it as I can. Really, it just sounds like a good excuse to visit friends to me. And as summer comes into view, my more northern located friends might want to start clearing off the couch. I’ll be looking to you guys first. Florida, maybe I’ll see you in late fall.

“I saw a lady on T.V. She was born without arms. Literally, she was born with her hands attached to her shoulders… and that was sad, but then they said, “Lola does not know the meaning of the word ‘can’t.'” And that to me was kinda worse… in a way… ya know? Not only does she not have arms, but she doesn’t understand simple contractions.”

I’m not so sure Lola isn’t better off not understanding that simple contraction. I’ve mentioned before my lifelong tendency to enter into new experiences with a strong “I can’t” attitude. It has always been a disservice to me even if I didn’t know it. I try; TRY not to use that word much anymore. Not because I don’t understand contractions, but because I’ve overused it so much in the past that I don’t really care for how it feels in my mouth anymore. The list of things that I’ve said I can’t do is hauntingly similar to the list of things I’ve never even tried to do. That’s obnoxious to me.

A few weeks ago I called a friend to see what he was doing that night. He said that he was jamming with some friends, that they didn’t have a guitar player set up, and that I should come jam with them. Of course, I immediately thought, I can’t do that. I may have even said it. But in the course of a few minutes, I realized that I wanted to do it. I used to jam with a couple of friends a really long time ago. My friend wasn’t trying to do anything big. He just wanted to rock out a little bit on a Friday night. Why the fuck wouldn’t I go? What’s the worst that could happen? I end up hanging out with people I like and not playing guitar? So I went.

I was every bit as rusty as I expected to be (maybe even worse). And because of that I wasn’t totally comfortable at first. But after a few sloppy attempts at whatever, we gelled on some simpler riffs and moved around through different things that each of us had been messing with or wanted to play around with. And I had a really good time.

When I spoke to my buddy earlier that day, I was probably only one solid “can’t” away from denying myself the simple joy of playing music with new people. Lola might be better served to never learn that four letter word.

“I bought a seven dollar pen because I always lose pens and I got sick of not caring.”

This immediately made me think of all of those articles that tell newer runners and those just starting at any new exercise routine that they should have a running partner or a workout buddy. Or even more directly related to the advice you’ll see for runners trying to avoid holiday season weight gain or just unmotivated in general to sign up for a race. The idea in each scenario is that investing more will motivate higher dedication and improve your results.

I’m on the fence on some of these issues.

I’ve heard the arguments for them. Agreeing to meet another person will keep you from skipping workouts or runs. And doing these things with others is supposed to help you progress, whether it’s because of friendly competition or the benefit of having moral support at hand while exercising. I get it. And knowing that you have to run a race on New Years day should help keep you away from the dessert table at Christmas, or at least reduce the number of trips to it anyway.

But I really like going to the gym alone. I love the anonymity of it. I like to put in my headphones and just zone out for some sweat therapy. A friend and I have suggested going together on a Saturday a few times and that sounds like a great idea. I’m sure we eventually will. But for my regular daily workouts, I don’t need anyone else to motivate me. I don’t slight those that might. But it’s a private time with my thoughts for me, and I don’t know if I would enjoy it as much if I was trying to keep conversation with another person or if I couldn’t burrow away into my own head while I was in there. It’s just a really good time to be alone.

Running with others makes way more sense to me. I’ve only done it a few times and each time has been pretty relaxing and beneficial to my running as well. I still predominantly run alone and love it for all of the same reasons I mentioned above. But even with how much I sometimes count on my therapy-runs, I can still see clear benefits to running with others. I’ve been invited to run with a few different people of a few different occasions but haven’t made it happen yet. But as the days continue to get longer, it may make scheduling things like that easier in the coming months. We’ll see what happens, but I know I’m going to run either way.

As for the “sign up for a race” theory of motivation, I think it totally works. Back in the fall when I had just started running and working out, I signed up for something like five races spaced out between early December and mid March. I was already more dedicated to becoming healthier than I even realized at the time. And I have luckily experienced very little temptation to veer from my course. But having those races always on the horizon did make it much easier to stay focused on my diet and exercise routines. It’s part of the reason that I still try to always keep a race on the horizon.

My next registered race is at the end of May, but I’m almost certain to squeeze one into April too. I’m just waiting to see how my ankle is going to cooperate before pulling the trigger on one.

“I got a jump rope. That thing’s just a rope, man. You gotta make the jump happen.”

Jump rope, yoga pants, running shoes, whatever: They’re all just a rope, some seriously tight pants, and comfortable shoes until you take action to make them more.

I had a pair of running shoes for years before last September when I started running. I don’t even remember when I bought them, or why. They looked almost brand new when I laced them up on a whim and took off into what turned out to be a new phase in my life. And to my surprise, neglect is very detrimental to shoes because they literally fell apart the next day when I decided that I wanted to go run again. I actually panicked a little.

Even after only two runs, I knew that I needed to do it. I knew that it was going to help me find answers to so many questions I was battling at the time. And I was completely worried that if I took a break from it, I might not start again. So what’s the problem ThatGuy? Go buy another pair of running shoes. The problem is I wear a size 15 shoe and simply driving to the store to buy shoes is a fantasy on par with unicorns when you have a shoe size larger than 13.

I drove to five different stores in three different cities before I found a single pair of running shoes in my size. And to my great delight and relief, they were both comfortable and affordable. I scooped them up and continued my running journey the next day without interruption.

I admit that I do have a rope that I don’t make jump very often. And I plan to incorporate yoga into my workout routine soon. But luckily for the entire sighted community, I will not be wearing yoga pants. Right now, I am really just grateful that I turned “shoes” into “running shoes” when I did. I love where they’ve taken me so far, and I’m cautiously enthusiastic to see where we’re headed next.

A few more for good measure:

“The depressing thing about tennis is that no matter how good I get, I’ll never be as good as a wall.”

“My friend asked me if I wanted a frozen banana, I said “No, but I want a regular banana later, so … yeah”.

“I saw this wino, he was eating grapes. I was like, “Dude, you have to wait.”

“Sometimes in the middle of the night, I think of something that’s funny, then I go get a pen and I write it down. Or if the pen’s too far away, I have to convince myself that what I thought of ain’t funny.”

“An escalator can never break–it can only become stairs. You would never see an “Escalator Temporarily Out Of Order” sign, just “Escalator Temporarily Stairs. Sorry for the convenience.”

“I’m sick of Soup of the Day, it’s time we made a decision. I wanna know what the fuck ‘Soup From Now On’ is.”

“If I was on death row and given one last meal I would ask for a fortune cookie. “Come on ‘long prosperous life!'”

“I went to a record store, they said they specialized in hard-to-find records. Nothing was alphabetized.”

And finally one of my all time favorites:

“A severed foot is the ultimate stocking stuffer.”

How 2 Half Mary

Yes, I know the title looks like the name of a Prince song. Yes, it was intentional. No, there is absolutely no reason for that. It’s just been a crazy week, I’m nowhere near getting caught up (which is why it’s taken me so long to get this out), and I’m feeling a little silly. Forgive me.

“Life is the only art that we are required to practice without preparation, and without being allowed the preliminary trials, the failures and botches, that are essential for training.” –Lewis Mumford

Other than the occasional high school coaches asking the 6’4”, 225 lb new kid if he plays ball, no one has ever confused me for an athlete. And those coaches were never all that impressed to find out that I was more inclined to sit quietly in the corner of my art or math classes than I was to put on uncomfortable clothes and stay at school one second longer than I had to in order to try out for whatever team(s) they were trying to fill. I sometimes said “no” before I even heard what ball they were talking about. I got really good at saying “no” to things without trying them first. And that ability to so quickly refuse new experiences is certainly the strongest part of the foundation on which I would eventually build a mountain of regrets.

I’ve NEVER been terribly athletic. And until recently, I had in no way trained for any kind of physical activity before. I’d never really trained for anything at all. I’ve never challenged myself enough to require that kind of effort. I’m a natural born underachiever. Six months ago, I would’ve said that as though it was some comically charming facet of my character. It wasn’t. It isn’t.

Anybody can do nothing. It’s fucking easy. Ask me how I know.

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

Around Thanksgiving of last year, two months into my new running life and having not yet run a single race, I registered to run a half marathon in the spring. I had no clue what to expect. But I knew that I needed to challenge myself. I knew that I needed to prove to myself that I was capable of setting a goal and actually working to accomplish it. I researched and studied as many resources as possible trying to find half marathon training plans designed for beginning runners. I finally settled on one that I liked and that I was confident I could achieve. One with only three running days a week seemed a good idea. I adjusted that plan to better fit my other work/life responsibilities. And on December 17, 2013, a few weeks and two 5Ks after signing up, I officially began my training for the Shamrock Half Marathon…with a two mile run. I was still a novice runner. But I was already hooked and determined to finish the race as respectably as I possibly could. Putting any less than 100% effort towards my goal was no longer an option.

Last Sunday, I ran my very first half marathon. And it was amazing.

“It is because the body is a machine that education is possible. Education is the formation of habits, a super-inducing of an artificial organization upon the natural organization of the body.” — Thomas Huxley

I am a creature of habit. Not for any deep philosophical reason or genius theory about more efficient time management. My memory just sucks, so if I don’t develop a pattern of activity around the important things in my life, I’ll forget shit. I park my car in roughly the same place every day at work because when I don’t, I end up walking to that area anyway before realizing my car is somewhere else. I empty my pockets into the same bowl every day as soon as I walk into my apartment. And if my keys aren’t in that bowl in the morning, I’m going to be late for work. Why? Because I will have no clue where to start looking. They’re supposed to be in that bowl. If they’re not there, they could be on the moon for all I know. Maybe I’ll start looking there. This could take a minute.

Peanut butter, banana, raisins, and honey on whole grain.  Delicious.

Peanut butter, banana, raisins, and honey on whole grain. Delicious.

Because I’m aware of this ridiculous part of my personality and because I have not yet run enough races to have developed a solid ritual, on the nights before races I have to make long lists of things to do, or pack, or wear. I lay out the clothes I’m going to wear stacked in the order that I’m going to put them on. I pin my bib to my shirt on the night before the race because doing that still seems to take me an embarrassingly long time (my OCD about it being straight doesn’t help). I make a “things to bring” list so detailed that it includes my running shoes. Am I really worried that I’m going to head out the door without the most crucial piece of equipment? Yep. That’s why it’s on the list. Running shoes, HR monitor, Garmin, flipbelt, hat, gloves, protein drink, peanut butter & banana sandwich, coconut water, water bottle, regular water, towels, hoodie, sunglasses, compression wraps for my ankles, jelly beans, a power bar, iPod, and headphones. Yeah, that should just about do it. I hope I didn’t forget anything.

I’m pretty sure that I’ve packed less stuff for two day trips out of town. I’m nuts.

“Success is blocked by concentrating on it and planning for it… Success is shy – it won’t come out while you’re watching.” — Tennessee Williams

I spent the entire three months leading up to my first half marathon under the delusion that the race started at 9:00 a.m., and didn’t realize until the Friday before the race that it was actually at seven. That meant I’d have to get up around 4:30 in order to eat some kind of breakfast, get dressed, and get to the Virginia Beach ocean front early enough to find a parking spot remotely close to the race. Parking in Va Beach can be a pain in the ass on a random Thursday. It was certainly going to suck on a weekend where tens of thousands of runners and their families would be in town.

I woke up late, fumbled around in my kitchen trying to toast a bagel, make my vitamin smoothie, get dressed, and finish packing my dry bag all at the same time. And my amazing multi-tasking paid off. I only left the house 45 minutes later than the time I wrote on my hand-scribbled race day itinerary.

If I had not gone to the beach the previous day to watch my mom kick ass in her first 8K (still super proud of her), I would have had no clue at all what to expect. But thankfully, I had just enough familiarity with the situation to avoid any real anxiety. I got there just before 6:30 but didn’t even mess with the traffic bogs angling for close parking spots. I headed south away from the start until I saw a good spot, parked my car, and started hoofing it towards the race. I was hoping to get there early enough to throw a good luck high-five to Kathryn of Run Eat Play RVA and find a few other people that I knew were running that morning. But after schlepping my freezing bones 18 blocks into a welcoming head-wind, stopping to use the bathroom twice, dropping off the world’s heaviest dry bag, and knocking out a solid 90 seconds of quality pre-race stretching, I entered my corral a massive five minutes before the scheduled start of the race.

I was nailing my first half marathon already. All I could do was laugh at myself. Well, laugh at myself and shiver. Because of an unspecified obstruction on the course, the start of the race was delayed roughly ten minutes, so there was plenty of time for shivering. And I did. We all did.

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands, but in seeing with new eyes.” – Marcel Proust

Finally it was time to start the race. As is the custom around these parts, Team Hoyt starts first. If you don’t know who they are, click their name. I love seeing them out there and always make sure to let them know it when I see them along the road. A few seconds after Team Hoyt took off; they started releasing the corrals one at a time. My training had officially ended two days prior. Now my waiting was over too. It was finally time to run.

I originally signed up with a completely uninformed guesstimated finishing time of 2:30 and been placed in corral number eight. While picking up my packet at the expo however, I asked the organizers if there was any way to be reassigned considering I’d finished my 20K a few weeks earlier in 1:56:41. They very kindly moved me into corral number three instead. I cannot explain how much that helped. I essentially passed thousands of people before I ever put on my shoes. And starting in corral three allowed me to settle into my pace within the first mile of the race instead of having to bob and weave my way through thousands of people in order to get free and on pace. That was a HUGE bonus.

I knew the Shamrock was going to be the largest race I’d participated in by a huge margin, and I really didn’t know what to expect along the course. But I just settled into my pace, kept my back straight, my head up, shoulders relaxed, arms swinging, and my feet under me. Basically, I just ran.

My ankles were not 100%, and my left one was already a little sore before the race even started. But once I was moving, it was very ignorable. I settled into my pace early, even if “my pace” was 20 seconds faster than I really intended. I checked my watch pretty often during the first two or three miles and I was always running “too fast,” but I felt great and could not justify slowing down. While adjusting my watch at 0.45 miles, I accidently pushed the “lap” button and offset all of my lap markings and alarms after that, but I still got pace updated every mile and it was always right around nine minutes per mile. And because I felt so comfortable, I just decided to keep that up. Why not, right? Just keep running.

There were spectators scattered all along the course, including some friends that had set up their own water (cough…and maybe beer) station along the route. I threw a low-five as I passed a very loud and animated gentleman cheering us on our way early. I hollered out at a friend standing atop a small wall not seeing me as I passed. I said “thank you” to every group of volunteers and spectators that I passed close enough to speak to without shouting. I gave props to every funny sign. Oh, and I ran.

Four, five, and six miles just flew by. When the road was banked more than I liked, I ran on the more level bike path or off in the grass beside the course. When I needed to take advantage of one of the aid stations, I grabbed a cup, said thank you, and pulled off to the side to walk for the two seconds it takes to swallow a Dixie cup of water. Then I took off again. I ate half a bag of Extreme Sports Beans just before the race started and then ate them in half bag portions every 20 minutes along the way. And I kept running.

“When you have a great and difficult task, something perhaps almost impossible, if you only work a little at a time, every day a little, suddenly the work will finish itself.” — Isak Dinesen

As I passed the half-way point, my watch said 58 minutes. I was on pace to break two hours, and even with a sore left ankle, I felt very rested and strong. All I had to do was keep running and avoid doing something stupid, like speeding up. I felt great, but definitely didn’t want to become overconfident. My pace was working, and I wasn’t going to try and fix something that wasn’t broken.

My right ankle started to ache a little bit at eight miles, but nothing too distracting. I was doing a good job of keeping a pretty high cadence of shorter strides and landing on my mid-foot. I just kept running. It was almost time to exit the Fort Story part of the course and head back into the spectators we passed in the beginning. Maybe I’d have one of those beers this time. (I didn’t)
100_6497Literally before I knew it, I was passing the 10 mile marker. All I had left was a 5K. I couldn’t believe it. I was going to finish the damn thing. And I was going to do it running strong. I felt great. As I passed my friends’ “aid station” and waved on the way by, they noticed something that I was unaware of. I was now less than two miles from the finish line, and I was in front of the two hour pacing group. Who knew?

I entered Atlantic Avenue and was greeted with a brutally cold wind in my face, but was way too amped to care. And as we all crossed onto the Virginia Beach boardwalk and could see the finish, it was time to start kicking. I could not believe that I had any energy in reserve. But I did. Was I sprinting? Nope. But in the Hollywood version of my life story, I’ll make sure the younger better looking actor does. I was picking up my pace a little bit though. I knew I was going to be under two hours by this point, but saw no reason not to use up that excess energy that I’ve never had at the end of a race before. I was damn near confused. What was going on? I wasn’t exhausted.

I crossed the finish line stronger than in any long race I’ve ever run before, and finished my first half marathon with an official time of 1:58:20 and an average pace of 9:02 min/miles. It was the easiest long run I’ve ever run. It was the fastest paced long run I’ve ever run. And I had an absolute blast doing it.

“I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.” – Muhammad Ali

You may have noticed that I didn’t mention any mental or physical battles to overcome during the run. That’s because there weren’t any. I don’t think I had to consciously focus on my breathing, my stride, my striking, or anything else more than maybe 10 times during the whole race, and never for more than a few seconds. All of that struggling to finish 10 mile training runs in the rain, or that 20K race in the rain, or that 11.11 mile confidence-run the week before the race had all paid off. My training worked. I couldn’t believe how well it worked. I felt incredible.

I did what I had never done before. I set a goal, developed a plan, followed that plan, and achieved the goal with relative comfort and ease. I was beyond stoked.

Unfortunately being stoked has zero warming qualities because the after party was Fur-ree-zing. There was plenty of beer and good cheer inside that giant tent next to the ocean, not so much warmth though. I was able to track down a few of the people that I wanted to congratulate and of course I managed to drink my four free beers, but there was only so much my frozen bones and chattering teeth could take so I decided it was time to head home for some chili and the warmth of some good friends.

“In general, any form of exercise, if pursued continuously, will help train us in perseverance. Long-distance running is particularly good training in perseverance.” — Mao Zedong

I haven’t run since the race, and intend to stay off of the road until Monday. I was back in the gym the next morning trying to work out the pain in my left knee. I suspect that my sore ankle resulted in my unconsciously tranferring more of the impact to my knee. And it wasn’t happy with me. I’ve been to the gym every day since, and both my ankles and knees feel great. I actually mentioned to a friend Tuesday morning that I thought I could run, but I didn’t. I’m really looking forward to getting back out there next week though, and hopefully with a fully healed and healthy body. I’m trying to be one of those mythical “smart runners” I’ve heard so much about.

Not sure about my long term race plans, but the running will definitely continue. I think it gets even more meditative for me with every passing mile. I love it. I’m registered for a 10K in May and I’m sure there will be many more after that…and maybe before. Happy Shamrock to me. It was a blast. I will do it again.

Wish Magic

“There can be no failure to a man who has not lost his courage, his character, his self respect, or his self-confidence. He is still a King.” – Orison Swett Marden

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

I had to break from my training plan over the weekend. I’ve done really well at sticking to the prescribed miles so far. Granted, I did go through and revise those numbers both up and down as I gleaned new information about good training practices and developed a little better understanding of my conditioning and abilities. For example, when I registered for the Tidewater Striders Distance Series (10, 15, and 20K races), I mapped those distances into my training calendar and adjusted all the lengths of my runs in the surrounding weeks to better follow the ten percent rule. Yes, I used a calculator. Yes, I rounded up. Yes, I can be a nerd about numbers sometimes. But I believe doing those races and adjusting those miles helped me structure a solid training plan for a beginning runner heading into a half marathon. Following it was relatively easy and markedly beneficial to my progress. That is why I studied, researched, and adjusted my plan so much in the beginning; so that I could follow it and do well. It makes no sense to lay out a plan and then not follow it.

BUT (isn’t there always a but?),

“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.” ― Mike Tyson

When I hurt my ankle two weeks ago, my mind was poisoned. What if it’s broken? What if I can’t run? What if I have to miss the Shamrock? I’ve been training for this race since before Christmas.

“Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother.” – Khalil Gibran

I’ve long believed that worrying is essentially the result of a lack of faith, whether it be faith in your plan, or faith in yourself. If you’re confident in your abilities and your preparation, then you’ve got nothing to worry about. If you’re worrying, you doubt something. And doubt seems a pretty useless component in any formula.

I didn’t want to doubt my ankle for three weeks, wondering if I could, should, or would run my next training run or if putting in those miles would aggravate the problem even more. I didn’t want to assume it was normal soreness and “battle through it” either. We already know what they say about assuming things. So I went to the hospital and got my ankle x-rayed. It wasn’t broken. Good. But I did have to rest it and stop running until it was better. Hmmph. Doctors. What do they know?

“I have great faith in fools; self-confidence my friends call it.” – Edgar Allan Poe

I might not be the smartest guy in the world, but I’m no fool either. I took a week off. No running for seven days. That was the longest I had gone without running since my very first “run” back in early September. And it was a very long week. But that week also made me realize just how much I truly love running.

I was never really tempted to push my luck and force a run. But I would catch myself practicing my upper body movements while standing over the stove or getting ready to brush my teeth. I don’t want to forget how to swing my arms, you know. I’d focus on maintaining an upright posture while walking around, riding a bike at the gym, or even just sitting at my desk. If I couldn’t run, I could at least try to instill some good habits into my fledgling core muscles. And while at work or the gym or even out with friends, I’d find my mind wandering off about when I could run again, what distance should I do, where should I pick up in my training schedule, would I be ready for the Shamro–

Oh, look! There’s someone running in that TV commercial!

“There is nothing more dreadful than the habit of doubt. Doubt separates people. It is a poison that disintegrates friendships and breaks up pleasant relations. It is a thorn that irritates and hurts; it is a sword that kills.” – Buddha

After a week of transferring my pent up running energy into some really great gym workouts, it was time to stop daydreaming and wondering and doubting. I decided I was ready to run. My training plan had four miles scheduled for Monday; a good modest ankle-test back into my routine. Surely I can run four miles. And if I can’t, then I’m certainly not going to be ready to run 13 of them two weeks later.

That might not be true. I’m new. I don’t know shit. And my confidence was probably sprained worse than my ankle.

I ran those four miles at the speed of comfort and felt really good afterwards. It felt good just to be out there again. I missed it and was pleasantly surprised to be welcomed back by a beautiful sunny day. It’s the small things. My next run was even shorter. And because the weather was crap, I was in a time-crunch that day, and I wanted to be super-cautious, I ran it on a treadmill. That short, mentally suffocating treadmill jog did little to help my confidence heading into a 13 mile run. “What am I supposed to do for my final long run?” I’m supposed to be tapering. I can’t go run 13 “test” miles, right? Would that be smart? Is all of this self-doubt just the mind games I’ve read about plaguing runners during the taper?

My mind was poisoned with doubt. Damn ankle! (shakes fist in the air)

“One important key to success is self-confidence. An important key to self-confidence is preparation.” – Arthur Ashe

On Saturday morning after staying up too late on Friday and not exactly “fueling” properly for a long morning run, I decided to take it slow and see what happens. My training plan was tapering and had eight miles scheduled as my long run for the last week before the race. I was pretty sure that I could run eight miles without any major issues. But losing that previous week’s training so close to the race meant that I missed my last opportunity to experiment with in-race food and drink.

My diet during this entire journey has been the hardest thing for me figure out. My metabolism still seems to be adjusting to my higher activity levels and I am not always very good at keeping up with it. And fueling during a race is something that I just did not practice enough during my training. Properly refueling afterwards isn’t something I’m terribly good at either. I’m just not a big eater. I needed an actual long run to practice these things one last time. And without some actual test of my endurance, my confidence would never be ready for race day.

“Believe in yourself! Have faith in your abilities! Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy.” – Norman Vincent Peale

While making breakfast and getting dressed, I decided that I’d run at least eight and no more than 11 miles. And that I’d ultimately base that decision on how I felt during the run. I’ve become pretty fond of the Dismal Swamp Trail and chose to head that way for my last run.

As I’ve mentioned before, I like the out-and-back format because it makes you commit to double the distance of where you are at any point. If you’ve run four miles down that road, you’re going to have to run a total of eight just to get back to the car. That requirement also means that you have to pay attention to your body. If you push past warning signs and find out at five miles that you literally cannot run anymore, you’re still going to have to hobble your broken ass the five miles back. I like how that simple course makes me think of these things. It helps me focus.

“So, let’s do the numbers.” – Kai Ryssdal

It was a beautiful 44 degree sunny morning with a 14 mph north wind. I was four miles in before I knew it and thinking I’d do ten. At five, I decided to do eleven. At five and a half, I decided to do 11.11 just so I could make a wish. I told you I’m weird about numbers sometimes. 5.57 miles away from my car, I turned around. I finished in one hour, 43 minutes, and 42 seconds with an average pace of nine minutes and 20 seconds per mile. And I burned 1912 calories.

Thirty minutes into my run I started eating Jelly Belly Extreme Beans with 50 mg of caffeine per 100 calorie serving (and you could totally tell from my heart rate monitor). I ate them again about every 20 minutes after that. They’re not the ideal food for me, as the package was kind of a bitch to deal with (might be better without gloves), and chewing anything kind of messes with my breathing. But I got the hang of it after the second try. And with only eight days until the race, there was no time to experiment with something new. I will have to put that lesson off until next time.

Both ankles were sore by the end and I was getting pretty tired. I was drinking coconut water throughout the run, but probably need to hydrate a little better on Sunday. I stretched and put compression wraps on both ankles immediately after my run. I went home, and hit the foam roller even though my legs weren’t sore. Then I iced both ankles as preventative maintenance. I even took an Epson salt bath (not an easy task for someone my height). I will be ready on Sunday. I will.

“With realization of one’s own potential and self-confidence in one’s ability, one can build a better world.” – Dalai Lama

I ran a short three mile run this afternoon, and have a whopping three miles left to run on Thursday to complete my training for the Shamrock. I feel good. I’m going to be fine. On Sunday, March 17th 2013, just six months after discovering the joy of running, I will join thousands of other runners when I cross the starting line into my first half marathon. And I’m going to have fun doing it too.

“I believe in wishes and in a person’s ability to make a wish come true, I really do. And a wish is more than a wish… it’s a goal that your conscious and subconscious can help make reality” – Michael Jackson

I’m wishing for healthy ankles, calm winds, and dry skies. But I’m ready for whatever.

I’ll let you know how it turns out.

ONE MORE THING. I know a lot of people will be running in Virginia Beach this weekend. But in Cary, North Carolina on Saturday March 16, there is a 5K and accompanying virtual 5K to support Buddy Up Against Bullying. It is a joint effort between a school assistant principle and a police officer to raise awareness against bullying. All you have to do is click the link, print out your bib, and wear it when you run on Saturday…or any other day really. Will it ever end bullying? No. But if it gets one person (teacher, parent, bus driver, YOU) to take notice of what may be happening right in front of them and to realize that is not just a normal, harmless part of growing up, then it’s worth it. The world has already got enough assholes in it. We don’t need to keep ignoring the next generation of jerk-offs. It’s not funny. It’s not harmless. And it’s not okay. I will be wearing two bibs on Sunday.

It’s The Small Things (J.O.G.T. 2)

“As the heart finds the good thing, the feeling is multiplied.
Add the will to the strength and it equals conviction.”
– Talking Heads “The Good Thing”

every-day-may-not-be-goodWow! February was kind of a crazy hectic month in my world, but I finally got around to looking through the old Jar Of Good Things. According to the “jar,” and how many times I claimed “a good workout” or something similarly simple as my daily “good thing,” I was clearly forced to settle for a lot of small victories. But that is definitely better than no victories, right?

Anyway, here’s a few of the good things that happened in February. My life may not be the most exciting roller coaster in the park, but I’m truly grateful to be able to find pleasure in simple things; simple things like…

Feb 2. Ran the Polar Plunge 5K as part of a benefit for Special Olympic Charities. I didn’t raise a huge amount of money, but I did get to run a nice race with some friends on a really sunny but chilly winter morning. New PR for the 5K (24:11, 7:48). Good day.

I started off the month by running my first 5K of the year with a friend from work. Or at least in the same race, since we didn’t actually run the race side by side “with” each other. She and some friends had a team registered to raise money for the Special Olympics and kindly asked me if I’d like to run it too. I did.

It was a very simple out-and-back along the Virginia Beach boardwalk on a chilly but beautiful sunny morning at the beach. I was aiming for an eight minute pace, but came out a little faster and felt pretty good so I just stayed with it. I’d love to say that I finished it with remarkable ease, but that 7:48 was definitely a challenging pace for me, even for that shorter distance. I clearly wasn’t feeling like a newbie that day…but I still was…and still am. Reality: checked.

It was a great race with friends, benefitted a good cause, and was a new PR. A good thing indeed.

Feb 3. I had a really great time watching the super bowl with some of my oldest and best friends. And I learned that I can “shoot” a balloon at a toddler with surprising accuracy. They apparently LOVE that.

I am fortunate to have so many really great friends, but they do not all travel in the same circles nor do they all have the same level of responsibilities, commitments, and/or availabilities. So I don’t always get to see many of my friends as much as I would like.

One of my oldest and best friends invited me and a few others over for a last minute Super Bowl gathering with him and his family. I happily accepted. I don’t think any of us really cared who won the game, or even catching all of the commercials. And I know none of the seven kids in the house was concerned with either. I didn’t really have a preference in the outcome so I barely watched the game at all to be honest.

But I did enjoy visiting with everyone and seeing all of their fast growing kids run around and play together. And as I said, I discovered that I can pop a balloon from between my fingers and at a child with some incredible accuracy. And my god-daughter’s little brother (The only little boy in that house full of lil’ ladies) couldn’t get enough of it. And really, I wasn’t tiring of it very much myself.

What can I say? Kids like me. And they all seem to giggle the same. Very good thing.

Feb 17. Dad gave me an old coin that he found in an envelope with my name written on it. Having my grandmother’s handwriting on the envelope is probably cooler to me than the coin.

I think I’ve mentioned before that I have dinner with a small group of my extended family every Sunday evening. We each take turns cooking and it’s been a pretty steady tradition for several years now. It’s always a friendly and casual visit around the dinner table, which I more often than not follow with a nap on the couch. It’s nice to see everybody for even that little bit of time each week and I like being able to cook for more than one person every now and then too.

On the 17th, my dad brought with him an old folded up envelope with my name written on the front in blue ballpoint.

He currently lives in the house where my grandparents lived before each of them passed away. I was fortunate enough to spend a lot of time with my grandparents growing up, and as an adult. As a kid I remember seeing that they had a small informal coin collection, but hadn’t thought about it in years. It was nothing fancier than a cardboard box or two with a modest assortment of U.S. monetary history inside. And I was not surprised at all to see that allocating any parts of that collection to a specific person was done by simply placing a coin into an envelope and writing that person’s name on it.

My grandparents were wonderful rural people, but by no means were they naive rubes with no understanding of the importance of a legal will. At the same time, they trusted family enough to be able to follow some simple instructions. And writing my name on an envelope pretty much made whatever was in it mine.

My dad came across it while cleaning out some part of the house and brought it with him to Sunday dinner. I immediately recognized my grandmother’s handwriting. And looking inside, I found an 1890 Morgan Silver Dollar. I just smiled and closed the envelope again to see my name swirled on the front. The coin is well worn and the sentiment is clear. But the handwriting is that small human touch that reminds me of one of the two strong women that I was lucky to have looking out for me when I grew up.

100_6452My grandmother was always incredibly generous and supportive of her friends and family. And she would do anything for her “darling” grandchildren, of which I am proud to have been the first. Her loving heart was undeniable to anyone that ever met her. I miss her. And now I have a fine sample of my name in her script. It’s the small things.

Feb 22. Long week FINALLY ended. And I had a great pre-race dinner with my mom who apparently has been living a hectic week in parallel with me. I’m glad it’s over.

Back in December, as I was starting to figure out this running thing and getting ready to run my first race (Surfin Santa 5K), work schedules and general holiday rushing around had led to a significant length of time without seeing my mother. When we lived on opposite coasts, that was easily understandable. But now that we live 20 minutes away from each other, it’s kind of silly. So when I realized that picking up my race packet would put me near her place on a Friday evening, I asked if she’d be interested in grabbing dinner. She was. We did. It was lovely.

I don’t recall if we ever stated a plan, but since that night we have had dinner together on the night before every one of my races (including the one that got cancelled). And it has become a really nice new tradition. We take turns paying, when she lets me. And it’s generally just a good time to catch up and talk about running, training, life, work, food, or anything else that crosses our often similar-working minds while I wait for that dirty Kettle One Martini to arrive. On this night in question, I think we both had Spicey Pork Korean Rice Bowls for dinner.

My mom has experienced more than her fair share of hardships in life but still managed to come out with more wins than losses and somehow maintaining a positive attitude towards new challenges. She rises to adversity incredibly well and doesn’t let disappointment, failure, or heartache derail her for very long. She’s a fighter for sure. And I couldn’t feel luckier to have had such a woman lay the foundation for the man that I am today.

(And yes, I totally blame her for all of my shortcomings too. She can’t just take credit for the good stuff, right? What’s the rule on that? I’d hate to have to start taking responsibility for myself or anything like that.)

“Alright let’s get some miles in.” -My mom’s facebook status earlier today. I love her.

She has been running/walking and exercising for the last few months as part of her training to run her first 8K on Shamrock weekend. So next Friday, we’ll likely be having dinner on the night before HER race for a change. I’m very proud of her for so many things. And I’m sure she’ll kick ass at this too.

Maybe she’ll even let me pay for dinner this time.

Feb 28. Went to bed a decent hour for a change. That IS a good thing.

It may sound simple. And it is. But I don’t sleep; not enough anyway. I typically get less than six hours of sleep a night, and almost never get more than seven. I’m lucky in that I don’t require a lot of sleep to function, but the last week of February was a little more extreme and I was getting closer to four hours of sleep a night during that week.

I know that I should get to bed earlier. But even after waking up at 5:30 every morning, I somehow manage to keep my schedule so full that I’m often not home and finished with my day until seven o’clock or later. And then there is usually any number of little errands, chores, or projects that I want/need to work on (like cooking dinner for example). Plus my creativity has always peaked at night, so it’s not unusual for me to start writing or playing guitar late in the evening and before I know it, it’s after midnight again. “Dammit!”

I believe lack of quality sleep was at least partially responsible for my excess fatigue at the end of my 20K a couple of weeks ago, and therefore may have contributed to my ankle scare. I am well aware of the importance of good rest and the mental and physical recovery gained from sound sleep. But I’m just not always as disciplined as I should be about getting the rest that I need. It is yet another thing I will have to improve upon as I go forward. But at least I nailed it on the 28th. You’ve got to start somewhere.

Well, that was February: Some running, great friends, strong women past and present, and some much needed sleep. What good things happened for you in February? Surely something good happened.

February J.O.G.T. Honorable Mentions:

Feb 7. Answered the door tonight wearing only a towel and a sweat shirt. The guy at the door was looking for someone that doesn’t live here and seemed more than a little confused. That made me smile.

Feb 8. Followed my least enjoyable run to date with a road trip to Charlottesville with Mike and Matt to see Murder By Death. Opener Samantha Crain was really good, and Murder By Death absolutely killed. A good time was had by all.

Feb 13. Had a great Wednesday with good friends in Olde Towne. Got a little unexpected blog-love from Derek and Kristen. Very cool night.

Feb 24. I got my new HR monitor. Probably too late for any substantial benefit in Shamrock training, but I do miss having that data. Woot!

Feb 26. Three hours in the E.R. later, I’ve got a slight sprain, and a deep bruise but NOTHING’S BROKEN. Ice, elevate, rest, and RUN!! I feel good.